(Preview) Case Blue: 2nd Kharkov AAR – Turn 1

In an SFG exclusive, we have kindly been invited to preview the new Decisive Campaigns: Case Blue (CB) game from Matrix/Slitherine. Since the original title Decisive Campaigns: The Blitzkrieg from Warsaw to Paris (WtP) was a firm favourite and starred in a number of AAR’s, including the Battle of the Blogs, it is a delight and an honour to be able to run a preview AAR of the new game.

Please bear in mind this is a beta copy of the game, and I’m running one of the more interesting short scenario’s included with the new title. So there may be oddities turn up, whether they be in the beta software, or in my understanding or behaviour.

Also, this isn’t a review, it’s an AAR of a scenario, played as a wargaming layman. It’s just my story with a new toy, one which I’ve been looking forward to ever since the original title grabbed me and sucked me into it’s historical soaked vortex of operational wargaming. I hope to get this AAR finished just in time for the release of the final game, when you can all dive in and enjoy Case Blue too.

Anyway, let’s crack on…

I was initially tempted to use the Voronezh scenario, to contrast it with the Unity of Command AAR’s I’ve done before, but the 2nd Battle of Kharkov scenario just looked too tempting for me not to play it.


Here’s the scenario’s background information and description.


Reviewing the Victory Conditions, it looks like the German’s could have an easy time of it, if they can contain the initial Soviet push, and hold onto most of the VP locations they currently have.

Before we begin, like an excited child at Christmas, I marvel at the first glimpse of the Soviet forces in a Decisive Campaign’s game. The UI looks sleek and familiar.

Once again, the accompanying music is perfect, and fits the theme of the game like a glove.

Before considering my position, as the Axis, I simply have to frantically click around the Soviet units to find the one hidden gem I’m looking for. The undeniably famous Soviet Katyusha rocket launchers. I start to hum the song that inspired the name of these particularly devastating artillery pieces.

As I start to pan around the map, looking at the men under my control, I click on the Officers and notice that the units in their control are highlighted for easier identification and planning. The chit borders are painted with the colour displayed on the Officer’s HQ chit. Here you can see those directly under the control of Hans von Obstfelder. In the Officer’s information panel, you can also see a lot of stats detail as well as the Tactical Card options available to him. Hovering over the iconic cards, gives you a description as a tool-tip.

Here again we see this Officer OOB highlighting in practice just to the North East of Kharkov itself. It’s a small UI change, but it really does help with identifying groups of units, so that you can manage them  better in your “top down” planning phase.

The Order of Battle can be interrogated from the menu at the top, where you can drill down the hierarchy if needed.

Turn 1

I’m ready to play. Here’s the Northern end of the map, showing the front held at Woltschansk, and the defensive forces I have stationed around Kharkov. I like to put the supply overlay (bright green) on so that you can see the territory held and the supply coverage exactly.

The Central portion of the map shows the bulging incursion made by the Soviets. Since the Russian’s get to go first in this scenario, they have already poked a hole in my line at the road to Krasnograd. They weakened the line with concentrated forces, and then have raced Cavalry and Armoured units further along the road.

I’ll have to come up with some way of halting their progress. My line has broken too early.

Along the Southern edge of the Bulge, I have the Soviet’s contained so far. With some reinforcements waiting to push Northwards.

Since the Russian’s have presented a Bulge, it seems only right to try and squeeze it at the weaker “neck” , in an attempt to cut the supplies and reinforcements, as they push deeper westwards.

With this in mind, I scour the Russian line to find weak points. I find one just outside the town of Balaklov. The tip of my offensive wedge. If I can break the Soviet 248th I can begin to strangle their supply lines from beyond the Izium to the East.

Here you can see the weaker 248th Rifle Division, low on morale, and not very well entrenched. Accompanied by Engineers, and field guns.

I’ve got very little manpower to spare on the line, only the 44th Infantry Division at the spearhead. I decide to use the Tactical power of their commanding officer, Walther von Seydlitz-Kurbach to boost their offensive rating before an attack.

The beauty of the Decisive Campaign games, is that they are positively oozing history. The imagery and descriptions ladelled onto the Officers and the Units really do add to the immersion of the player. You feel like you’re taking part in real historical events, and you can flesh out your knowledge of the combatants including their background if you want. The ability to “touch history” as Bruce Geryk often phrases it, is one of the main draws for me. Very few wargames do this as well as the Decisive Campaigns titles do.

I play the ATTACK tactical card, onto the German 44th Infantry Division.

Now that Walther has been amongst the men, and given clear and decisive directions, they get a +42% boost to their offensive capabilities.

Checking on the 44th, we can see their modifier applied. I hold them in readiness.

First, I want to soften the Soviet 248th up a little. We have quite a selection of Air units at our disposal. So I pick from the list dialogue a couple of strong ground attack planes, one has Stuka’s! Matching the stack value as best I can, with as little hardware as I can get away with, I radio in the attack.

We hit them, but not as hard as I wanted. It looks like we were intercepted by Russian fighters, but we come out of it unscathed.

After also laying down some rather ineffective artillery fire on the 248th, I give the order for the 44th to make its move.

The odds weren’t good, even with the Tactical boost from Walther. We lost some men, but we did manage to push the 248th into a retreat from the battle. I was hoping for a broken rout, so I could move the 44th into the gap, sadly, they didn’t manage to punch through.

I now focus my attention to the Russian breakthrough towards Krasnograd. I have a Security Division stationed in the town of Sagovschina exerting a Zone of Control on the road west. I really want them to stay put, and harass anything that marches  by. So I decide to head to the Officer Tactical Cards again, and play the “Hedgehogs” defensive card.

Walther Heitz manages to co-ordinate the 454th Security Divisions defense in the town, and boosts their ability to defend by +75%! However, they lose 25 readiness points.

By hardening the 454th I’m hoping to create a resistive wall to prevent the Soviet advance opening up. If I can keep them channelled I have a chance to nip their supply and then envelope them.

I now pull what I can of the 62nd Infantry back towards Krasnogrod, effectively laying a “shield” to repel the forward advance. I do this at the expense of a contiguous line of defence. I also sweep the 108th Light Division towards the town of Mereta. To screen the northern entrance to Kharkov itself.

This also opens up a corridor of advance, westwards, that I hope the Soviet forces will charge into, stretching their lines, and maximising my opportunity to cut their supply, bleed them dry and snap the door shut to any hopes of a retreat.

It’s now time to try and open up the Southern “neck” of the Bulge. As before, I sniff about for a weaker unit, that I think I can harass and push around. This Soviet 51st Infantry Division looks the most likely candidate for attack. I begin by calling in an air strike, laying down a carpet of bombs, if possible.

There was no aerial resistance that time, and some of our bombs struck home. But not enough to break them with the Luftwaffe alone.

Again, I try some ineffectual artillery bombardment, and decide to push the 14th Motorised Infantry Division in hard. The Russian’s have a strong force next to mine, but I need to drive a wedge in their line, I cannot afford to be hesitant. Besides I have the 60th Motorised Division waiting to the South (they have no movement capability on turn 1), to bring up and shore up my Southern approach.

The 14th Motorised press their attack.

They do a splendid job, breaking the already battered 51st, without casualty.

I begin the task of pouring into the gap as much as I can, and as far as I dare. I place my armour and motorised troops in the way of the Soviet advance. Hopefully cutting supply routes, or at least disrupting their push westwards. As soon as the 60th mobilise, they will be thrust into this gap, if I can keep it open.

I shuffle as many troops around the gap as I can, but I can’t make it any wider at the moment. I also don’t want to weaken the holding line further along.

I’m now looking to fortify the Victory Point positions closest to the line of advance. I have the 1st Romanian Division just outside of the town of Losowaya. I desperately need these troops to hold. So I seek out the Romanian Officer and use his Entrench card.

Dragalina manages to boost entrenchment by 31 points.

The boost is applied to all allied troops in the immediate vicinity, but it’s the men of the 1st Romanian Infantry, that I’m worried about. They are adjacent to three fairly large stacks of Soviet troops. No doubt they will be in for a rough ride at the start of Turn 2. They have a unit of the German 298th Infantry Division in support. It will have to be enough!

Again, thinking defensively, I want to hit the unit’s spearheading the advance to the west. I now throw what air support I have left into attacking the armoured units of the Soviet 7th Tank Division and the accompanying Cavalry.

We do some hefty damage to the Soviet Tanks out on the open road. The tenacious Russian Cavalry remain defiant. I’m hoping this air strike has forced them to slow their advance next turn, coupled with the “shield”, perhaps I can halt them altogether?

In the North, I decide to fortify the 75th Infantry Division garrisoned in Belgorod. Once again I go to the tactical cards to apply a Hedgehog boost.

Hans von Obstfelder increases the 75th’s defensive capability, at the cost of readiness.

Time for the 75th to hold their ground!

Here is the map showing an overview of the situation at the end of Turn 1. One of the enhancements to the UI, is the ability to minimise the UI info panel, and see the map in all it’s glory.

As you can see our main success this turn was to break the Soviet line in the Southern region. Hopefully we can do the same at the apex of resistance in the North.

Now all that remains is for us to cross our fingers and hope all those tactical card boosts can aid our troops in their defence.

There are a lot of updates and enhancements to the game, and I’ve really only scratched the surface of a few of them here. Please check out the list of new features and additions, including the ability to play seamlessly over the Internet via the now envied and established Matrix/Slitherine Multiplayer mechanism PBEM++.

Join me next turn, to see how the Battle progresses as we stomp with our Nazi jackboots into Turn 2.


11 thoughts on “(Preview) Case Blue: 2nd Kharkov AAR – Turn 1

  1. Great read, looking forward to the next installment. Even though i’ve always sucked at large operational games, this and the first one look too good to pass on. Might have to give the big games another chance. Got your “secrets to operational wargaming” article bookmarked to ease the pain. Thanks for posting this.

  2. Been playing the various scenarios of the battles at Kharkov numerous times with numerous wargames. Looking forward to see how you will fare in this one and how it plays.

  3. The first Decisive Campaigns was/is a great game – great depth, historical accuracy & ease of play seamlessly combined – I was hoping the next instalment would be east front and wasn’t disappointed – the AAR looks great – can’t wait to give it a go.


  4. I am looking forward to this game more than any other in the last couple of years. Looks like most of the minor annoying things in DC:WtP have been resolved in this edition…cannot wait…

    I like the game so much that I did not volunteer for the beta call…I want to savor the release version with out the dilution of beta testing it 🙂

  5. Could we have bigger pictures please?

    And when comes turn 2?

    There are only 8 days untill release…


  6. @BodyBag, at the moment I can’t do any better than 600 pixels wide, mainly because of the theme I use on my blog. I am looking at a re-design in the future, to allow bigger screenshots – but that might be quite some time away.

    I’ll get the turns up as soon as I can. It’s obvious to me, I’m not going to make the release date, to finish this AAR. But I hope that what I do get up, will give folks an idea of how the game looks and plays, and they’ll be able to see whether they think it would be worth playing/purchasing for themselves.

    All I can say, is that the Decisive Campaigns series will be THE definitive series for historical operational wargaming at an approachable level. Couple that with the Slitherine/Matrix online play mechanism and you have a very powerful game system that allows you to taste the excitement of the history. I suppose only the likes of Unity of Command comes close.

  7. @spelk

    I played the first DC and liked it, although the AI was very passive and not really a challenge.
    Case Blue is a first-day-buy for me, and I hope for a aggressive and tough AI in the East!

    I really like that Victor has made the map & units so attractive,- I refuse to play an ugly game that hurts my eyes, and looks like it was made 20 years ago! (John Tiller a.o.)

    It’s also nice to see a designer that really listens to the players, and uses the input to refine the games. I want to support a designer like that 🙂


  8. Nice AAR for first turn – looking forward to the next posting.

    I’ve held off getting DC:WtP – not enough hours in the day and have too many games to play already – but the temptation from Case Blue is going to be too great. I mean, I haven’t bought anything for ages … it’s nearly my birthday … I haven’t really got that many operational level games …


  9. Thanks for sharing your turn 1 movement. I question the wisdom of breaking through in the south without support. You could get those units cut off. Looking forward to turn 2!

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Ian Bowes / spelk