As the Covid 19 lockdown caused me to lose my regular tabletop war games opponent I haven't had much chance recently to play the wonderful GMT games I have. My wife is a great games player but she has no interest in war games, she preferes building, resource, management style games that last 45-90 minutes, so I have had no opposition. I was hoping this was about to change but it seems lockdown is coming again before we can get together again on a regular basis. Therefore I am revisiting some of the great GMT games reviewed on GGO in the past.
There are so many war and strategy games on the market that cover all or part or parts of the Eastern Front Campaign that
sometimes I wonder do we really need yet another. The Germany (Axis) versus Russia (Allied) battles that raged throughout
WWII have been so well documented and studied that I have to be honest and say that even with the authorship of Ted S Raicer
had this not been a GMT production, I may well have given this version a miss. Having seen and played many of the other
games for this period of WWII what surprised me was the weight (or lack of) of the sealed box.
There are just three cards of counters, 2 large poster maps - with more detail in the illustrations than usually found on hex-
overlaid basic terrain/movement game maps - a couple of D6 (regular) dice, 4 reference sheets (2 generic CRTs, one for
each player, and 2 that carry information forboth sides but that aren't required to be regularly at hand after the scenario has
started. The other components are a 20 page campaign book and a 24-page rules book; examples of play and an abbreviated
sequence of play table is provided within the Campaign booklet. There is also a page of errata - only minor errors and all
spotted by the vigilant GMT staff prior to the games being packed and thus he errata is in the sealed box and not a file you
have to find and print from online.
The German player has to rely on speed as well as strength and putting themselves in the right positions to maximise even the
meanest of die rolls and luck of events. As one would expect given the weather and terrain during this situation it is up to the
Axis to win; the Soviets only need to prevent the Axis fromgaining its Victory conditions; stop the Germans taking Moscow
and Leningrad or Moscow and Kiev or prevent the Axis scoring 33 VPs by turn 8. The push for Moscow reminded me (maybe
that's not quite the right way to put it, not reminded but caused me to imagine perhaps) of a more modern Charge of the Light
Brigade; get there at all costs! Once there however it becomes a matter of holding onto it whilst concentrating on one or both of
the other main City objectives, so from the crazy Crimean charge it sort of becomes the Alamo - weird thinking but this is how
my brain works. With the VP condition also built in the Russian player cannot simply tightly defend the main targets, Moscow,
Leningrad and Kiev, for the Axis can pick up enough VPs en route.
People say that Chess is merely a reflection of War. The DARK VALLEY puts that statement firmly to the test, being itself a
game of action and counteraction, boldness and humility.
The size of the two maps means that you will require a reasonably large table or play area - a set up in a spare room (all gamers
have one of these) is the best as the game can be long but it is also very highly recommended for solo play; as well as the one vs
one face to face conflict that is the main stay of strategy wargames in general. Being able to leave the game and walk away, take
a break, have a coffee and a rest, brings you back to the table invigorated and refreshed. This is a game where you need to keep
yourself fairly sharp as the chit-drawing mechanic means you cannot depend on all parts of your plans occurring at the optimum
As you would expect, all of the necessary information is on the unit counters. Couple the counter data with the reference sheets
and there will be only the first few games when the rules book is required. Once you have learned the basics strategy and luck (to
a small extent) take over. The designer has given it a Medium complexity level mark and a high suitability for solo play. I think
experienced players will find it leans more to the 4 or probably 3 complexity score than the 5 of Medium. It is certainly a good
game to start anyone new to WWII unit-counter games with, and an excellent introduction to the trials and turmoil that was the
Eastern Front from 1941 - 1945.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable look at a subject that has been done to overkill (forgive the pun please). The chit drawing and die
rolling offer just the right amount of randomness to ensure that each time you play the result is in conflict and your decisions are
part of that result. Sure there are times when you don't get the draw you desired or the die roll causes a retreat when the odds would
have suggested a crushing blow but these are the factors that make it a game and not a military procession. Wargames based on facts
should challenge players to change those facts and alter history otherwise they are not games. GMT designers recognise this and are
always trying to ensure that the facts affect but not define.
I prefer the visual entertainment of figure or block gaming rather than the stacking and fiddling around with cardboard counters.But
that doesn't mean I cannot appreciate the magnificent manner in which Ted S Raicer has captured the entire Eastern Front Campaign
with so few counters and such succinct and clear (and short) rules. This is not a game to rush, it is one to savour. There are no hidden
elements, no surprise factors, just the freedom to think and the possibility of success on a different level.
FROM GMT's WEBSITE
The Dark Valley is a new game from award-winning designer Ted Raicer, focusing on the entire East Front campaign in World War II.
The game components feature a beautiful map from Mark Mahaffey, stretching from Leningrad in the north to the Caucasus Mountains
in the south, and around 600 counters representing every major unit that appeared during the course of the conflict. Initially most Soviet
infantry are divisions, but as the game progresses these are replaced by armies and corps, so that players are not overwhelmed by the
increasing Soviet Order of Battle. All German mechanized divisions are present in the game, while their infantry is a mix of division and
Although the game is a semi-monster, and covers the entirety of the conflict from the launch of Barbarossa to the end of the war, the game
system emphasizes playability rather than rules overhead, allowing the players to concentrate on strategy choices rather than rules minutiae. The core of the game system is a “chit-pull” activation system. Each turn a variety of action chits are drawn, in a random order, from the Action Chit Pool, and it is this that determines the exact flow of operations on that turn. This chit-pull system imposes constant uncertainty upon the player and introduces considerable tension into the game. The Axis supply network, which imposed crucial restraints upon the effectiveness of the offensive, is represented using supply depot units.
Besides the full campaign game, TDV features scenarios for Barbarossa, Case Blue, Kursk, and the Destruction of Army Group Center. Scenario start dates can also be used to explore shorter versions of the campaign. The Dark Valley is designed to be playable and exciting, modeling the tension of the campaign elegantly and simply. The game also plays very well in solitaire mode due to the underlying chit-pull system. From the German blitzkrieg in 1941 to the blazing ruins of Berlin, The Dark Valley provides a truly new look at this much-gamed theater.
TIME SCALE: 1 or 2 months per turn MAP SCALE: 20 miles per hex UNIT SCALE: Divisions/Corps/Armies
- Two 22x34" maps Three sheets of 1/2 " counters Four Player Aid Cards
- Two 6-sided dice Rules Booklet Players Booklet
MAP ART: Mark Mahaffey COUNTER ART: Charles Kibler
ART DIRECTOR & PACKAGE DESIGN: Rodger B. MacGowan
PRODUCTION COORDINATOR: Tony Curtis
PRODUCERS: Tony Curtis, Rodger MacGowan, Andy Lewis, Gene Billingsley & Mark Simonitch