"I send you heartfelt greetings on the splendid victory you have won in driving the invader from your soil and laying the Nazi tyrant low. It is my firm belief that on friendship and understanding between the British and Russian peoples depends the future of mankind. Here in our island home we are thinking today very often about you and we send you from the bottom of our hearts our wishes for your happiness and well-being and that after all the sacrifices and sufferings of the dark valley through which we have marched together we may also in loyal comradeship and sympathy walk in the sunshine of victorious peace."
- Message from Winston Churchill to Joseph Stalin, May 1945.
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 (see inset below), 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 corps.
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. If a German “Move/Combat” chit is drawn, the German player decides to move or fight (but not both), with all Axis units. If a German PZ HQ chit is drawn, units in command range of that HQ can move and conduct combat (with greater flexibility for armored units). If the Soviet Stavka chit is drawn, units may be deployed from Stavka Reserve to attempt to stem the Axis onslaught. If the Soviet Counterattack chit is drawn, Stalin insists that the attacks are made upon the fascist invaders, possibly to the detriment of the overall defense. When the Logistics chit is drawn, supply status is checked for all units.
By adjusting the mix of action chits in the Action Chit Pool from turn to turn the game elegantly models the changing ebb and flow of the course of the conflict, along with the improved quality of the Soviet command, with minimal rules overhead. (See the Action Chit Availability chart below – please note this uses playtest-quality graphics at the moment.)
This chit-pull system imposes constant uncertainty upon the player and introduces considerable tension into the game. As the Axis player should you use your move/combat chit to move units, perhaps allowing the infantry to catch up with the advanced armored spearheads, or should it be used to allow you to continue your destruction of Soviet defenders? If you push too far, will an untimely Logistics check mean that your Panzers become low on supply, thereby reducing their offensive punch until those supply lines are restored?
The Axis supply network, which imposed crucial restraints upon the effectiveness of the offensive, is represented using supply depot units. Their exact movement rates are determined through a roll on the Supply Depot table each turn, thereby preventing exact advance calculation regarding how far the supply lines will stretch at any given moment.
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.
Finally, we note that this game is now under full development at GMT. As such, we are always in need of more playtesters. Playtesting is conducted using an elegant Vassal module, designed by Phil Feller. If you wish to help the game into production as soon as possible, and have time to commit to playtesting, please contact the developer, Paul Marjoram, at pmarjora[at]gmail.com Please note that, in order for playtesting to be useful, playtesters are requested to submit regular feedback and after-action reports to the development team, so please do not volunteer for playtesting unless you feel able to give this level of feedback. However, if you can do so, please hop on board! Your help will be very much appreciated and will assist us in bringing this game to publication as efficiently as possible.
Two 22x34" maps
Three sheets of 1/2 " counters
Four Player Aid Cards
Two 6-sided dice
DESIGNER: Ted S. Raicer
DEVELOPER: Paul Marjoram
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