This After Action Report article presumes the reader already has some familiarity with the game through perusing material now resident within its InsideGMT archive. It is hoped this piece will add to your appreciation of this exciting and fun to play P-500 listed game and, hopefully, encourage placing an order for the game if it encourages interest.
Background Context for the 1944 Game Set-Up
Despite the game’s title, Hitler’s Reich: A Card Conquest System Game (henceforth referred to as simply Hitler’s Reich), things are not always quite so rosy for the Axis player. Sure, the boys in black and Feld Grau have a solid leg-up in 1941, but if they have not triumphed before 1944 dawns; all kinds of hell will break loose on the Reich.
In the game’s short two- and three-year-long scenarios (1941-42 and 1941-43) the Axis is spared this oncoming apocalypse; for if they have not won or are not at least significantly ahead, it is assumed the Reich will be unable to weather this late game killer storm.
In the campaign game, which goes until 1945, barring one of many possible sudden death victories which either side can claim; knowing Overlord and its accompanying Red Army onslaught of Operation Bagration is coming can put steel in the backbone of a tottering Allied player – and the fear of God in the heart of their Axis opponent. Unless the Axis is especially strong in Event Cards, Hand Size and Map Position, Overlord/Bagration can sweep away their ill-gotten gains, and take apart Hitler’s Reich, stone by bloody stone.
Every campaign game is different, and if it comes to 1944 and the Allies are in truly bad shape, even Overlord will not save them. Such, however, was not the case historically, and to recreate that situation, the designers: myself and Hitler’s Reich game developer Fred Schachter, came up with the game’s 1944 Scenario: Overlord/Bagration.
The 1944 Scenario: Operations Overlord/Bagration
The Scenario begins in 1944. The Axis are still solidly in charge and heavily fortified in the West, still hanging on in Russia and being squeezed in Italy. The noose, already tight, is about to tighten.
Conflict Card Allocations
Just as the Axis had an advantage in Event Cards, Hand Size, and a seeded Conflict Card Hand in 1941, so do the Allies have the advantage in each of those, along with a strong position on the map. The Allies gather together their nine best Conflict Cards, shuffle them up and draw six. The other three are shuffled back into the deck, and the Allies draw three, bringing their hand up to nine. The Axis has nearly as many cards (eight) but must depend on the pure luck of the draw.
Event Card Allocations
The Allies also start with eight Event Cards: two more than the maximum usually allowed by the rules, but these represent the end of 1943 bonus draws. Event Cards are a vital part to the Allied preparations for Overlord/Bagration. In the 1944 Scenario, the Allies are guaranteed five powerful Event Cards (Higgins Boats, T34s & Shermans, Zhukov, Air Supremacy and Maximum Effort) plus three more at random. The Axis are guaranteed Waffen SS, but their remaining four are randomly drawn – which could result in as strong, if not stronger hand than their historical counterparts had, or one far weaker, with Events that offer little help on the battlefield.
Special Offensive Rules for Allied Operations Overlord/Bagration
The Axis will have to endure not merely a normal turn of Allied attacks, but a special one, much like, but even more powerful than the Barbarossa assault they can unleash in games beginning in 1941. Hitler’s Reich will be attacked on two fronts, before the Axis can respond (the game presumes the Axis already took their first 1944 turn).
The Designers Face Off: Mark McLaughlin as the Allies, Fred Schachter as the Axis.
The Cards Fall in the Allied Favor
The Allied random draw boosts their hand with Eisenhower, Red Ball Express, and Montgomery. The Allies could not ask for a better draw for the Overlord portion of their special turn. The Axis add to their Waffen SS Event Stukas and Tigers, but also drew Landing Craft and Bismarck, nautical-type Events which will not do them much, if any good, at least not at first.
The Allies Hit the Beach
Mark hits Normandy with almost everything the Allies have: Higgins Boats (required for the landing to take place), Air Superiority (an extra die in Conflict) and Maximum Effort (an extra, randomly drawn Conflict Card). With a fourth die and a second card, and with the Allied Supreme Commander (worth 13 points) as the chosen Conflict Card. Mark deliberately holds back T34s and Shermans, which would give him a fifth die, for use on another front: the Eastern Front to the benefit of the Red Army.
Fred commits the Waffen SS, also giving the Axis a fourth die, as well as Tigers (which can turn one of his die rolls to a “5”) and Stukas (which can force the Allies to reroll one of their dice if need be). Normandy is already fortified, which ensures that one die will be at least a “4”. Fred, too, has a Supreme Commander card, also worth 13 points, but it is the Italian one, which loses ties.
Mark rolls poorly, Fred rolls well. After Fred turns his poorer dice to the “4” and “5” spots as allowed by the Fortification and Tigers, and uses his Stukas to force the Allies to reroll their only high die, the score is tied 31 all — and that is even with the addition of a second Allied card (it’s a Major-General, worth 10) for play of Maximum Effort.
Both sides, however, have three re-rolls, if they want them, as that is the bonus offered by their Supreme Commanders. The Allies roll first, and bump their total up a tiny bit to 34 – as do the Axis. The score is tied 34 all, and had the Axis Supreme Commander been a German Conflict Card, which wins ties, the Allies would have been thrown back into the sea and D-Day would have been a disaster! Fortunately for Mark, Fred only had available the Italian version of the Supreme Commander, who loses ties. The Allies are ashore, and the Great Crusade in Europe may proceed.
On to Paris
Normally the Axis would lose all the Events they play, but in this special scenario they get to keep half of them, rounding fractions down, for use on the next turn (this represents the German build up of Panzer reserves in the West in readiness for the invasion they knew was coming). Fred elects to keep the Waffen SS, so it is flipped over and will not be available until the Axis turn. The Allies have used up Maximum Effort and Air Superiority, and flip Higgins Boats over, as it will not be available again until the start of the next Allied turn.
Both sides replenish their hands, and the Allies continue. The Overlord rules allow them to blitz out of the beachhead (something not allowed for any other amphibious landing in this or any other Hitler’s Reich scenario). Mark also uses Red Ball Express to pull the Supreme Commander back from the discards. This all but telegraphs his intention to use it on Paris, and despite the play of the Saboteur by Fred which reduces its value to “1” (the same value as the Saboteur), the Supreme Commander still gets his re-rolls – which are enough to take the French capital.
The Liberation of Paris reduces the Axis Hand Size by one – but, unlike the other Production Centers – ALSO increases the Allied Hand Size to represent the Free French. It also triggers the change in allegiance of Vichy (the area in the south of France), which gets an Allied Control Marker. Thus the fall of Paris is a double blow to the Axis.
As the taking of any Production Center also allows the victor to take a free action to try to win an Event, which Mark does and does successfully, the Allies add Artillery & Partisans to their hand – a Card which will come in especially handy for the second half of this special Allied turn: Operation Bagration. So it, along with T-34’s and Shermans, will be held for the Red Army’s use.
The Allies then attempt their second Operation Overlord Blitz attack on the Ardennes, but Fred has some remarkable dice rolling and that attack fails. Although Mark is disappointed, the Allies seem to be here to stay with their newly created Western Front.
Operation Bagration: The Red Army’s Revenge
The Allied Powers historically planned a two-pronged assault on the Reich, each of which was to be launched simultaneously, thus preventing the Axis from reinforcing one front at the expense of another. Operation Bagration is the Soviet half of this dual offensive.
Operation Bagration is a reverse Barbarossa. As in the special Barbarossa rules which guarantee Axis attacks on four border areas on the USSR frontier in 1941, Operation Bagration also allows the Allies four attacks without any Soviet restriction other than Berlin being inviolate.
With Zhukov (who turns one Allied die to a “5”), T34s and Shermans (which give the Allies a fourth die) and Artillery & Partisans (which allow the Allies to force the Axis to reroll one or two of their dice), Mark feels confidant the Red Army will sweep all before it, as Fred has no Event Cards left to bolster Axis defenses, and already used two of the best Conflict Cards in the Axis deck. Fred’s Hand Size has also been reduced due to the loss of Paris, which only adds to Mark’s confidence.
Rather than go into play-by-play details, suffice it to say that Axis Control Markers are swept aside in Minsk, Poland, Austria and Bessarabia. The loss of Austria is particularly hard for Fred to swallow, since it is a Production Center, the Axis Hand Size is reduced once more – and it gives the Allies yet another free play to gain a Card from those available from the Event Deck. The Allies win that conflict and gain Their Finest Hour (worth an extra Conflict Card, like Maximum Effort, but at the cost of a reduction to the Allies Hand Size of one).
That concludes the Operations Overlord/Bagration Allied turn. Per this scenario’s special rules, all Conflict Cards expended are reshuffled to constitute new Allied and Axis Conflict Card decks. The two players retain their current hands.
TURN 2: Shaken but not shattered by Overlord/Bagration, Fred flips the Waffen SS face-up and launches them at Austria. As the Axis have more areas around Austria than the Allies in support of it, the Axis gain an extra die in their effort to snip off this bulge in their front. Despite having five dice, however, the attack fails, as Mark tosses in Their Finest Hour for an extra Conflict Card which, when added to his play of the Soviet Supreme Commander, dooms the Axis counterattack. Fred loses the Waffen SS which, like Their Finest Hour, goes back to each side’s respective Event Card decks.
The Red Army Marches On
On the ensuing Allied turn, Hungary falls. For his second bonus action, Mark goes for the Turncoats Event and gets it. Finland joins the Allies as does Romania which, being a Production Center, knocks the Axis Hand down again and gives the Allies a free play for an Event Card. Mark tries for Maximum Effort (which served the Allies so well on D-Day) but is foiled by Fred’s play of his German Supreme Commander, whose high points and re-rolls frustrate Mark’s attempt to gain that key Event.
The Italian Front
TURN 3: Fred seeks to increase the size of his dwindling hand by acquiring a War Production Event; but this fails. Mark, on his turn, then switches things up on Fred by going for Rome – which, historically, surrendered the day before the Allies hit the beach in Normandy. The advantages here, as historically, are with the Allies, as they control the sea zone off Rome and thus have more areas to support their attack than the Axis has to support their defense. That gives the Allies an extra die. Rome is fortified, which turns a single Axis die to a “5,” but that is not enough. Rome falls, the Axis Hand Size goes down again, and the Allies get yet another free play for an Event – and get a War Production, increasing the Allied Hand Size by one more.
On to Berlin
For his second action, Mark decides to try for the quick kill – Berlin. The Allies have all the advantages: more and presumably still better Conflict Cards (due to the seeded deal at the start) and several good Event Cards, as opposed to the Axis, who have none they can use to defend their capital. Berlin, as a Capital, however, is worth an additional defensive die (as are London and Moscow). As the only Allied controlled area adjacent to Berlin is under Soviet control (Austria), the attack must be led by the Soviets – and the best Soviet Card left in Mark’s hand is a mere Major (worth eight). Still, it is worth it as it is a chance to quickly end the war (and the game). Although Fred would still get ONE chance to retake Berlin if it did fall, its loss would be devastating – as it would knock the Axis Hand down by THREE more Cards.
Mark throws in T-34s & Shermans as well as Artillery & Partisans, plus Zhukov. Each side has four dice, but the Allies have the guaranteed “5” for Zhukov and can make the Axis re-roll a die with the Artillery & Partisans – but even that is not enough, for like a magician Fred pulls a rabbit out of his hat — that rabbit being another Saboteur, which reduces the Major to the Saboteur’s level – each now only adding “1” to their respective side’s total. Mark rolls the dice and gets a total of 21.
Fred, who so often and with good reason presumes his luck will fail rolls insanely well. Even with the forced reroll of his best die – which on the reroll remains a “6” – he comes up with a total of 22 – saving Berlin by a single point! Even better for the Reich, this costs the Allies three strong Event Cards – Zhukov, Artillery & Partisans and T34s & Shermans.
The Axis Comes Back
The reprieve gained by the successful defense of Berlin (which, admittedly, was a bit of gamble by the Allies), buys Fred time. He takes back Austria (as he still has the advantage of four dice to three, as Soviet-held Austria is all but surrounded by Axis territory). That is a Production Center, and regaining one of their own centers allows a side to bring its Hand Size back up by one. Fred does this, and although his free attempt to get an Event (the Waffen SS) fails, the Germans seem back in the game.
The War Grinds on in ’44
With the Allied coup de main on Berlin failing, and the Axis rebounding to recapture Austria, the Allied drives stall. Mark needs time to rebuild his striking power, but most efforts to gain new Event Cards fail. Romania is reconquered by the Axis, thus bringing their Hand Size back up by another card. A bold German effort to regain Paris, however, is rebuffed, which costs the Axis the Event Cards they had laboriously managed to amass for that attack.
Call up the Fleet, Send in the Mighty Eighth
His ground offensive stuck in the mud, Mark decides to go for victory by other means. Although taking and holding Berlin would guarantee V-E Day, that is not the only way to win Hitler’s Reich. The game can be won by either driving one side down to where it has no Cards, or to where one side has the maximum Hand Size of 12 and the foe fewer than four.
Mark calls on the Allies’ strategic bombers to knock the Axis down. There are three Strategic Bomber Events available (a fourth is temporarily out of play, as per the scenario). Eventually, all three get through. With the Axis now down below four cards, all the Allies need do is raise their Hand Size to 12.
Mark tries repeatedly to get a War Production Event to do that – but is frustrated with every Conflict Card played and roll of the dice. So he tries for and gets Fleet Carriers, which helps an Event which helps get a Convoy Event through. Fred, however, still has that Bismarck Event he drew at the game’s start. The battle is on…. both sides play a Field Marshal (worth 12). The Axis Field Marshal, however, is Italian, which loses ties. After the initial roll, the Allies have 27 and the Axis 25. The Allies have two re-rolls because of their Field Marshal, but Mark stands pat. Fred has no choice but to re-roll if he is to win – and stay in the game.
Fred picks up two dice, warms them in his hand and throws: snake eyes.
And with that, the Bismarck sinks, the Convoy gets through, the Allied Hand Size rises to 12 versus the Axis 1 – and Hitler’s Reich crumbles. Mark is victorious!