Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Proud Monster, a review of the Command Magazine version

Let's see. Two full-sized maps, 959 counters, 18 pages of rules, 23 player-turn "couplets." This is a big game. Especially for a magazine. Proud Monster was the issue game in Command Magazine No. 27 in 1994.

While not the largest "monster" game about the Eastern Front in World War II, Proud Monster may be the most playable. While there are 18 pages of rules, the game is only of moderate complexity by wargame standards. The game is basically your standard hex-and-counter wargame with an IGO-HUGO turn sequence.

Units are generally brigades and divisions. German mechanized divisions have four steps, infantry divisions have two and Axis allied units one. On the Soviet side nearly all the units have one step, with the reverse side of the counter showing the unit in an untried status. This rule gives the game a lot of its character and helps speed play because there's no "factor counting." The exact strength of any given hex or group of attackers is usually unknown. This creates an appropriate mind set of "I'll send six divisions to attack that city or I'll hold the line with 24 divisions" instead of looking for the exact last factor for a 3-1.

The game is sweeping in scope, covering the first six months of the invasion of Russia. The Panzers rampage where they will, send fistfuls of Soviet units into the "dead pile" while the infantry struggles to keep up. Meanwhile, zombie-like, the recently slaughtered Soviet units return to play, along scores of new units. This is actually a nice touch. The Germans woefully underestimated the size of the Soviet military establishment and within a few weeks of the start of the war had already destroyed more divisions than they thought existed before the war.
There are a lot of little things that help make the game playable despite its vast size. For example, the map's hexes are slightly larger than standard helping fingers handle the large stacks of 1/2-inch counters. All the different types of Soviet units are color-coded, making set up and running the reinforcement/replacement system easier.

The game includes several of Bomba's signature East Front interpretations, including the "GAS" line, about halfway to Moscow, where the German supply system attenuates. The Germans can avoid the penalty if they declare a "pause" and basically suspend their offensive for a turn. This is always a difficult choice. Another big decision for the Germans is whether or not to concentrate supply on 18 mobile divisions for a final push, at the cost of starving the rest of the army. (Bomba returned to this idea in The Moscow Option, which is essentially a "what-if" mini-game of Proud Monster playing out the drive on Moscow proposed by Guderian.

The Combat Results Table is the same odd-based step-loss-result system familiar to players of Command Magazine games.

While billed as 12 "turns" long, each "turn" is really two turns as the term is used in most wargames. Here they are called "couplets." The game could just as easily have been called 23 turns long, with every odd turn starting with a reinforcement phase and every even turn ending with a victory check phase. This is a long game, and will take at least a weekend to play. Setup will also takes time , and will probably need to be done before the play date.

While it can be a long game, it may end early. Every turn the Germans check to see how many victory points (scored by capturing cities) they have achieved. If it's more than that turn's goal then the game ends in German victory. Naturally the amount need increased every turn, but this rule prevents the Soviets from merely high-tailing it to the rear at top speed. On turn I the Germans need just 4 VPs, which they can achieve by taking just Kaunus, Vilnius, Minsk and Kishinev (near Odessa). The game scale is 20 miles per hex, two weeks per turn.


(Yes) for wargamers: A very big, but still playable wargame on the biggest campaign in history. Really captures the vast scope of the campaign. There's a new edition available, so players will presumably prefer that one.

(Yes) for Collectors: Sought-after.

(No) for Eurogamers: Way, way too much wargame.


  1. You mention that there is a "new" version of Proud Monster in your recommendation for wargamers section. If you are referring to Decision Games' Land Without End game, it is really more of a reimplementation of the magazine game than a straight reprint, and there is some controversy over which game is in fact the better one. There is no question that Land Without End is easier to get, but Boardgame Geek users rate it below a 5 out of 10 (an extremely low score on the 'Geek, where a 6 is considered a clunker) while Proud Monster rates greater than a 7.5, a more respectable score. In other words, do your research before assuming LWE is as good a game as PM.

    Don't get me started on 10 point scales. I find the scale on the 'Geek to be in actuality a five point scale, with anything 6 or lower relatively useless gradations of low-end meh to utter crap.

  2. I should note that when I said "do your research" I did not mean to imply that Seth had not done his research, just that anyone considering buying the newer game should be aware that Land Without End may provide a different experience to Proud Monster.

    While I'm at it, thanks to Seth for a great blog. In particular, as a longtime Command subscriber (I left off at issue #28, not too long before Great War In Europe, but also before Chessmaster 3000), it's been a hoot to see Seth's take on all of those magazine games.