Alternative Titles/Edition History:
aka Gates of Hell: The Battle of Kursk at Ponyri 2. Also contained within the 2014 product Ponyri Monster, along with the contents of Devil's Domain II.
1st Edition (Gates of Hell), 2014; 2nd Edition (Hell on Earth II), 2019.
Critical Hit (1st Edition, 2014; 2nd Edition, 2019)
Country of Origin:
1st Edition (Gates of Hell): 6 pages of hole-punched looseleaf rules, one page of charts, 3 countersheets with 736 die-cut counters, 9 scenarios, 8 12" x 18" heavy paper/light cardstock glossy map panels
2nd Edition (Hell on Earth II): Desperation Morale has not examined this edition and cannot confirm its contents but it appears to contain 9 scenarios, historical map composed of 8 glossy 12" x 18" heavy paper/light cardstock map panels.Commentary:
Gates of Hell: The Battle of Kursk at Ponyri (GoH) is the “second half” of Kursk: Devil’s Domain, a large historical module released by Critical Hit in 2010 focusing on fighting involving the 18th Panzer Division at Ponyri during the Battle of Kursk in 1943, fighting that ended up destroying the division. GoH provides two additional map areas that are directly adjacent to those introduced in Kursk: Devil’s Domain. Because the rules and components of GoH are so directly linked to those of Kursk: Devil’s Domain, in some cases being identical, one should first read the entire write-up of Kursk: Devil’s Domain before reading this write-up, as it is all pertinent. By the time GoH came out in 2014, several years after Kursk: Devil’s Domain, Critical Hit had already begun using a different style of map paper. It thus released a second edition of Kursk: Devil’s Domain, dubbed Devil’s Domain II, in 2014 at the same time it released Gates of Hell. Additionally, a third product, Ponyri Monster, was released which simply consisted of the combined contents of Gates of Hell and Devil’s Domain II (thus Ponyri Monster does not have an independent entry on the Desperation Morale website, but is mentioned in the write-ups of its two constituent products.
Gates of Hell is, for all practical purposes, simply “more of the same” of Devil’s Domain, adding no new rules or wrinkles, just an adjoining map area and some additional scenarios (only half the number of scenarios as appeared in Devil’s Domain). Thus if one did not like Devil’s Domain, one is not likely to enjoy this product, with the reverse holding true as well.
GoH comes with 6 pages of attractive color rules, hole-punched for inclusion in three-ringed binders. The rules are essentially the same rules as those of Devil’s Domain, with some slightly different commentary, including a line that suggests that the “inspiration” for this module was the book “Scorched Earth” by Paul Carell. “Paul Carell” is the pseudonym of a former Nazi propagandist, Paul Karl Schmidt, who was the chief press officer for Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. After the war, he avoided a war crimes trial, changed his name and began writing books on World War II that focused on putting a positive spin on the exploits of German soldiers during the war. He is not exactly the most reliable of sources, as one can imagine. No playtesters or developers are mentioned or given any credit, which is not usually a good sign.
The counters provided in Gates of Hell are, in fact, identical to those of Devil’s Domain, being just duplicate sheets. Most of the counters are standard Soviet and German counters, but a few of them represent new devices or fortifications. One of them, the fougasse, still contains the same counter errata that appeared on the original Kursk: Devil’s Domain version back in 2010.
Devil’s Domain came with a full 18 scenarios; Gates of Hell has only half that number. They are very similar in look and feel to the Devil’s Domain scenarios. Five of the scenarios are largish in size, while the other four are essentially small. Almost all of the scenarios (7 of 9) have at least one module of OBA, while an equal number of scenarios have Air Support. So this product is not for the faint-hearted. As with Devil’s Domain, many of the scenarios use only a small portion of a single map. Four scenarios use 1/2 or less of Map 3. Three scenarios use tiny portions of Map 4. One scenario uses all of Maps 3 and 4, while a second scenario, intended to be combined with the largest scenario from Devil’s Domain, uses Maps 1-4. Only the latter two scenarios allow for truly meaty play. Germans are the attackers in 4 scenarios; Soviets the attackers in 5. The scenarios don’t really have any chrome SSRs, so there is a lack of flavor or differentiation among some of the scenarios. One scenario, GoH2 (Retake Hill 253.3), does have a partially choose-able Soviet OB.
As with Devil’s Domain, the most distinctive aspect to Gates of Hell consists of the maps themselves. Like Devil’s Domain, Gates of Hell comes with 2 maps, sort of. The original Devil’s Domain contained two large historical maps, depicting Ponyri, nearby villages and setttlements, and the surrounding farm country. Gates of Hell, like the 2nd Edition Devil’s Domain II, does not come with 2 large historical maps. Rather, these products each contain 8 12″ x 18″ heavy paper/light cardstock glossy paper map panels with slightly overlapping edges. So 4 map panels can be positioned carefully together to form Devil’s Domain Map 1 and another 4 panels can mate to form Devil’s Domain Map 2. Similarly, the 8 map panels of Gates of Hell can be used to form Map 3 and Map 4.
The use of these map panels, which seem to be the new “standard” for Critical Hit maps (although they are like a weathervane, constantly changing direction), is fairly controversial among the ASL cognoscenti (or those who deem themselves such), with a vocal few being totally against the use of such map panels. It is not clear how representative of ASLers in general these people are, because few people have also stepped up to defend them.
The advantages of this new map style are clear (leaving aside possible cost advantages to Critical Hit). The maps are brighter and more vivid that Critical Hit’s older maps tend to be and are thus more attractive than most older Critical Hit maps. Arguably, the light cardstock can last longer than the lighter paper of Critical Hit’s older maps, too. In the negative column, though, the glossy finish can cause reflective glare, which is very irritating. More importantly, though, is the irritation involved in trying to exactly position, and keep in position, large numbers of these relatively small map panels. Usually trying to position more than four becomes arduous, and Gates of Hell contains eight of these suckers.
However, looking at the issue practically, the small map area of most of the scenarios in GoH means that it won’t be often that even four of the panels would probably need to be used at a time. Only one scenario mandates use of 8 of the panels, and a second scenario that (because it combines with Devil’s Domain II) requires 16 of the map panels. It will be very irritating to set up those maps, but for most of the scenarios it just won’t be that much of an issue.
The large self-contained scenario in Gates of Hell is GoH8 (Gate of Hell), which uses all of the panels of Maps 3 and 4. This 10.5 turn Soviet attack pits 40 Soviet squads, 8 AFVs, and one gun (plus OBA and Air Support) against 27 German squads, 4 guns, and 4 AFVs (plus their own OBA). The Soviets have to exit 16 EVP off the far edge of the map, or by controlling one particular hex as well as all pillboxes within the German set-up area (however, it is not very clear exactly how many pillboxes the Germans actually get).
The largest scenario is GOH9 (The Devil’s Road), which features a German attack. This is the four-mapper that combines with Devil’s Domain. It has only 19 German squads and 34 AFVs vs. 42 Soviet squads, 6 Guns, and 6 AFVs, but also throws in all the contents of Devil’s Domain scenario DD15 (Bears on the Prowl): 48 German squads and 17 AFVs attacking 43 Soviet squads with 10 Guns and 5 AFVs. That’s pretty meaty. However, the VC allow the possibility of a draw and it would be pretty irritating to play the whole monster to conclusion and still not have a victor.
GoH is priced by Critical Hit at $89.95, which is the same price as for Devil’s Domain II, even though GoH has only half the scenarios. As such, it’s a bit pricey. For people who know they want both, it is possible to save a few bucks by purchasing the combined Ponyri Monster, which Critical Hit is selling as of this writing for $159.95.
2018 Update: In 2018, Critical Hit released CH Annual Issue 4, which contains two Platoon Leader campaign games for these Kursk modules.
3rd Edition (Hell on Earth II) comments: Desperation Morale has not examined this edition of this product. It is a stripped-down product compared to the previous version, with no counters, no charts and no rules. It contains the same scenarios (with some perhaps tweaked). The map is substantially the same but according to one purchaser contains revisions, such as fewer grain hexes (which is probably a good thing). As of this writing, it sells for $99.95.
At the same time as this product was released, Critical Hit also released, for separate purchase, a large-hex version of the map dubbed the Monster Map Set and also an extra-large version of the map, dubbed the Uber Monster Map Set. Both of these are too impractical for playing any but the smallest scenarios.