Critical Hit (2019)
Country of Origin:
Historical map composed of 9 12" x 18" glossy heavy paper/light cardstock map panels, 4 rules pages, 1 1/2" countersheet (280 counters), 9 scenarios on cardstock
Hell’s Gate I: Nova Buda is the first of four Critical Hit products published in 2019 that represent battles in the so-called Cherkassy Pocket in the Soviet Union in early 1944 (the scenarios all take place between February 12 and February 17, 1944). The scenarios in the first module are, with one exception, all Waffen SS-focused, concentrating on the SS Wiking Division (when it wasn’t committing war crimes).
An attempt at deciphering the crypto-tapio-speak of the marketing copy for this product suggests that this (and the other Hell’s Gate items) was an old submission (by designer “Larry” [Winslow??]” that Critical Hit pulled out of the closet and handed over to an unspecified person to do map, layout and editing work on in order to make the submission fit for publication (“playtesting” was not mentioned). The Hell’s Gate products all seem to be inspired by and largely based on the book of the same name by Douglas Nash on the Cherkassy Pocket.
The main feature of Hell’s Gate I is the large historical map included. Critical Hit marketing copy suggests the product includes two maps, but it does not. It includes one large historical map that must be assembled from 9 glossy 12″ x 18″ heavy paper/light cardstock map panels. Assembling so many panels can be a pain, but most scenarios do not use the entire map area.
Hell’s Gate I includes 4 pages of “Special Rules.” These rules are apparently intended for all four modules but only appear in this one. Almost half of the rules is simply historical background material, while another section clarifies various types of map terrain. Some noteworthy special rules include 1) units can route towards a map edge as well as a woods/building hex, 2) there are map-printed rubble and shellhole hexes, 3) plowed fields exist, despite the early date, 4) slopes (which appear in multitudes on the map) are governed by an included set of “Slope Light” rules simplifying slopes somewhat, 5) vehicular non-road movement is increased, to represent muddy terrain, 6) there is a dam which, if destroyed, can cause certain stream hexes to become Flooded (kind of interesting), 7) elite units (both sides) have “camouflage smocks” that aid in concealment, 8) a revised and simplified Pre-Game Bombardment rule is included, 9) “Bayonet Charge” rules cribbed from old Kinetic Energy products are included, 10) “Marching Fire” rules, also cribbed from Kinetic Energy, are included, 11) trenches are possible rout destinations and also concealment terrain, 12) there are rules making players use crews for MMG/HMG/MTRs, 13), German DC heroes (!), 14) Walking Wounded rules, 15) Vehicular Searchlights, 16) “In Extremis Heroes” and “In Extremism HOB.” The “In Extremis” hero rule can turn German (only) leaders heroic depending on OB casualties suffered throughout the scenario, while the “In Extremism HOB” rule can turn German (only) leaders and units stacked with them berserk, again, depending on casualties suffered.
The “Nova Buda” map provided is a large historical map featuring pretty open hill/valley terrain punctuated by occasional streams, building clusters, and the village of Nova Buda. The artwork is generally good, though the colors seem a bit muted. However, Critical Hit still has its continuing building artwork problem, in which some (not all) of the buildings on the map appear either pixelated or blurry. The streams on the map are also really weird-looking.
The product comes with nine scenarios, one of which, NB9 (Rail Riders), is a “monster” scenario that uses the entire map area and takes the place of a campaign game. Actually, almost all of the scenarios in Hell’s Gate I are large (or very large) in size. Two scenarios are medium-sized and there are no small scenarios. The scenarios also feature lots of AFVs; in five of the scenarios, at least one side has 9 or more AFVs in play. Moreover, 7 of the 9 scenarios feature OBA, often multiple modules of it. Two scenarios feature Air Support; there are no scenarios using Night Rules. So these scenarios are basically large, heavy metal scenarios. ASLers looking for quicker play ought to look elsewhere.
The smallest and least complicated scenario, NB7 (Kampfgruppe Debus), is a bit of an exception. It has no vehicles, no guns, no OBA, and pits 12 German squads against 15 Soviet squads. It also has an interesting setup rule that Critical Hit employs every once in a while: players alternate setting up units, one MMC at a time, in building Locations.
NB9 (Rail Riders), the monster scenario, is a 30-turn scenario featuring a Soviet attack. The defending Germans get 28 squads, 7 leaders (including a 10-3), 13 AFVs, 2 Guns, a bunch of fortifications, and some OB. German units in fortified building locations and pillboxes are also Fanatic. The attacking Soviets have 72 squads, 10 leaders (the best is a 9-1), 33 AFVs (all T-34s of various types or IS-2s), as well as a Pre-Game bombardment and Air Support.
The scenarios themselves are printed on scenario cards that use some stock color (red and gold) and are generally attractive–far more than many Critical Hit scenario cards of days gone by. If only the rules or scenario cards listed any playtesters…
The included countersheet is a gratuitous extra countersheet from an earlier Critical Hit product on Kharkov. It features various Waffen SS squad, half-squad and crew types, as well as SMC, and a selection of SW, markers, and 8 red-colored “berserk” Waffen SS counters. There are also concealment counters with the first 4-letter identifiers Desperation Morale has ever seen: counter aaaa, bbbb, ccccc, and so forth.
At the same time as Critical Hit released Hell’s Gate I, it also released–for separate purchase–a “winterized” version of the Hell’s Gate I map. Again for separate purchase, it furthermore released a “monster” large-hex version of the Hell’s Gate 1 “winterized” map version, using 18 map panels instead of the 9 in the original product.