Alternative Titles/Edition History:
1st Edition (Kursk: Devil's Domain; also known as Metal Gods at Ponyri: Devil's Domain), 2010; 2nd Edition (Devil's Domain II: The Battle of Kursk at Ponyri), 2014; 3rd Edition (Hell on Earth I), 2019. Also contained within the 2014 product Ponyri Monster (along with Gates of Hell).
Critical Hit (1st Edition, 2010; 2nd Edition, 2014; 3rd Edition, 2019)
Country of Origin:
1st Edition: 2 24" x 36" maps, 752 die-cut counters (2 identical sets of 376), 18 scenarios, 8-page rulebook
2nd Edition (Devil's Domain II): 8-pages loose-leaf rules, 3 countersheets with 736 die-cut counters, 18 scenarios, 1 page charts, 8 12" x 18" heavy paper/light cardstock glossy map panels
3rd Edition (Hell on Earth I): Desperation Morale has not examined this edition and cannot confirm its contents. However, it appears to have 4 pages rules, 1 1/2" die-cut countersheet with 280 counters, 1 historical map formed from 8 glossy 12" x 18" heavy paper/light cardstock map panels, and 18 scenarios.Commentary:
Kursk: Devil’s Domain (KDD) is a largish HASL set on the East Front during the titanic armored battle of Kursk in the summer of 1943. In particular, the section of the battle portrayed here involves the attacks of the German 18th Panzer Division in the vicinity of the railroad station at the village of Ponyri. The rulebook claims that this module, designed by Larry Winslow, is the first of a two-part series, which will have four maps total.
KDD comes with no campaign games, only scenarios.
The rules that come with KDD provide mostly instructions for a few minor terrain types (map-printed trenches, map-printed wire, map-printed minefields) and units/markers. The latter, however, include a new entrenchment counter, the revetment, which represent prepared defensive positions for Soviet tanks. These rules do not seem entirely developed as printed. In scenarios with revetments, revetment locations are recorded for every Soviet AFV, whether setting up on board or entering from off-board. Players must record both “primary” and “secondary” revetment locations for each AFV; the latter must “be at least 10 hexes south of the primary position.” “Secondary” revetments are basically just extra revetments except in one circumstance. The rules require that AFVs entering from off-board must immediately move to enter their primary revetment. If it is occupied by an enemy unit within LOS then it must attempt to enter its secondary revetment. However, the rules also remove these restrictions for any Soviet AFV that can trace LOS to an enemy AFV; this is confusing, because the rules simultaneously require a Soviet AFV to attempt to enter its secondary revetment if its primary revetment is occupied by an enemy unit (AFV or not). So if a Soviet AFV sees an enemy AFV, are its movement restrictions actually removed or not? Moreover, the rules allow any AFV to occupy a revetment (even an enemy one), but they do not explain if two AFVs (enemy or friendly) can simultaneously occupy a revetment. One effect of this might be that a Soviet AFV must still enter its primary or secondary revetment, even if another Soviet AFV already occupies it. The revetment rules have been revised several times since release as errata; players are advised to check to make sure they have the latest errata before playing.
Another problem occurs in the Fougasse flamethrower rules. The Fougasse counters represent dug-in, improvised flame-throwing devices. To activate them, the rules state that one must make “a die roll of ≤ 3.” The counters specify a “DR” of ≤ 3. There is, of course, a huge difference in ASL between a dr and a DR; which one is meant? Critical Hit later issued a clarification in its on-line discussion forum that “dr” is correct, but woe to the player who does not read messages in on-line forums and discover this. The rules for “Hidden A-T Ditches,” particularly with regard to HIP status and infantry entry, are also problematic, and required several new versions by CH to provide clarification. Some other rules have ambiguities as well (e.g.,. improved replacements, crew recall, etc.). When one factors in the fact that a number of the scenario cards also contain errata (some fixed scenario cards were available on Critical Hit’s website but no longer seem to be), it is hard to arrive at any other conclusion that the development and playtesting process for this product was sloppy. Prior to playing a scenario from this product, players should make sure that they have the latest rules and scenario errata from Critical Hit.
There are also “optional” rules in KDD, most of which seem designed to curry favor with one or another groups of ASLers who have grudges against some of the standard rules in ASL. Thus there is an “optional” rule for Soviet “machine gun crews” that provides penalties for any other Soviet unit when using MMG/HMG. There is another “optional” rule forcing German crews who survive the elimination of their vehicle to exit the mapboard. Those are simply grudge rules. One optional rule is situation-specific; the “optional” rule, for “tank ramming,” which exists primarily because many ASL players associate Kursk with tanks ramming each other (in reality, only about one tank was rammed per day during the entire huge battle of Kursk, not enough to warrant such a rule). All of these rules could safely have been left out.
The strength of KDD clearly is not in the rules. Rather, the most appealing element of KDD lies in its historical map. It is one of the more impressive ASL maps published. One hopes that it is realistic (the source of the map is not given); at least it is detailed. From the north, where the Germans begin their attack, the map slopes upwards towards two hill positions. The ground is mostly covered in grain, interspersed with bits of other terrain, from gullies to shellholes. As the Germans move up the slope, they face two lengthy lines of barbed wire, which are themselves merely outworks of a fortified trench line protecting the hill positions. If the Germans get past these positions, they can move across some more grain fields towards the Workers’ Settlement at Ponyri, depicted as wooden-building-ed village terrain. Past the Settlement, one arrives at the second, southernmost map, and here the terrain tends to diverse. The eastern half of the southern map, which depicts the Ponyri Train Station and its environs, is more open, with various buildings and fields interspersed with other types of terrain. One sees here some of the larger buildings on the map, including factories (to depict some of the train station and train repair station buildings). The western half, in contrast, is far more densely settled as one moves into the other outlying workers’ settlements around Ponyri and then the town itself. Buildings, typically single hex wooden buildings, are densely concentrated here, and most of the streets are narrow streets.
The map colors are quite muted, as is typical Critical Hit graphic style (probably too muted), and some of the crest lines are a bit difficult to detect as a result. However, the overall effect of the map aesthetically is very striking; whether the map is accurate or not, it definitely gives the feeling of verisimilitude. Theoretically, players can experience a striking change of combat environments as they fight across KDD’s battlefield, going from rural to village environments.
It is important to note, however, that said experience largely cannot help being largely a theoretical one, because the vast majority of scenarios in the module cannot provide it. Of the 18 scenarios in KDD, fully 17 of them use simply a portion of a single one of the two included maps. No scenarios use all of a single map. One lone scenario, Ponyri #15 (Bears on the Prowl) uses all of both maps. And while this scenario is a quite large scenario (featuring 48 German squads and 17 AFVs attacking 43 Soviet squads with 10 guns and 5 AFVs), it is not nearly large enough to fill the map area nor to give players a sense of the large-scale fighting involved. KDD eschews campaign games, as many recent CH historical modules have, but in contrast to a number of recent releases, including Berlin: Tyrant’s Lair and First Wave at Omaha, KDD does not prove a counterbalancing really huge scenario that can stand in for a campaign game for those players who really want to play some meaty action on historical maps. That is quite a shame, especially as one would think that a module on Kursk would really cry out for large-scale actions.
KDD provides a number of die-cut counters (as is typical, CH provides duplicate countersheets to increase the total number of counters). Most of these are basic German and Soviet infantry units, leaders, and SW. It is unclear why most of these 1/2″ counters exist. CH does not provide enough of these counters that players can use them in place of official ASL counters, and it is unlikely that any ASL player would actually prefer these counters to official ones, which are more attractive. Many of them appear to be counters just for the sake of having counters with the product. It should also be noted that the die-cutting on the 1/2″ counters is very deep and counters will easily fall off of their trees, so players need to be very careful not to lose any counters in such a way.
Among the 1/2″ counters for which there is a legitimate need, one can only find 4 control markers and 6 Fougasse counters (this means there are actually 8 and 12, because all countersheets are duplicated). The hundreds of others are essentially unnecessary. Among the 5/8″ counters, there are 8 Emplacement counters, 10 Revetment counters, and 4 blockhouse counters (again, this is per sheet, and two sheets are included). There are also counters for some German radio-controlled armored vehicles and a few other odds and ends. The remainder are duplicates of already existing counters or, in some cases, some replacement counters (with rules) for Berlin: Tyrant’s Lair. At least the AFV and Gun counters appear in CH’s “new” layout, which now essentially adopts the strategies of other third party publishers Heat of Battle and Bounding Fire Productions in creating counters that do not stray far from the style of “official” counter layout. This is in sharp distinction to CH’s earlier counters, which used a virtually incomprehensible “alternative” way of depicting counter information. As a result, CH’s AFV/Gun counters are for the first time in many years readable and attractive. They distinguish themselves from “official” counters primarily through the use of the letters “CH” appearing on each counter.
KDD comes with 18 scenarios, a generous allotment (again, don’t forget to download the scenario cards that fix errata in a number of scenarios). One scenario, Ponyri #15 (Bears on the Prowl), uses both maps. Of the others, 7 use Map 1 (the northern map) and 10 use Map 2 (the southern map). Oddly, the 18 scenarios are overwhelmingly small to medium-sized in scale. Aside from Bears on the Prowl, even the few largish scenarios are not particularly large. The average KDD scenario probably has about 9-13 squads and 2-4 AFVs per side. While a number of ASLers would consider that almost a perfect scenario size for geoboard scenarios, tastes tend to run larger for historical modules, as players actually want to get a chance to feel and experience more of the map, and to sink their teeth into something. After all, if they are going to go to the trouble of setting up a historical map and learning a host of special historical rules, they ought to be able to get their time and effort’s worth, right? Though there are no tiny scenarios in KDD (as have dominated some other CH products, such as Witches’ Cauldron), the lack of meaty scenarios hurts KDD, because the people who will gravitate towards this particular subject are going to be largely the same people who would want more large scenarios. However, those who do like their scenarios to be more quick playing will find a host of actions to choose from in KDD.
Of the 18 scenarios, a rather amazing 16 of them feature OBA. Air Support also appears in 6 of the scenarios. The following chart indicates the prevalence of OBA in KDD:
|Scenario||German OBA||Soviet OBA||Air Support|
|#2||200+mm Rocket OBA
|#3||–||Soviet 200+mm Rocket OBA (one FFE 1/2 only)||German|
|#4||–||Soviet 200+mm Rocket OBA (one FFE 1/2 only)||–|
|#5||2 Smoke missions (one time only)||–||–|
|#6||–||Soviet 200+mm Rocket OBA (one FFE 1/2 only)||–|
2 Smoke missions (one time only)
|#8||120+mm OBA||200+mm Rocket OBA
200+mm Rocket OBA (one FFE 1/2 only)
2 Smoke missions (one time only)
|#10||2 Smoke missions (one time only)||100+mm OBA||–|
|#12||100+mm OBA||200+mm Rocket OBA
200+mm Rocket OBA (one FFE 1/2 only)
2 Smoke missions (one time only)
2 Smoke missions (one time only)
2 Smoke missions (one time only)
200+mm Rocket OBA
|#16||80+mm OBA||200+mm Rocket OBA (one FFE 1/2 only)||German|
|#17||80+mm OBA||200+mm Rocket OBA (one FFE 1/2 only)||German|
Smoke missions (one time only)
The heavy dose of OBA in almost every scenario is important when one combines it with the fact that most of the scenarios in KDD are small to medium-sized. What this means is that in a number of the scenarios, certain OBA-related DRs may well end up being crucial to the outcome and a bit of bad luck in this regard could have significant consequences. Perhaps more importantly, it also means that players who do not care for OBA will find themselves with few options.
Of the scenarios without OBA, Ponyri #11 (Maskirovka) looks the most interesting. It takes place across much of the eastern part of Map 2, which gives it a bit of space. The attacking Germans must control a key building while not suffering too many casualties (although the cap is very high). To do the job, they have 16 squads of varying types, well led (including a 10-2 leader and a hero) and very well armed, including 6 MG, 2 ATR, 4 DC, and a FT. To help them along, they get a platoon of StuGs. The defending Soviets get 8 squads, 5 MG, 4 ATR, 3 Guns, 3 tanks, and 2 so-called “company strongpoints,” which in KDD are a host of fortifications and entrenchments, some of which come ready-manned.
Kursk: Devil’s Domain comes with such a nice map that one wants very much to like this product. However, with its somewhat problematic set of scenarios, lack of a campaign game, and seemingly hasty development, KDD doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its nice mapwork. KDD will probably appeal most to people who are particularly fascinated with the battle of Kursk and are willing to live with the module’s shortcomings in order to “experience” the whiff of battle at Ponyri.
2nd Edition (Devil’s Domain II) Comments: In 2014, Critical Hit released its inevitable new edition of Devil’s Domain (Critical Hit has a business model based on constantly revising and re-releasing its product inventory) as Devil’s Domain II, only a few years after the original edition. Designer Larry Winslow is given credit on the front of the product, which may be the first time he has been so recognized by Critical Hit.
The rules of Devil’s Domain II (DDII) are now printed on hole-punched looseleaf paper in color, thanks to increased Critical Hit printing capabilities. They are attractive rules, but largely the same as the original set of rules, including references to “Map 1” and “Map 2,” which can be a little confusing considering there are now more than 2 maps in the package (see below).
The countersheets are not the same as in the original; the mix is slightly different and the counter artwork is also different (generally speaking, for the better). However, errata was not applied from the first edition, so the fougasse problem of dr (in the rulebook) vs. DR (on the counters) still exists (the rules, not the counters, are correct). This was sloppy.
The scenarios are the same in both versions, but the scenario cards in DDII are higher quality, including the use of some color. All scenarios are marked V2.0, but it is not clear what changes, if any, they include.
The major change in DDII, and certainly the one used to justify the reprint, is that the map has been replaced with a new version. Rather than two large paper historical maps, as in the original, DDII contains 8 12″ x 18″ heavy paper/light cardstock glossy map panels that must be positioned to form the original 2 maps (4 per map, the panels slightly overlapping). The map panels may be more sturdy than the original paper maps, but there is no doubt that the colors are brighter and more vivid, making them an improvement in that regard over the original KDD maps. However, it is much more cumbersome and complicated to assemble, position, and keep a number of smaller map panels like this positioned. Four map panels are really the upper limit of practicality, but this product has twice that number. However, in this case one of the flaws in the design, the small sizes of the majority of these scenarios, with only one scenario utilizing both full maps, comes to the rescue, as most players will not even need to assemble one entire map, much less two, to play most of the scenarios, so this is a rare instance where the map panels may be relatively practical. It will be a pain to play the one scenario that uses all 8 panels, though.
The actual artwork, though with much better color, is largely the same as the original artwork. (for example, all the “gloopy” grainfields). There are some minor changes. The orchard artwork has been replaced with better artwork. The paved roads seem to have slightly less contrast with the surrounding ground. Gullies are a bit smoother and more streamlined. The map of the original KDD was the most impressive part of the product and the look of the DDII map is overall a bit better.
The asking price is pretty steep, though, at $89.95, which is typically quite a bit more than the first edition is currently selling for. There is really not enough new, different and improved about the new edition that would make it preferable over a substantially less expensive first edition.
At the same time as Critical Hit released Devil’s Domain II, it released two other items. The first was Gates of Hell: The Battle of Kursk at Ponyri, which is the sequel to Devil’s Domain, an essentially stand-alone product using maps that link up with the Devil’s Domain maps (one scenario in Gates of Hell uses maps from both).
The second item is called Ponyri Monster, which is simply the combined contents of Devil’s Domain II and Gates of Hell in one package. It is priced at $159.95, which provides a modicum of savings for someone interested in purchasing both of the Ponyri products.
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 I) comments: Desperation Morale has not examined this edition of this product. It contains the same scenarios (with some perhaps tweaked), but only a third of the counters and (for some reason) fewer rules. 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.