Hell’s Gate Review by David Lent
Hell’s Gate is a microgame from Victory Point Games that simulates the Battle of the Korsun Pocket in 1944. What makes this game different than the typical hex and chit wargame is it’s originally designed to be played in a college class by students who may have never played a wargame before. Hell’s Gate’s rules are unique since it uses huge hexes, weak zones of control and unlimited stacking.
The components included with Hell’s Gate depend on whether you purchased the mini game or boxed version. I purchased the mini/micro game so I’ll discuss those components. The counters are really good quality and may be laser cut. The units have their strength, unit type, unit size, step count and starting location printed on them. Hell’s Gate’s map is thick paper with huge hexes, turn track and a terrain effects chart. The map art looks good and the turn track lists which units enter each turn.
Victory is determined by victory points. Each player gets one victory point for each step of each destroyed enemy unit. One victory point is also awarded for each enemy two-step unit with only one step remaining. Two victory points are awarded for each enemy supply source occupied by one of your units. Finally, the Germans are awarded ten points as a handicap. The Germans won both games that I played.
Hell’s Gate has a simple, but unique ruleset that is not a mutation of “Standard Wargame Rules.” The sequence of play has the Soviet player going first and is as follows:
4) Recovery (remove retreat markers)
During the supply/reinforcement phase, the phasing player first determines whether any of his units are out of supply. Each of his units must be able to trace a chain of connected hexes back to a supply source. If any are in an enemy zone of control, the chain is broken. However, having a friendly unit in an enemy zone of control negates this. Units that are out of supply get an out of supply marker and may only move one hex per turn and get negative columns shifts on the combat results table during combat. Hence, it is imperative to keep your units in supply and this is in fact a major consideration when strategizing your movement. After the supply determination is complete, the phasing player brings their specified reinforcements onto the hex printed on the chit.
Combat in Hell’s Gate is unique, because there are two types of combat and the fact that only two units may attack across a hexside. Only two Soviet units in a hex may defend, but up to three German units can defend. Tank units triple their strength when attacking a clear hex and double it when attacking the City of Cherkassy or a woods hex. The two types of combat in Hell’s Gate are regular and an all-out attacks. The combat results table lists results for both types of combat. All-out attacks usually do more damage than a regular attack. An all-out attack must be declared before rolling dice and the attacker has to eliminate a step from a full-strength two-step unit (which must be a tank or panzer unit if possible). However, if the defender has five or more units in a hex, the attacker gets to do an all-out attack automatically without eliminating one of his own steps (many other games could benefit from an overconcentration rule). Only two units may attack across a hexside and there are many potential column shifts from mud, terrain, etc.
Applying hits in Hell’s Gate is done just like in any other wargame, but if the total hits do not exceed the total steps defending the hex, then the defender may retreat a unit in lieu of it losing its final step. Retreated units have some unpleasant effects though. They may not attack or move and in addition may not absorb hits or be used as a defender in any way. If all un-retreated units in a hex are eliminated, then any retreated units there are also eliminated.
There is no automatic advance after clearing all the enemy units out of a hex. Instead, the movement phase occurs after combat. You may use this phase for regular movement or to seize a conquered hex. Non-infantry units move two hexes during this phase as long as it’s snowing. If it’s mud, they move only one hex. Infantry units can only move one hex regardless of weather.
The last phase in each player’s turn is recovery. Retreated markers are removed from friendly units in this phase.
There are also turn specific rules in Hell’s Gate. These seem to be there to restrict the player into mostly operating their forces like they did in the real battle. Some of the turn specific rules dictate which units may attack, which units may move, special supply rules, etc. There is also a special “break out to friendly lines” rule that is used on the final turn for units that are out of supply. At the end of the game, any out of supply unit is eliminated.
This game is much more of a simulation than a game. While I commend the author for making a unique set of rules that are very easy to learn and fun to play, there is simply very little re-playability here. Hell’s Gate does a fantastic job simulating and showing the player what happened during the real battle. The “Simon Says” special turn rules ensure that the simulation unfolds closely to the original battle. However, I would have liked to see some additional scenarios allowing the player to do things they actually would like to do, such as attempt a breakout. I understand that the Germans had orders to stand fast, but it really would have been a lot of fun to have a scenario where they earn their victory points from exiting the map. In addition, a scenario with absolutely no “special turn rules” would allow gamers to experiment and even conduct a “what-if” game.
Even though there is very little re-playability here, I do recommend this game for players who wish to simulate this battle. I think they will find the game to be a great value. Especially, considering that the minigame version originally sold for around $15.00 Players, who are looking for a game they can play all the time, will either have to buy a different game or write some of their own scenarios for Hell’s Gate.
Buy your own copy here.
View the components in the unboxing video below: