App Review – Pavlov’s House

One genre of games I haven’t really gotten into, mainly because I haven’t had the opportunity, is solo gaming. There are many great-sounding solo wargames out there, but the idea of spending 2-3 hours playing a game on the table by myself just doesn’t suit my current situation.

Yet when I learned that one of the acclaimed solo wargames, Pavlov’s House (especially acclaimed by Grant at the Player’s Aid), was coming to digital, I jumped at the chance (it also helped that developer Bookmark Games provided me with a free Steam *and* iOS code for it) to try this out.

In Pavlov’s House (designed and with artwork by David Thompson and published by Dan Verssen Games in 2018), you are in the middle of the epic battle of Stalingrad as Soviet troops defending a house from an enormous German horde of aircraft bombing, troops and tanks trying to storm the house, and artillery.

Many thanks to Grant for the Action Points posts that helped me understand the game enough to really play it in-depth.

What do I think of the app?

Let’s take a look.

In Pavlov’s House, you are the Russian player trying to fend off the relentless attack of the German army in the middle of the battle of Stalingrad in 1942-43. The Germans are controlled by cards that will either bring units advancing on the house, or perhaps have artillery working to destroy the walls of the house, or even dive bombers that are attacking Soviet assets that are in place to help the beleaguered residents of the house.

The game has three maps: Pavlov’s House itself (on the left), the area surrounding the House where German units will slowly advance toward the house (centre), and then an area of Stalingrad close to the house where your anti-aircraft units are, the supply depots where you will get supplies, artillery that you can use to stymie the Germans advancing, and also wire communication areas that can give you more actions on your turn or get rid of Fog of War cards (on the right).

Each turn starts with the Soviet Card Phase, where you will have four cards that have two actions each (you have to choose one). You can use three of these cards. Sometimes you will draw one or more Fog of War cards, which are useless.

The cards will let you stage some artillery to help defend the house, stage some anti-aircraft guns to help fend off German dive bombers, ready some supplies for (or even ship them to) the house, or perhaps get reinforcements to come to the house. You can also help build up the defenses.

Or perhaps you will use the cards to recover spots from these areas that have been disrupted by German bombers.

Once you’ve played three of the cards, the German phase happens, drawing three German cards and executing the effects on them.

This will put a tank unit on one of the paths toward the house on the centre map, depending on the die roll.

These may place German units on differently-coloured paths for a slow advance toward the house, or may be dive bombers that will disrupt your operations, or maybe snipers that will actually kill some of your people who are occupying the house.

Periodically (and thankfully, you get a warning at the beginning of the turn), the German deck will have a “resupply” card. When this hits, you will have to feed the people in the house. For each 5 units (or part thereof), you will need to spend one food. If you don’t have it, the unfed/supplied soldiers will die/go away/whatever. That’s why getting supplies to the house is so important.

In the “Supplies” section of the house, it shows 3 Food, 2 First Aid Kits, and 7 Suppression Markers

Not only do you need to get food into the house, but sappers will help you build up defenses. Bullets will help you suppress German infantry units (so they don’t appear if you roll a successful hit) and first aid kits will help if a Sniper gets one of your guys.

After the German card phase, you get the opportunity to move more soldiers into Pavlov’s House, and to also move soldiers around who are already in the house.

Then comes the Soviet action phase, where you will recover exhausted soldiers (Commanders can actually refresh three soldiers at the cost of themselves becoming exhausted, so Commanders are very important), fire on German units that are advancing or perhaps set up suppression.

This screenshot has two German units on the purple track, on the right side of the central map

Each square in the house covers one or two sides (green, red, purple) and has line of sight to those colours. The colours correspond to the paths that the Germans come down on the central map. If a soldier is in a red square, they can fire on Germans on a red path. Or, if they are a Forward Observer and you have artillery set up (during the Soviet Card Phase), you may be able to call in artillery and destroy up to two adjacent Germans. That’s a win-win!

You are basically trying to survive through the entire German deck. You will get the opportunity to perhaps Storm the German strongpoints and get more victory points, as each Resupply card will also give you a required strength to “Storm” the Germans. One of the spaces you can activate in the Soviet Card Phase will allow you to designate a number of Soviet soldiers in the house to emerge from the house and take the battle to the Germans!

You roll one die for each soldier and if you get a total above the required amount, you will get a number of victory points. The soldiers may be wounded (which means you will have to call them back to the house in a later turn) or they may return unscathed.

These points will be very valuable as otherwise while you may hold your own, you won’t score enough to actually “win” the game. A positive score is a minor victory but that’s not really saying much.

Of course, if the house is breached by a German unit, or any of the walls are reduced below 3 strength, or a number of other things happen, you automatically lose!

As I said, I haven’t played the board game but this app does actually make me want to try it.

In the meantime, the app itself is very good.

The tutorial is pretty decent though it doesn’t cover everything (it’s more of a “play the game, the first time something comes up, we’ll tell you about it” kind of thing) but I do like how there is an in-game link to the basic rulebook. The rulebook is divided into sections and I admit I had trouble really understanding what I needed to do to succeed. That could very easily be my problem and not the game’s, though.

As I mentioned above, the Action Points by the Players’ Aid really helped solidify what I needed to think about, consider, and implement. I was getting massacred in my games until I looked at those. They come highly recommended!

Once I had an idea of what I was doing, I did a lot better.

Sarmisan only gives you one attack roll but can call in that valuable artillery

Your troops have ratings for Attack, Suppression, some of them have Command (which will let you recover multiple soldiers from exhaustion with one action), perhaps a Forward Observer (which will let you use readied artillery to try and take out two adjacent Germans in one shot).

I found the puzzle of trying to place the troops in the right area to be very satisfying. The left side of the house is Green, the front is Red and the right side is Purple (with the front corners being both Purple/Red and Green/Red respectively). These colours dictate which Germans you can shoot at, based on the colours on the centre map.

Of course, you can also bring in anti-tank guns, mortars, and machine guns which can do valuable things against the German tracks, but each one requires multiple qualified people (two men and a weapon, all of which need “food”) in the space and each one costs two actions to activate. That’s not necessarily cost-effective, though sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

The overall map on the right side might feel like it’s not as necessary to pay attention to as the house itself, but it is very important. This is where your anti-aircraft guns, your artillery, your supplies, and your reinforcements come from. During the Soviet Card Phase, it’s very important to get these spaces activated (or recovered from disruption).

The red spaces on the right are already disrupted. Not too many yet, but getting there!

I love the trickiness of balancing all of this. Anti-aircraft guns can help against the dive bombers, keeping your spaces open, but they need to hit (dice are rolled to determine hits) and sometimes you have to spend those cards recovering spaces instead.

The reason for that is when dive bombers hit, three dice are rolled and the corresponding space is disrupted. If it’s already disrupted, you just move to the next higher space until you find an empty spot.

Something is going to be disrupted. There’s no doubt about that.

Pavlov’s House is a great solitaire game and the app implementation of it from Bookmark Games is simply wonderful. Everything is pretty clear once you get going. Like I said, I did have a little trouble figuring out the strategy, but I think I would have eventually.

I like how the rulebook is available in the in-game menu and it’s divided into sections for each phase and each card.

You should definitely go through the tutorial, though, as otherwise some aspects of the user interface may not be as easy to understand as you would hope.

For example, when you start the German card phase, you click the deck and the first card comes up. You have to actually click the card to implement it. This is, of course, because some of the cards can be disrupted or affected by what you’ve set up (like the dive bombers, you can allocate anti-aircraft fire to them before implementing the card). However, it’s not intuitive that, when the card comes up, you have to actually click on it again to activate it.

For the most part, though, the app has everything right where you need it and it’s just a click/tap away. Clicking on a card will tell you what area you are activating (with the space(s) helpfully lighting up) and if there’s nothing you can do there (like trying to build up your defenses when you don’t have any Sapper counters in the house yet), it will tell you so you don’t waste the card.

Everything is laid out in an incredibly easy to read and understand interface. The wall strength for each side (Purple, Red, Green) shows up as a lit up shield for the number that you are at (they start at 6 but can be reduced by artillery or tank fire). If it gets down to 3, you may want to get those sappers going and build them up! Having a wall reduced when it’s already at 3 means you lose. This defense value is also what you roll against to have bad things happen to your troops in that colour (meaning the higher, the better).

I also love that the app (and I would guess the rulebook of the physical game, though I can’t say for sure) has a history of the battle around the house as well.

The app is just so well done. There are four levels of difficulty, and I’ve only played the Basic version so far.

The more advanced ones kind of scare me.

But I will play them eventually!

Yes, the game is very random, as with most solitaire games. Lots of dice rolling is involved, the cards will determine what comes at you and when, but you usually have a chance to deal with a problem before it becomes too great (though there many be many problems at once so you can’t get them all!). It’s possible to lose on the first turn (there’s even an Achievement for that).

If you hate randomness, you won’t like this game. Then again, would you like any solitaire system if you dislike randomness?

I don’t think so.

There’s really no difference that I could see between the Steam and the iOS version so get whichever version suits you best.

I am so glad I have Pavlov’s House as I foresee a long period of trying to better my score (my record is 26 points).

Pavlov’s House is available on iOS and Steam for $8.99 US and is well worth it if you like wargames at all.

With so many apps giving you an AI to play against in a 2+ player game, it’s nice to see a solid solitaire implementation of a game out there.

Give it a try.

Many thanks to Bookmark Games for giving me both a Steam and iOS code to try the game out in exchange for an honest review.

4 Comments on “App Review – Pavlov’s House

  1. Pavlov’s House is a great game from great series (Valiant Defense). I really like both boxed and digital versions and actually waiting for April and 3rd installment of this series – Soldiers in Postmen Uniforms which will tell the story of September 1st 1939 Gdansk/Danzig Polish Main Post-office defense. The mechanics will be similar although with some more complexity, like fight in the building. I really love David Thompson creation.

    Glad to see you Dave plunging into solo titles!

    Liked by 1 person

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