Can you hold off German forces long enough to survive?
Steam & iOS
# of Players
Dan Verssen Games
Pavolv’s House places you in the role of defending a crucial stronghold from German advances during the Battle of Stalingrad of WW2. Your goal over the course of the game is simply to survive by way of lasting through a deck of cards which detail the next German actions. You will get a score whether you survive or not but victory is only claimed if you manage to outlast the entire German onslaught with the house intact and not overrun by German forces. Games can end rather quickly if things go awry, but a complete game will take about 30 minutes.
There is a lot of cool history behind the conflict that this game is based off of. I invite you to explore that fascinating bit of history, but I will do us all a favor and not try to use the historically accurate names of anything in this review. This keeps me from having to quadruple check everything and prevents the chance of me goofing (at least in that one regard).
Pavlov’s House plays out like many classic co-ops turned solo games. A deck provides the opponent’s orders and you spend the entire game trying to put out the fires caused by that deck, should you find yourself in the rare situation where you are actually ahead of those fires, you do your best to prepare for what is coming next. A big thing to note upfront is that results in this game are often determined by dice roll. I personally don’t mind that extra bit of randomness in my games, but it can certainly be disheartening to have a well planned strategy go off the rails due to some bad luck on those digital six-side monsters.
The game flows in three main phases which align with the three sections of the map: supply, German forces, and Pavlov’s House. First, you will draw four cards, each with two actions on them, these represent the actions the Russian troops not in Pavlov’s House can take. These include things such as readying anti-aircraft missiles, prepping supplies, delivering supplies, readying troops to enter the house, and others. You can only select one of the two actions on each card, and only three actions overall. Having potentially up to eight different options and only being allowed to use three can be excruciating if you want to use them all. On the flip side, there are Fog of War cards which do absolutely nothing except take up space, so an especially unlucky draw might lead you unable to perform all three of your available actions if multiple Fog of War cards are drawn.
The second phase has the German deck drawn from. These actions can add various troops types to attack the house, bombers to take out strategic exterior locations, attacks on the walls of the house itself, and a few other things. The biggest direct threat to the Russians is by way of a few different attack tracks leading to the house. There are three different colors, representing the three different lines of sight Pavlov’s House’s interior troops need to have to defend against a German force, each color having multiple lines of attack that are two or three spaces long. As new troops get added, if another troop is already on that track, they get pushed one space closed to the house. If there is no place to go, the game is immediately lost as this signifies the house being breached. The bombers and house attacks seem like slight reliefs from the marching onslaught, but both are crucial for the Russians to attempt to mitigate as best as possible. If a bomber takes out all of your supply ships, you need to draw the right cards to repair them, then have supplies ready, then grab them, then deliver them. This is a multi-turn process and often you won’t have that many turns to actually pull it off.
The final phase has you maneuvering and attacking with the soldiers you have inside of the house. Units can fire or preemptively suppress attackers along whichever sightline(s) they are positioned to see. Most spaces in the house only see down one site, but two key corner spots can see down two different sightlines. If there are infantry units there, a straightforward attack takes place, where a die roll determines if the attack is successful or not. A tank requires a group of operatives inside of the house along with a heavy gun to carry out the attack.
Game board and action cards
That’s the game in a nutshell. Repeat until the house is breached either by forces or with one or more walls falling or until you outlast all of the advances for the win. There is a lot you are going to want to do in this game but not enough time to do it all, the staple of any good firefighting style game. You have to keep the house fed with supplies otherwise the dreaded resupply card from the German deck will decimate your forces. You also want to keep the anti-aircraft guns ready so you can shoot down any bombers that come by, otherwise they will take out various key operations making it more difficult to achieve what you want. You also need to keep the house itself supplied with the right groups of troops and weapons to weather the storm. All of that only covers the exterior of the house, or the first phase of each turn.
Inside Pavlov’s House you need to keep soldiers and weapons positioned appropriately to defend from the three different paths German troops can advance on. Performing actions exhausts troops which require a separate action to un-exhaust. The special commander troop can exhaust three other troops for one action, making him especially valuable. It seems simple, but if your anti-tank troops and guns are positioned on the wrong side, it takes some work and time to get them moved so you can have a chance to stop the tank coming at you from a different angle.
The game adds some extra opportunities to boost your score by way of Storm Group missions, these are dangerous side objectives that you’ll likely want to ignore for your first few plays. Giving players scores to chase is always a smart way to extend the life of solo games, and it works well here.
I don’t have a large wealth of wargame experience, but this game feels very much in line with other co-op/solo titles I’ve reviewed on this site. There are constantly fires along with threats of more fires to be put out, and you spend the entire game scrambling to put out the real fires and doing your best to prepare for those on their way. The shuffle determines a lot of your luck on both ends, with the actions you get being key, but the advances the German deck provides being the biggest factor in the game. Like any good card-based AI, you can get 100% hosed quite quickly with some extremely poor luck. Adding dice to the mix amplifies that a bit, to the point where I feel some will be put off by how luck-dependent this game can be at times. Is it a dealbreaker? Well, that’s up to you, but be aware going in that this is a very tough game that can be made even more difficult with a bit of bad luck.
Barrier to Entry
The game features a full text/image rulebook along with a tutorial. The text is thorough, but a bit much to read through in a sitting. The tutorial does a pretty good job of conveying the very basics of the game, but some of the finer details get lost along the way. Playing cards and taking simple actions are covered fairly well, but you don’t get much more depth than that. Figuring out how to group anti-tank troops along with the necessary machine gun to fire, for example, wasn’t covered anywhere despite being a fairly crucial part of the game. The utility of some of the forces outside of the house aren’t discussed, and so on. If you are coming into the game without an idea of the rules, I would suggest an online rules video before diving it, it will help out quite a bit and save you from a lot of trial and error.
Look and Feel
Visually, the game is fully functional and conveys the artwork of the physical game quite well. The menus and other text are fine, along with the other random visuals. Nothing that is going to blow you away, but it doesn’t detract from the experience either. All of the information is displayed well on the in-game screen, no complaints there.
Actions on the Steam version are carried out via point-and-click and it works well. Sometimes things take one more click than I would like, but that’s a very minor annoyance, a term which might even be overselling the situation. The biggest downside here is the lack of an undo button. There is an undo within a single action, but once you complete an action, even those where no dice are rolled and no new information is revealed, you can’t undo if you realize you make a mistake. As a frequent mistake maker myself, this is a bit of an issue.
Pavlov’s House is a solo game only. The physical game allows for up to three players, but the game is widely regarded as being at its best as a solo affair, and the digital version mirrors that.
The game offers four different modes of play which act as scaling difficulty levels: Basic, Standard, Veteran, and Elite. Basic is, as you might expect, the basic game. Standard adds in operational support cards, veteran adds tactics cards, and elite adds even more tactics cards. Tactics cards improve the German attack.
The game does keep your high scores for each of the modes, but it is buried in the in-game settings menu for some reason. It’s a nice addition, but it should be easier to find.
Just getting started
Not a great game for the Russians...
The game was released on Steam and iOS, the developer has stated there are currently no plans to produce an Android version.
The Wrap Up
Pavlov’s House gets a solid digital implementation. It’s very much a “transfer cardboard to a screen” as far as ports go, but that’s just fine. Fans of solo games with a war theme will find a lot to like here, if they can stomach the extra dose of randomness the dice add.
There isn’t a whole lot to complete about as far as what is here, an undo button and better tutorial would be nice, but neither are likely to be total dealbreakers. It’s a bare-bones implementation for sure, but it succeeds in letting you play this game in a digital setting.
I personally think there are a handful of other solo digital ports I would reach for before this, but not an indictment of this game, just that my personal preferences lean towards different theming and mechanics. If you’ve been waiting to play more of Pavlov’s House or for another digital solo war game to hit devices, this one is likely going to be a winner for you.