Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Battle for Moscow - an introductory game

Battle for Moscow (Operation Typhoon 1941) covers the last stages of 1941 on the east front as the Germans make a final effort to reach Moscow.

The significant aspect of this game is that it was designed from the ground up specifically as an introductory game. It originated in 1986 when Frank Chadwick and his team from Game Designers' Workshop (a sorely missed games company) put out the game for free, to encourage new players into the fold.

Since that time, Alan Emrich and his team at Victory Point Games have put out a revised edition in 2009 and through their links with GMT, the game has also been included in issue 25 of GMT's C3i magazine.

The game has all the building blocks of the traditional wargame and introduces the universal terms such as CRT, ZOC's and Sequence of Play to the new gamer. The design not only works very well as an introductory game, but it also gives a very good game for regular wargamers.

The following highlights some of the game mechanics while playing through a recent game.

I have owned all three editions and the artwork used in this article comes from the 3Ci version. The game remains available from both Victory Point Games and GMT.

The components look to be an important consideration in the goals of the design because they do not overwhelm the new player, while for the regular player, you still get a solid game that is compact and ideal as a travel game.

The rules are just 4 pages long and regular players can skip the first page as it contain just the usual admin stuff. The map is 11" x 17" with larger hexes to accomodate the 40 larger size counters. There is a half size terrain play aid with turn track included and the game charts are on the map.

The rules themselves have been cleverly crafted to negate the kind of ambiguity that new players might struggle with. The combat in particular is described in a step by step process with examples that are very 'new player friendly'.

Right ..... onto the game. Set-up is fixed. The Germans have 7 turns to reach Moscow if they are to win. If the Soviets hold moscow and 1 other city, then they win. Anything else is a draw. The victory conditions are well balanced. Moscow is a tough nut to crack, with the game often going down to the last attack. This is not just a Moscow centric game, because the Russians also need to hold another city. This could be Ryazan as it is in the rear, though is more likely to be Tula as it is fortified and can frustrate the attackers. Turns 3 and 4 are fixed as mud turns.

This is what Moscow looks like.

The fortifications (red) and the river make this a tough position to take.

The Sequence of play starts with getting replacements, followed by combat and then movement. But this sequence is modified differently for both sides. After their Replacement Phase (and therefore before their combat phase) the Germans get an armoured movement phase, which allows them to move their armour into attack positions, ready for the combat phase. For their part, after their Replacement Phase, the Soviets get a 'rail movement phase', which allows them to better organise their defence, strengthen counter-attacks (rare) and to maintain respectable mobility, even in mud turns (which reduces all non-rail movement to just 1 hex).

The modified sequence is a clever way of giving each army a different feel. Working together with the Combat Results table (CRT), the sequence of play gives the German armour a punchy mobility, while the Exchange results on the CRT keeps the German player wary of making weak attacks.

Turn 1 (2nd October 1941)

On the first turn, the Germans don't get their first two phases, so play starts with the German Combat Phase, followed by their Movement Phase. Attacks are all pre-designated before any attacks are resolved.

The Germans have setup to make some concentrated attacks to open the line. I made the rail centre at Bryansk (under the white die) a priority target, so that the Germans could break out and get to the open terrain beyond and close quickly on Moscow.

 

(above - the attack on Bryansk) The combined combat value of the two attacking Panzer Corps is 12 + 8, giving 20, against the 1 step Russian army combat value of 4. This gives a 5 to 1 attack. The city does not give a defender bonus (only big cities do that). A die roll of 3 results in a DRL, meaning the defender takes a loss and is then retreated. The attacker always handles the retreating unit and units must retreat 2 hexes. However, in this instance, the defenders only have 1 step, so are simply removed from play and the 12 strength German unit advances into that vacated hex. The next attack - against the Russian unit above Bryansk fails.

After combat, units move. A unit that starts in an enemy Zone of Control (ZOC) can move directly to the next ZOC but must then stop. This allows units to infiltrate into the enemy lines and allows the Germans to push even deeper for an effective breakthrough in their armour movement phase.

In the centre, the Germans have done particularly well, as that part of the line totally collapses. In the Russian part of the turn, they get 5 replacement steps.These can be used to bring units back as '1 steppers' from the dead pile or on map 1 steppers can be flipped to full strength. It is the placing of these replacements and the rail movement phase that helps the soviets keep their lines stable, or at least send blocking units to points of crisis, which is what happens in this turn. It feels as the Russian player, that this defence is barely possible and it is good to get this emotion in the game. The Soviets move to block both Moscow and Tula.

Situation (dire) at the end of the German part of turn 1.

The centre has collapsed, Moscow looks so near!

Turn 2 (10th October 1941)

The German armour gets to move twice each game turn and it is racing ahead of the infantry, but they are likely to suffer if battles do not go well for them (from Exchanges). They are the cutting edge of the army, so to lose a couple of armoured steps to Exchange results can really hurt the Germans.

(above) Near Bryansk, the Soviet 1 step unit next to the white die is attacked by the two adjacent German formations. 9 and 8 combat factors, giving 17 are compared to the defenders 4 combat factors, giving a 4:1 attack ratio. This drops down to 3:1 as the defenders claim cover from the woods. The result is an Exchange. The defenders lose 1 step, which in this case removes the unit and the attackers must match that loss. The infantry (8) unit takes the step loss to preserve the tank formation.

(above) end of turn photo - The Germans have reached the outskirts of Tula and they have closed down a lot of the Russian rail capacity. The Russians will not be able to get replacements into Tula because of German ZOCs. In most of my games, the Tula defenders do get flipped to full strength and become difficult to dislodge.

Turn 3 (17th October 1941)

It is a mud turn, which reduces all non-rail movement down to 1 hex and halves the attack values of the German tanks formations. This has come just in time for the Russians and particularly to spare Tula.

(above) You can see here that the Germans cannot really afford to risk attack. The mud halves their combat value and Tula gets defensive modifiers for being a major city and having fortifications. However, in the rear areas, the German infantry are able to mop up all of the stray Soviet units that got by-passed earlier.

(above) The Soviets start the game as 1 step. As they start to flip to their full strength as replacements arrive, they become quite formidable. From memory, the Victory Point Games version of the game has the reduced side in a pink colour and it becomes alarming to the Germans to see the mass of pink start to turn red as the defence around Moscow solidifies.

During their turn, the Soviets only bring on 1 new unit as a replacement, they spend their other 3 replacement points on flipping units around Moscow to their full strength.

Turn 4 ( 1st November 1941)

Another turn of mud. The Germans decide to attack Tula (below). 9+12+8, halved for the mud gives 14 against 4, giving a 3:1 attack. This is reduced by two columns down to a 1:1 attack due to fortifications and the major city. The result is an Exchange.

The Russian defenders (1 step) are removed from play and the '8' value 40th Panzer Corps is flipped to its reduced side. This attack was important to the Germans as the Russians need control of both Moscow and another city to win. This now leaves the Russians with just Ryazan as their second city.

In their part of the turn, the Russians get their one and only reinforcement, the powerful 1st Shock Army, this moves up to Moscow.

Turn 5 (16th November 1941)

The mud ends, but it has given the Russians time to build up considerable strength around Moscow (see below). The Germans need to break into this defence and start to fold back the flanks, so that they can get enough units adjacent to moscow to attack and importantly, get across the river (even with just 1 unit), to negate its defensive bonus.

The Soviets consider two possible counter attacks, but decide that at this stage of the game, it is not worth risking any loss to themselves. The attacks would not bring meaningful results and just holding the Germans at bay will be enough at the moment.

Turn 6 (23rd November 1941)

The Germans push back the 33rd Infantry Army, allowing their armour to move adjacent to Moscow (below).

The Soviets bring on two units below Tula and move them up to the city. They will go to full strength in the next turn and be a real threat. The Germans will have to focus some of their attention in that direction. At the top of the map, the Russians make their first attack, removing the German strength '3' unit from play.

Turn 7 (1st December 1941)

The Germans cannot win, but I decide to play the turn as best as possible, as though there was a turn 8 (i.e. no silly attacks). There is a lone German tank unit next to Moscow. It cannot attack because the defensive modifiers of the river and the city would take an attack below the 1:1 column - which is not allowed.

The Germans make three attacks. One at Tula to frustrate the Russian build-up. One in front of Moscow, that clears the Russians from the fortifications and brings more Germans next to Moscow and an attack across the River Oka (where it joins the Moskva River), which suceeds and gets the Germans onto the the other side of the river.

From these positions, the Germans might have a chance of success if another turn existed. They have captured Ryazan, so neither the Germans or the Russians can claim a victory. A draw is the result.

End of game positions.

 

If there was a turn 8, those two half strength units below Tula could go to full strength with replacements and the Germans would be forced to turn some attention towards them. The strengths around Moscow seem quite tightly balanced, both sides could face some serious losses.

Overall, the game as always was a lot of fun to play, the rules were not needed because everything can be held in your head. This would make a great mid-week gaming fix for the time-strapped wargamer. My only mistake was that on turn two in the German Armour Movement Phase (i.e. tanks only) I got careless and started moving the infantry as well, so I had to start over again.....Doh!

I had the white balance on my camera set incorrectly. The German counters are light grey, rather than the brownish colour shown here.

If you know anyone interested in getting into wargames, this may be the game that helps them to do that.

Time - Typically, a relaxed game will take around one to one and a half hours to complete.

Size - As noted above, this is a very compact game. Ideal for taking on travels and it could fit onto a large tray for gamers who game away from a table. Victory Point Games do an expansion set that covers the Soviet winter offensive, taking the game out from Dec 1941 to early March 1942, which frankly I could kick myself for not having, as the above replay left me wanting to explore what could happen next (see their website for details).

Complexity - Designed specifically as an introductory game, it is a low complexity design, but with enough of a challenge to keep regular gamers engaged. Well done to those who have been involved in the creation of this game.

Solitaire - This is a two player game that plays fine solitaire. None of the mechanics do anything to interfere with solitaire play.

 

2 comments:

  1. Great AAR! Have you tried the expansion game?

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  2. No, but I want to get it. I like the system, so it seems a good way to explore the Soviet winter counter offensive and allows roles to be changed with the Soviets properly on the attack, while game stays the same compact size.

    ReplyDelete