Sunday, 28 July 2019

Moscow 1941, S&T 317 by Decision Games

An operational game covering the advance of Army Group Centre in the Autumn of 1941 in their drive for Moscow, using weekly turns, 30 miles to the hex and with units representing divisions.  The action starts from the first week in October and extends through to the New Year. The German starting positions have the recently captured Smolensk in their immediate rear.

With large hexes, Moscow itself is just 10 hexes away, but the terrain, mud, snow and resilience of the Soviet Army makes this a hard fight.

The system is heavily based around their very successful Leningrad game system and the opening rules suggest that players of Leningrad need only give a cursory read of the rules and they will be up and running with the game.

The rest of this post looks at the game and highlights a few aspects of the system, with the help of in-game photographs and comment.

Please use the 'read more' tab for the rest of this post.

The original Leningrad game was (is) a nice compact design that came from the famed Panzergruppe Guderian stable and originally played out on a quarter sized map sheet and then the reprint doubled this to a half size map, allowing larger hexes. The Leningrad game has previously been covered here by a blog article (see Resource Section below for a link).

Moscow 1941 is a full mapper, enjoying oversized hexes and still leaving enough room for all the game charts placed onto the side of the map. The map has tidy artwork, with the open ground done in ‘cold’ tones, reflecting the transition into winter and making the snow rules feel right. The counters are of the larger size, showing silhouettes of either infantry or vehicles and the two armies are easy to tell apart.
My set up with a German right hook
attack planned.

The rulebook is a pull out supplement in the S&T magazine, which at 16 pages only has 11 pages of well illustrated and exampled easy read rules. The 4 spare pages at the rear of the ruleset have been given over to advertising, a lost opportunity in my opinion as the back page at least would have been more helpfully used to replicate the game charts that only exist (side on) on the map.

The magazine is a solid production with the main article looking at the Moscow ‘41 campaign. It includes a photograph of a horse up to its belly in mud, a very graphic reminder of how harsh the effect of the Russian Rasputitsa (mud) on movement was.

Firstly I just have to say (shout actually) ... the system uses my favourite game mechanic ...... untried units! That is, all the Soviet units set up face down, with their true combat value unknown to either play until the point of contact, at which time they are flipped over to reveal their strength, though in this game the potential extremes are dampened down as a lot of the units turn out to be value 3 or 4, so the German player will often ‘assume’ this, though that adds to the surprise when a 1, 5 or 6 value turns up.

This can leave the German player committing more forces than they need to secure a combat result and you can bet that those stronger Soviet units will turn up in the most awkward places or with the worst timing! to hamper German intentions. Likewise in Overruns, nothing is guaranteed against an untried unit and in Overrun combat (done during the movement phase), if the target hex is cleared, the attackers must advance and must absorb any damage as step losses (rather than taking retreat results instead), so the untried element brings a tension to the game and is of course a great help to solitaire play.

The Soviet player is unlikely to want to attack in this game. They get two combat strengths, one for defence and one for attack, with the attack value being notably poor. The exception is the Soviet armoured reserve, which collectively have a better punch, but that is set against the fear of losing those units, though it does put the German player on their guard against leaving a single low strength infantry unit protecting a valuable location.

The Combat Result Table (CRT) is using split results, so a single attack has a result for both the defender and attacker and these are termed as No Effect, 1, 2 and Elimination. The Elimination result does not start to become a possibility until 6:1 or higher attack odds are achieved, so most often it will be those ‘1’ and ‘2’ results that crop up.

A ‘1’ means the the side involved must either take one step loss or retreat 1 hex. The ‘2’ increases this to two step losses or retreating two hexes, but can also be split into one loss and a one hex retreat (except as said, successful overruns take all damage as losses).

Of significance is that the Soviet units only have 1 step, as the other side of their counter is the ‘untried’ side, while the Germans have two combat steps and so have greater tactical flexibility, while the Soviet units are more brittle.

The German player with some strong tank units can bring such fire power to a single attack, that they can hope with good reason for an Elimination result, but so much strength going into one attack means limiting the number of attacks during the turn. Far better therefore for the German player to try and get into positions of pocketing the enemy, so that they cut off avenues of retreat, forcing units into taking step losses instead. Allowing the Soviet Army to retreat and fight another day, just keeps it too strong / numerous for too long.

In this game, the Germans do not get any reinforcements or replacements at all, while the Soviets get just one unit per turn, with a game bonus of four extra units that sit on the turn track, so both sides pretty much only have finite resources, making taking the time to carefully knock Soviet forces out, a strategic necessity.

The combat at odds at 3:1 are still only 50% favourable to an attacker and so the German temptation to maintain forward momentum will be to increase attack attack strengths for better odds and maybe going over the top a little, certainly against the uncertainty of untried units and in snow turns when attacking is harder. By its nature this can leave the German player only attacking in a few places each turn.

The combat attack value is modified on the Combat Chart by a number of modifiers that produce column shifts. There are quite a few of these and it pays the player to work methodically through these to make sure that all circumstances are captured, especially as the terrain chart does not list combat effects.

An example of this is that Soviets in a city get a 3 column shift, while German forces only get 2 and snow only penalises German attacks and so the list serves as a good rule reminder to catch everything including non-terrain based modifiers such as a 2 left shift for Overrun Assaults or 2 shift for being out of supply etc.

Supply rules can sometimes be a little convoluted in Barbarossa campaign games, but here it a very simply done. A supply line must be 5 Movement Points or less to a supply source or to a road that without interruption leads to a supply source. Importantly, supply sources are the towns and cities that the player held at the start of the game, so once the German has advanced beyond those 5 MP’s, control of the road net becomes critical to ensure supply can be carried further forward. This no doubt represents supply via rail hubs in a convenient way, but players must be ever watchful of losing an original supply hub, a reason why the German player, even though massing at attack points along the line, must still ensure the whole front line remains covered and protected to prevent a Soviet spoiling penetration into their rear supply areas.

The historical situation to the overall campaign saw the Germans making massive gains, overruns and encirclements in the early summer battles, but the latter battles (that we are simulating), that saw them get to within 30 miles of Moscow, became increasingly challenging as they had to fight both the Soviets, the mud and the winter!

In this game, the potential for mud starts on turn 2 (against a die roll) and by turn 6 (2nd week in November) the weather roll may see the mud giving way to snow. Either way, the German player in this part of the campaign has just about gone past the ‘good weather’ phase and will suffer weather penalties on most turns, but they still have some of the summer benefits on turn 1 with a Special Rule that gives German attacks a four column shift to the right, so for one guaranteed turn, they can still ‘make hay while the sun shines’ as the old saying goes and the difference between turns one and two, especially if mud occurs, brings into sharp focus the sudden turn in campaign environmental conditions as summer closes and life for the attacker gets much harder.

To win, the Germans must take and hold Moscow by the end of any given turn, or failing that, at the end of the game, victory points are used to compare how the two sides have performed. Part of this is based upon German losses, so the German player must minimise loss if they are not to take the Capital itself.

The flow of battle (demonstrated AAR).
Today, the German plan is to make a powerful armoured attack on the right, to break out into the open terrain and threaten Moscow from the south. This threat will draw across the Soviet armour reserve, allowing the German centre (weakened to give the right more armour) to push onto Moscow from the west.
The German right flank

The left flank is in very difficult terrain and the German plan is to hold and pin this flank rather than have it pull in precious resources. If they can take Andreapol to help collapse the Soviet right, then all the better, but this is not an expectation.
The left flank rest on difficult terrain.
The Centre - this was an under-powered set up
as I was about to discover.

Here is an example of the first combat that takes place on the right, it is an overrun with mainly tank units. Total German attack value is 37 plus air support, the Soviet defenders (stack of 2 units) value is 8, so we are on the 4:1 column. The column modifiers are as follows;

2 to the left (bad) for being an overrun attack, 1 right for the attacker having armour, 1 right for attacker having air support, 1 left for attacking across a river, then a huge 4 to the right for the first turn attack bonus. This puts us on the 7:1 column. The die roll is 5 (good) which results in an E/- result. 

The first result (E) applies to the defender. This is an elimination result, so both defending units are simply removed from the game. The second result (-) applies to the attacker, which is a ‘no effect’ result. So the attackers do not suffer a penalty and they advance into the now empty hex.

By the end of Turn 1, 25 Soviet Divisions have been destroyed and the German right flank has enveloped the enemy. However! On checking the supply rules, I note that supply is traced back to originally owned towns and cities, not new ones captured, so capturing the road net to do this is crucial. On the German right taking Bryansk is now critical to start to open the Bryansk - Orel - Kursk road, this ambition is going to take several turns and the straight drive over open ground for Moscow is not going to happen .... just yet! (edit ... looks like I have put the emphasis of attack in the wrong place!)

The right breaks out, but pushes beyond
their supply limits ... oops!

Turn 2 - The Germans get unlucky, there is a 50% chance that the muddy season will start - and it does! Kursk is attacked by units out of supply (silly!), but it just holds, with both sides taking losses.

Turn 3 - Kursk is reinforced, Germans efforts are now focused on the Bryansk sector to get access to that highway. Soviet divisions are already starting to take up positions in fortifications around Moscow. The Soviets have now lost 41 divisions, which is roughly 40% of their total force. Is the ‘front door’ ready to be kicked in? (here is a clue ... No!)

Bryansk, this should have been an
early German objective.

Turn 4 - Not a good turn for the Germans, the few attacks made were not impressive and the lines roughly stayed the same.

Turn 5 - Bryansk falls! The push eastwards can resume.

Turn 6 - The first snow arrives, with the ground freezing over, the German mobility improves (compared to that terrible mud!) but their attacks suffer a 2 column shift left, making overruns very costly and unlikely to be made and in the Combat Phase, those Soviets defending in good terrain need a concentration of divisions to defeat them.

Although it looks like the Germans are being held (which they are!), the Soviet line is in fact becoming stretched and brittle, but the delays are helping the Soviets bring replacement divisions into the fortifications around Moscow.

Turn 7 (week commencing 13th November) - the dreaded mud returns. Orel and Kursk still hold out.

Turn 8 - Snow is back. A massive attack is made against Orel. The Germans successfully take this important hub for the movement of supply. Kursk also falls.

Orel, Germans attack with air support.

Turn 9 - The German right pushes back the collapsing Soviet left flank, while the Soviets re-organise all units that can be spared to strengthen the Moscow fortifications, aiming to get two divisions per 30 mile frontage (2 units per hex).

Turn 10 - The first attacks against the outer ring of fortifications are made by the German centre, it is costly to both sides.

Turn 11 - The Germans arrive at the fortifications in greater numbers, now attacking from both the west and the south. The defences hold up, with both sides taking heavy casualties.

Turn 12 - Breakthrough! The first sector of the outer defences falls in the south, but there are still enough Soviet formations to block the path to Moscow.
The outer fortifications are penetrated
in three places.

Turn 13 (end turn) - The Germans break through the outer fortifications in three places and the Soviets have started to run out of reserves, making it harder to switch units to critical points, but it doesn’t matter, the timetable is against the Germans and their offensive ends without reaching Moscow or even getting adjacent to it ..... they don’t know it yet, but the Soviets are about to launch a massive counter-attack with new armies - I will be looking at this offensive in another game called Red Typhoon by Revolution Games, which will make an interesting follow-on to this game.

With a failure to capture Moscow, success is measured by victory point count, which is based upon German losses and their proximity to Moscow. They have suffered a total of 18 casualty points, giving the Soviets a Tactical Victory. Note just another 3 casualty points lost and this would have been a Strategic Soviet Victory.

Conclusion - This is a players game. Our face-to-face game went well. Mike as the German player felt it was a ‘bit of a grind’ and he thought the game favoured the Soviets. My full play suggests this may be true, but I think my plan was flawed and that there is a learning curve to getting the best out of the armies and in both games, the Germans got mud on turn 2, if instead they had got another turn of clear weather, this might make a difference to a stronger opening.

I feel that the grind for the German player is the appropriate emotional connection to the game for the the German player, it should not be an easy task. What I felt was missing, was an emotional connection for the Soviet play of desperation. In both games, I felt as the Soviet player that despite losses, I had enough forces on hand to hold the Germans, with a bit of spare capacity, though this is based on just two games and a better opening plan on my part may have given a different game. 

For the figure gamer who doesn’t really do boardgames, but would like a few easy to get into  titles on hand for the occasional dabble, then this is a good candidate game for you if the subject interests. For everyone else, it will give that easy, pull off the shelf and quickly get to playing type game, with enough  going on to entertain. I can see this title being popular and going out of print quickly, especially with its connection to the Leningrad (and in turn Panzergruppe Guderian) system.

Overall, I am glad I have made the purchase, it is my first S&T bought in years and I can see this getting onto the table again soon .... if only to try and work out the puzzle for German success. I think next time, I will put the main German opening effort in the centre and at Bryansk to take the two highways, which I am guessing is how the designer intended to see the game played out.    

Complexity - This is a low complexity game. The rules are very well illustrated and are an easy read. Never-the-less, there are some important rules tucked away here and there, but the rules are short enough that these don’t really get lost, but they need to be understood to capture the subtle flavours and nuance in the game. Players of all levels of experience can enjoy this package and that includes anyone new to wargaming. The rules are clean and I only found one piece of minor errata and that was about whether the Soviet reinforcements on the track start arriving on turn 2 or 3 (unanswered as of yet, so I just went with the track information). 

EDIT - the designer has stated that the Game Track information for bonus reinforcements is correct, the rules on the matter are wrong.

Size - With just one full map, no play aids and low counter density, this game will set up in a 3’ x 2’ space. It comes in a magazine ziplock format and you can get 3 - 5 of these sort of games, including their counters into a typical box file, so storage is less of an issue.

Solitaire - This is a two player game, that like many such wargames plays fine solitaire. It is significantly helped in this regard by some randomised weather and the untried units rule, which impacts on both sides. The above replay is based on a solo play.

Time - In our face-to-face game, we only got halfway through the game, but it was a short session of just over a couple of hours of game time and we were still feeling our way through the game and working out how best to use the armies. I timed my solo game and reached the end of the game in 4 hours and 10 minutes. The second half of the game plays faster than the first half.

Resource Section.

My sister webspace COMMANDERS is a bit more snippet based than here. Link.

The blog article on the Leningrad game. LINK.


  1. Thanks for posting, Norm. I have this and it's on the list to be played. (Probably with different counters, it would have been played already. I really don't like them because I prefer NATO symbology at this level.) I guessed it would be playable easily solitaire and glad to see that confirmed by your post.

  2. Hi Ellis, the artwork matches the Leningrad game and I found myself 'zoning out' of the single figure look quite quickly. What I did notice though is the four Soviet counters that go onto the game track as bonus reinforcements are meant to be differentiated from the main Soviet force by colour, but they look really close to my eye - it makes no difference to the game, as their designations are mentioned in the rules anyway.

  3. Excellent game review, Norm. You provide a tangible example of what is it like to play the game.

    I agree with Ellis regarding the artwork and icons on the counters. I made the same critique in your earlier Leningrad game. At this level, icons simply do not work for me especially the solitary infantry symbol.

  4. Thanks Jonathan, yes at this stage of the war, we are probably representing divisions of around 18,000 men. Oddly enough I am generally happy to see Nato infantry symbols mixed in the same game with icons for vehicles.

    1. I have enjoyed games with vehicle silhouettes combined with NATO-type infantry symbols. When facing is important, I still do not care for the vehicle silhouettes but it all is a matter of preferences. Have you played Peoples' Wargames' Black Sea Black Death? That is a one-mapper with NATO-style infantry symbols for infantry and silhouettes for vehicles. If so, I would certainly enjoy seeing your review of that one. Fascinating situation.

    2. I have never played or owned that game despite handling it often at the game store in the early eighties. I think when L2 did a reprint of the Russian Campaign, they included multi counter alternatives, so that the gamer could choose how they wanted their counter to look ( i.e. NATO) and this included a different sets for the SS, so that those offended by black counters could choose instead to have them in the Wehrmacht colours.

  5. I was an alpha tester for Moscow 1941 and there were maybe a dozen rules that we clarified during playtesting. The Soviets won 3 of the 4 games I played but 2 of the losses could have gone either way. Another playtester had two crushing wins as the Germans.

    I've played another game against a newcomer to the hobby and he liked it a lot but would have preferred a 2-3 hours playing time.

    From my perspective, the complexity and playability feels right for a magazine. Easy to get into, fun to play, and will take no more than a long afternoon to play (or maybe two evenings). The Germans can try different strategies and thus I think one will have more than enough play for the money.

  6. Hi, thanks for the interesting insight to the balance of play. I think it is a good players game and will be trying again, but with more force applied to the centre. There is as you say good replayability here.

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  8. On both and BoardGameGeek I have posted my critique of the panzer divisions' starting strengths.

    Also, key units like Panfilov's 312th Rifle Division are missing, so in both places I have posted a graphic of suggested revision and additional units - both front and back and for the Russians corrected, facing the west. Enjoy. :-)

    There is also some question about stacking. In Ty Bomba's WaW #65 with hexes 7.5 miles across, he (correctly at that scale) has stacking as 3 divisions plus a subdivision unit - since divisions could concentrate on a very narrow front to attack. In this Moscow 1941 with hexes 22 miles across, the stacking is (still) only 4 units.

    Good to see the importance of the roads emphasized for supply. They were all the Germans had for that.

    Lou Coatney

    1. Well, curiosity got the better of me and went off to BoardGameGeek to read your critique. The result was not what I expected.

    2. Thanks Lou, I am following the BGG thread with interest, but with mixed feelings. I like accuracy and research and if that is too far out (as you suggest) it does spoil the enjoyment of the game for me, but had I not seen your critique I would never had known about such potential issues and I have enjoyed the game for its own sake and want to play it again. On the flip side, I'm not sure that one designer criticising another is a good look and the tone of the thread seemed to quickly degenerate. I wanted to comment there, but felt it best just to stay out of it.

      Yes, the value of the roads in the game was part of my learning curve and it does elevate the simulation. I found it an interesting part of my journey to see all that open space on the right and assume it to be ideal tank country, only to discover that for supply reasons the Germans could not actually develop that attack without also having the road net.

  9. Another excellent boardgame write up. The effort you put into these posts really makes them an enjoyable read.

    1. Thanks for the thumbs up Peter, I sometimes fear they get a bit wordy. I am enjoying your paper army posts.

  10. Great write up the system, your go over the mechanics and illustrated game play showcase the game. I like the hidden strength mechanic.
    I almost did a spit take when I read the soviets lost 41 divisions. Man the war in the East was on such a large scale.

  11. Thanks stew, I love the hidden movement mechanic, though it seems perhaps most suitable for the 1941 Russian front campaign, rather than for wider application - having said that, in my own 1066 Stamford Bridge design, the Vikings were caught on the hop with a goodly number of the hop, with a goodly number of the soldiers in the hot weather having left their armour at their base. I simulated that by having two strengths of unit and the having the front rank set up face down and 'untried' - so it can have its place outside its usual occurrence of Barbarossa.

    Yes, the losses were horrendous and typically is the sort of the thing that should grab the wargamers attention. In the magazine article that comes with the game, it says that by the start of this phase 215 Soviet divisions had been destroyed and replaced with 236 Divisions and 199 Brigades. The loss is mind boggling.

    I have just been watching a crime drama based on the UK home front in the war and the effects of 'total war',from a whole nation being in uniform, to a whole nation grieving for lost ones, to a whole nation being hungry and to a whole nation becoming different people due to loss and becoming desensitised or numbed by death and by returning soldiers trying to fit back into ordinary life, is a thought provoking side to a war that wargamers tend to just crunch down into a few attack values and movement rates.

    It strikes me that it is right to ponder these elements and to respect the subject.

  12. As always a great review Norm and a game that shows up the problems both sides faced on such a large front. Too long a playing time for me sadly, with 2 hours ideal, 3 at a push for a mid-week game.

  13. Thanks Steve, I was surprised at the 4 hour play time, perhaps 3 hours would be a better sweet spot for this type of game.

  14. Thanks Norm I think I need to try out one of these games, the challenge is finding one where rules simplicity are authenticity are balanced. Will give it some thought, I will check out your Leningrad post later

  15. Thanks Matt, Frank Chadwick’s Battle for Moscow is probably the best starting point for a non-boardgamer to break into boardgaming and in fact that game was specifically designed for that purpose and the original was free (by GDW at that time) when first produced.

    It is something I will give some thought to and perhaps build up a post around a game that would serve as a good intro and be something to keep on hand for future play when the fancy takes.

    having just one or two such titles will be just enough for many gamers to be able to scratch an itch or turn to when bigger set-ups are not convenient for whatever reason..

    1. Chadwick's Battle for Moscow is about my favorite board game right now because it is simple and fast. I've been playing board games since 1963 but have lost patience with games that go one and on. Moscow 1941 sounds good, but 4 hours is beyond my window these days. I prefer my miniatures games end before then. Your reports are excellent.

    2. Thank you, I really must get this gem back onto the table soon.

  16. As always an interesting review. I like the various mechanisms that makes like difficult for the German player even though he has a combat advantage he needs to be concerned about his long supply lines,I think that rings true to me, the eastern front was epic compared to Europe and the number of casualties numbing.
    Best Iain

  17. Thanks Iain, yes, the scale of ambition, resources, risk and loss were all monumental and the game does give a sense of that, all very sobering really.



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