Sunday 29 March 2020

Red Typhoon - East front 1942

Currently in print and published by Revolution Games, this is a redo of Shigeru Hirano’s design, previously published by Command Magazine Japan and with new map graphics by Joe Youst and development by Roger Miller.

The game is covering the Soviet winter counter-offensive 1942 in front of Moscow against Army Group Centre. With it’s 5 pages of rules, this has all the makings of a really good players game. This post highlights elements of the system and gives an AAR to example some points.

Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post, which discusses the game and flow of battle.

(Reminder - this is not a review site, I just write about the games I have bought, played and liked).

This is presented as a ziplock game with a standard sized map, 1 counter sheet of half inch counters and just 5 pages of rules. It is just one of those designs / presentations that from the outset gets it right and begs to be played. One thing that immediately stands out as being helpful is the super large font used on the counters for combat and movement.

Not only is the font large, but the combat and / or the movement values are highlighted in white if that unit has a special ability. Units with a white combat value, may be able to advance two hexes after combat instead of one and white movement factors show that the unit pays different movement costs in some terrain types such as woods or road movement. So these two bold numbers on the counter have increased function.

The counters are one step units, on their reverse side is their Disrupted Status, which they flip to when retreated. Disrupted units cannot move or attack and lose their Zone of Control, so those retreat results have a bit more bite to them. At the end of a players turn there is a Recovery Phase, which allows disrupted units to automatically recover, so Disruption essentially locks down a unit for a full turn. Disruption has a nice balanced impact on the game, again for just a few lines of rules.
The map in cool winter shades, the units are set up
in their at start position. This is taken from the
Soviet side of the table.

Five pages is great for gamers looking for the ease of picking up a game. The rules are complete and well written. One of the charms of the game is that it delivers the sort of old school SPI type game that I was enjoying 40 odd years ago, but within those five pages, not only are solid and basic gaming principles underpinning play, there are some nice twists, such as the use of Activation Points to activate formations to move and fight.

Another really simple one line rule that has an impact that I hugely welcome is that the ‘attacker’ moves enemy defending units that have to retreat. Without a raft of exceptions and loosely or inadequately defined retreat priorities, this simple rule stops a defeated defender retreating into a position of advantage - such as the fancy footwork that ends up being a ‘retreat forwards’ or a retreat that is suddenly going to allow the enemy to make a concentric attack in their next turn - thank you for such a common sense approach.

So, our short, easy learn rules are not delivering a simplistic game. We are seeing that happy combination of a game with some depth, while the gamer is not getting distracted with their heads continually in a rulebook.

Each turn, a player gets an allocation of Activation Points, which are used to activate formations, which are conveniently colour banded for identification. An AP has to be spent for the formation to move and then again in the Combat Phase, another can be spent in the combat phase to allow units of that formation to attack. So formations might spend 1, 2 or zero AP’s in any given turn.

An exception is with the German Panzer units, if they have spent an activation point to move, then it is not necessary for them to spend an additional AP to attack - this is such a clever simple rule to reflect panzer division capability at the time. One of the tensions within the game is whether you have enough AP’s to do all of things that you want to do - a restriction that sits to a greater degree with the German player in the first part of the game and again, a simple mechanic that reflects the tempo of the attacker / defender capability in this campaign and it is this sort of thing that is getting this designer a lot of effect for very little rules overhead.

Setting up - At the start of play, you can set up your formations within their start zones with some freedom - or you can choose the fixed set up in which units are given set up locations and this is the option we will take for our first playing of this game.

Victory - There are end of game general victory conditions that are based upon capture of objectives and enemy casualties, but there is also a ‘sudden death’ element if one side or the other reaches the enemy supply sources at the edge of the map. This is a nice touch as it reflects the Germans being surrounded or the Soviets responding to a German breakthrough that threatens Moscow.

The following AAR gives a light overview of play by highlighting some specific moments that help showcase the system.
At the start of play, there is a natural gap in the
German line that begs to be exploited!

Turn 1 - With the Germans only getting 4 Activation Points and the Soviets getting 7 AP's plus a DRM  combat bonus for all turn 1 combats, this is going to be a tough turn for the Germans.
See combat example below. This is the first attack
in the game and it leaves the way open for the Soviet

Combat Example - 4 Soviet units with a total attack value of 17 attack the German 132nd Infantry Division (the grey 4-5 unit). Total strengths give 17:4 which converts to a ratio of 4 to 1 attack against the infantry, but the dice is modified by -1 for the defence of being behind the river and a further -1 for defending in woods. However, on turn 1, the Soviets get a +2 attack bonus, so in this case we get Dice Roll Modifiers (DRM’s) of -2 for the defensive position and +2 for the turn 1 attack, so they cancel each other out and we will use the D6 roll unmodified.

On the 4:1 column, a 6 (best result) is rolled, which is a Defender Eliminated result, so the 132nd Infantry is removed from play. The attackers can advance 1 hex into the now vacant hex ... except the unit with the white attack value, which can advance 2 hexes.

The next attack, immediately to the right gets a ‘Contact’ result, which basically is a ‘no effect’ result.

The Germans scramble to cover gaps and adjust their line, but there are not enough German Activation Points (AP’s) to adjust the useful 2nd Panzer Army’s position (out on the German right) or make any attacks. 

Turn 2 - The Soviets have enough AP’s to do what they want, except for their forces in front of 4th Panzer Army. But the dice do not particularly favour them and mixed fortunes means they do not make much progress.
2nd Panzer make a limited attack against the 4-5 unit.
Note the Disrupted unit below, that has lost it's ZoC.

Lack of significant Soviet momentum allows the Germans to feel that they are not too threatened and they adjust the line to support their left flank, which is under pressure, leaving them 1 AP, so that out on the right, despite meagre AP resources, 2nd Panzer Army launch a limited counter-attack, intended to distract the Soviets.

Turn 3 - German available AP’s grow to 5 this turn. The Soviets are forced to spend an AP on their left to re-adjust their line against the 2nd Panzer attack. Elsewhere they make some local gains, but they just don’t seem to be putting the Germans under enough threat and they are taking losses. They are trying to turn enemy flanks near Sukinichi.
The Soviets prise apart the German forces at the gap.

The German centre tries to pull back. 4th Panzer Army manage to, but 4th Infantry Army next to them are a bit snarled up positionally with all those Soviet Zones of Control, plus disrupted units can’t move at all. 2nd Panzer Army on the right have done so well that they are turning their limited attack into a full assault.

Note pulling back and disengaging is a good tactic, as it forces the enemy to spend more AP’s as it cost 1 AP to move (back to contact) and another to attack. 

Turn 4 - Some hopeful Soviet attacks are DIRE! Their airborne unit becomes available and rather than deploying behind the enemy, they are obliged to join the Soviet defences on the left against the encroaching 2nd Panzer Army. If the Germans reach the 4 Soviet supply hubs on the Soviet baseline, they will win an instant victory! so this push by 2nd Panzer is a threat.

Partisans are randomly placed in woods near Roslavl, forcing German rear units to activate to deal with partisan activity.

The Germans are pleased enough with their situation, that they hold back an AP to use in the next turn.

Things are not looking good for the Soviets. Can they hold back 2nd Panzer long enough to make their own breakthrough on the right.  

Turn 5 - The Soviets have the makings of a break through, centre right at Rzhev against German 9th Infantry army, but their attacks elsewhere suffer abysmally and 1st Shock Army is withdrawn from play.
The Soviets take Rzhev, note the German disrupted
unit on the left does not have a ZoC.

4th Panzer Army (centre) go over onto the offensive (where 1st Shock Army was just withdrawn from) and make gains. The Soviets are pretty much on the back foot now.

Turn 6 - Soviet AP’s drop to 6 per turn. They are still trying to break out at Rzhev, while pressure against them is growing pretty much everywhere else.

Turn 7 - German AP’s now grow to 6 per turn, so both armies are equally resourced and commanded. The Germans attempt to retake Rzhev and fail! Elsewhere on either side, things are fairly settled. 

Turn 8 - The Soviets have stabilised the front and begin an envelopment of 4th Panzer Army, who counter-attack and give themselves some breathing space.
4th Panzer are becoming enveloped!

Turn 9 - The 4th Panzer Army are eventually pocketed and lose 3 divisions, they are floundering in their attempts to break out. Over at Rzhev, another German attempt to take the city is repulsed.

This brings us to the end of the game. Neither side got their ‘instant victory’ so this is decided by Victory Points, which confirm what the eye is seeing, that the Germans have significantly won. This is largely due to the fact that despite losses, which are roughly equal to Soviet losses, they have for the most part held onto their cities, with the front line not having moved that much since the Soviet Offensive began!

This was a really enjoyable game, with a variety of things going on at the local level that kept the game dynamic and fresh, with both sides hoping on a turn-by-turn basis to make that tipping point attack that sees the momentum of breakthrough follow from it. Strategically your plan matters and you will be pushing the game in a certain direction, but there is also a lot of interest right down to individual attacks and movements.

I clearly mismanaged the early Soviet attack, I think the game is demanding an early Soviet significant breakthrough with the Germans in the first half of the game retreating and having to deal with that. Looking at the Victory Point allocation on the map, it seems like the designer / developers expect the battles to form in the mid map locations.

My game ended up quite static, though the dice did not favour the Soviets and in fact were not always generous to the German side. So it seems that my first game has taken me through the learning curve of better understanding the importance of using disruptions (no zones of control) to unhinge the German defences early with the threat of pocketing and causing isolation by cutting supply and using the partisans to aid that.

The good thing is that I immediately want to play this again! 

The most striking thing about this game is the amount of system that the designer has been able to pull in with absolute minimum rules overhead. For a 5 page rule set, this game is doing a lot.

Some Gamers (me) will appreciate a combat chart that is showing retreat / elim / contact / exchange type results, further adding to the ‘classic’ credentials of the design. Likewise counter information is limited to attack / movement factors, but the Activation Points system as well as the white combat factors are working in the background to bring some command and control and  tactical capability nuance to the game. 

I played the game on a large pinboard with plexi at the family table, moving it to one side for a meal after two hours of play and then returning it to the table in the evening. It is a game that sits at a level requiring one long or two shorter sessions and has enough size and depth to be engaging over the total playing time.

Collection Status - This is a stand alone system, that can come off the shelf frequently without a major rule re-learning. I can see this becoming a familiar favourite, probably more for solo play as it plays longer than our typical face-to-face session.

Complexity - The game does not come with a complexity rating, but I would put it at low. The 5 pages are pretty standard wargame systems, with the additional twists having good impact for low rules overhead and are easy to absorb. The rules are very clean, I didn’t have any questions at all during play. For a low complexity game, it has a good bit of depth, so I would describe it as simple but not simplistic.

Size -  A standard 1 mapper, with holding boxes etc on the map, so additional play aides around the map are not needed. It has 200 small counters and stacking never exceeds 3 units. The game manages to do away with unit markers by each counter having their disrupted status on their backs. The game is ideally suited to the space of the kitchen table - but see the notes below on playing time for such practicalities. 

Solitaire - This essentially is a two player game that plays fine solo, just play both sides to their best advantage, which is what many of us do anyway. The above AAR was solo played and was a lot of fun. In some ways, the Combat table helps as rolling badly or well and having an important attack succeed or fail, sets its own new set of dilemmas for the other side at that location, often forcing the expenditure of AP’s to deal with the repercussion, leaving the player less opportunity to ‘choose’ how they ‘want’ to spend APs’. Also, the disrupted result takes away some player control as those units can neither move or attack in their turn.

Time - The company website puts the game length at 4-7 hours. This variation is interesting and I think shows two things. Firstly the game will take longer if one or both players tend to deliberate over decisions, as there are a lot of decisions in the game. Secondly, a good early Soviet breakthrough will lead to a lot of action and reaction, lengthening play. In my game, a poor Soviet start on my part led to largely static lines and I think this sped up the play as decision making and manoeuvre was cut down. My game came in at 3 hours, so perhaps for my gaming style 4 to 5 hours might some seem reasonable for future games ..... If I can only learn how to use the Soviet army better :-).

Resource Section.

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