Saturday 22 October 2022

Battle for Moscow - Operation Typhoon 1941

In 1986, wargaming luminary Frank Chadwick of Games Designers’ Workshop (GDW), put together a game with just 4 pages of rules that were to (a) cover the basic principles of wargaming and (b) be given away for free, to serve as an introduction for new players to the hobby. Of course this fine  game turned out to be very enjoyable for veteran gamers as well …. so here we are!

The subject (Operation Typhoon) covers the 1941 German drive towards Moscow by Army Group Centre.

For a light touch look at a play-through of the 3Ci version (RBM Studio) of the game, please use the ‘read more’ tab. 

In 2009, Victory Point Games put this game back into print as a commercial venture. I had the game and wrote up a detailed turn by turn blog post, that explains the mechanics via that play through. For those wanting more technical detail than given here today, there is a link to that post in the Resource Section below.

In 2011 RBM Studio included a copy of the game in their excellent C3i magazine and it is this version that we have on the table today.

As my purchase of new boardgames seems to reduce, I went through some of my boardgame collection yesterday, looking for those titles that I would like to play more often in our face to face games, hoping for increased familiarity with good solid designs while having reduced interference of always wanting to play the next new shiny thing that tend to shove themselves to the top of the play list.

Battle for Moscow is one such candidate and is playable in a short session, so it graces the table tonight in my face-to-face game with Mike.

The Germans from their start lines roughly along the Smolensk - Roslavl - Bryansk axis, have 7 turns (2nd October through to 1st December) to capture Moscow. For the Soviets to win, they must retain control of Moscow plus one other city. Any other result is a draw. 

At start Soviet positions. Moscow is top right.

Above - start positions are fixed. This is the Soviet set up. All units are strength 4 infantry units (i.e. they are on their reduced side). The Germans will set up on the black crosses. They have a goodly mix of unit types and strengths and they have an opportunity to plan their deployment with a view to an early breakthrough. 

There are two mud turns, which drastically slows down German progress and halves the attack value of their panzer formations. So this game has a tight schedule for the Germans if they are to reach and take the capital city by turn 7.

Further, as the game proceeds, Soviet reinforcements will either arrive with strength 4 units and / or any in supply strength 4 units already on the map and in supply can flip to their full strength side (8). As the number of full strength Soviet units start to increase around Moscow, the German grind will just get harder.

Unleashing the Typhoon!

Initial attacks in this game are quite important. A hole needs to be blown in the Soviet line that will allow the German armour to penetrate deeply, in a way that they don’t get held up by enemy ‘sticky’ zones of control. 

Wherever that main punch comes from, the German strength 12 panzer units will likely need to make some lone attacks against strength 4 units resulting in 3:1 attacks, reduced to 2:1 if there is defensible terrain. Such low odd attacks are of course hostage to the dice and will not always pay off, but with a little bit of Lady Luck on your side, it can open up the front.

The further right that the German chooses to make their initial main effort, the more open the ground and less defensible.

In our game, following the initial attack, enough of a chain of surviving Soviet units and their sticky zones of control remained, to hamper German first strike movement. Initial Soviet replacements were fed into the cities of Moscow and Tula, with other units sent to man the fortified defences immediately in front of Moscow.

The point is, by holding the Germans back lower down, they have gained an extra turn to allow for their on-board reinforcements this turn to be flipped to their full strength side (8 combat points) next turn before they get drawn into action.

Mud starts (turns 2 and 3).

Above - the two mud turns are about to start. This is a real challenge for the German side, all movement, except for Soviet rail movement, is reduced to a measly 1 hex per turn and German armour is reduced to half strength in attack.

German armour has reached Tula (right centre), but in the mud will not be strong enough to attack, while you can see that towards the left of the map, the Soviets still hold Bryansk and Orel. Also note that lone red unit on the very far left, it has managed to survive and pin 4 German units in place, who are trying to remove it and even if successful will struggle to get back up to the front line before the end of play. 

Moscow still only has half strength units in the defensive belt to its front, but these will flip to full strength before the Germans reach them.

The mud season ends

Above - the two mud turns are over and the Germans can crack on with a more meaningful assault, but of course, the Soviets have used this time to bring a lot of their defending force up to strength 8.  A reinforcing strength 10 Shock Army unit has been moved to defend Moscow itself.

The Soviets still control Orel (bottom centre) and Tula (lower right), though the German armour is gathering around Tula in some strength. Already, the Moscow defensive belt is looking quite formidable. 

End of play

Above - the end of play, Tula fell, but the Soviets have put up a successful defence around Moscow that has not been penetrated, so the Germans have not won. 

Have the Soviets won? Well yes, sort of. They must hold Moscow and one other city, which they do (Orel) ……. but, the holding of that second city occurred due to a player cock-up. A player is supposed to declare all attacks before any are made. You can see where some German units have been rotated to face specific target hexes to indicate attack intention and in this case, the Germans did not declare an attack against the second city.

Accepting a ‘technical’ win for the Soviets, post game we played out the attack on the second city and the Germans did indeed capture it, so in the spirit of fair wargaming, the game was considered a draw.

Overall, a very enjoyable game in which focus was on manoeuvre and objectives and notably, the rules were not referenced once. 

We have played this a few times and feel that although the Germans can win, the game, for us at least, tends to have a play balance in favour of the Soviets, but this only heightens the sense of challenge and determination for the German player to get the satisfaction of a well earned win.

This game will continue to be brought to the table for re-matches particularly on those occasions that we are looking for something light and short playing. The small footprint makes it a great vacation friend!  

Play concluded at a leisurely pace in around 90 minutes, leaving another hour for some chat and a discussion over another table that I had set-up with a small game of Epic Napoleonics (Warlord Games) ready for doing doing a further run of the Valour & Fortitude rules that are freely downloadable from the Perry site, though that is for another post :-)

Resource Section.

A look at the system and AAR in the Victory Point Games version of the game. LINK

My sister webspace ‘COMMANDERS’ is being re-configured to showcase various figure and boardgame systems that I am enjoying and gives a flavour of where current ongoing projects are up to. Link.


  1. Fantastic analysis. I hadn't realised the scale of this game, and that it could in fact be used as a neat campaign map for a number of tabletop battles.
    I did get GDW's 'Stand & Die' (which has some first battle principles in it) for this very reason and to use with FoB ww2, but perhaps Typhoon is at a much more manageable scale. It looks and sounds like it has great gameplay too.

    1. Thanks Darren, Stand and Die was an impressive design, big, bold and still highly playable, but the smaller footprint of Battle for Moscow would be easier to keep set up and put to one side as a series of tabletop battles unfold from its play.

  2. I played the online version of this game Norm and it was a nail biter coming down to the last turn. (Sov's won). The brilliance of the design dawned on me then when I realized the Germans actually can win this, but it's not easy. There are strategic decisions both sides must make about priorities and focus and therein lies the brilliance of the design - It's not an attritional game.

  3. Hi Steve, the online version is very good and true to the original design, though over repeated play, it becomes reveals that the Germans must do well on turn 1 and reach the gates of Moscow to do well in the game and help deliver several crisis points to the Soviet side.

    It is one of the few ‘four page’ games can can deliver everything it needs to without compromise and the design decisions just works. A good example is ‘supply status’, which in many east front games is laboriously covered, yet here, it is not mentioned a such, but is present due to the inability to bring replacements to flipped units.


  4. Being a small footprint game, this conforms nicely to your small space preferences. This is an example of good things coming in small packages. I am not sure how many new wargamers this intro game brought into the hobby but good to see you still enjoy it. Did you notice that Compass Games is revising and re-releasing three of GDW’s 120 series games? That trio might fit your small table too. It will interesting to see what CG does to bring these games up to today’s standards and trends. CG’s treatment of GDW’s Red Star/White Eagle was a winner in my book.

  5. Hi Jonathan, I wonder whether the success of Battle for Moscow was that initially regular gamers directed potential newbies to the free copy and that since then, veteran gamers have bought it and if trying tyo introduce someone themselves to play, turn to it as a ready made platform. One will never know.

    It is small enough that some enterprising publisher could piggy back a a new version of the game onto an existing print run and once again distribute it for free. It does what it does well.

    Yes, I am delighted about the three GDW 120 games …. More please :-)

    1. For a very small but challenging game, did you ever play TAHGC’s The Hundred Days? I may have dig up my freebie Battle for Moscow 1941. It must be buried around here somewhere.

    2. Ah, there is a blast from the past (together with the similarly packaged Arcola). I played it and bought it twice! Which seems strange, as from memory, it was not a game that particularly gripped me. I think your BfM ‘41 is certainly deserving of an outing to your table. It strikes me that the engine could be happily used for other battles and situations.

  6. Norm - I see there’s a gamebook on Amazon called “On to Moscow Solitaire: An Original Bookgame”. I would like to see more reviews though before I commit any £££ (it’s just over £25 at present, so not cheap). Having read your review then I suspect I may not be spending my money with Amazon…

  7. Hi Geoff, that Amazon product looks to be one of the series of new books being done by Worthington Publishers. I bought one - Braveheart Solitaire, which covers the medieval battles of Falkirk and Bannockburn.

    They look to be ‘light’ games. You write in the book, on the map, as you play the game, scoring hits etc. The idea being that the book contains 12 maps (6 identical of each battle), once all 12 maps have been ‘used’, then that’s it. However, I think you could use a piece of acetate sheet over the map and use those wipeable felt tip pens, to keep the maps re-usable.

    I was recently in hospital and expected an early return, so bought this book purely to give me a wargame fix while next there, however I have avoided that return to date, so I have not got around to even opening the book yet.

    The booklet looks nice and is in full colour and I think they did one on Bismarck which would interest me, but overall the price feels a little steep compared to a typical boardgame - though perhaps good value if it can give some hospital stay entertainment!

    If I could choose between the Moscow solo book and the Moscow boardgame, I think that I would rather have the Battle for Moscow boardgame as it is versatile enough to be a travel companion.

    1. Thanks Norm. As you suggest I suspect the only way I’ll get a copy of the Moscow solo book will be if there’s a significant price reduction.
      Enjoy the rest of your weekend. Cheers,

    2. Worth keeping an eye out on E-Bay for users who have played just one or two games, but lost interest and want to move it on.

  8. Interesting looking game Norm. Looks like fun for both players.

  9. Hi Ben, the Soviet player is more passive, not really making any attacks and that may not suit everyone, but it does put you in the role of the commanders with the associated emotional tension - the Soviets are continually trying to ensure their defence cannot be breached and the Germans feel the pressure of making Moscow before game's end.

  10. Seems like the game recreated the challenges for both commanders as faced by their historical counterparts eighty years ago, Norm. It wasn't an easy task that faced the Germans, mainly because they had started the whole invasion a month or six weeks late and then, they stuffed around going here, there and everywhere instead of making Moscow before winter their priority. The Soviets just had to keep feeding replacement units into the meat grinder until the Germans ran out of offensive capability and time.

  11. Hi Keith, those two mud turns are the big equaliser in the game and equally true of most 1941 games that I have played. I quite like that the game feels a tough stretch for the Germans as that just gives them a closer sense of their historical situation and makes the player feel that pressure of need to achieve the objective.

    Requiring the Soviets to need to hold a second city as well as Moscow if they are to claim a win is a clever game balancer and likewise 'makes' the Soviet player 'work' for a victory..

  12. Great looking game Norm And playing at a really interesting scale 👍

  13. Hi Matt, an oldie but goodie!

  14. I like the zoomed out nature of the campaign, which gives you a very good overview of the conflict. A tough nut for the Germans, give the mud season and then the effects of Winter upon the men and their materiel. A nice sized game though that can be left set up if required but also one that has a good mid-week game playing time.

  15. Hi Steve, it does exactly that … it gets a game to the table and in a world in which people seem to getting less personal quality time (put some blame on phone screens for that!), that is an important factor.


Thanks for taking the time to comment