Saturday, 11 February 2023

Blitzkrieg to Moscow 2 - (1941 - ´42 east front)

Continuing with my season of east front games that I am playing in association with reading Dimbleby’s Barbarossa, Blitzkrieg to Moscow 2 hits the table. 

This game covers the Invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany in 1941, covering Operation Barbarossa and a little beyond, going as far forward as March / April 1942.

Turns are bi-monthly and units represent armies (but represent mechanised corps for Soviet tanks).

The game is designed by Yasushi Nakaguro and was originally published by BonSai Games. Multi-Man Publishing (MMP) have put a new edition out in English, which they have included as the game in their house magazine, Special Ops issue 10.

Scott Muldoon has done an excellent job in translating the rules from Japanese to English.

For more information about the game, please use the ‘read more’ tab for a discussion about mechanics and play.

The Special Ops magazine is a house mag for MMP and so it has articles and news relating to their games and scenarios for ASL. Each issue includes a game.

The first obvious (and delightful) thing of note is that the map has very large hexes and the counters are similarly enlarged to 1” pieces, so it is easy to handle and easy on the eye. In the example photo here, the 1” counter is compared to a ⅝” counter (from MMP’s   Storm Over Stalingrad game), which itself is usually referred to as a large counter within the industry - so wow!

The game has 60 counters and the system manages without markers. 

The rulebook is held in a section 8 of pages within the Special Ops magazine, which are well written and presented and they are an easy read. I’m not sure why, but the rules are not located in the centre of the magazine, which would have allowed them to have been pulled out and used independently of the magazine.

Finally, there are 12 cards in the game (six per side). These are on light card on a perforated sheet in tear out style. They are very thin and I have preferred to put mine into game sleeves.

As an aside, this issue of the magazine also has a 16 page booklet as bonus material for anyone owning MMP’s Iron Curtain game. The booklet contains extra scenarios.

On the face of it, this is a standard hex based wargame, with an odds ratio based Combat Result Table working off a D6, but it is so much more than that. 

The CRT has retreats, eliminations and of course ‘no effect’ result, but results only ever impact on the defender - not the attacker.

Well that is not strictly true, because at the conclusion of the attack, the attacker flips their units over to their spent (or weaker) side, so there is an effect going on outside the Combat Result Table.

What is interesting is that the defender has two strengths, an attack strength and a defence strength. The defender can choose to defend with their defensive strength and at the conclusion of the combat will not have to flip to ‘spent’ (unless they suffer a severe combat result) as they are deemed to have put up a passive defence, but they can also choose to defend with their attack strength, which is stronger, but in this case they will automatically flip to their spent (weaker side) as their defence is judged to have been ‘active’ rather than passive - i.e. they have put more into the fight.

This is a clever wrinkle. As an extreme example, the top attack value on the CRT is 7:1 and on that column, the result is always a ‘defender elim’ result. So a Soviet defending infantry army (passive defence value 1) would certainly choose to defend with their attack value (attack value 2) instead, if attacked by 7 or more points, to bring that odd ratio column down to something less destructive to themselves!

In my game, as the Soviets, I seemed to be using Active Defence all the time, as the Germans were concentrating on big attacks. If Soviet Mechanised Tank Corps use their attack value rather than defence value, then they are removed from play, because they don’t have a spent side. 

This matters because their loss has implications. Tanks (and shock armies) are the only units on the Soviet side that have a Zone of Control (ZOC), which is essential to locking down parts of the landscape against enemy penetration (note Soviet infantry units in cities do have a ZOC).

The other notable mechanic comes from the cards. Each side have six to choose from and each turn, there are a fixed number of those cards that a player can use. For example, in June, the Germans get all 6 of their cards, whilst the Soviets only get 3 of theirs.

You choose the cards that you think you will find most useful during the turn. Each card has two or three traits. For example, the German has a ‘Tactical Edge’ card (above). The two symbols on it show that it can be used to cause a re-roll of any dice or used to activate a unit. Activation allows any spent unit to be flipped over to its full strength side and can be useful when played just before a breakthrough attack.

There is a Breakthrough Phase following combat that allows armour (only) to either move or attack (not both), but unlike in other similar games, breakthrough movement is not an automatic right, a unit needs a card with a breakthrough trait to be played and there will be some turns when you simply don’t have one when needed!

So overall, this is at heart a simple game, but with a few clever mechanics that suddenly add a surprising amount of nuance, taking it to another level of play and needing the rules to be fully appreciated, rather than glossed over. The mechanics do not rely on game markers to support the system (good).

The first time that I played, I got into turn 2 and realised that I had made a few basic errors that were too important to ignore and I had to start the game again - reading the rules more fully this time!

I will offer a brief AAR here, with an exploded view of the sequence of play of Turn 1 - so that the reader gets an idea of game tempo and the administration of play.

At start.

June 1941.

German part of the turn.

Logistics Phase - Two things happen here, the player ‘chooses’ as many cards from their 6 card deck that they are allowed to for that month. In June, the Germans are allowed all six of their cards, this is the best month for them. In this phase, you can use cards to return units from the dead pile. At this particular moment, the German army is at full strength, all units are on their strong side and there are no reinforcements available, which are also placed in this phase. Rail movement occurs in this phase, though this is mainly useful to the Soviets, due to their large number of potential reinforcements.

Movement Phase - Units move in this phase, movement is easily calculated, it costs 1 point per hex to enter, but some terrain types (as do enemy Zones of Control) force you to stop. The Germans do not need to move at the moment, they are already on their start line, so in my game I ignored German turn 1 movement (though note in a later face-to-face game, Mike did move one unit from Greater Germany into the Soviet line). The Romanian units cannot move on turn 1 … though they can advance after their combat, if successful.

Combat Phase - Attacks are just set up in the normal way as most games and any cards that hold an attack advantage can be played. The Germans have two Stuka cards in their hand, which each give a column shift on the CRT. This turn, all German attacks are very successful and the Germans are able to advance after combat.

As German units attack, they are flipped to their spent side, which is their weaker side.

Breakthrough Phase - German tanks (only) can move in this phase, but a card with a ‘breakout’ symbol must be played for each such unit wanting to do something. The activated unit can either move or attack, not both. The Germans manage to take both Riga and Minsk.


Supply Phase - all German units check to see if they are isolated (out of supply), those that are must surrender! They go into a separate pile and it costs more to bring these back into the game as new reinforcements during a subsequent logistics phase. 

No German units are isolated at the moment, but several Soviet armies are, so the Soviets will need to work hard in their turn to solve that issue, otherwise those units will surrender in their own Supply Phase. Also during this phase, German units that are in or adjacent to a supply source can flip back to full strength. Basically cities that are in supply are considered a supply source, as are the areas behind the German start lines.

This is a very subtle and clever rule as units will stay spent as they advance, until they liberate the next city or stay located with a city they already own and it nicely shows the issue of units ‘running on empty’ to keep the advance going, as was very much the case in this campaign.

After all of that, it becomes the Soviet players turn, who runs through the same sequence of play.

July / August (Turn 2).

The Germans advance, but progress is slow. The Pripet Marshes are a real obstacle to the army as armoured units must stop when they enter a marsh hex. Kiev holds out and the Soviets have chosen reinforcement and rail transport cards to aid getting as many replacements to the front as they can. Odessa in the south falls.

Using the recently captured Minsk as a supply source, the German armour pushes on towards Smolensk.

September / October.

This is an automatic mud turn, so armoured movement is slowed. This turn, the Germans can only choose 4 cards from their deck of 6. They do keep moving forwards, but there are no major gains. 

The Soviets again reinforce. They have lost a lot of their Mechanised Corps and these are the only units with a Zone of Control, so as they disappear, it is easier for the Germans to exploit gaps in the line as the Soviet infantry (unless in a city) do not have ZOCs.

November / December

November / December.

(See above map) This is an automatic snow month meaning that German armoured movement is still hampered, but the Soviets get a +1 column shift in combat. The German card availability has dropped to three. 

This is the period historically that the Germans launched Operation Typhoon - the final push to Moscow and in this turn, they do well, capturing Smolensk (centre), Dnepropetrovsk (south) and importantly, Leningrad (north).

Kiev still holds out though, with 1st Panzer Army just failing to take the city. Is this the German high water mark?

Soviet Shock armies start to arrive, taking advantage of the +1 in combat. They counter-attack out from Kiev and also in the area between Tula and Smolensk (near Moscow).

January / February 1942.

Another enforced snow month, so as before, reduced movement for German armour and +1 on Soviet attacks. There are signs that the Germans have stabilised the line and they are re-generating their spent units at the cities they control. They do however lose Dnepropetrovsk in the south to a Soviet counter-attack.

March / April

March / April.

(Above map) The weather changes to thaw. The Germans can draw 4 cards. Their final attacks allow them to take Kiev (much, much later than historically the case), which they have managed to surround. The Soviets keep the pressure up at Smolensk, so there is no chance of the Germans reaching Moscow and worryingly for the Germans, the Soviets are putting a big effort into an offensive from Dnepropetrovsk down towards Odessa in the south (right of map).

It is here that the game ends with the full six turns having been played. Looking at the map and just gauging who has won, I contemplated what might happen if a 7th turn (May / June) was actually possible to play?

The Soviet offensive towards Odessa is a threat to the German right, but the recent capture of nearby Kiev has freed up a panzer army and four infantry armies, which will be  enough to deal with the threat and also to go on and make territorial gains. It is the fighting in the Smolensk / Moscow / Tula triangle that looks to have ground down into a stalemate and I can’t see that changing one way or the other any time soon. 

Looking at the map, it is hard to say who could claim victory. The Germans didn’t take Moscow (which is historical), but they did get Leningrad (not historical) and they have been snarled up at Kiev and in the south in general (not historical - it was captured much earlier!).

Victory Points.

Turning to the VP schedule for the answer, the Germans get 2 VP’s for Leningrad, plus one each for Riga, Smolensk, Kiev, Minsk and Odessa. They also get an extra VP for having two Panzer armies on their fresh side for a total of 8 Victory Points.  The Germans need 9 VP’s to win, anything less is a Soviet win, so there we are, a Soviet win …. just! and that feels a fair assessment of the situation as played out.


The above replay was a solo game played to get a feel of the rules ready for a face-to-face game the following evening.

Having since played the game face-to-face, we both enjoyed it as it gave a lot of decision points. The previous play certainly did help the second game and I was able to guide Mike through the opening two turns, to get through the learning curve.

The learning curve is not particularly difficult, but there is a need to understand the tempo of play and the nuance and interaction of the rules and the best way to do this might be to play through a couple of test turns. The game plays quickly, so doing two turns and re-starting the game would be the ideal training ground for a fuller appreciation of play.  

In our face-to-face game, the Germans made excellent progress. They took Sevastopol, but failed to get Leningrad, despite putting it under siege for four months. 

In the final turn, the Soviets launched a small counter-offensive against German units that had over-extended themselves and this turned the game in their favour as the Germans lost a victory point for losing a panzer army, dropping them from 9 to 8 victory points, again ‘just’ giving the Soviets a victory. So these two plays suggest the game is well balanced.

We had a couple of moments in our game when breath was held by both of us as the die was rolled for attacks that were pivotal, often exploiting whether the enemy had a ZoC or not and coming as a surprise to the other side - so some really good opportunities of narrative were created.   

Overall, I am happy with this little game, which is great for a single session and is also a little different as it is at a more strategic level than my other Barbarossa type games, with it having bi-monthly turns and moving the action into 1942.

The idea of units getting spent and then perhaps, staying that way, while still having to drive forwards until such time as they can get what is essentially a refit is a nice touch. The CRT is safe for the attacker to use, as there are no negative results for them, other than the fact that they have to go ‘spent’, which puts its own brake on superfluous attacks, unless your force is literally sitting on a supply source, as they can then easily restore their strength and fighting ability from there.

We finally had a situation in front of Moscow that was finely balanced and neither of us had an advantage in numbers, so neither wanted to attack, as we doubted gains would be big, but our spent forces would then be vulnerable to counter-attack and destruction - so a stalemate resulted.

At this higher level of play, some things seem glossed over (for the good), such as generic movement in which the cost is just 1 MP per hex, but difficult terrain can stop further movement, rather than costing different amounts per type of terrain entered. 

I really like the way this gives the Pripet Marsh and the difficult terrain around Leningrad a better character of their own - though marsh becomes ‘clear terrain’ in the big freeze of turns 4 and 6 and that can lead to opportunity.

Also the number of modifiers are relatively few. You get a 1 column advantage for having a tank army attacking, but this is negated by some terrain types, such as city or attacking across a river or into marsh etc and is another example of how the design takes a simple route to reduce rules overhead.

Something that I really like is the way that isolated units surrender and are removed in the Supply Phase. This effectively recognises those huge pocket creating battles that the Germans fought, where typically 600,000 Soviet prisoners might be taken. I’m not sure that I have seen another Barbarossa game replicate this on the same scale. 

This game is quite a prize for MMP to have got into their house magazine, maintaining the reputation of each issue having a solid game.

Complexity - This has 8 pages of well written rules and is an easy read, with everything understood on one pass …. However, there is quite a bit of nuance going on here, so the player might benefit from just playing out the first two turns and reading the rules again as they play. This will reveal the tempo of the game and reveal those rules that you thought you remembered …. and didn’t :-). Once you get the flow of the game, it motors along nicely. This looks like a game that could rate 3 - 4 for complexity level once a few turns have been played.

Size - The map folds into 6 panels and when opened measures 22” x 22”. All the tracks are on the map, duplicated to face each player, so there are no extra game charts etc to clutter the place up, this is an ideal kitchen table game and is stored in a zip lock bag.


Solitaire - This is a two player game, that like many wargames, plays fine solitaire. Cards always ring alarm bells for solo  gamers. Here they do not drive the game, but to a degree, they are at their best in a two player situation, though I played my first game solo without issue. In most respects the cards that a player chooses would not particularly surprise the other player. 

One Soviet card, called ‘Hitler Order’, negates any card that has just been played by the German player. Of all the cards in the game, this might be the one that players might enjoy as delivering a surprise, but it is not that much of a big deal to the solo player, who is generally used to such things. The other thing that two players can exploit is when one side has failed to properly ensure that gaps in the line are mitigated, by recognising all of the ZoC implications. 

In our game, Mike was able to do a deep breakthrough and just walk into Kharkov, a possibility that I hadn’t even noticed. In solo play, If I had seen the threat, then I would likely have closed it down so that it didn’t happen, so accepting the reduced opportunity for surprises in solo play, overall, I would still happily solo this game again.


Time - This is a pretty quick game to play. Judging from my two games, setting aside around two hours and fifteen minutes seems a fair approximation. Set-up is fixed, with symbols shown on the map, so the set-up time is a non-issue.

Resource Section.

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 projects are up to. Link.


  1. As you are probably aware I do not play boardgames but this sounds a cracking game to an "outsider".

  2. Hi Phil, it is, I have plenty on the plate at the moment, but this one is temping me to putting it back up again and doing a third game.

  3. Like the scale and elegant simplicity of the rules. If I wasn’t already horribly over committed hobby cash wise I’d consider buying this. Great review.

  4. Thanks JB, I have another game up next on the same subject and that rulebook has 28 pages, it will be interesting to see how the complex game compares, I suspect all the extra complexity will not bring a better game!

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  6. Sorry about that, bloody iPad played up and published a half written comment. AS I was saying before being rudely interrupted, like Phil, I am not a boardgamer ( unless you count Risk and Escape from Colditz fifty years ago?!) but you always manage to make these games sound really interesting, Norm.👍

    1. Thanks Keith, I think part of that comes from only writing about the systems that I like, so rather than a dispassionate review, they have a positive vibe.

  7. Looks like a fun system. I do like the bigger chits as well. Much easier to see. Nice right up / review. 😀

  8. Thanks Stew, if you were to count the hexes in this game, at a standard size it would be a pretty small map, so going for ‘big’ just makes this a nicer game experience and I do appreciate the larger font.

  9. Great looking game and great review Norm. A very interesting project to go through all the Barbarossa games. Thanks for taking the time to write such comprehensive reports on them all.
    I wish I had time for all the boardgames I would like to play. I certainly would buy this one except it would likely sit in a box with all my other ones. 😒

  10. Thanks Ben. I worked out that I have 9 games that fit this time frame and 5 of them have been unpunched and unplayed, sitting on the shelf for various amounts of time, so at least this project is getting some of the dormant part of collection into action at last.

  11. This does sound like a very good game and perfect for that mid-week evening get together when time is limited: ditto for solo play too. I like the zoomed out appraoch of the game and the simplicity of play, with some clever nuances too, such as the out of supply units surrendering.

    Interesting to compare this to the previous Barbarossa game and as to whether the 28 page game you are playing at present will provide more 'fun' or not.

    1. Hi Steve, yes in our game in the opening, a group of three counters surrendered, which equals three armies, so quite a haul and very historic.

      The point about 28 pages of rules Vs 8 pages will be very interesting to compare. I am guessing the longer rules will be more historically anchored, but likely less fun and longer to play, especially on a first outing.

  12. Certainly seems to tick all the boxes in terms of quality, playability, balance and playing time. My Wednesday gaming days with my colleague appears to be turning into a board games day which I’m thoroughly enjoying

    1. Hi Graham, yes, doing both board and table games gives us options for all occasions.

  13. Sometimes, an obscure magazine game offers a big punch. Special Ops has a few such games that I have played. The map and counters do not look up to MMP’s standards but functional for play, it seems.

    As you detail, there are a number of interesting mechanisms in this one that offer much to consider. This is a good find, Norm, and a very useful review.

    MMP currently has a few titles on deep discount to clear the warehouse that may be worth considering if you have an interest in Feudal Japan.

  14. I’m actually pleased that. The counters are fairly plain. Given all the space on them, some artists would be hell bent on packing them with distracting artwork and watermark flags etc (Defiant Russia I am looking at you), making them harder to see the plain info that you want.

    I have their Storm Over Normandy issue and the Autumn of Barbarossa issue - both very substantial and the latter will be making it to the table as part of this book / game project.

    Overseas postage is so expensive that going to a UK bricks and mortar outlet becomes a better choice, plus it helps keep them afloat!

  15. Fascinating to see you work your way through all these games Norm 👍

  16. Matt ….. nightmare, they have just release The Russian Campaign - 5th edition a game from early days of wargaming, that will a 10th game added to the subject matter if I jump.

  17. Trying this now. The same scale as No Retreat by GMT but more simple and fast. Like other games at this scale in more a puzzle to be solved by both sides. There is game by M. Rinella published by ATO: "Slaughterhouse" also on army scale and that I also had an excellent experience.

  18. Hi, yes, I think the game needs to be played once to get a better appreciation of how best to use or at least understand the system and its implications. It is interesting that you compare it to ‘No Retreat’, a system that I found too convoluted and after reading the rules and placing the counters, I took it back down off the table without playing - my loss no doubt.

    I think designing at this level is very difficult as so much has to be factored out without the game being left to feel generic. Even though the designer is no doubt bursting with such knowledge, having the design discipline to remain true to the level being played must be the challenge.


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