The Eastern Front, that thousands of miles wide battlefield fought over for four years between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, may have spawned more games than any other theater of combat, and it has been a perennial favorite since Avalon Hill came out with Stalingrad. Battle of Moscow is an early example, a 2-player operational game simulating the critical months of October-December 1941 on the northern half of the front including Moscow and Leningrad. Played in weekly turns, the Germans must isolate both capitals, or they must occupy Moscow itself, by the beginning of December and hold the objective(s) for four weeks to win the game. The rules aren’t quite clear, but it appears that, for the Russians to actually win, they must successfully counterattack in an extended game, which lasts through March 1941, completely eliminating the Germans from all Soviet cities. By these parameters, the real battle was a draw, the Germans pooping out in early December within sight of the Kremlin’s spires, the Soviet counterattack failing to eject them from the motherland.
As usual, I built the game from scratch. The map was done in colored pencils, which worked as it is appropriate that Russia in winter be predominately white. Each hex represents about 17 miles from edge to edge. Rivers do not block movement. They only confer a defensive bonus. There are swamps and some hills and a smidgen of forest, but terrain is mostly affected by the weather, which varies from turn to turn.
I did my counters in brown and green. The numbers are very big and clear, though the 5s look too much like 3s.
Battle of Moscow was made by David Williams, and it shows. Like Anzio Beachhead, there are two movement and combat phases, with units only able to move half their normal allowance on the second phase. Unlike Anzio Beachhead, units can move into ZOCs and attack. Germans can stack three counters to a hex while the Soviets, with their large formations and hasty logistics can only stack two, though their strengths are often higher. German mobility is extreme–up to 8 hexes on the first phase (4 on the second). Even the infantry can move 4 (and 2). The Soviets generally move 3 (and 1) though there are some weak tanks (4 and 2) and some very important cavalry armies (6 and 3). But Father Winter likes Russia, and the weather is rolled every turn per a chart which (with some variation) tracks the historical campaign’s initial fair weather followed by torrential rain and mud, hard frost and then endless snow. Adverse weather cuts the German movement (not Russian) in half, giving the Russians time to catch their breath. Rail lines crisscross the map, and the Germans may rail through an unlimited distance six units, the Russians only four. This is very important as it allows both sides to switch powerful units between fronts each turn.
Supply is very simple and elegant. Units must be within their movement of a railroad (or road leading to a railroad) to be fully supplied. Between 1x and 2x a unit’s movement, it is “unsupplied.” It gets no second movement or combat, and first movement is cut in half (two thirds for Russians). If a unit is more than 2x its movement from supply, it is “isolated,” with first movement cut by 3/4 (or 2/3 for Russians). If a unit ends its turn in isolation, it must lose 1/3 of its combat strength (apparently limited by the countermix, which can be tough if there aren’t a lot of dead units).
The CRT is tough–unless an enemy is surrounded, death is only likely on the 7-1 chart. Exchanges (which are common) favor the Russians as the Soviets get up to 19 replacement points of destroyed units every turn as well as around 20 new units between turns 4 and 8. The Germans get only 4 replacement points per turn and only 2 weak new units (on turn 9). The Nazis may start out with overwhelming strength (and they get to set up second to take advantage of Russian unpreparedness), but every unit lost costs dearly. When a Russian unit is lost due to inability to retreat (ZOCs block retreat) or due to isolation starvation, it turns into a weak “Partisan” unit. These still block supply in their hex, and they essentially give the Russian units two steps, which can be annoying for the Germans.
There are a few chrome rules: there are fortresses which double defense, half fortresses, which work against only three hexsides; if the Germans isolate both Moscow and Leningrad (or occupy Moscow), the Russians have to add +1 to their combat die rolls (which basically makes combats at lower than 3-1 odds suicide); there are Finns in the north with ZOCs but no ability to fight until they have a link to German supply.
The game starts with Germans having a happy first turn smashing Soviet formations right and left. Leningrad *starts* isolated. Then the downpour brings the German advance to a crawl, and the Nazis must use their rail advantage to position troops where they want them. Turns can take up to two hours to resolve–there is a lot of thinking to do. The Russians must master the art of speedbumping and clever line placement to keep the Germans back from their objectives past Turn 7. The Germans need to squeeze use out of every last unit to make full effect of their slow inexorable tide. Care must be taken not to leave any holes in lines, because those supply rails are very easy to cut off, pocketing large groups of units. Some have compared the game as a fight between a boxer and a brawler. The Germans have a finesse weapon with some powerful spearheads. The Soviets have a mishmash of weak and (later) powerful units whose job is to take a lot of damage, build up and then strike back.
The Eastern Front never interested me much, at least to wargame. Either the games were titanic monsters with thousands of counters or they were monodimensional pushes to Moscow. This game really captures the flavor of the struggle with a minimum of rules and a maximum of options. I love the supply rules, the twin objective paradigm, the low counter density… Each and every turn is exciting for both sides, and the game is a nailbiter until the end. Dave Williams took an interesting system for an unexciting scenario (Anzio Beachhead) and really turned it to good use in this game.