Saturday, December 29, 2007

Featured Game: Battle of Moscow

Battle of Moscow was my second Strategy & Tactics magazine issue game and the one that prompted me to change my three-issue trial subscription into the real thing that I maintained for many years afterward. I've continued to get the magazine off and on but I haven't gotten too many with the games lately, if only because I'm tired of adding to my collection of unplayed-games-that-will-never-get-played. My first S&T had the odd T-34 game which I wasn't quite sure what to make of, but Battle of Moscow was an honest-to-goodness meaty hex-and-counter wargame.
It had some interesting concepts, most notably one of the first appearances of the mechanized movement phase idea that was a staple of many SPI operational games of the 1970s. In it's primitive iteration in Battle of Moscow every unit got to have a second movement phase after the combat phase, using about half its movement allowance. Later versions of the rule accentuated the difference by giving only mechanized units a second movement phase, generally with the whole movement factor available, but even in it's early version Battle of Moscow created a much more dynamic game situation and did a pretty good job of capturing the differences between the two sides.
This was also shown by the different way the two armies were depicted. The flexible German army's order of battle comprised a large number of individuals divisions while the battered Soviets had fewer, but stronger armies as well as a bunch of ad hoc forces such as fortress garrisons, armed workers, partisans, paratroopers and tank groups.
The game played well, although by later standards the game rules were rather sketchy. For example, the rules don't specify how to treat the one German cavalry unit's second movement phase -- should it have half it's movement available (3) like all other German units? Or should it have a third of its movement available (2), like all the Soviet cavalry units? As players back in those early days we just muddled through and agreed on something at the table, but it's a little jarring to go back after all these years and see how loosely written the rules are.
Still, I think it holds up decently well, although most wargamers probably have a newer game on the same topic if they have a collection of any size. Because of that, it's more of a collector's game than a player's game these days, but unlike many of its contemporary titles I would not call it flawed. If you should happen to find a like-minded opponent to play against it will still be entertaining.
The physical components are primitive, as it appeared just before SPI started using die-cut counters. The counters have to be cut out and pasted on cardboard, although there was a reprint that included die-cut counters. Units are divisions for the Germans and Finns, with a couple of elite regiments. The Soviet forces are armies and army-sized groups, for the most part, with a few corps. The black and white mapsheet stretches from Leningrad to south of Tula and from Smolensk to east of Moscow.
The game lasts 10 weekly turns, with an optional 10-turn extension. The Germans win by occupying Moscow for 4 turns or isolating both Moscow and Leningrad four four turns.
The Germans are in a race against time and a flood of Soviet replacements and reinforcements. The Germans get a negligible number of both and never will be stronger than they are on the first turn. The Soviets can replace their entire starting army and more, in contrast.
The designer of Battle of Moscow was Dave Williams, who also designed Anzio, among other titles.
Battle of Moscow is recommended primarily for collectors at this point, although it is still playable.

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