Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Battle for Germany: Russian strategy in Red Star/White Star

The Red Star/ White Star: Patton's fantasy scenario in Battle for Germany is quick compared to the base scenario, easily playable in an hour. There are only 5 and a half or six turns and no Germans, so there are less than half as many units and phases compared to the standard situation.

It's a very challenging situation for the Russians, however, and the Allies should win more often than not.
While both sides appear evenly matched at first glance, a closer look shows that the Westerners have some important advantages.

Numerically there are 28 Communist unit and only 22 Allied units, so it appears that the Communists have the edge. But three of those Communist units are the Yugoslavs, who can't leave Yugoslavia, so engaging those units is optional for the West. One Soviet Front is stuck being the garrison for Warsaw, so the Westerners don't need to worry about that unit either. Finally, the Communists get no replacements, so every loss is permanent, while the Westerners will get 5 or 6 over the course over the game. The last one of those can be discounted because it won't make it to the front in time to make a difference, but that still leaves 4 or 5 additional units for the West, so the total effective count is 26 or 27 Allies units fighting 24 Communist pieces.

In combat factors there's a bigger Communist advantage, with a total of 156 attack factors and 223 defense factors (not counting Warsaw and the Yugoslavs) facing 112 attacks factors and 148 defense factors of Allied units at start. Replacment factors will depend on Allied losses, but the Allies will prefer to replace 6-6-7 and 7-4-8 corps so assuming a 50-50 split there may be another 39 AF and 30 DF more or less on the Allied side over the game.

The attacker-friendly nature of the combat results table makes this strength differential must less important than usual. This is not the usual 3-1 d-elim style CRT. The first "AE" (attacker eliminated) result doesn't appear until the 1-3 odds table, which will be rarely used because attacking is never required. (One might try it in an emergency --last turn against Berlin -- because there's also a 1/6 chance of "DR" (defender retreat one hex)!
There's a 1/3 chance of a DR at 1-2 and no chance of any really bad result for the attackers, just 'AR" (attacker retreats one hex). Even this isn't as bad as it often is in other wargames because the attacker conducts all retreats. These 1-2 attacks play a big role in the standard scenario, being the main way the Allies fight their way through the fortified zones of the West Wall and Italy, but it's unlikely any fortified hexes will be fought over in RS/WS.

At 1-1 odds the attacker will win 5 out of 6 times, making any kind of surrounded situation extremely dangerous for defenders. At 1-1 there's a 1/6 chance of an "EX" (Exchange) which elimiates all defenders and an equal number of attacking factors.

From 2-1 odds all the way to 6-1 odds the only difference is the ratio between DR resulst and DE (defender elimnated) results, ranging from 0 chance of a DE at 2-1 to 4/6 chance at 6-1. In every case the chances for an EX is the same -- one third. At a 7-1 odds or more there's one EX and 5 DE results.

The bottom line is that attacking is heavily favored by the CRT, with the main risk to attacking forces coming from the plentiful EX results. There's little chance of holding a specific hex against any kind of attack. This means that the Soviets can't count on their beefy 8-20-3 fronts to hold the line.

This dynamic means that the most important attribute of a unit is its movement factor, and here the Allies have a decisive edge. The slowest Allied corps -- a "6"-- is as fast as the speediest Soviet tank army, also a "6."
The victory conditions are also friendly to the Allies. Holding Berlin is necessary, but not sufficient, for a Communist victory. Even if they can't take Berlin the Allies can eke out a victory by holding every city on the west side of the German theater boundary plus two victory points worth of cities to the East. Likely target pairs include Stettin and Rostok north of Berlin, Lepizig and Dresden to Berlin's south or even Graz and Trieste in the far south (although this last means taking on the Yugoslavs). Taking either Prague or Vienna also serves just as well, as they are 2 VPs each.

The best bet for the Communists is to try for a decisive battle around Berlin. The Yugoslavs can be left to fend for themselves. Whatever forces the Allies commit against Tito are that many less to face the Soviets elsewhere.

The rough terrain in the central portion of the map reduces the Allied mobility advantage somewhat and all the doubling terrain helps the Soviets. They should take and hold Prague and Vienna (and Graz if possible) with the three fronts, three guards armies, two tank armies and the Bulgarains that start in the vicinity, springing the tank armies for operations up north if at all possible.

The Soviet forces up north start with three tank armies and six gaurds armies against nine Allied corps, so it's a very even fight. The Soviet front in Berlin must remain there, but there are two Polish units, two Soviet fronts and one more army that can reinforce this zone, so the Russians may be able to win an early edge.

IF the Soviets move first (50% chance) they should take advantage of an early vulnerability in the far north by setting up a 1-1 against the Britsh 8th Corps in hex 2810 and a 1-1 or 2-1 against the two Allied corps in 2911. 5/6 of the time the 1-1 will result in a tank army advancing into 2810 surrounding the Allies in 2911.

Depending on how lucky the Communist player feels he can go for a 1-1 which may fail 1/6 of the time or he can guarantee destroying the two allied units at the risk of an additional EX result. Leipzig should be hit with a 3-1 by three guards armies as well. While there's a chance for disaster with exchanges all around (and EX is almost always bad for the Soviets) there's a better chance that two to four Allied corps will will be elimiated at the cost of one or two Soviet units. This can create a very favorable situation for the Russians.

If the Allied move first, the Communists will have to react to their approach, although it should still be possible to take Prague, Trieste and Liepzig. The diffuclty will be holding all of them. The most important thing is still to fight for some breathing room around Berlin. All the Allies have to do is get a 1-1 surround on Berlin at any point and they will put them game away. The Soviets can't grab enough cities elsewhere to make up for losing Berlin.

If the Soviets move first I think they have a reasonable shot at winning, much less if the Allies move first. For a more competitive game I suggest always giving the Soviets the first move, instead of trusting to a die roll.

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