Sunday, January 11, 2009

Game review: The Moscow Option

The Moscow Option: Guderian's Gambit is one of two wargames in Command No. 37 (The other is Mukden).

It could be considered Proud Monster meets Budapest'45, because it marries a strategic option and the untried Soviet units from the first game with the combat/movement and unit roster system of the latter.

As a Budapest system game Moscow Option includes zones of control, a unit roster to track German step losses and 5/8-inch unit counters. The German player-turn starts with a mechanized movement phase, then goes to a combat phase and a general movement phase. The Soviets move and then fight.

But the game situation is drawn from an option in Proud Monster, where the Germans dedicate their supply network to supporting a spearhead of mobile units ( 9 Panzer divisions, six motorized divisions and three smaller units) lunging towards Moscow in an all-out bid to capture the Soviet capital and win the war. The 16 German infantry divisions plodding behind the armored spearheads can help hold ground, but have no attack factors at all.

The Soviet forces are all 1-step attack-defense-movement factor units identical in function to the Proud Monster Soviets. All start on their untried side, with values unknown to either player. When they enter combat for the first time their values are revealed. Being one-step units in the very attritional Budapest combat system, however, most Soviet units won't be around for long. The Soviets begin with 39 Rifle divisions, 5 cavalry divisions and 11 tank divisions. Another 28 Rifle divisions, 7 cavalry divisions, one tank division and 14 tank brigades come as reinforcements.

The German has 14 turns to capture a Moscow hex. Once he's in possession of one or more hexes he rolls two dice and compares the result to chart. The earlier he captures the hex(es) and the more hexes he holds the better his chances. For example, if he captures all three hexes by turn 6 he wins on any roll. If he just manages to squeak into one hex on turn 14 he'll need boxcars to win. The Germans win automatically by clearing the map of Soviet troops. The Soviets can win by avoiding a German win or by capturing Smolensk (which starts behind German lines).

Every turn the German will be making difficult choices. Although the German is strong enough to do anything he wants, there simply aren't enough units to do everything he needs to do. A typical Panzer division starts the game with 13 combat factors/steps. For the Soviet player, losses will be high, but he'll have a chance to attack as well as defend (the tank brigades, in particular, are not very useful defensively. While their attack factors range from 1-4, all have a defense of just 1.) Unlike the situation historically, when the Soviets had a chance to build a series of fortified belts before Moscow, in this scenario, set in August, it's up to the troops alone to hold out.

One notable rule prevents the "edge-of-the-world" flaw so common in wargames. Along the north east and south sides of the map is a "gold row" of hexes that only the Soviets can use. This prevents the German from unrealistically using the map edge to anchor his flanks. German zones of control do not extend into the gold row, so the Soviets always have an open flank available. This rule therefore encourages the German to keep his troops close to the Smolensk to Moscow highway that runs through the center of the map and is his supply line.

The map is by Beth Queman and is functional, if not overly attractive. The hexes are oversized, 7/8-inch across. The Soviet player doesn't have much in the way of helpful terrain. Part of one river covers a part of his front, while an expanse of woods in the center of the map is better than nothing. But for the most part, the terrain favors the German attackers.

The game scale is nine miles per hex, one day per turn. Most units are divisions and brigades. The 14 pages of rules describe a game of moderate complexity by wargame standards. Set up will take about 15 minutes and the game is playable in one sitting.


(Yes) for Wargamers: Nice, solid wargame covering an interesting "what-if."

(No) for Collectors: No special collectibility

(No) for Eurogamers: A hex-and-counter wargame with rosters, so not your cup of tea.

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