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Subject: MOSCOW '41 - Not Quite the Al Stewart Road Trip rss

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Robert "Smitty" Smith
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An iconic image - the NOV Red Square Parade and directly to the front to defend the Revolution.



It's hard to believe it has been nearly six years since VentoNuovo (VN) Games burst onto the gaming scene with their big East Front blockgame. We had just moved to Colorado then and were playing games awkwardly due to a shoulder rebuild thanks to the Taliban and the gaming table being in military household goods storage. Since then Emanuele Santandrea firmly established a solid following in the war gaming community for high quality physical components that are perhaps more reflective of a Euro style approach to gaming, but the games themselves are solid, and fun. Whether it is a design philosophy or not, if you have played one or two of the other games, it becomes that much easier to play any of the new titles.

When I opened up Moscow 41: The Road to Moscow I said, ok, another East Front block game. Knowing both their quality and play testing, I felt pretty certain in advance the game system would work in some sense to replicate the East Front in 1941. It is a great and different cover, with perhaps a platoon of Panzer Grenadiers behind a PK III in a field of possibly wheat. In the foreground, we see what looks like a water obstacle and in the distance we see two large columns of smoke. But what really got my attention was the map. We start at the Smolensk land bridge (had someone really read the back of the box closer they might have gleaned that---> By July 15, "Army Group Centre had reached Smolensk". But in fairness to me, that doesn't really tell us that the game is based on the 2nd phase of Barbarossa.) Well seeing that the game started in virtually virginal and somewhat uncharted gaming waters by approaching the Barbarossa phase from Smolensk onwards becomes a whole different type of gaming anticipation. What makes this even more fascinating is starting here makes one's strategic thinking a bit more of a puzzle as there are no clear gaming paths as there are few games that start at THIS point of Barbarossa. The closest one can think of are those East Front games that give you the option of the "Logistics Pause".


COMPONENTS

In typical fashion, it seems that VN Games allows you to tailor your game purchases a bit. If you purchase the standard game, you get a heavy card-stock board that should hold up well under repeated play. It folds up as well as out well to establish a good level playing surface. Of course there is the option for the mounted map board. We don't have that for this game but do have it for the Leningrad '41 games as well as the Ubertex maps and they are must haves. All of the 120 of the wooden blocks were well-milled. The unit stickers all mounted without issue. The rulebook is colorful and replete with good examples. What threw me at first were the thin little "fences", but those act as a reminder that the Soviets have built a defensive line in that area.
The Player Aid Cards are an industry level of outstanding. If you are uncertain how a block functions, it's right there on the Player Aid Card-slow, fast, and its color coding. The map examples are a great example of how to enhance game play by making it easy. One can look at the Player Aid map and see what anything on the game map represents. I do wish the font was just a little larger though, or the smaller case was also in bold. The back of the card has the Sequence of Play, as well as nice little reminders like weather, Logistics Value and Firepower.


RULES

In general VN Games have a standard rulebook near as I can tell at this point. The beauty of this type of standardization is that it enabled me to read through the first time for an overall sensing with no issues. Knowing what to expect, be it in their specific use of game terms or such is ok because they don't change things from game to game just to show that their new ideas require a new naming convention. The rule book lists Combat as 10.12 when it is 10.11, for 10.12 is the Combat sequence. Moreover, the Firepower rule section should have been repeated in the combat section. That seems like an obvious oversight to me.

GAME PLAY

Many of us in the gaming community have unique interests - for example many of us like Norse history, others religious history, Napoleonic's and then there are those zany gamers who like military-political simulations. They range from board games, to PC games to interactive other types. We see ones on say the election of 1860, 1960 and my favorite, 1912 and the Bull Moose Party. But the current one is the Road to Moscow - see the big hulking book by David Glantz on the table? While playing this short scenario, I made certain to verify certain aspects of this part of July 1941, the German pause of sorts or ok...the Soviets haven't collapsed so now what do we do. The post Battle of Smolensk battles were brutal as the Wehrmacht worked towards establishing a logistical base, as well as rebuilding itself for the possible strike towards Moscow. So did the game achieve these goals? After reading both the German and Soviet operational orders and daily summaries of this period, as well as consulting several other books that's a resounding yes in my mind. It's interesting when a game or simulation reflects close enough the realities, for here the Soviets have many battered units that are remnants that must defend in place, while anyone who can must counterattack.


Set-up for the Initial Scenario


Reading both the Glantz book and Stumbling Colossus, as well as Staehl's Barbarossa gave me a good feel to what might be expected here with Moscow '41 and to fix the overall game situation in my mind. At this point in the game, the Red Army is suffering from both a quality issue, a speed issue and a strength issue. Yes there are more units to come in but as seen below the German Panzers have made dangers incursions into the Soviet lines. Do you try and push those back, attrit those units some, or build up other defensive lines and rebuild and strengthen units instead?



I like this shot - Moscow is closest to you in the picture.


What of the great things about this game is how they simulate the different effects of both strength in terms of personnel and equipment and different units by the simple method of how they are rated for firepower. It's so simple that it almost blows one way as units are rated from Triple to Single. However both sides better be able to read a map here as the color coding spells out what you can and can't do in a sense. Robert Kaplan's "The Revenge of Geography" is oh so true here and will constrict the battlespace and funnel your attacks in some ways. This also allows the Soviets to better prepare their defense but it bears repeating, a defense can always be unhinged by not keeping a block up to strength and have that area become vacant.

Now that variable reinforcement draw. Meh - I'm not a great fan of that as it seems to add way too much variance to the German Order of Battle and seldom in a good way, or approaching the bounds of history. I'm not sure why someone thought this was a good concept for this game. It doesn't derail it but by my third game it seemed like a mechanism that was perhaps in place for some reason I couldn't quite define. On the other hand the logistical system is dare I say it that overused word - elegant or at least it's handling of it. From August 1941 onwards the German logistical system was under increasing strain. Read Thoma's accounts or the official German history - they were simply wishing away problems into a vacuum.

Combat is combat except in Moscow '41. The impact of terrain is handled differently than in other games. Instead of adding some multiple of strength to your overall defensive value, what terrain does here is serve to absorb combat hits. This "Absorb Bonus" is not an "Absurd Bonus". It works, but mentally takes a little bit of time to conceptually wrap your head around this difference. To remind myself in my first game, I had to write a sticky to myself and post it on a Player Aid Card to remind me of that difference. There are three types of Firepower:
Single Fire which hits only on a 6 - 1/6 chance
Double Fire that hits on a 5 or 6 - 1/3 chance
Triple Fire which hits on a 4, 5 or 6 - 50% chance

Defenders fire first UNLESS there is a Tank Attack. Again, lots of little nuances such as this to give it an East Front 1941 flavor.
Of course HQ units are the game's workhorse, serving to activate units if there a tactical HQ unit. The number of units a tactical HQ can command is based not upon a command rating per se the length of its tactical strength, which then determines its tactical range for units it can command. Simple yes. Does it work? Yes? IS it elegant - I don't know or care if it is elegant as the concept works and speeds up play. A feature that will surprise some perhaps is the Soviet Anti-Air Fire ability. This little nuance adds flavor to the game without any extra work, charts or different combat system.,

In terms of value - well let's just say Moscow '41 doesn't shortchange you in terms of scenarios. I think Beyond the Dnieper is my favorite as it's a mad scramble for the Germans. It also allows you to cut your teeth. Operation Typhoon allows the Germans their best chance for the fantasy victory, but it's tough. The Wehrmacht's Last Gasp is where the Soviets get to hit back, and it can be hard. The Soviet Player is forced to defend Moscow for the game simply ends at the moment the Germans control Moscow. There is none of this at the end of the Soviet turn, for play simply stops if that happens which in a sense does stay the Soviet hand a bit (well it did for me as the Soviet). Of course there is the Campaign Game that takes me four to five hours to play.


CONCLUSION

I found Moscow '41 to be a wild and wooly game to play the first time because I was in uncharted territory. But, unlike some games, Moscow '41 was an easy play. I spent more time pondering what to do as either player than looking at the rules. In terms of overall intellectual value, Moscow '41 is a must-have game for the East Front lover. In sheer game terms, the defensive line placement option for the Soviet Player allows for tremendous replay value as games should seldom be forced into any historical straight jacket as the Soviet Player has options on how and where to defend. As the German Player, you start to feel that same sense of desperation on how and where to husband those replacement pips for the last decisive blow. Moscow '41 gobs of fun, with new challenges for the veteran East Front gamer.

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Terry Lewis
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An excellent review, Smitty! Perhaps the best I have read from your pen [well, keyboard], and that's saying a lot!

The intro paragraph is very strong, and catches the reader's attention immediately as does the opening image. I really like the way you work key references into the review -- this greatly enhances the overall depth and value of your commentary. I am going to "block" copy the review and print it out for "further review."

Speaking of blocks, as you know I am not into block games -- 50+ years of being a gaming "neo-Luddite" that still prefers hexes and counters [as well as a few naval miniature simulations, mostly 1:2400 scale for the 1890s - WWI era]. MOSCOW '41 is both a block game and an area game. I do have a few area move historical conflict simulations in my collection, but not very many -- in fact Breakthrough: Cambrai [2011; MMP] is one of the three WWI sims on my tables at the moment. I suppose technically that Risk [1959] is both an area game and a block game [my copy from the 1960s actually has wood blocks!], and my copy of Diplomacy [1959] fits in here somewhere as well, but that is about it for me.

Be that as it may, Smitty, your review has brought me to the brink of considering the acquisition of this block/area game -- your review has made MOSCOW '41 very appealing!

Thanks for another great review!!
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Lawrence Hung
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Wan Chai
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Indeed Moscow ‘41 is the best game on the subject so far. The gameplay is excellent as both sides have the choices that can make history, and that which requires pensive thoughts before making the choices.
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Robert "Smitty" Smith
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Lawrence:

At first glance it doesn't appear so as nothing really jumps out at you, except perhaps the defensive lines and the terrain type factoring but once you play - it is a different experience.

Smitty
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Lawrence Hung
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M1Tanker wrote:
Lawrence:

At first glance it doesn't appear so as nothing really jumps out at you, except perhaps the defensive lines and the terrain type factoring but once you play - it is a different experience.

Smitty


Very much so. I don't hold my breath when I first played it. It stunned me with its elegance in design, while churning out historicity. The command rules tick. The game sets VV a deep footprint in the industry. I bought Bloody Monday and Leningrad '41 via KS without hesitation. I am waiting for the release of Stalingrad Inferno on the Volga right now and I bet it will become an instant classic.
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Robert "Smitty" Smith
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Lawrence:

I was asked to write a piece for Stalingrad Inferno on the Volga By VN Games. Leningrad is in the dining room on the piano.

Smitty
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