I'm on a one-map Operation Typhoon hunt. I have larger representations in hand -- GMT's Typhoon! from von Borries, 3W's Spires of Moscow from Youst -- but haven't worked up the nerve to play them yet. And there's something to be said for playing smaller and tighter, just as there is in reading short stories rather than novels.
Part of the way through a solo of Fierce Fight! Typhoon Blitzkrieg, a Japanese magazine game (Game Journal), part of a five-game series of one-map, division-level games set on the Eastern Front, I finally found a copy of The Last Stand. Designed by Masahiro Yamazaki, known for, among others, Red Star Rising, Stalingrad Pocket 2nd edition and War for the Motherland, the game was released in 2008. More importantly, it's the basis for an MMP edition of almost same name.
That game has been on MMP's pre-order list for at least seven years (maybe more, I added my order in October 2016), made its number I don't know when, but hasn't come off the presses. I was tired of waiting and sprung for a pristine Six Angles (another Japanese wargaming magazine) version. (I didn't cancel the MMP pre-order; I still want its version too.)
So, I put aside Fierce Fight: Typhoon Blitzkrieg! (more on that later) and immediately slipped The Last Stand under the plexi.
At end of German's Turn 1
It's the weather, stupid. In The Last Stand, weather is critical. Only in the first turn -- the first 10 days of October, game time -- is the weather fair. The rest of the turns weather hinders supply, which in turn hinders or halts movement and reduces combat effectiveness. Bad weather can bar overruns, reaction movement and exploitation movement, and when the temperature falls, freezes rivers solid.
(Weather is pre-set in the standard rules, with 1 as fair, 2-3 as rain, 4-6 as frost and 7-10 as snow. Each has its own affects. An optional rule offers variable weather based on a die roll, with results weighted toward historical.)
Point being, Turn 1 is when the Germans must make hay and the Soviets must hang the hell on.
The three panzer formations -- north to south, 3. PzGrp, 4. PzGrp and 2. PzArmy -- are the German player's primary weapons. You don't need to know how the Germans drove the Soviets in real Typhoon (though it might help) because most wargamers know what to do when handed two armored forces: Push them through the enemy and at some point turn them toward each the other to make a pocket. Here, you can try to split the 4. PzGrp so one part goes north to link with the 3. PzGrp while the other part swings south to join with the 2. PzGrp. Or not.
But pockets were rare. By the time the 3. PzGrp and 4. PzGrp met east of Vyazma at the end of the turn, there were just two rifle divisions surviving between there and Smolensk. You could justify it, I suppose, by saying that the remnants of the defeated armies were too dispersed to show on the map (a cloud of tiny cardboard, say, the trimmings of corner cutting, might look cool, though). Instead, the Soviets' organized divisions were shattered, then removed to the dead pile. I like to see pockets represented, and the one at Vyazma was historically sized in 1941, so I count their omission as a strike against. YMMV.
German panzer and motorized units can conduct infiltration movement as long as they pay the +3 MPs for exiting an EZOC, so with 12 MPs this turn, they were able to worm their way through the Soviets in already-there gaps or ones formed by other attacks. The latter were usually conducted by infantry divisions, which can overrun once a turn, those overrun results opening holes for deep penetrations. (Mobile German units can overrun multiple times each movement phase, again as long as their MPs hold out.)
Turn 1 felt much like an exercise in optimizing the Germans' overrun + infiltration capabilities to either drive the deepest possible into the Soviet defenses or turn aside to block Soviet retreats in other overruns or in later combat in that phase of the turn. I chose the former.
(Blocking retreats is how you eliminate enemy units; the CRT's results can usually be taken as step losses, retreat hexes or a combination. Because almost all Soviet units are single steppers, it's retreat they usually pick.)
The 3. PzGrp made it to Gzhatsk -- halfway between Vyzma and Mozhaisk on the Moscow road -- clean through the first fortification belt. 4. PzGrp advanced even further, through the fortifications west of Maloyaroslavets, the first line of Moscow's defenses. (4. PzGrp is the most powerful of the three mobile formations, with 5 panzer and 2 motorized divisions.) And the 2. PzArmy beat them all by taking Orel on the bounce (replicating a real feat) and racing for Tula, although falling short at Plavsk. Infantry divisions followed, often far to the rear, to deal with the remaining Soviets or in one large instance around Bryansk, keeping surviving Soviet units in check.
By the time the German half of the turn was done, most of the Soviet units on the map were gone. That's how this game works. (And it's a decent representation of the actual, for the three Fronts in front of Moscow were largely shattered.) What's missing is the time taken to eliminate the Vyzma pocket.
The Soviets' task here is to assemble some kind of line -- don't dare call it defense because it won't defend much -- to slow the German advance along the Smolensk-Moscow road. Tempting though it might be to devote some resources to, say, bolstering Tula or even cutting off the panzer divisions south of that city, try to resist. (I could not, not entirely.)
The Moscow road is critical because starting with the next turn, the rasputitsa washes away every road but this one. That means only the 3. PzGrp. will be in supply Turn 2. Anything more than eight hexes from the supply sources on the western map edge in all the other formations will immediately be OSS, which halves movement and combat factors. (The next turn that turns to Isolation, with MPs and combat factors quartered.)
Because the 3. PzGrp will be the one formation able to effectively advance and attack next turn, the Soviets took positions on both sides of the highway at Mozhaisk, occupying as many of the entrenchment hexes as able. (Those hexes add +2 to Soviet defender(s) in the hex, and the entrenchment hexsides cost +1 for German infantry, +2 for German motorized.) Plus, infiltration movement -- the ability to directly move from one EZOC to another, limited to German motorized units for now -- cannot be conducted in an entrenchment hex. All those factors make the fortification lines crucial to making stands.
Start of Russian Turn 1, Smolensk-Moscow highway
Several laggards survived between Vyzma and Gzhatsk, but could not escape (behind completely surrounded). They would slow down some Germans the next turn. More importantly, two rifle divisions remained alive on the Smolensk-Moscow road (west of Vyzma, under the "Out of Supply" marker in a circle shaded red). The Soviets had had no hand in their survival -- they had ended up together after retreats from the border due to combat in the German part of the turn -- but were a godsend nonetheless. Their presence meant that the 3. PzGrp supply column couldn't advance further than hex 0512, which will put 1. PzDiv (hex 1410) out of supply next turn.
The new-unit reinforcements arrived and with two rifle divisions resurrected from the Dead Pile, filed into the entrenchment line to await the enemy. In hindsight, I should have moved a pair of units further forward -- hexes 1510 and 1612, for example -- to make the Germans work to reach the fortifications at Mozhaisk (where the highway enters the entrenchments) or force them to expend MPs to swing to the north around the blocking units. (Forests are desired defensive locations, since they offer defending units a more advantageous CRT.)
Take a look at the large number of OSS units in the south (toward the right, between the two "arms" or "claws" formed by the German advance), in the Bryansk area. You can move them by half their printed MPs but the reality is that -- because of the +3 penalty for leaving an EZOC -- many won't move more than a hex. You can write off all these units. It will be a miracle for any to make it back to Soviet lines. But they should hinder follow-on German formations -- like 2. Army and even 4. Army -- from reaching the front too soon. (One peculiarity of this game is that the southern "pocket" around Bryansk is always larger than the northern example, in Vyzama's vicinity. That flips what really happened.)
The Soviets launched no counter-attacks. While that was tempting, it's imperative that everything available be placed to slow the advance of 3. PzGrp.
It's one thing to read the rules and comprehend the impact of the rasputitsa. It's another to play it out.
The shock the first time I watched as the German army group largely went out of supply was real. The lead elements of 4. PzGrp and 2. PzGrp were tossed into OOS, MPs and combat factors halved (rounded up). In anything but clear terrain, that typically translated into one-hex movements. And with overruns out of play during rain for panzer and motorized divisions (infantry can still overrun, though), stacks that had made two or even three attacks in the first turn would be lucky to get in one.
Still in supply, the favored 3. PzGrp -- all but the 1. PzDiv -- because of the hard-surfaced Smolensk-Moscow road and the infantry formations -- 9., 4. and 2. Armies -- that remained eight hexes or fewer from the western edge's supply spots.
(And no, you can't piggyback, say, 4. Army or 4. PzGrp, on the Smolensk-Moscow highway to keep them in full supply, too. Unlike many games, which let multiple formations share a supply route, Last Stand requires each to trace to its own map-edge supply source. The highway leads only to a 3. PzGrp source, so only that formation can use the road to trace supply.)
Warning: Digression about supply. Last Stand demands more than a supply trace, but in practice the overhead is minor. Soviets units can trace up to five hexes to a red-tinted edge hex (north, south and east edges) or up to five hexes to a HQ, which in turn must be able to trace an EZOC/enemy unit-free path to an edge hex via road or rail (or a mix). That latter trace has no maximum length but must remain on road/rail.
Germans trace up to eight hexes to the unit's formation's west-edge supply hex (each formation has two such hexes) or up to eight hexes to a supply column/depot, designated by, what else?, tiny truck icons on the counters. Here, a unit must also trace to a supply column/depot of its parent formation. No sharing of supplies with a neighboring panzer group or army, no scrounging either. The supply column must be able to trace an EZOC/enemy unit-free route to one of its own west edge supply hexes -- matches mandatory here, too -- but only along roads. Rails are out for the Germans, which nicely eliminates resetting of the lines to Western European standards and the accompanying rail construction units. In Last Stand, there is no rail for the German side. Seems plausible, what with the length of the campaign.
All this means that there is, if not record keeping, then necessary shuttling of supply columns forward by the Germans, and supply/HQ placement demands for both sides. There are a finite number of supply columns for each formation (three per panzer, two per infantry) and the 15 total is a hard limit. The Germans start with six -- enough for one for each formation -- but the player can choose to starve some to give others more, and assume the hungry will remain near the west edge through at least Turn 2. The turn track shows how many supply columns the Germans receive each turn, but the player decides which to select.
The extra supply columns are useful for two applications. First, a supply column-turned-depot can be consumed to fuel a two-columns-right boost to two attacks within four hexes. I thought of the process of bringing forward ammunition, artillery shells by the tens of thousands, for a major offensive's barrage. Second, once snow sets in (Turns 7-10) the German player rolls a die each supply phase. Two columns -- which depends on the on-map table -- are then immediately displaced back to their west-edge origins. I figured this process, which can be devastating to the 3. PzGrp if it has just one in the field and then immediately goes OOS, represented the systemic problem bringing warmaking forward in such weather when the transportation system was in shambles.
You might ask, "Who cares if any formation but the 3. PzGrp is OSS during snow? They'll already OOS when the secondary roads vanish, like in rain, right?" True. But if a German unit can trace a line eight hexes or fewer to a supply column/depot, even if that column/depot cannot in turn trace back to the west edge, the unit can drop into OOS but not into Isolation. (I figured that represented the depot side of supply, enough to keep the lights on -- and gas tanks half-filled.) That's huge, as Isolation -- which quarters MPs and combat factors -- reduces a 5-6-7 infantry division to just 2 on defense (round up fractions, remember?). That same division is 3 while OOS. The single factor can make a difference. (And the Germans need everything they can get when it's snowing around Moscow.)
For the Germans, supply becomes a series of decisions, which is as it should be with a constrained resource. Hoard supply in anticipation of the game going into the snow turns? Or blow them on boosting attacks earlier in the attempt to take Moscow? (I haven't figured this part out yet; in my first two play-throughs, I erred on the side of hoarding when I could have used the offensive boost in both, but especially the second.)
Lacking supply, the German offensive stalled in every sector except the 3. PzGrp's, which drove forward on both sides of the Smolensk-Moscow road to Moshaisk, breaking through the fortification line west of that city.
Meanwhile, the advance of 4. PzGrp -- 2. PzDiv, 3. Inf (motorized) and 2. SS Inf (motorized) -- approached but did not take Maloyaroslavets or Kaluga, lacking the strength for an assault. Its infantry, as well as that of the 4. Army, lagged well back.
In 2. PzArmy's sector, the 9. PzDiv and 25. Inf (motorized) took Plavsk on the road between Orel and Tula, but were not able to advance beyond, stymied by lack of fuel. The bulk of the 2. Army and much of 2. PzGrp struggled to either catch up with the lead elements of the latter or reduce the large Soviet pocket west and south of Bryansk, even though the Germans were close enough to the west edge and so remained in supply, mud or no mud.
For the Soviet turn, they receive 3 rifle divisions from the Dead Pile, and 5 new rifle and 2 new cavalry divisions, plus a new HQ (5 Army + 26 Army). That's not nearly enough to cover what should be covered, but with another turn of rain in the offing, the important thing is to again block the Smolensk-Moscow highway. (Too bad I didn't take this advice, as I diverted two divisions to the Tula area because without them I feared the city would fall next turn.)
Because the Germans had pierced the fortification line in front of Moshaisk, the Soviets fell back, then built their new defenses on the next line of entrenchments, east of Kubinka. A smattering of units guarded Maloyaroslavets and environs to the south, but objective towns and cities like Rzhev and Kalinin, respectively, had to make do with only their garrisons. There just wasn't anything to spare.
Although it was tempting for the Soviets to dispatch units, one here, another there, to act as speed bumps against the German advance the next turn, I did not, instead harboring all for main line of defense. Actually, speed bumps work best this turn and in Turn 3, because the German panzer and motorized units are not allowed to overrun (only infantry, which is limited to just one per turn and even more restricted by their low number of MPs). Such bumps are more easily eliminated in Turns 4-6, during frozen/frost, both because of motorized units' overrun abilities returning and the compacting nature of the front as formations converge on Moscow.
I'll continue this solo play-through AAR, next time focusing on Turn 3 and the end of mud.
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- Steve Herron(sherron)United States
TennesseeNever play block wargames with a dentist, they have those little mirrors to peek behind the block.
Quote:That game has been on MMP's pre-order list for at least seven years (maybe moreGuess MMP were jealous of some of the GMT games languishing on the P500 list.
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- Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)(sdiberar)United States
sherron wrote:The story is much more complicated than that, but the important thing is that it is nearing its end.Quote:That game has been on MMP's pre-order list for at least seven years (maybe moreGuess MMP were jealous of some of the GMT games languishing on the P500 list.
Gregg, thanks for posting this AAR and giving people a glimpse into the game.
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- Yes indeed Gregg, thank you very much for your help with this. I know from the emails that you've reviewed the latest rules set for the game. Are you using them to play the game now?
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Peter Bartlett wrote:Yes indeed Gregg, thank you very much for your help with this. I know from the emails that you've reviewed the latest rules set for the game. Are you using them to play the game now?Yes, indeed.
Two games through completion so far, third on-going. The two played to sudden death or end were completely different, as the Germans took a strategic victory on Turn 5 in the first by collapsing the Soviet government; the Soviets won a strategic victory in the second by stopping the Germans in front of Moscow and then essentially destroying Army Group Center in the December '41 - January '42 counterattack.
As a one-map Operation Typhoon, I think this game rocks.
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