Here are some tips from a BfM newbie:
The goal of the Soviet player is to hold Moscow. There is a strong temptation to try to hold as much of the board as possible, but ultimately only the area directly around Moscow is critical to victory. You will be responding to the German player's initiative for most of the game, but you must remain open to the occasional desperate counter-attack.
As a Soviet player, I spend the first few turns trying to get as many 8-4 troops around Moscow as I can. If possible, I pull back front-line troops rather than trying to contest the 'frontier'. If you focus all your replacements on Moscow, and use your forward troops just to slow down the Germans, you have a good shot at victory. If you try to hold too much territory, or try to build a single solid line, you're doomed. Where to set up around Moscow is a tricky proposition. You don't want to set up too far forward, or your line will be stretched too thin. But if you set up too conservatively, you risk being surrounded and cut off from replacements. I suggest trying to hold the line of fortifications just west of Moscow, and try to set up a loose defense in depth along the southern flank (just south of Moscow towards Ryazan). It's critical to keep a unit in Moscow at all times, even if it's just a 4-4. Otherwise, you risk a stray panzer breaking through a weak point in your line and dashing into Moscow. Other than that, you'll be in a knife fight. If all goes well, you'll spend most of the game with an 8-4 in Moscow, and trying to keep the Germans west of the river. If you can plaster the area around Moscow with 8-4 troops, you should have a pretty easy time retaking Moscow should it fall. In a battle of attrition, you have the advantage.
So that's a few words on the defense of Moscow itself. You'll play a very different game with the rest of the board. This is the first game I've played where the concept of a defense in depth really made sense to me. As the Russian, your forces really aren't strong enough to beat off the German assault. All you can do is hold them until your replacements turn the tide. To do this, you need to organize your forces in a loose network to maximize your ZOC spread, and minimize your exposure to enemy infantry. It's almost always worthwhile to take the opportunity to retreat from enemy infantry, even if you are moving out into the open. Better to live to fight another turn (and more importantly, restrict the movement of the German infantry). I'm assuming the panzers have largely passed the first line by. If not, a bunch of weak, dispersed Soviet infantry can largely nullify the German mobility advantage. If you can get troops in front of the panzers, that's excellent, but I've found it's really hard to pin them without stripping Moscow bare of defenders.
I feel the Soviets have an advantage in the game. But to win you need to really understand the strong and weak postions around Moscow, as well as be crafty in retreating your front line to minimize the pace of the German player. Take out those 12-6's when you can, but don't worry too much about kill ratio.
Some crucial points to remember:
- Give all your replacements to the Moscow sector. Occasionally you'll want to build in a place like Tula to slow the Germans down, but that should be an exception
- Hold the river if possible. That extra defense factor for Moscow is pretty important
- Keep lines of supply & retreat(!) around Moscow open. Having no retreat path converts EX, DR, and DRL to a DE (and these three results account for a full 66% of the CRT)
- Set up a defense in depth to slow down breakthroughs
- Focus counterattacks on the hard-hitting 12-6 panzer groups and other panzers that have no retreat path open