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Subject: VF review (1994) rss

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Steffan O'Sullivan
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(Reviewer's note: This review is from 1994 and covers an expansion to EastFront. This expansion was completely incorporated into EastFront II, and is therefore not applicable to that game.)

VolgaFront (VF) is an expansion kit for Columbia Games' popular EastFront (EF) game (WWII Germany vs. USSR). VolgaFront consists of a copy of the second edition EF rules, a brief rules folder that details how to merge VF into EF, six hypothetical scenarios, and a map. The map is half the size of the EF map: it abuts the eastern edge of the EF map, extending the board almost to the Urals. The components come in a plastic folder instead of a box, and fit into the EF box without too much effort.

VF is not a stand-alone game. You must own EF to use it, and it will not really be applicable in all EF scenarios. The six scenarios included with the expansion kit are hypothetical because the Germans never reached the VF map. It is possible that you may never need the VF map over many games of EF. The question that springs to mind, then, is: does VF enhance EF significantly enough to warrant spending another $25?

The answer depends on your attitude toward EastFront. This reviewer personally considers EF still (2009) to be one the best five wargames ever made, and is the game of choice when nothing else is clamoring for my attention. In my case, the answer has to be: yes, VF is worth the price. If you only play EF once or twice a year, the answer would probably be no.

The map covers east to Ufa and Izhevsk, if you have an atlas handy. In the south, it reaches to the western shore of the Aral Sea. Since the Caspian Sea is covered east to west, rules are provided for sea movement on the Caspian.

There are 12 production points shown on the map (14 for Germans, due to their need for oil). Most of these are cities, however: tough to take. The northern part of the map is thickly forested: tough slugging against even minimal resistance. I can't imagine the Germans really going for Archangel, even if it is two PP!

The VF map then, has little in the way of PP to attract the Germans. Any drive that reaches the VF map has got to extend the German lines precariously thin. Why, then, is the extension worth the money?

Two reasons: the first is simply that it truly was the goal of the German army to reach Kazan and Kuibyshev, both shown on this map. This provides a better historical simulation, when you can see - and perhaps aim for - authentic targets. But the second, and more important reason, is simply what it can do for your strategic goals in general, even if you never come near Kuibyshev.

The first time we played VF, I doubt that I, as Germans, ever got more than two hexes onto the VF map. But it made an enormous difference in my outlook. We jokingly refer to VF as SupplyLineFront around here, because that's the change in focus the supplement provides. For the first time, I saw clearly the advantage of surrounding Moscow instead of plowing through it. For the first time in an EF game I took part in, Stalingrad was simply cut off and starved out of existence. For the first time, the German threat to punch either east of Stalingrad or south the Caucasus area was taken seriously by the Russians. The Germans, having the interior lines, have tremendous Command Control advantages over the Russians, who have to guard against an eastern bulge going north to cut off Moscow, or east to the Urals, or south the oil fields. The German can switch directions in a single turn - the Russian has to plan well ahead.

But it's a long supply line for the Germans . . . Just as encircling Moscow and Stalingrad become viable options, so does a lightning strike by the Russians to a key rail junction inside the German lines. Such an action can isolate a quarter of the German army if carefully executed. The first game of VF we played saw the German starving 15 Russian units in the Moscow area, while 15 German units in the Stalingrad-Saratov pocket starved simultaneously. SupplyLineFront indeed. We resembled two men strangling each other, each trying to hold on until the other blacked out.

The next time we played, we were both more cautious of our supply lines. The game still was much different than any previous EF game we had ever played, though: the strategic objectives are simply different when you can see the bigger picture. Every game we have played with VF has been tense and exciting, and no one could tell who would win until the game was over.

The scenarios included with VF are an interesting mix. All are hypothetical. Three are the Winter '42, Summer '43 and Winter '43 scenarios as if the Germans had somehow not gotten bogged down in Stalingrad or gone for the Caucasus, but pushed on wholeheartedly, purely offensively, to the east. The other three cover the same time period, and the same assumptions about not going to the southern oil fields, but assume a more cautious advance to the east, more concerned about possible defense than merely gaining ground.

I tend not to like Winter scenarios in EF. This is personal taste, of course: I like free-wheeling games with a lot of movement, and Russian winters were not the time nor place for such action. EF is true-to-life in its depiction of Russian winters, and the scenarios tend to be cautious small actions with little gains for either side. That said, I will confess that I haven't played the four Winter scenarios in this game!

We did play the Summer scenarios, however, as well as playing a few campaign games with the VF map attached. All were interesting, challenging, and added new depth and strategies to EF. Most of the games were marginal victories, but for which side varied. All made us reevaluate our supply line logistics, and revealed previously unseen flaws in the other side's lines.

The VF map itself doesn't quite match the color of the EF map. This is true not only for the first edition of EF, but the second also. You can even see it in the picture on the back of the VF package. This is acceptable to me, but perfectionists should take warning.

The second edition rules are handy to have, especially if you have first edition EF. There are some changes from first edition, some of which (such as fortress rules and "exit zones") can change your EF strategy. Others, such as Winter '41 and Winter '42 being easier on the Germans, will change the course of a typical campaign game. All in all, they haven't changed much, and EastFront is still one the best wargames ever made.

All in all, I consider VF to be a valuable asset to my wooden block game collection. The expansion kit significantly expanded my view of EF, and enhanced my pleasure in the game. There are no component problems; the rule sheet clearly details any rules changes necessary if using VF (largely Russian Production Points, Caspian Sea movement, and rail exit hexes); the expanded terrain view augments your strategic goals; the game deepens your appreciation for supply lines. Recommended for those who enjoy EastFront.
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