WOW! What a day of gaming! In the four plus years that our Westbank Gamers crew has been meeting, I honestly cannot remember having as much fun. There seemed to be a festive mood prevailing and we had a full house of 15 gamers.
What really made the day even more special was that we enjoyed visits from three of my very best buddies: Joe Smith, Tom Cortazzo and Ted Cheatham.
Joe is my old wargaming buddy from late high school and college days (and the godfather of my daughter Lindsay). We greeted the sun many mornings following all-night gaming sessions. Unfortunately for me, Joe moved away to Jacksonville in the late '80's and has since moved to the Denver, CO area. So, my two-player wargaming sessions are now very scarce. Joe was in town on business, so I took a day off work to enjoy a full day of gaming with him.
Joe's visit FINALLY was enough to lure Tom Cortazzo to the Westbank Gamers hall. Tom loves gaming, but work and family obligations prevent him from attending on our Wednesday night sessions. We do tons of gaming together on weekends with our families, but he has never attended a Westbank Gamers session ... until now! He appeared to have a super time, so maybe this will convince him that he needs to attend at least now and then.
Finally, the Mid-Mississippi madman himself, Ted Cheatham, was in town. He was able to join Joe and I around 2PM and remained for the evening. Ted is a super guy and it is just a wonderful experience to game with him. One is always assured of non-stop laughter whenever he is in the house.
Joe and I had planned our day so that we could get in a full day of gaming. Sure enough, Joe arrived at my house at 8:30 AM and we jumped into Russian Front, an Avalon Hill traditionally style wargame. Joe is a big wargame fan and had requested that we play at least one wargame. I was more than happy to oblige.
Due to our limited time, we opted for the Basic Game, which recreates the first three months of the German invasion of Russia in World War II. The Germans must control 23 or more major cities, fortresses or oil field sites in order to obtain victory. They begin the game controlling nine such sites, so their task is to secure at least 14 more to achieve at least a marginal victory. Control of 20 - 22 such sites constitutes a draw.
The game uses most traditional wargame mechanics in regards to movement and supply. Combat, however is a bit different, and I'm not sure I like it as much as the traditional method. First, combat occurs when opposing pieces occupy the SAME space as opposed to adjacent spaces. Second, each side must commit ONLY one unit per round of battle, plus any supporting artillery or air power. Third, losses are taken in steps. Fourth, if players opt to continue the battle as opposed to retreating, they can switch which unit is committed to the next round of battle.
I have several concerns with this method, especially as it pertains to the Basic game scenario. The Basic scenario is only three months in duration, with each turn representing one month. There simply isn't much time for the Axis player to achieve his objectives. Thus, the Russian player simply has to throw units in the German's way in order to delay his advance. After one round of combat, the decision is usually a very easy one: retreat one hex and continue delaying his attack. Not much tactical thinking involved. This is made even the easier by the fact that if a unit suffers step losses in combat, it does NOT effect its combat strength at all. It simply means that it is closer to elimination. Again, with a three month game, this isn't a major concern.
There also isn't much incentive to stack units. Since only one unit can be committed to a battle round, the excess units are wasted. Plus, there is a danger in that if the committed unit suffers losses in excess of what it can absorb, the excess losses are distributed amongst those uncommitted units. Ouch. Finally, since the Russian strategy is to delay and retreat, and he has no desire to continue combat beyond the first round, there is absolutely NO reason to stack units.
From the outset I was skeptical as to the Axis chances for victory. The 'delay and retreat' Soviet strategy seemed to be foolproof. Sure enough, June 1941 seemed to validate this premise as Joe's Axis forces were having trouble skirting around my lines. Even with the double-move enjoyed by his armor units, he couldn't get too far around my lines due to zones of control and potential supply issues.
July 1941, however, altered this picture. His superior infantry and armor began eliminating my vastly inferior units in droves, bursting huge holes in my lines which were eagerly exploited by his armor. I began retreating my armies en masse, forming protective rings around my cities and fortresses. This tactic proved the only possible successful one, but only succeeded due to the fact that this was a very short three month scenario. If we were playing even one more month, it's highly likely the majority of my troops would have been thoroughly smashed and my cities overrun by jack-boot Nazis.
As it turned out, Joe managed to control 17 cities following his August 1941 movement, rendering my final movement unnecessary. I had held on to win a marginal victory.
I think the combat and step-loss mechanics of Russian Front are likely much more suited for a longer scenario. I, for one, would be happy to give it a go, but doubt that time constraints are going to allow for that possibility anytime soon.