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Subject: The Great S&T Play-off! Review! rss

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The Game

In 1971, the grand-tactical level had not been much explored in East Front board wargaming (or perhaps in any theater). Simulations focused on the whole war (Stalingrad) or a sweeping operation (The Battle of Moscow) or platoon-level (PanzerBlitz). Lost Battles was an experiment in battalion/brigade level operations in the mid-war. Moreover, the scenarios did not simulate specific battles but generalized engagements, dozens of which must have happened along the front between 1942-4. The game came with four stock scenarios, each with multiple player-chosen victory conditions and reinforcement schedules. It was also hoped that players would "roll their own" leading to endless replayability. Historically, that's not how it turned out, but it was brave effort.

The Components

This is a standard S&T magazine game with a black and white map and two tones of counters (German and Russian). I colored my map in with crayon to make it prettier. One could probably stand to enlarge the map by about 20%, too, but it's not necessary. A geomorphic map, a la PanzerBlitz, probably would have been in order; similarly, one could use a dry erase map to recreate any kind of terrain (as I have previously done for Renaissance of Infantry and Centurion).

There are lots of pieces and lots of different kinds of pieces. Represented are infantry, motorized infantry, mechanized infantry, armor, direct-fire artillery, indirect-fire artillery, engineers, headquarters, as well as fortresses. Each of these types of units is unique (i.e. the differentiation is not just for color--I really like this aspect of the game).

The Rules

Lost Battles offers some interesting departures from other games of the era. ZOCs exist and are sticky--three movement points to enter, two to leave. This is in addition to the terrain cost for movement, which is different depending on whether a unit has less than 8 movement points (i.e. non-motorized) or greater than 7 (motorized). In general, motorized units require more movement points to go anywhere, except on roads. Non-motorized units can always move at least one hex. This is not true for motorized units!

Road movement is unique: Every unit has a road hex clearance number on it. For a battalion of infantry, it's 0; for artillery (limbered--you actually have to load artillery onto its carriers, which costs 3 movement points, and makes them useless) it's 6! This means that to use a road, which costs half a movement point per hex, you have to have no units or ZOCs that number of hexes ahead and behind the road-moving unit. Moreover, the stacking limit is three, and that's a hard limit. It sounds cumbersome, but it's actually a far more elegant way of handling traffic jams than the unplayable Bastogne.

Engineer units make bridges across rivers that last so long as the engineers are adjacent to the river and don't move. Supply and units can cross these temporary bridges.

Supply comes from the edge of the map and is distributed to units within 10 spaces of HQ units. Supply is blocked by enemy ZOCs but can be traced through friendly units (not friendly ZOCs). Being out of supply cuts movement and combat strength in half.

Each unit has three combat strengths--attack against armor (and direct-fire artillery), defense against such units, and attack/defense against other units. There are two direct combat phases, too. The firstis armored/direct-fire artillery versus each other followed by combat of all units. So armor potentially gets to fight twice.

Artillery gets to shoot before direct combat, and there are some very powerful artillery units. But artillery requires supply (represented by actual units), and there is a limited number of supply. In scenario one, representing a Russian assault, the Germans have exactly ONE supply unit. Artillery requires a friendly unit adjacent to an enemy unit for full combat strength fire (Forward Observing).

Even unsupplied artillery is useful, however. They attack with a strength of one. They are more useful on the defensive, though, adding their strength to the defense strength of an attacked stack. That one point can often radically shift the odds and increase the odds of a nasty exchange. Of course, supplied artillery can render defensive fire as well.

Gameplay

Each scenario has different setup and objectives. I've only played Scenario One, in which the Russians attack with overwhelming force against a German defensive position with the goal of either taking an objective city or exiting a number of units from a mapside. Artillery take some practice as you must set them up optimally and then be able to limber them, move them somewhere else along with their supply, and set them up again. This makes each game start with an impressive artillery barrage followed by a breakthrough, then a stall, and then more artillery (if there's supply left). This feels very realistic. The Germans are all about speed-bumping in Scenario One. They really can't fight back. German armor is very tough, and the Russians can't really go toe to toe with them--instead, armor is used to go behind lines and block supply while infantry and powerful anti-tank guns take on the subsequently unsupplied panzers.

Defensive artillery is key. That one point can really help.
The road movement really simulates the squeezing of units into long columns along roads. Movement requires careful consideration.

A game lasts 10 turns, and each turn takes about 30-60 minutes, depending on your skill. There are a lot of decisions to make.

Conclusion

The more I reflect on this game, the more I like it. The scenarios are not particularly colorful in that they don't describe particular battles. On the other hand, you can really imagine that you're recreating some critical yet forgotten piece of some bigger engagement like Kursk or Kharkov. Moreover, there are so many different types of units, each with their own specialties and weaknesses (but not so variegated as to be confusing), that there is a lot of intrinsic color to the game. And the rules are short and pretty well organized (unlike, say, Grunt), so you get maximum flexibility for a small rules set.

I love the fog of war created by not knowing what your opponent's objectives are. To me, this is more effective than any other method I've yet seen (though using blocks for Grunt is pretty cool). When I played Scenario One as the Russians, my wife (as the Germans) had to cover all of her bases, and that mimicked a lack of perfect information on that battlefield, even though she knew where all my units were.

This game never got a lot of love. PanzerBlitz was infinitely more popular (though I've never really enjoyed that game). It never got follow-on developments and modules like other "roll-your-own" games, which is too bad. Still, I would not call the game dated. I think there is a lot of fun to be had with this one, particularly if you like the Eastern Front. My friend, Kim Meints, bought two copies back in the day so he could create truly big scenarios. It would be kind of a neat system to use to "zoom in" on battles of a different, strategic Eastern Front game. Or you could just model your favorite engagement, throwing in a few what-ifs in setup/objectives to keep your opponent guessing. That fog of war aspect is a key part of what made this game fun for me.

So try it. You might like it.
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Brian Train
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I think this game is at the scale where you could try and include even more fog of war besides not knowing the enemy's objective: inverted counters, dummies, etc. countered by probes (at last those recce units can do their jobs) or air reconnaissance.

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Dav Vandenbroucke
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There were rules in this game that didn't make a lot of sense. I'd have to go back and read them again to make sure of the details. I recall that there seemed to be at least one rating on the counters that never go used, according to the sequence of play. I think it was the infantry units' anti-armor rating. Also, as I read the rules, you could fire your artillery just once without resupply--and there were very few supply units. So most of the time they fired with a strength of "1."

I did play all the scenarios, and I didn't find any that were well balanced. The Germans were pretty pathetic all the time.
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davanden wrote:
There were rules in this game that didn't make a lot of sense. I'd have to go back and read them again to make sure of the details. I recall that there seemed to be at least one rating on the counters that never go used, according to the sequence of play. I think it was the infantry units' anti-armor rating. Also, as I read the rules, you could fire your artillery just once without resupply--and there were very few supply units. So most of the time they fired with a strength of "1."

I did play all the scenarios, and I didn't find any that were well balanced. The Germans were pretty pathetic all the time.


They are balanced by victory conditions. If it helps, imagine that, as the Russian, you've got to secure a vital crossroads before a deadline, otherwise, you won't be able to hook up with the other forces of the front, and you'll be vulnerable to counterattack.

It is true that the infantry's anti-armor rating does not get used. I imagine it's there for consistency and in case a homebrewer wanted to use it.

As for dummies/inverted counters/etc. boy, that'd just be a headache to play. But it is true that recce are worthless in perfect info games.
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Mark Flacy
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"Supply comes from the edge of the map and is distributed to units within 10 spaces of HQ units."

Not quite. It's distributed to units within 10 motorized movement points of an HQ unit. The rules don't mention if ZOC entry/exit costs are part of the cost or if you count road hexes as if you were in road mode.

So at best, you can trace *5* clear hexes away from a headquarters unit.
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Michael Sommers
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RichardCranium wrote:
"Supply comes from the edge of the map and is distributed to units within 10 spaces of HQ units."

Not quite. It's distributed to units within 10 motorized movement points of an HQ unit. The rules don't mention if ZOC entry/exit costs are part of the cost or if you count road hexes as if you were in road mode.

Friendly units negate ZOCs for supply purposes (case II under supply).
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Mark Flacy
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tms2 wrote:
RichardCranium wrote:
"Supply comes from the edge of the map and is distributed to units within 10 spaces of HQ units."

Not quite. It's distributed to units within 10 motorized movement points of an HQ unit. The rules don't mention if ZOC entry/exit costs are part of the cost or if you count road hexes as if you were in road mode.

Friendly units negate ZOCs for supply purposes (case II under supply).


I always viewed that as meaning friendly units make it possible to trace supply through those hexes versus negating the cost to move through them.

YMMV.
 
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Michael Sommers
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RichardCranium wrote:
tms2 wrote:
RichardCranium wrote:
"Supply comes from the edge of the map and is distributed to units within 10 spaces of HQ units."

Not quite. It's distributed to units within 10 motorized movement points of an HQ unit. The rules don't mention if ZOC entry/exit costs are part of the cost or if you count road hexes as if you were in road mode.

Friendly units negate ZOCs for supply purposes (case II under supply).

I always viewed that as meaning friendly units make it possible to trace supply through those hexes versus negating the cost to move through them.

YMMV.

The exact wording of the rule is, "[A] Friendly unit negates the effect of Enemy Zones of Control on supply lines[.]" In other words, if a friendly unit is present, there is, effectively, no ZOC, so there is no cost to enter or leave the effectively non-existent ZOC. It is possible that your interpretation is correct, but I would have thought that were that the case, the rule would have made it more explicit.
 
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Mark Flacy
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tms2 wrote:
RichardCranium wrote:
tms2 wrote:
RichardCranium wrote:
"Supply comes from the edge of the map and is distributed to units within 10 spaces of HQ units."

Not quite. It's distributed to units within 10 motorized movement points of an HQ unit. The rules don't mention if ZOC entry/exit costs are part of the cost or if you count road hexes as if you were in road mode.

Friendly units negate ZOCs for supply purposes (case II under supply).

I always viewed that as meaning friendly units make it possible to trace supply through those hexes versus negating the cost to move through them.

YMMV.

The exact wording of the rule is, "[A] Friendly unit negates the effect of Enemy Zones of Control on supply lines[.]" In other words, if a friendly unit is present, there is, effectively, no ZOC, so there is no cost to enter or leave the effectively non-existent ZOC. It is possible that your interpretation is correct, but I would have thought that were that the case, the rule would have made it more explicit.


I should read this forum more often. cough

I'm willing to go along with your interpretation. Depending who you read, a German Infantry division in 1944 would have a doctrinal frontage of ~10Km (or 5 hexes in the game). The movement point costs would make that impossible when in contact.
 
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