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Tim Taylor
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VolgaFront Design Notes and Review

First things first: I am the designer of this game expansion for Columbia's EastFront block game and so am hardly unbiased. I'm writing this review because I noticed there was none for this game, as well as wanting to convey some of the background story on VolgaFront's design.

VolgaFront is not a stand-alone game. Ownership of EastFront is required to play. It is a map extension to EastFront, and was originally titled "East of EastFront."

EastFront is Columbia Games' block game of strategic level warfare in the Soviet Union during World War II. EastFront is not only a bang-up simulation, but also an entertaining game. Units are wooden blocks, which represent both fog of war and step-reduction effortlessly. In my opinion, this is designer Craig Besinque's crowning achievement.

I played EastFront almost weekly for the first year after its publication. Repeated play gave me many insights into this clever design. However, I also perceived a few shortcomings. Although EastFront has rules dealing with "the edge of the world" syndrome so common in wargames, I found that the proximity of the board edge to Stalingrad negatively affected play pretty consistently. This was especially detrimental in the Summer '42 and Winter '42 scenarios. Unit density at the board edge would often unnaturally increase, aiding the Soviets. On other occasions, having no nearby production centers would hamper Soviet build-up if Stalingrad was surrounded. It all more-or-less balanced out in the long run -- but often in a gamey, ahistorical fashion which left me unsatisfied. Stalingrad was simply too near the mapboard edge.

So I crafted an 11" by 34" map expansion to EastFront's 22" by 34" map. This not only alleviated the problems around Stalingrad, but also included all the territory Hitler had intended to occupy in the Soviet Union. When I first placed the VolgaFront map next to EastFront, I instantly found myself presented with all sorts of additional strategic considerations. Historically, the Soviets were deathly afraid of an end-run east of Moscow by Nazi panzers. In EastFront, this isn't really a great concern. Add the VolgaFront map and suddenly you understand why Stalin deployed such massive forces between Tula and Voronezh. VolgaFront simply adds more historical strategic options that are literally outside the scope of EastFront.

Initially, I had not thought to approach Columbia with this map, but my gaming buddies were so enthusiastic about trying to get my map extension published that I decided to contact Tom Dalgliesh. To my astonishment he was very interested and I sent him a prototype map. Shortly thereafter he gave me Craig Besinque's telephone number and I found myself actually working with a designer I deeply admire.

Craig was very enthusiastic about this design right from the beginning. I must say, working with Craig on VolgaFront was one of the most positive gaming design experiences in my career. It was a thrill to work closely with Craig (via that new-fangled invention called e-mail) hammering out the final product over the next few months. We researched production facilities in obscure 1930's Soviet economics text, while playtesting VolgaFront's map. Craig and I even cooked up an additional mapsheet east of VolgaFront depicting most of the Ural Mountains industrial region. However, we felt that this "UralFront" map did not significantly add to the play of EastFront like VolgaFront did. We all thought few people would buy it as a separate product and to include it in VolgaFront would double the price, so it was dropped fairly early on.

VolgaFront's map portrays important Soviet cities such as Archangel, Gorky, Dzerzhinsk, Kazan, Saratov, Kuibyshev, Ufa, and Guryev. The VolgaFront package contains, apart from the full-color cardstock mapboard, a new EastFront rulebook and an eight page booklet detailing VolgaFront specific rules as well as several scenarios.

The scenarios were an odd addition required by Tom Dalgliesh. He felt that the VolgaFront expansion needed these scenarios to enable players to move blocks around on the VolgaFront map right away.

Since historically the Nazis never made it onto the VolgaFront map, all these scenarios are perforce fantasy. Each of the six scenarios were based on meticulously playtested "what-if?" assumptions broken down into two main threads. The first set of three scenarios assumes that the Germans do not strike for the Caucasus, but rather concentrate on taking Stalingrad and all points east. The second group of scenarios supposes that after capturing Stalingrad, the Wehrmacht hunkers down and prepares for the Russian winter onslaught. These scenarios are reasonably balanced and based on numerous playtest sessions. But they are simply fantasies. Wargamers are notoriously interested in historicity and so I've never heard of anyone actually playing any of these scenarios...

CONCLUSION
If you already own EastFront, you might want to pick up VolgaFront. While not absolutely necessary for playing EastFront, the VolgaFront map extension does alleviate the "edge of the world" play distortions that plague the Stalingrad region. In addition, VolgaFront presents many more strategic opportunities historically available to both sides. As the Soviets, you really have to worry about a breakthrough that separates Moscow from the rest of Russia, while keeping the Axis from swallowing Stalingrad. As the Nazis, you can see the entire area you're meant to conquer, and you'll appreciate the rudimentary nature of the rail lines east of Stalingrad upon which you'll be forced to rely for supplies. Even though VolgaFront is not required, it does complete EastFront.

Tim Taylor
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Tim Taylor
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I'd like to mention a few bits of map errata.

I'm not sure if Columbia's website mentions this, but Craig and I agreed that there is a small omission on VolgaFront's western edge, in the partial hex that connects with the city Astrakhan on the EastFront map. What's missing is a Control Port symbol in that partial hex. In other words, Astrakhan should be the Control Port for the Caspian Sea.

Also, the KRASNOVODSK box should contain a Port symbol and the additional text: "Must Stop".

TT
 
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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Herr Niemand wrote:
If you already own EastFront, you might want to pick up VolgaFront.


Ha ha ha. You might at least mention that lots of people say you need this expansion.

(I don't have it myself--my friends & I haven't gotten tired of Barbarossa yet, so we never see that edge of the map--but your design notes make me want it.)
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George Van Voorn
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Perhaps Columbia Games should include Volgafront in the remake of Eurofront. This way the expansion is not so "separated" from the rest of the Front games, compared to the other games that can be played on their own (West, Med).
 
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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It looks like it's included in EastFront II. (Well, mostly; it looks like the map cuts off on the north-south line from Ufa to Guryev, with Guryev moved one hex west.)

(And I did, by the way, get VolgaFront. When I ordered it, they asked whether I was sure, because the newer versions were coming out soon.)
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George Van Voorn
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Yes, the new map looks very interesting. Although on the other hand I sometimes wonder why they didn't make the map like that in the first place...
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Duncan MacPhail
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I've just ordered VF on the basis that it'll be gone soon, and it's cheaper than the EFII upgrade!

"Ahistoricity" is I think exactly what many gamers are after. What can beat the smug (self-deluded) satisfaction of succeeding where legendary generals have failed?
 
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jay murphy

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A great addition to a great game.
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