I received my copy of Eastern Front 1914-1917 in the mail a few days ago and have been very anxious to set it up and try it out. I decided to start out by soloing the smallest scenario, which covers the invasion of Serbia by Austria-Hungary. The scenario runs from August - December 1914.
The initial setup appears to heavily favor the Austro-Hungarians. However, the AH 2nd Army, poised behind the Danube along Serbia's northern border, is not allowed to participate in the invasion. Historically they were supposed to be sent directly to Galicia to take part in defending against Russia, but were instead sent south to help invade Serbia by Austrian Chief of Staff Conrad von Hotzendorf in violation of the approved war plan. When the Germans found out, they were furious and demanded that the 2nd Army be reassigned to its original mission (the Schlieffen Plan called for maximum AH effort against Russia to help offset maximum German effort against France). So, the 2nd Army packed up and headed back north, where they should have been in the first place. In game terms, that means that the strongest AH Army on the board cannot move or attack (except for a handful of units) and will be removed from the game a couple of turns after the start. This leaves the Austro-Hungarian forces available for the invasion at best evenly matched with the Serbs. The terrain heavily favors the defenders. There is really only a narrow corridor between the Danube and the Alps in northwestern Serbia for Austria-Hungary to launch their offensive into. Everywhere else the terrain is too rugged for serious offensive action.
Scenario special rules call for all AH units to move into an enemy ZOC by the shortest available route on the first turn of the game. This simulates the orders of the AH war plan. Austrian 5th Army units (the strongest force actually participating in the attack) must furthermore launch an attack on an adjacent unit if possible. All AH units must then again move adjacent to an enemy unit if possible on the second turn (although they do not have to take the shortest available route, and are not required to attack). Serbian forces, on the other hand, must maintain a continuous line of units or ZOCs along the Danube until the AH 2nd Army has been withdrawn.
Serbian units do not require supply in order to launch a counterattack.
Each game month is 7 turns long. The game begins on the 3rd turn of August 1914.
The first month of fighting saw AH gains that were limited at best, and extremely costly. The AH 5th Army pushed into northwestern Serbia and made it to the outskirts of Belgrade before being thrown back with heavy losses. As August comes to a close, they sit just inside the Serbian border, lacking the offensive punch to continue the attack, and with 5th Army HQ having expended all of its available supply points. There is no chance of returning to the offensive anytime soon, and with no remaining supply, they are vulnerable to a Serbian counterattack. In the south there has as yet been no fighting because the terrain is so heavy that probable losses did not justify any possible gains to be made for either side.
I took a few pictures which I have uploaded to the image forum for this game. One shows the initial setup, and the other two show the situation at the end of August. I'd post them directly here but I'm not sure how to do that.
My impressions of the game so far are very positive. The map takes some getting used to because each hex contains up to six different types of terrain, so it is much busier than a standard wargame map. However it allows for a lot more information to be contained in the same amount of space, which is impressive. The counters are brightly colored and clearly stamped. Overall the game looks great and I have been very favorably impressed by the components.
As for the gameplay, this is my first WWI game, so it is definitely going to require a shift in my way of thinking. I very much like the way the game handles combat. It is not possible to engage in combat with an enemy force and come away with no losses (unless the enemy force in question is very small) the way it sometimes is with an odds-based CRT system. Attrition is constant and wears down both sides in what feels like a very realistic manner. Attacking, as befits a WWI game, can be extremely costly. Supply can be an even more vital consideration than firepower.
I don't think I have handled the AH attack very well in my first game, although honestly, they appear to be at a heavy disadvantage given that the numbers are about even, they are on the attack and the terrain favors the defenders, and Serbian units are exempt from supply considerations when they are defending. Historically the Serbians not only beat back the AH invasion but actually attempted their own invasion of Austria-Hungary, so I guess I'm not too far off from the (miserable) AH historical performance.
I'll carry this one for another turn or two and see if things turn around. If not, I'll probably try Galicia: The Forgotten Cauldron, or maybe the Brusilov Offensive.
FWIW I soloed the shorter Serbia scenario (Nov-Dec 1914) and the Austrians seem to easily steamroller the Serbians. I wonder if that is the way the November scenario typically goes.