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Subject: Drive on Moscow: a Review, Comparison, and Rules Summary rss

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Mark Mokszycki
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Drive on Moscow: a Review, Comparison, and Rules Summary


Overview

In this review I will attempt to compare the game to the earlier Drive on Stalingrad game, as well as evaluate it on it's own merits. I will also include a rules summary- If you're on the fence about this game, or if you're starting to play it and just getting your feet wet with the rules, you may find my rules summary of use.

Firstly, the game covers the late stages of the Barbarossa blitzkrieg into the Soviet Union in '41. The game was first conceived years ago (though unreleased) by Joe Miranda, and later reworked by Ty Bomba. Units are divisions and battalions. It uses the Drive on Stalingrad system by Ty Bomba, although there are some key differences. If you are familiar with that game, learning this one should be a breeze.

Click here to go to my review of Drive on Stalingrad:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/133120

Comparison to Drive on Stalingrad

Some of the most notable features of Drive on Stalingrad (hereafter DoS) include: lack of ZOCs, powerful multi-step German units, plentiful but weak single-step Russian units, players' choice of Fight-Move or Move-Fight turn sequence, simple and fast playing rules, lots of units, and lots of space to maneuver.

Drive on Moscow (DoM) certainly has lots of units and room to maneuver. It is a large game that plays quickly due to the low complexity rules and streamlined turn sequence. Unlike DoS, German units (only) have ZOC in this game. The variable turn sequence is still here. Other key differences will be outlined in the rules summary below. For the most part, the game feels very much like DoS in terms of mechanics; there are more similarities than differences. However, the differences that exist give DoM an appropriately different feel for this operation.

Unit Counters

The counters are also different from DoS. DoS featured half-inch plain jane counters with NATO symbols and 8 points of attachment to the countersheet, making them a bit of a pain to punch and clip.

DoS features larger 5/8 inch counters with pictures of the units. They are of notably higher quality, and punch easily with just the usual 4 points of attachment.

Some will like the pictorial unit graphic approach, but others have made it clear on Consimworld that they do not approve. I will admit that I was skeptical at first. While the counter graphics certainly looked nice, I was worried that all the clutter from the hundreds of little pictures would obscure the vital information (the numbers) printed on the counters after the game was set up and in play. Thankfully, this was not the case. The counters were large enough that the numbers jumped out at me and were very easy to discern. If you have poor eyesight, your mileage may vary. It's worth pointing out that if you really prefer NATO style counters, you can go to CSW where a user has created some very nice homemade redux counters- go download them if you're one of those wargamers that has to have NATO symbols.

I personally think the unit graphics on the counters were a nice move for three reasons: It gives the game a unique look and feel, it gives us something interesting to look at (the map, while nice and professional looking, is rather bland- this is Russia, after all!), and it will help sell the game to newcomers who might be put off or alienated by NATO symbols.

Maps

Okay, I just spoke briefly of the map (there are actually 2 maps) but now I'll do so in more detail. The map by Joe Youst is very well done. I found it to be subtle and lovely, even if unspectacular, but best of all it is highly functional. The hexes are nice and large, which facilitates gameplay. DoS also had two maps, but it had smaller hexes, so the overall playing area (in terms of total hexes) is a bit smaller in DoM. In summary, the map probably won't win any awards, but I like it.

Clear terrain predominates the landscape, with forest/rough (both types use the same forest symbol) being a close second. There are also numerous small rivers, towns, and a handful of cities.

Terrain Effects on Combat

Streams cost +1 MP to cross, and yield a column shift to the defender only if all attackers are attacking across the stream. Forest/rough does not affect movement at all, and grants the defender a column shift ONLY if the attacker chose the Move-Fight turn sequence. In other words, if you begin your turn adjacent to a defender in forest, you are not penalized for attacking into the forest. Towns do not affect movement or combat, and exist only as reinforcement entry points (the assumption here is that only towns which exist along rail lines are shown on the map, and the Russian player will be entering most of his units into the game in this manner). City hexes have numerous interesting effects on combat, but I'll cover these in the rules summary below.

It's worth pointing out that there are no roads on the map. This is a staple of many of Ty's eastern front designs. The logic here is that there are numerous roads present in every hex, but they are all of the narrow unpaved variety and quickly become a muddy mess anyway. To depict minor roads in each and every hex would be pointless, so I think I agree with Ty's design philosophy here. It seems a bit more odd to omit rail lines, but since all relevant embark/debark points are shown on the map as small towns, it's really irrelevant.

Drive on Moscow rules summary

Counter Information. Info on the counters is attack (lower left) and defense (lower right).

Movement Rates. Movement in this game is a function of the weather, as indicated on the turn track. The number shown there will be something like 10-6, which means that mechanized/motorized units (including cavalry) have 10 MPs for this turn, while foot units have 6 MPs.

Zone of Control (ZOC). Only Germans have ZOC. Russian unit must end movement upon entering. Russians can leave ZOC by moving into a non-ZOC hex. They may then re-enter a ZOC so long as it is not the first hex entered.

Sequence. Germans always go first (there is no initiative roll). Both sides may choose whether to move-fight or fight-move. Germans gain 1R column shift to Prepared Assaults (PAs) when they fight-move (exception: on the first game turn, all Germans gain 1R regardless of which sequence they choose).

Terrain. All terrain costs 1 MP to enter. River hexsides cost +1 to cross. Mechanized/motorized units cannot enter swamp. No unit may cross a reservoir hexside. Terrain has no effect on combat except as follows: all attackers across river yields 1L, defender in city yields 2R as well as special "conversion" effects if a Defender Retreat (DR) is rolled (see below).

Mobile Assaults (MA). Only Germans may perform MA during the movement phase. These are essentially overruns whereby the attacker pays the cost of the hex +2 MPs to enter. If he fails to clear the hex, movement is over. If successful, the attacker can continue movement if MPs remain, but cannot conduct another MA.

Prepared Assaults. PAs are normal attacks that occur during the combat phase, and they are never mandatory. Stacked attackers may split their attack vs. different defending hexes. Germans (only) gain a 2R column shift for concentric attacks (but not against cities).

Aircraft. Either side may have 1 or 2 aircraft available to them per turn, as indicated on the turn track. Each aircraft counter used to support a MA or PA yields a 1R shift. Both aircraft may be used to support the same combat.

Step Strength. All German units have 2 steps and start at full strength. All Soviet units (except Guards) have but a single step, and begin untried (upside-down).

Soviet Guards. Soviets can convert one unit per turn into a Guard unit, at the end of each game turn. The unit converted must be a tried (face up) unit. Draw a Guard counter at random from a pouch or opaque container. Remove the original unit and place the Guard in the same hex. Note that Guards are the only Soviet units with two steps. (edit: as Don correctly points out below, the unit to be converted need not be "tried")

German KG units. Germans can use a limited number of "remnant" kamfgruppe (KG) counters to give some of their units 3 steps (instead of just 2). These are limited by the number provided in the counter mix, but otherwise can be used whenever and wherever the German player desiers. Some KG counters have their strengths misprinted; they should read 2-1 for panzers, 1-2 for mechanized.

Reinforcements. Soviets get reinforcements each turn. The Germans get only one reinforcement unit for the entire game, and it enters on turn 3. Reinforcements may be placed on the map edge supply source hexes (for Soviet player) or west map edge (for German) OR Soviet reinf can be placed in any friendly controlled town, not in eZOC, which began the turn Soviet controlled and which has never been German controlled at any point in the game, and which can trace supply to a supply source hex.

November Offensive. Once per game the German can declare an Offensive (turns 3, 4, 5, 6 only). He declares this at the start of the turn, and the actual offensive is not until the following turn. During the turn prior to the offensive (just after declaring it) all German units have their MPs reduced, and they cannot attack. Soviet player rolls a die and multiplies the result by 3; this is the number of mandatory "spoiling attacks" that must be launched, and victorious Soviet units must advance after combat. During the turn of the offensive, the Germans gain 2R to all PAs and 1R to all MAs.

First turn special rules: German mechanized units on the south map which spend their entire turn moving/attacking only on the south map have 14 MPs (instead of the normal 10). All German units gain a 1R shift to combat on the first turn, whether they choose Fight-Move or Move-Fight.

Combat Results. These are the typical losses, retreats, etc. Worthy of note is AS (attack stalled) which essentially means "no effect" and DE (defender eliminated) which means all single step units are first eliminated, then all two step units take a step loss. This means the only Soviet units that can survive a DE result are Guards.

Retreats. Retreats must be directly away from the attacking unit when possible, and cannot be into ZOC (but note that only German unit have ZOC in this game).
German units (only) can choose to take a step loss from the affected stack instead of retreating.

Cities: Special Rules. Cities offer special properties to the defenders. Apart from the 2L column shift, DR results are converted to either AS (Attack Stalled = no result) or "Bloodbath" at the attacker's option. Bloodbath means the defenders suffer a DE, and then attacker must remove the same number of steps as the defender lost. Supply cannot be traced through enemy controlled city hexes, even if empty of enemy units.

Supply. Two states (supplied or OOS) are determined at the instant of movement or combat. Germans found OOS cannot move or attack (defense is unaffected). Soviets found OOS are not affected in any way, but if they are still OOS during the final phase of the turn they are eliminated. Note that the presence of a friendly unit does not negate German ZOC for the purpose of Russian supply traces. Supply cannot be traced through an unfriendly city hex, even if it is empty of actual enemy units.

Victory Conditions. The Germans win a sudden death victory the instant they occupy any Moscow hex, or the instant they isolate Moscow (either hex of Moscow cannot trace supply back to a source). Russians win sudden death victory the instant they occupy any city or town west of the start line. Otherwise, victory is determined at the end of turn 9. Germans win if they occupy 4 of the 5 cities on the map (all cities but Moscow), otherwise Russians win.

Gameplay

So how does the game play? In brief, it's fast and fun. Despite the large number of units, it moves along at a really good pace. Our first turn took about an hour due to the huge number of Soviet units, but each successive turn was a bit faster, with some of the later turns doable in about 20-30 minutes.

If this gives you any indication of how quickly the game moves along- the deadpool of eliminated Soviet units was at 47 units after our first turn! So the overall number of units on the map drops rather rapidly once the game is underway. (side note: roughly 1/3 of these units were eliminated by mobile assaults, 1/3 in combat, and 1/3 in OOS pockets at the turn end). Another 52 Soviet casualties occured on turn 2, and then casualties dropped to about 15-20 per average turn for the remainder of the game.

In general, the Soviet player will build a wall of units in the best possible places each turn in an attempt to slow the German onslaught. The Germans, while uber-powerful, are starved for time. They have only 9 turns to achieve victory, and while the early turns offer them a lot of mobility, and weather quickly sets in and their movement slows from 10 (best case early turns) to 3 (worst case mid-game and end-game turns). This means that many of the infantry divisions will never reach Moscow, especially if they started the game in the far south, set up for a drive on Kursk.

Each turn the Germans will need to devise a new plan to breakthrough and pocket Soviet units, while always keeping the overall goal and the tough time constraints first and foremost in their mind. As the German player, there are some excrutiating decisions to be made. Do I trade a couple gained hexes in order to cut off those 5 units out of supply so they vanish at the end of the turn? Or do I need to take those hexes now, while I have the chance to get closer to Moscow? Do I funnel as many units as possible through the holes I've just punched? Or do I leave the infantry behind in order to move up on all sides of the Russians and gain concetric attack bonuses (2R column shift) during the upcoming Fight phase of the turn? Do I bother to worry about getting cut OOS by the Russians and leave a string of my infantry behind me to cover my tracks? Or merely push forward to gain more ground, and hope that the Russians will have more important things to do on their turn? These questions and more will need to be answered on a turn by turn basis, often multiple times per turn in different sectors of the front.

Some will argue that the Russians aren't as much fun to play, but I guess this depends on your play style. I played the Russians in our games, and I quite enjoyed it. Their turns are certainly faster. They mainly consist of brining in 10-20 reinforcement units and placing them in towns as close to the front line as possible, then spreading them out to form lines so as to be annoying as possible to the German player. Setting up defenses in good, defendable terrain (forts, forests, behind rivers) must be weighed against the strategy of setting up lines where they will most thwart the Germans movement/mobile assault mechanic (by setting up just far enough away so that they will not be able to progress further, or attack other units, once they move up and pay the 3 MPs to overrun). More critically, the Russian player will need to decide where to head with his retreating units (where do I attempt to make my next stand?) and when and where to execute counterattacks. When the German player overextends himself, and his powerful spearhead is precariously tethered to his distant supply source, it's time for the Russians to strike!

In general, in our games it took about 50 minutes for the German player to take her turn, followed by about 10 minutes for the Russians. The Russians will occasionally need to execute counterattacks. These occur for 3 main reasons:

1. The pocketed Russians will go away OOS at the end of the turn anyway, so it can't hurt to try- even when their odds are 1:2.

2. By successfully counterattacking, they might force a German unit to retreat in such away as to cut the lead German units OOS on the following turn, thus halting the German advance in that sector.

3. Stalin mandated counterattacks (part of the November Offensive rules outlined above).

I'll also add that I loved the victory conditions. They make for a wide range of possible play styles, and they can really keep your opponent guessing from turn to turn. Put all your eggs in one basket, and you find yourself beaten via a different avenue.

Replay Value

I think it will have relatively good replay value do to the variable setups and victory conditions. I have read a couple criticisms of Ty's games having low replay value. I'm not sure I'm qualified to comment on this, as I rarely play one of his games more than a handful of times before I move on to something else. Having said that, I think the replay value here should be fair to good. There are certainly a lot of ways to approach the intial setup as the Russians, and even more ways to play as the Germans. Much of the overall strategy for the Germans is determined by the first turn setup, making the setup stage an interesting little game within a game.

Time Requirement

I'm guessing the game will take most players about 4-7 hours to finish, with 6 hours being about average. Now that's admittedly a pretty big range, but things can potentially go one way or anther in this game, depending on setup strategies etc. Play time will depend in part on whether the game goes to completion (all 9 turns) or if one player or another wins a sudden death victory.

One of our games ended on turn 7, the other went to the very end. The former game lasted about 5 hours, the other about 6.5. If the Soviets win a sudden death victory by taking a town/city west of the start line, the game could potentially end during the earliest game turns- in 2 hours or even less.

This may be obvious to some, but I feel I should point out that a mere 6 hour playing time is highly unusual for a game with this many counters. I challenge you to find a game (other than DoS) with this many counters and 9 or more turns that can be played to completion in a single long sitting!

Play Balance.

Having played only two real games, I can't comment much on this subject except to say that the game feels roughly balanced. No side has a clear advantage. Yes, the German player is way tougher, but the Russians have far more units and the time constraints and victory conditions seem to generally favor them (if you don't believe me, try being in the German's shoes circa game turn 5 or 6!)

Other

The historical commentary and photographs included in the Strategy & Tactics magazine in which the game appeared are very nice. Especially nice are the multiple maps depicting the evolution of the operation to take Moscow. These give additional insight and interest, and they further motivated me to learn the rules and start playing the game.

Ratings:

Complexity = about 3.5 / 10
About the same as Drive on Stalingrad, or your average SCS series game by MMP. Seasoned wargamers will be up and playing in no time. New wargamers can probably find easier starting points into wargames, though this one is simple enough that an ambitious player shouldn't have too much trouble.

Rules Editing and Clarity 10/10
As usual, Ty's rules are bullet proof. Errata is minimal, and exists mainly to fine tune the play balance.

Presentation 8/10
Nothing overly fancy, but certainly above average for a magazine game. Not everyone will like the unit graphics, but I really liked them.

Gameplay 9/10
Nothing revolutionary, but it's fast, simple and fun.

Depth 6.5 / 10
By depth I mean weight. Not the weight of the rules, which are rather light, but the weight of strategy. In other words, how taxing is this game on the brain? I'd say it falls somewhere in the middle. Both players must adhere to an overall grand strategy to succeed, while still executing the tactical aspects (moving, attacking, overrunning, pocketing, establishing supply lines, knowing where and when to place Guards and reinforcements) with great finesse. Still, it's no so taxing as to slow down gameplay (much) or suffer from "analysis paralysis." To me the depth feels just about right for a game of lower complexity such as this.

Replay Value 7/ 10
While the variable setups certain help a lot, the overall situation will admittedly not change that much from one game to the next. Still, I think games will be different enough to warrant multiple plays. The multiple paths to victory ensure that players will employ a wide range of setup strategies. I'm still eager to try that "heavy north" setup strategy for the Germans...

Overall 9/10
If you liked Drive on Stalingrad, this is a no brainer. If you didn't, you may want to consider the differences and rules I outlined above to determine if you think this one sounds different/interesting enough to warrant your purchase. Hardcore grognards might not find enough detail here; there is certainly a fair amount of abstraction, but that's what makes the game fast and playable. Much like DoS, it may be a better east front themed strategy game than a simulation, but having said that I still think it's a reasonable simulation of the situation in fall of '41.

Overall Rating for Newbie Wargamers 8/10
You could do a whole lot worse! Overall, the relatively simple rules make this game pretty good for beginners, so long as the sheer size of the game does not scare them off.

In general, I highly recommend this wargame to the general wargaming audience who enjoy "light" wargames.

See my in-game photos posted here at BGG:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/images/game/25993

If you have any questions about the game, feel free to drop me an email.

(note: numerous edits for spelling, grammar, etc.)

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Don Johnson
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Nice review.

A few comments.

1. As the Germans can take a step loss rather than retreating and the German KG will obviously almost always to keep a unit and its ZOC on the map, so once the Germans surround Soviets, many of the Soviet attacks are hopeless in the sense that the Soviet units will not survive, but they MIGHT take something with them.

2. All the 2-step Guard units are special, but some are very weak, so the trick is to find a use for them knowing they are 2 steps.

3. This was a crucial errata change for supply trace in 8.4
"In general, Soviet supply lines may be traced from, but not through or into, GZOC hexes; however it’s important to note the presence of one or more Soviet units in a hex otherwise containing a GZOC works to negate that GZOC for purposes of tracing Soviet supply lines into, out of, and through such hexes."

4. A unit does not need to be flipped to its tried side to become Guards.
 
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Mark Mokszycki
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Thanks for the comments. You are correct about #4, and believe it or not, we played it correctly. When it came time to convert our first unit to a Guard, we looked in the rules and found that the unit could in fact be untried. But I missed that correction when posting the review- thanks.

The one thing we DID screw up in our first game was the rule that city negates the concentric attack bonus. The attack on Kursk was at 2R during our first game. In retrospect, the DE probably would have been a DR, which would have been converted to a AS or Bloodbath by the attacker.

Regarding the errata- yes, I highly encourage anyone who plays the game to get the errata first. It is very minimal, but there are a couple small items that change the game- namely, "the Guderian Effect" which allows German armor on the south map +4 MPs during the 1st game turn movement phase.
 
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ian morris
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Excellent review.



 
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Rich Allen
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I believe that you only get a defensive benefit for woods in Mobile Assaults, never for Planned Assaults no matter if you move or attack first. Units are Divisions and Brigades, not battalions.

A very nice review though and it does a good job of presenting the game.
 
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Drew Heath
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Hi Mark!

Great review, only one question:

How would you rate this one against Leningrad, another game I know you're fond of?
 
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Leo Zappa
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Very nice review. One question - does DoM utilize the "untried unit" mechanic of DoS and PG:G for ordinary Russian units, with one side of the unit counter showing a "?" for combat strength, such that neither player knows the combat value of that unit until it gets into its first battle? I always thought that was a brilliant element that added tension and replayability to this system.

UPDATE - by shaking off my inherent laziness, I found my answer by rereading the review and going to the game entry. Indeed, the "untried unit" mechanic is part of the game. That's great news, as it is, IMO, one of the key aspects of this system. I must say that, having clicked on the game entry and looking at the counter art, I may be siding with the grogs over at CSW in that I think I would prefer the old-fashioned "NATO" symbols to the pics. However, the pics are well done, and this aspect would certainly not deter me from picking up a copy of the game.
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Mark Mokszycki
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In answer to your question, I like DoM considerably better than Leningrad. However, I'd still recommend Leningrad to a total newbie due to the smaller size, $14 price tag, and shorter playing time.

But if you have the extra time, space, and money, DoM is a much more fun and satifying gaming experience, imo.
 
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