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Red Star Rising: The War in Russia, 1941-1944» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A Return to Wargaming with Red Star Rising rss

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Erik Syvertsen
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I had been out of wargaming since probably the early nineties; the reasons are too many to list (no, prison was not involved), but suffice it to say that I traded board games for PC and console gaming. This year, though, has been a sort of renaissance for me; it started with playing D&D again, continued with a rekindled love for comic books, and is moving further with a renewed interest in wargames. Red Star Rising is the first "new" game I purchased, after much consideration. What follows is my review, after having owned and played the game for a few months.

Components:
The box is beautiful, done all in red with a spare art style that fits the title perfectly. The back of the box gives a good description of the game, along with photos, and mentions a high solitaire suitability. So far, so good.

The map is also very pretty to look at, with plenty of color variation, and "realistic" tones (not too bright or pastel-like). Cities, towns and other features are clearly labeled as well. There are plenty of player aids around the play space, including terrain effects, combat results, and other useful charts. In addition to a turn record there is also a phase record; this is extremely useful and every game should include it. The map is quite large, and comes in three pieces, and this is where a little complaint comes in, as it is quite thin, and the three pieces fit together to make an odd shape. Both my wife and I "nicked" a little bit of mapsheet hanging off the table while walking by it on more than one occasion. Of course, if I had a large table and a larger living space this would not be a problem. Also, I'm sure that plenty of people will simply mount the map.

A great job was done on the counters as well. The colors are what I would call "traditional," field gray and black for the Germans, brownish for the Russians, etc. They are bright and there is enough variation to make the different nationalities and informational markers easy to identify.

The rulebook is quality printed, and I never noticed any smudging from my grubby fingers as I read it. Two player aid cards are included, and they are even different colors, which is a nice touch. There is also the expected errata sheet which has about what I remember to be the average amount of errors. A REALLY nice addition, though, is the examples of play... pamphlet, I'll call it. It's a four-page, full color, glossy beauty that covers several different situations that are likely to occur in a game, along with photos. This wasn't even listed on the box, and I can't say enough what a great inclusion it is. They even injected some humor into the captions. Oh, and we can't forget the 2 six-sided dice. I doubt many of us need those, but they are there, and are the typical type.

System and Gameplay:
The rules are well laid-out and not excessively wordy; and although I made a couple of mistakes and had some questions at first, they are not too complex nor overly simplified. The supply rules are probably the only thing I took a little while to get the hang of, but for old pros they should be no big deal. Two things that really set this system apart are the facts that the Russians attack before their movement, and that German armor moves twice. It doesn't take long to see that the Russians have to be handled as a sort of lumbering giant while the Germans are like a quick fencer - but one that tires easily. The wrench thrown in here is that Russian armies will restore strength if the Germans cannot stay in contact with them, while the Germans only receive minimal reinforcements and no replacements. Coupled with logistics problems, thing get difficult for the Germans in the late game.
Although there are six scenarios (the first one, "Turning Point," is great for learning the basics), everything really comes together in the campaign game. To me, it really gives both sides the proper feel of the whole war in the East. The Russians must suffer severely in the early game, reeling back from hit after hit, desperately trying to slow the German advance. The Germans start feeling supply problems almost immediately, and must balance gaining ground quickly while acutely feeling the loss of every single unit. Of course, things turn around in the late game, and if the Russians are allowed to hold on and reinforce, it is the Germans playing the delay game, trying to hold on to enough victory points to at least eke out a "nobody wins" result.

Conclusion:
I am very glad I bought this game. If it had been a bad experience, I probably would not be a member at BGG, and would most likely have a PS3 or 360 controller in my hand right now. I see many years of fun coming from this excellent game - it was definitely worth the purchase price.

My ratings, on a scale of 1 to 10:
Components: 9 - excellent!
Rules (quality of writing): 8 - a few huh? moments
Gameplay: 9 - a great time!
Replayability: 8 - it's big and not a spur of the moment thing.
Overall: 9 - very highly recommended!!
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Bill Lawson
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This was one of the first new games I bought after being out of wargaming around 15 years. I have had a lot of fun with it mostly on vassal.
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Jon
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billyboy wrote:
This was one of the first new games I bought after being out of wargaming around 15 years. I have had a lot of fun with it mostly on vassal.


Part of Bill's "fun" was running roughshod all over my poor Soviets (who were just minding their own business, guarding the border, picking flowers, etc. prior to the invasion...). I believe I surrendered at some point during the first winter after my attempts to relieve Moscow fell apart.

Thanks for the review. I found that the game had a very different feel from the norm, mostly due to the differences in the turn sequence between the Axis and the Soviets. I really enjoyed it, despite the shellacking.
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Bill Lawson
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I think you and Rommel may get even with me in Afrika Jon!
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Erik Syvertsen
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Thanks for the comments - maybe I'll get into playing on Vassal eventually.
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Dan Owsen
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Nice review.

I'm playing this at our local game convention this weekend. Really excited to finally try it out. I did find this game one of the easiest to punch in recent history. Nice die cutting!
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Erik Syvertsen
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Thanks and have fun!
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Bob
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Nice review Erik! thumbsup

This is one of my most recent MMP purchases and more than worth the price. Good all around game IMO.
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Darrell Hanning
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Quote:
The wrench thrown in here is that Russian armies will restore strength if the Germans cannot stay in contact with them...


This isn't a problem, as the overwhelming majority of Soviet armies have a movement allowance of 3, and it takes at least 4 movement points to leave the hex adjacent to a German unit. The only real chance the Soviets get to disengage, usually, is to attack and hope for an "attacker retreat" result, without taking step losses in the process.

After playing virtually every Eastern Front, campaign simulation made prior to RSR, I have some issues with multiple aspects of the game, and how they individually do not seem to actually model reality so much as - in concert - sum up to approximate results not too far outside the realm of historicity. But it's certainly a fun game for the Germans the first two years, and fun for the Soviets the last two years, if you can get there.
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Steve Herron
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For me there where things that were done well like the first Soviet winter offensive and the Soviet replacement system. But the Axis can void that by moving back one space from Soviet units in the winter turns if possible. I did not care for the way the German supply was handled. If one has a depot on one rail line and places a depot within 4 spaces it on a different line it can be used. Also it is the first east front game where I saw the Axis did not get replacements. I have mixed feelings on the game. I guess playing Fire in the East so much I use it as a yardstick. I am anxious to see what Proud Monster Deluxe will be like. I am glad you got back into wargaming Erik and a well done review.
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Iain K
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Good review and welcome back to wargaming.

What don't you like about RSR?

Have you played Face to face or mostly solo?

Personally, after 6 plays including 3 as the Soviet and not a single loss (including stymieing BillyBoy on one occassion). I find several aspects of the system bother me.

The way overruns reduce the movement point cost to enter tough terrain, the lack of defensive reaction movement, and the potency of *both* sides in winter combat are just too odd.
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Erik Syvertsen
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Again, I'd like to thank everyone for their comments; I'm not in love with this review (I think I rushed it), but I'm glad it's sparked some discussion.

To answer Iain, I have played this completely solo. My wife will play Anachronism or Zombies!!! with me, but RSR is a long way off, and I only have one friend who MIGHT play, but he never has time. I know that this is bad because I'll never see any fresh ideas, but for now it's what I'm stuck with.

As far as what I don't like about the game, I do agree with you on the potency of winter combat, but the overrun MP cost thing and lack of defensive reaction movement haven't bothered me (until now - I'll probably be thinking about them next time I play ) Other than that, I don't think I've been playing wargames for long enough again to have too many thoughts on it. At this point I've been pretty much on an overall like/dislike basis with my games. Although to be honest I didn't buy a Panzer Grenadier game only because I hated the LOS and arty spotting rules - but that's a topic for another day.
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Jason Cawley
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Darrel - on staying in contact with the Russians to avoid letting them rebuild, yes you can maintain contact outside of winter with the standard rifle armies and corps. But the better units can break contact at will, and the rifle forces can do so in the winter, when their exit ZOC cost drops to 2.

But in addition, there is another reason maintaining contact can get wearing on the Germans. Whenever the Russians want to get away, they attack. They don't need to get an AR result. If they do they back away before their movement phase. If they get a DR result the Germans are driven off and the Russians just don't advance after combat.

And if they inflict a step loss or the Germans turn a retreat into a step loss, then they are wearing the Germans out by attrition. Leaders nearby or winter turns dramatically increase the chances of mutual attrition results that wear the Germans out. If the Russians evaporate, on the other hand, they go into the reserve units pool (for corps) or reappear 4-12 turns later 5/6ths of the time for an army.

Sometimes the Russians can't afford to free up too many German units by forcing evaporation that way, especially weak forces. But standing gets the Germans wailed on by an army that really does care how many step losses it takes.

I find the MP allowance, ZOC exit, overrun, and sequence of play rules an interlocking brilliancy of the first order. They recreate the pocket fighting of the first year quite accurately, they make the Russians terrors in winter, and they create a "ranks and relief", echeloned Russian steamroller late.
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Jason Cawley
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"the Axis can void that by moving back one space from Soviet units in the winter turns if possible"

Nope, standing a hex away does deny battle in a non-winter turn, but not in a winter turn. In winter the Russian overrun cost drops to 2 MPs, so a plain rifle army can step across the gap and then hit the Germans opposite in the movement phase using the overrun mechanic. With adds for overrun and winter making for high attrition fighting with mandatory step losses on both sides, quite common, even at low to middling odds.

If the Germans want to deny battle in winter they have to stand 3 hexes away (2 intervening clear hexes) from the Russian rifle. And their infantry corps (as opposed to the broken-down battlegroups) are not fast enough themselves to keep that up. Leaving ZOC always costs them 3 MPs and they have 4, so they can't get back to that distance in one move, even if they are willing to give up the ground, except by breaking down into BGs. Meanwhile the Russians can still "stick" them with Guards and mech, etc.

The Germans find it quite hard to deny battle all winter and have to give up a lot of ground to do so, and typically let a delaying screen get "eaten" to let other stuff get away. They are still in danger anywhere tanks armies overrun into them and gum up further retreat with extra ZOCs, allowing the rifle armies to catch stuff etc. Which is all entirely realistic.

As for allowing 4 hex links across rail nets, that is what trucks do - they "lighter" between working rail links. The HQ network can be 8 hexes per depot when it uses the rails - or more robustly 7 hexes to prevent a partisan line-cut. They shrink when you have to go to truck-borne supply to switch rail networks or to extend off of them (the southern steppe network is sparse etc). The supply mechanics works fine in realism and game effect terms; if anything their main problem is that they are fiddly and have a learning curve for new players.

As for the Germans not getting replacements, that is the game's entire thesis. They get their maneuverist huge advantages - 2 movement phases for their armor, move before attacking not after, easy overruns, ability to move ZOC to ZOC directly with armor - but the Russians own the replacement-attrition stream aspect of the war.

The Germans historically managed to be weaker in front of Moscow than the day of the invasion despite inflicting 10-15 to 1 losses on the Russians, while the Russians had a *larger* army in the field in December than when the campaign started, despite being on the wrong side of that 10-15 ratio. The only way that happens is with a German replacement stream in the "off" position.

The Germans didn't get serious about the replacement, total war, attrition aspect of the campaign until after Stalingrad. That is readily depicted with a wave of reinforcements in 1943, rather than a regular replacement stream. Such replacements as they actually did get are adequately represented by the ability retreat to absorb many CRT results, and the ability to fight winning-odds fights many times in sequence without units evaporating. Both actually involved continual loss, just not necessarily step-sized loss on each occasion.

The net result is an accurately asymmetric system, in which each side really feels like its historical counterpart and faces the critical difficulties its own side commanders faced.

One man's opinions...
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Jason Cawley
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On overrun costs vs. terrain, the point is merely to allow combat in the movement phase, and there isn't a lot of room to fiddle with it. If the overrun attacker also had to pay the terrain cost, Russian rifle would effectively only get to attack in the open, which is the opposite of historical. It works fine.

On no reaction movement, presumably meaning for reserves before an attack phase, um the German armor moves twice and the Russians have to attack from where they were *after* the Germans moved, both times. That is all the reaction movement you could possibly desire, but for the Germans.

When the Russians move to set up their perfect attacks, the Germans can first mech-move a panzer corps out of the line 100 miles away and start it toward the desired battle site, then at the start of the next turn, back away their infantry wherever they want to deny battle, breakdown the reaction panzers into KGs, and run them to the exact spots they want them, and hit something with a spoiler - all before the Russians get an attack phase to follow their set up. What more "reaction movement" could anyone ask for?

The only thing the Germans cannot reaction-defend to is an overrun attack delivered in the Russian movement phase. Which rifle armies have to already be standing next to you to deliver (outside of winter), and are always short range, close with hit with one unit, affairs, for everything but the tank armies. The Russian tank armies are their only units able to move and hit in a spot not completely telegraphed beforehand, hard enough to hurt anything. Which is quite as it should be.

Effective Russian reaction movement blocking each breakthrough attempt via perfect C3I and planning wasn't exactly the most conspicuous feature of the war in the east. If they wanted to meet an offensive with reserves, they had to put entire reserve fronts in second rank behind the front line of armies.

The Russians still get a counterpunching effect, though. The Germans hand over to them right after the German combat phase, which is the only time the Germans get to attack from more than one stack at a time (overruns I mean), in coordinated fashion. Meaning, everything is left as it is at the end of the German combat phase, unpredicted repulses and all, with only their advance after combat choices on victories in the German tool kit to break contact or to get ready for the replies.

Then the Russians get to hit anything still overextended, and then overrun into things too. This is the Russian "reaction movement". It doesn't get there before the Germans attack, but it does get there in the state they are left after their attack plans hits the line (or the fan, as the case may be). A Russian tank army hanging out 3 hexes behind the line is going to overrun-hit anything it pleases, and always full strength (everything off the line is).

The Russians get to use reaction reserves, they just work on a bloody minded, smash straight into 'em method, not a slide right in front before the attack goes off and receive them on defense, method. Anybody who knows this history knows this is a lot more accurate than letting them shift a reserve unit anyplace needed after they see the attack all set up, but before it lands.

As for winters being bloody for both sides, frostbite and disease took as many men in both armies every winter as combat did. Entirely realistic. The Russians can make them good by relieving units, the Germans can't. But it was quite as hard for the Russians to keep a cutting spearhead up to full strength when attacking with it continually, as it was for the Germans. In the 42-43 winter offensives in the south e.g., the Russian tank corps are down to 20 tanks, up at the pointy end.
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Jay Sheely
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Can't wait to get and play this! Lots of great comments to read.
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