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Jim Bourke
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A review of "The Arduous Beginning" by Frank Chadwick, published by Victory Point Games.

Intro

The Arduous Beginning is Frank Chadwick's game on the opening stages of Germany's attack against the Soviet Union in WWII. It is an intentionally simple game with straightforward mechanics, and is quite reminiscent of Chadwick's earlier "Battle For Moscow" (now also in print again thanks to Victory Point Games). The Combat Results Table, and some of the rules, clearly harken back to this earlier game.

However, "Arduous" has some important differences that give this new game more replayability than its predecessor.

Components

Victory Point Games uses bags, rather than boxes. This doesn't bother me, but one minor quibble is that the items are packed so tightly in the map that it is hard to remove them. The map and counters are well designed. The rules are clearly printed on nice white paper with color illustrations. This is standard stuff for Victory Point Games. It's a small company, they make small games, and they don't apologize for it.

While the game says you will have to supply your own die, VPG includes a very tiny 6 sided die that you can use in a pinch. My only complaint about that is that the die caused an imprint in my map during shipment. My map is also a bit warped and doesn't lay flat easily.

VPG ships a notice with it's games asking customers not to complain about such minor imperfections. Like I said, they are a small company. I don't want to dwell on what are really very small details, but part of the value of a review is that it tells you what you are going to get if you buy it, so there you are.

Mechanics

It's hard not to draw parallels between this game and "Battle For Moscow" because they share similar themes and similar mechanics. These are not games that break new ground in game design. The whole point of these games is that they are straightforward wargames in the purest sense. You will not find chit pulls, cards, or activation points here!

What you will find is a nicely designed IGO-UGO wargame for two players with such standard rules that experienced gamers will be able to begin play immediately and proceed by looking things up as they go. I like small games for this reason.

"Arduous" adds stacking (two per hex), and some "untried" units for the Allied player (which have unknown strengths until they see battle) to make things a bit more interesting over Battle For Moscow. The German player gets two air power markers that he can use to influence battle (he'll need them!).

Play

The game is all about controlling cities. The German player needs to capture all 12 of them to win. If the German holds 11 cities at the end of the game, it is a tie. If the German player holds 10 or less, the Soviet player wins.

The German player sets up on the Western edge of the map (of course) and the Russian player distributes his units along the front and in the various cities.

The German player has all the advantage up front and easily takes over the whole board, while the Russian player attempts to form an organized retreat. The goal of the Russian is simply to hold on to two or possibly three cities until reinforcements arrive.

At first, the German player can overrun the Soviet troops and stretch out to the East, due to a special "surprise" rule that allows extra mobility for his side on the first turn. However, he eventually has to form a line to prevent Soviet reinforcements from going around the Germans and capturing a city behind the line.

Enemy Zones of Control stop units and make it possible to bottle up infantry to the point of near-immobility, so both players must make the most of their armor.

The German and Soviet sides play somewhat differently, in that the German side gets his turn order as: Movement, Combat, Special Movement, whereas the Soviet player gets his turn order as: Special Movement, Combat, Movement. This is a nice, subtle design for effect approach to giving the Germans greater combat mobility.

Strategy Advice

As the German, if you set up your counters correctly and use your surprise bonus, you can surround Minsk at the end of the first turn. That's a good idea, so do that, and, while you are at it, surround any other unit west of that city. After that, keep pushing forward while simultaneously mopping up any Soviet stragglers. It's important that you keep your infantry free of entanglement so they'll have mobility in your special movement phase, or you'll never take Gomel. You don't get enough replacements to worry about positioning your troops for them, so just keep pushing your armor forward and around Soviet troops. If you eliminate all the Soviet armor, his mobility will be greatly reduced. You don't want those armored units around near the end of the game, or the Soviet player will make a quick grab at some city behind your line. No matter what you do, it will come down to the wire.

As the Soviets, retreat and sacrifice! If you can keep an infrantry unit on the west side of the map, do so, because it will force the German player to keep some units behind his line. Otherwise, you can slow the Germans down by building a haphazard line in the swamp and forest hexes mid-map. Your only job at the beginning is to slow the Germans down and keep them disorganized. At about the game's mid-point you'll want to switch your focus on building up a big messy nest of ZOCs that the German will have to wade through. You only need to keep 2 cities, so keep things simple. Keep your units well connected, with a hex or two between them at most, not all spread out. It's easiest to focus on Smolensk-Roslavl-Gomel for your last stand, but you should always keep your options open. A final turn attack against Velikie-Luki might win the game. Try to be sneaky with your armored units, because it only takes one German misstep to break free and take an undefended city on the last turn.

Conclusion

I very much enjoyed this game. It's simple, but it presents some interesting challenges for both players. It always comes down to the wire due to the narrative built into the design. At many points in the game it will look as though the German is simply unstoppable, but it is actually very hard to completely drive the Soviets out of their cities. This makes for a fun game, particularly for newcomers. If you are trying to introduce someone to wargames, a good idea is to take the advice in the "game balance" section, let them play the Germans and only require them to take 10 cities to win. You should still be able to force a draw if you are an experienced wargamer.

The game is also well suited for solo play. The untried units add a bit of a random element to it, which make decisions on both sides tense during the opening stages. During one game, the Soviet 6th Mechanized (the most powerful Soviet armor unit with an 8-4-6 rating) was not revealed until the very last turn. This added tension as scores of weaker units were absorbed by the Germans.

This game is obviously not recommended to people who want a lot of historical detail, or a true simulation of the conflict. It also isn't right for someone who wants a boxed game with a big map. It's just not that sort of product, but I imagine anyone familiar with Victory Point Games knows this already.

So if you know a budding wargamer, or are one, may I recommend that your beginning be "Arduous"?
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Andrei Shlepov
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Moscow
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We played Star Fluxx, Star Munchkin, Dixit, and, of course, Bomb Alley.
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Great little review, Jim!

I have to say that The Battle for Moscow is a perennial favourite of our little wargaming group here in NW Moscow. Although I'm used playing GBOH and MPBS and various CDGs, I always gladly play B4M. I think that the greatest asset of B4M is hectic pace and felling that time is running out for both sides. From start to finish you're playing this game on one breath.

The Arduous Beginning has just arrived in Moscow so we're looking forward to play it as well.

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Alan Emrich
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This game series is marching on!

Objective: Kiev, featuring Army Group South's part of the Barbarossa offensive, was just released by Victory Point Games.

Target: Leningrad, with Army Group North, has begun Alpha testing at ConsimWorld Expo 10. Designer Frank Chadwick and series developer Lance McMillan were seen playing this new game in the open gaming area and making a few early tweaks.

Also, two Expansion Kits are in the works: one for Battle for Moscow and another covering the other 3 games combined (Arduous, Kiev and Leningrad).

Alan Emrich
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Wulf Corbett
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I believe these games are now packaged in (slightly) bigger bags, too. Probably not big enough for the expansions, though!
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Alan Emrich
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There are pictures of a lot of this new stuff here:

http://victorypointgames.com/articleDetail.php?article_ID=90...

Starting on page 2 of that article there are lots of goodies.

Alan Emrich
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Dean Hickman
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Thank you for your review. I have ordered all three games.
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