John Tiller's Panzer Campaigns - Moscow '4216 Jan 2013 0
Having made Moscow ?41, a less committed design team may have just thrown in a mob of Siberian troops against understrength, undersupplied Germans and called it the sequel. John Tiller?s Panzer Campaigns designers wouldn?t do the easy task. Initially, they didn?t think a good game was in the Soviet counterattack and looked at a hypothetical German offensive against Moscow in Summer 1942. However, further research indicated that some of the December 1941 ? February 1942 actions could make interesting scenarios. Are they interesting enough to make Moscow ?42 a good buy for gamers?
More Views of Snow
Graphics have been expanded with a magnified version of the NATO 2D counters to go with the other three levels and zooms. The 2D and 3D counter options make play easier for monitors of all resolutions. The 3D icons still pose a problem: terrain shows up well in the two close-in zoom levels but the unit icons are hard to make out even with low resolution settings and look like raisins on today?s high resolution settings. The developer would do well to magnify this view also. A well-done graphic is the Hex Info Area with the initial view showing a picture of the unit?s primary weapon with morale, movement points, number of men and fatigue. The reverse side, brought up by a right-click, displays the chain of command and weapon details, as well as terrain data for the hex is also shown. Various overlays are visible, accessed by the menu bar, tool bar and hot keys, show command range, unit status and other aids to play. Animation includes tracer fire and explosions. Other visuals include collapsible Orders of Battle, artillery dialogs and air dialogs. Three non-playable maps deliver an overview of the campaigns. Scenario parameters in terms of stacking, movement points and other variables are in a pull-down table. The usual sound effects are the rumble of vehicles, gallop of cavalry, swooshes of ski troops and weapon noises.
The interface is typical Panzer Campaigns: left-click selects a unit, movement is right-click on adjacent hexes or left-click drag. Firing is accomplished by switching to ?fire? on the menu and clicking on the target or right-click + CTRL on the target. Artillery and airs strikes are called by choosing a battery or squadron and right clicking on hex in range. Assaults are accomplished by moving onto an adjacent enemy position.
A nice tutorial scenario is available and two manuals are available in PDF from the on-screen menu. Required reading to fully understand the game is the 64-page designer notes which include detailed descriptions of all scenarios with daily weather date from December to February. Studying this document will save players many ?What the?? moments.
Bump and Grind
The usual image of the Soviet winter counterattack is waves of well-clothed, climate-hardened, fresh Siberian troops swarming over ill-supplied, cold Germans. While partially true, the reality didn?t favor the Russians completely. Yes, the newly-arrived troops were better prepared for winter war and the Germans were freezing at the end of their supply tether. Yet, these German troops were the cream of the force molded since 1935 into a modern army and were the conquerors of Western and Southern Europe. They were in a difficult position but still knew how to fight. Conversely, Russian organization and coordination was still suffering from the effects of Stalin?s purge of the Red Army?s officer corps. Soviet supply, transport and training were still inadequate. The result of these conditions is a slow, slugging match.
Forty-two of the 57 scenarios deals with the winter offensive while fifteen come from the hypothetical summer campaign. Sizes of the campaigns are nicely spread out from the eight-turn tutorial to the 578 turns of the Grand Campaign with fairly moderate ones in between. Another gamer-friendly touch is having both head-to-head and solo versions of most scenarios. Included in this mix are the first massive Soviet airdrops.
The designers went to great lengths to make unit strength and abilities accurate. Starting with the paper strength, actual reports were used to bring Soviet brigades, regiments and battalions down to their actual strengths at the start of the battle. The continued bad training give the Russians low morale values, although ski troops get a combat bonus. German units were reconstructed in the same way but with variations for combining understrength units with the corresponding mixture of weapons. German training, experience and field-grade command allow high morale values offset by low strength numbers. The depth of the German order of battle is proven by the inclusion of German labor battalions putting up last ditch stands.
Game play in winter battles is dictated by weather conditions. Incredibly cold temperatures, blizzards, and deep snow made off-road movement very difficult. Infantry moves across the one kilometer hexes one hex per turn. Motorized, ski and cavalry units move faster but only in travel mode. Since units should be taken out of this mode when contact is made, the number of movement points used to switch modes limit the distance covered. No great blitzkrieg sweeps will happen here. Instead, units fight at close quarters to grab the rudimentary road networks. The attacking Russians must creep toward dug-in German defenders. Attackers are mowed down ala World War I. However, Russia?s ?God of War?, artillery, pound key German positions into disruption. Follow-up mass assaults from multiple hexes create a hole in the thin defensive line when the disrupted units retreat or rout with low ammunition and high fatigue, morale being reduced to low levels. Russian ski troops and cavalry delve into rear areas and grab victory hexes while infantry rolls up the rest of the line. Soviet players must grab objectives as they will suffer too many casualties to win on the kill/loss ratio. The German, on the other hand, must ?know when to hold ?em and know when to fold ?em?. Given Russian numerical superiority, the German must conduct an orderly retreat to protect high value objectives. This methodical rhythm allows the AI to excel and give players a real challenge. The summer scenarios may move faster but the Russian minefield belt makes initial breakthrough tough.
Hot seat and PBEM options guarantee many replay opportunities. As more sources emerge from Russian archives, the scenario editor allows players to make and test new battles.
Players who like fast moving games may dismiss Moscow ?42 but students of the Russian front will appreciate its importance as a research tool in that decisive theater of World War II. The fact that they?ll enjoy playing it is value-added.
About the Author
Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he dealt with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Grogheads, Strategyzone Online and Gamesquad