I've always been interested in military history. I remember back in eighth grade saving up to get "Hitler Moves East" by Paul Carrell. It was a mammoth paperback so it was expensive - it cost ninety five cents. But it was well worth it. It covered the first two years, the period that Germany was on the offensive. Ever since reading that book I have been fascinated by the Eastern Front. It is the largest land war ever fought. It has been described as "the best army in the world taking on the largest army in the world". When I started to play wargames in high school the old Avalon Hill "Stalingrad" quickly became my favorite game. Although named for the famous battle, it actually covered the entire theatre at an operational level with corps level units.
I played Stalingrad a lot but it wasn't really a good simulation. Back in those days it just didn't have the mechanics to simulate the sweeping battles of encirclement that characterized the Eastern Front. The first game to really do that well was "The Russian Campaign". It did that by introducing a double impulse system. So on the first impulse you could pierce the Russian defenses and then on the second impulse your panzers coulds penetrate deep behind enemy lines. This game is a classic. It went through four editions published by three different companies and is still played today. Back in the eighties Frank Riskey and I played it a lot. As Tim grew up and got to like wargames it was our favorite. I still have the Avalon Hill third edition and Tim owns the beautiful graphics upgrade that L2 Design Group did for the fourth edition.
But wargaming has really advanced since its inception and so any game designed in the seventies is going to show its age. There are a lot more sophisticated mechanics that have been developed over the years. A lot more information is available now from Russian sources since the fall of the Soviet Union. So a lot more is known today about maps, orders of battle, and battle descriptions. There have been a lot of newer games to tackle the subject. There might even be more games on the Eastern Front than any other topic. One of my favorites is Russia Besieged. It takes the core system of Russian Campaign and updates it for the twenty first century. It's an old friend with a complete makeover. It is published by L2 Design so the components are first rate. There is a small group of dedicated gamers that play it and their feedback has been incorporated into a second edition rule set that is very tight.
About three years ago L2 came up with the idea of doing megagames. This is a giant size version of some popular games. The counters are made of plastic, not cardboard and are an inch square. The map and orders of battle are upscaled accordingly. You can see how the megagame version of Russia Besieged compares to the normal version here.
I really thought it was awesome (but really expensive) so I asked for the mega version of Russian Campaign for my birthday two years ago. Sandy was gracious enough to order it. After a few months of waiting I checked on the consimworld forums and found out that L2 had lost its vendor for the plastic counters. After making their first game (Russia Besieged) they were going to do Russian Camapaign. But they couldn't find a vendor, although they said they were working on it. So I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally after over a year I called the guy. No, they still didn't have the problem fixed. So in frustration I asked if they had any copies of Russia Besieged left. Yes, he had one or two. Could I substitute my order? Sure, no problem. So two weeks later I had my megagame of Russia Besieged. As it turns out, I am happy to have it rather than Russian Campaign.
Then came some delay till I got around to trimming counters. Normally when you punch out cardboard counters, it leaves ragged edges. Hard core gamers often trim these off. It's a tedious process. But the plastic counters for the megagame were even more challenging. But I finally got around to doing them this year. I was hoping to finish in time to try the megagame with Tim on his visit. I didn't quite make it, but at least it provided motivation for me to do it.
Frank Riskey and I finally got a chance to play it. Sandy was out of town for a week on a business trip. I moved the table out of the dining area and replaced it with two of my gaming tables. That was enough room for the map, with the reinforcement cards on the kitchen table.
Frank played the Germans and started with a very strong push. It looked like Leningrad was going to fall in 1941 (which is ahead of historical progress) but it was saved by an early winter - a double snow roll in Nov/Dec. Bad luck for Frank. I used the winter to build up again and thought I was in good shape. But the German offensive in spring 1942 was stronger than I expected and Frank was able to take Leningrad. Moscow was looking pretty shaky too. I was really on the rope. Frank tried to push on from Leningrad to outflank Moscow from the north. He made some progress but the terrain was just too bad. His panzers were slowed down more by forests and swamps than by my units. His advance stalled. Now he was behind in the south because he had put all his effort into taking Moscow. The winter of 1942 was wild. Now the Russians were getting quality Guards units and could go up against the Germans. For a few turns we both attacked with high losses on both sides. But as spring 1943 came, the Russians could replace their losses while the Germans had been decimated. Frank tried to pull back, but he just couldn't retreat fast enough. He continued to lose too many units. Even his panzer units couldn't stand up to Guards Tank armies. By early 1944 he had been pushed most of the way out of Russia and lost most of his army. He conceded. It looked like he couldn't possibly meet the end of 1944 sudden victory check.
It was a good game. We both like Russia Besieged as the successor to Russian Campaign. And playing the megagame is definitely cool. I am hoping to play it a time or two at MonsterCon in Tempe, Arizona in June.
Maybe I need to put the megagame version of Bitter Woods on my birthday list for this year.