Scenario Review – Staraya Russa

Staraya Russa is an Eastern Front scenario from Campaign Book v. 1 for Memoir ’44.  It’s a Soviet counter-attack on German positions in the first year of the war, as the Germans were pushing towards Leningrad, and it’s interesting for several reasons.  First off, it’s incredibly balanced for an Operation Barbarossa scenario, and is interesting to play for both the Germans and the Russians.  Second, it’s a good example of a low-unit-count scenario, where neither side has an overwhelming force and must make real strategic decisions.  Third, it’s got a really good mix of open fields and forested cover, an just exactly the right number of tanks – one each.  Finally, it’s got Russian cavalry, and as I’ve said before, any scenario with cavalry is a ton of fun.

The Northwest Front, under the energetic Chief of Staff Vatutin, decided to attack the Axis forces south of Staraya Russa. It was hoped that this would divert Army Group North’s energies away from Leningrad. Indeed, von Leeb over-reacted to the Soviet attack and diverted elements of the LVI Panzer Corps to help stabilize the front. The LVI Panzer Corps met an attack made up largely of cavalry because the Soviets were increasingly reliant upon cavalry to provide mobility to their forces due to the rapid depletion of their tank forces.

Here’s my bad photo of the map.

Staraya Russa

Note the dug-in Germans on the Russian left flank, in front of the town with a victory medal.  In every game I’ve played, that has ended up the central engagement.  The Russians will move units forward into those forests to begin an assault, and the Germans will counter by moving up to flush them out.  On the Russian right flank, there is a much more favorable situation for the Russians, as only a few scattered German infantry protect the medal at the town of Staraya Russa.  However, the difficulties of moving standard infantry up that far tend to discourage the Russian player from choosing this route.  It’s far easier, and more fun, to dash up with the cavalry and go for the other town.

At first glance, it doesn’t look like the Germans have much of a chance, as the force balance is so heavily in favor of the Russians.  However, this is a 5 medal map, and in these situations the total force size matters a lot less than where the first engagement begins, and who brings what to the fight.  Furthermore, the Russian cavalry units sacrifice firepower for mobility, and as a result the Russian force is not quite as strong as it may seem – at least against dug in units.  A few lucky rolls either way, especially once the tanks come out to play, can rapidly shift this map in either direction.

Like a lot of the maps from the Operation Barbarossa campaign in the first campaign book, this is not a beginner map.  This is a map for canny veteran players, who know how to use their units and know how to avoid the obvious, yet stupid, move.  I had good memories of this map as soon as I looked at it yesterday, having played it at least 4 or 5 times last year, and my most recent play session validated them entirely.  This is a great map.

Overall Evaluation – 5/5 – This is a balanced, tense, and enjoyable map.

Balance Evaluation – Even – Despite first appearances, neither side has a massive advantage.

First-Turn win possibility – None – Neither side has units that are ready and able to deal a major first turn blow.

Plink-Fest Danger – None – There’s just no incentive to sit and plink at distance, as both sides have only the one tank.

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