Category Archives: East Front

Scenario Review – Ingermanland

Ingermanland is an odd little scenario from the Operation Barbarossa campaign in Campaign Book 1, for Memoir ’44.  Two weak forces duke it out in ugly terrain, and a single good move from either side can swing the battle in one direction or the other.  I quite like the scenario, but it has proven divisive.  My regular gaming partner hates it.

Outrunning its air cover, Kampfgruppe Raus pressed north from the newly captured town of Ostrov into the woods and swamps between the lakes Peipus and Il’men. Remnants of the Red Army and partisans in the woods, by now short of armored vehicles used other methods to harass the German advance. They employed snipers, minefields, abatis (trees bent, shaped, and cut to block roads and paths), and other obstacles to delay the Panzers’ advance. Isolated Russian KV-1 tanks roamed the woods threatening German supply lines, and then became giant metal pillboxes when they ran out of petrol. Von Leeb wrote in his diary that “the Russians defend every step.” The Kampfgruppe attempted to push through heavily defended woods to the north of Lake Samro in an effort to break out into open territory where their superiority in armor could impact the conflict.

Here’s a photo of the map.

Ingermanland

Note the three Russian snipers.  It’s that sort of map.  The Russians have an incredibly small and weak force, and they can’t really take many losses.  This is compounded by the fact that half the Russian backfield is an exit zone for the Germans.  On the other hand, the German force needs to hit in a concentrated fashion that is incredibly hard to do.

The Germans need to move up and either park tanks beside the snipers, or kill them outright.  If they get lucky and roll those grenades, the whole character of the map changes.  On the other hand, if the Russians can knock out the German artillery with sniper fire and maul the German infantry before it comes into attack range, then the game becomes very hard for the Germans. As Russians, I always had the feeling of impending doom.  If the German player has the cards, he or she can push hard in a single sector, and take advantage of the exit zone to get an unstoppable victory.  However, it’s bloody hard for the German player to actually pull that off.

I must admit that this map is rather controversial.  My regular gaming partner does not like it at all, and is convinced that it should be a Russian Turkey Shoot in most cases.  In his opinion, the Russian player needs only pull back, and mangle the Germans with long-range sniper fire.  To prove the point, he mopped the floor with my German army in our second test game last week, losing only a single unit in the process.  This, of course, was just after a nail-biter of a game in which I just barely held off his final advance on the Russian left flank.  I think it’s actually fairly well balanced, given competent play on both sides.  Days of Wonder Online supports neither of us, giving it a 43/57 split in favor of the Germans.  Try it out, and form your own opinion.

General Evaluation – 3/5 – This is too odd and too controversial to score any higher.  Players who love plodding plink-fests where neither side has good options (such as myself!) may love it, while other players may hate it.

Balance Evaluation – ? – As described above, I can’t find a consensus opinion on the matter.

First-Turn Win Possibility – None – Neither side has anything approaching the force to win a quick victory.

Plink-Fest Danger – High – If the battle becomes a close-quarters fight, the Germans have, in all likelihood, already won.

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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.

Scenario Review – Operation Seydlitz

Operation Seydlitz is a scenario from the Equipment Pack for Memoir ’44.   This is a battle on the East Front, taking place during the German drive towards Stalingrad.  As with many of the scenarios from the Equipment Pack, it has its problems, but manages to be a bit more fun than many of the others because it is quick, and has lots of cavalry.

July 1942 – Having survived the Soviet winter offensive, the Germans set about eradicating enemy forces far in their rear. Assembling a formidable collection of Infantry, Armor and Mounted units near the River Luchesa, they opened the attack with an intense Artillery bombardment on the dug-in Russian defenders. The German Cavalry brigade, assembled from reconnaissance battalions, used its superior mobility to outflank the Russian line, while German Armor and Infantry were able to successfully negotiate the Russian minefields. Caught in the middle, the Soviet forces soon began to collapse.

The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. The rest is history.

Like all the scenarios from the Equipment Pack, the map is not available online.   Here’s a bad photograph.

Seydlitz

There are two important things to note about this setup.  First, the Germans have a nearly overwhelming firepower advantage against an enemy in fairly fixed positions.  The German artillery and mortar can plink the Russian front line to death with minimal risk.  The second thing to note is that the German player has three cavalry units on his right flank.

Cavalry is one of my favorite units, because they can do absolutely nothing but charge.  Thanks to their 2/1 attack rating, Cavalry are totally useless at range – but the itch to use them is so great that many players will throw them forward at the enemy even if that’s really not the best idea.  I’ve played this map a few times, and have not once seen the Cavalry held back.  Furthermore, they can actually accomplish quite a bit, all on their own.  With a little bit of support, the German cavalry can roll up the Russians on that flank, and go straight for the artillery.  With our House Rules in effect, Cavalry are the single best unit for killing Artillery, and knocking out the Russian artillery will almost guarantee a German victory.

So, this map can go one of two ways.  A cautious and serious German player will slowly move up units in the center, and plink the Russian front line to death.  A crazy German player will open up with a Cavalry charge.  In either case, the Germans are likely to win.  It’s just horribly imbalanced.

However, the odds are so obviously stacked against the Russians, especially given the 5 medal victory count, that there’s little incentive for the Russian player to be conservative.  Any map that creates a situation where both sides are crazily aggressive is bound to be fun, and this map delivers.

Operation Seydlitz is a quick and silly refresher between more serious maps.

General Evaluation – 3/5 – This can be a quick and fun map, or it can be a painfully brutal slog of attrition.

Balance Evaluation – Strongly German Favored – The Russian player has little prospect for victory no matter what the Germans do.

First-Turn Win Possibility – Minor – I suppose that the Germans could open with a Direct from HQ, take out the Russian bunker with their cavalry and artillery, and start the game with 2 medals.  But that’s pretty unlikely, and there are no other quick winning moves available to either side.

Plink-Fest Danger – High – A boring German player could use his mortar and artillery and tank to slowly batter the Russians to death, and there’s little the Russian player could do about it.

Scenario Review – Pavlov Hero of the Soviet Union

Pavlov – Hero of the Soviet Union is another grueling Stalingrad map for Memoir ’44‘s East Front expansion.  The Germans have to fight through a ton of rubble, but the promise of a ton of medals makes the fight worthwhile.  Pavlov’s House was one of my favorite maps on Red Orchestra, so I was super excited to try out this map – and it was a worthwhile experience.

The fighting for control of downtown Stalingrad raged on for days. Battle lines vanished. The armor-supported mobility that the German soldiers had been accustomed to during their rapid progression across the Russian steppe soon degenerated into the utter chaos and madness of urban combat as Soviet troops “hugged” their enemy to death. Each street leading to Red Square became a battlefield… and each building surrounding the square a fortress.

The ?9th of January Square?, just north of city center, was one of these lethal, vicious hot spots. Soviet troops, under the command of Junior Sgt. Yakov Pavlov, barricaded themselves in a four-story apartment building – surrounding themselves with minefields and barbed wire. Each time German infantry or tanks tried to cross the square, Pavlov’s anti-tank gunners laid down a withering fire, beating back one assault wave after another. After each German attack, his men had to run out and kick down piles of German corpses to keep clear firing lines across the square. Sgt. Pavlov was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union for his actions and, months after the battle, Chuikov would still joke that “more Germans died trying to capture Pavlov’s House than died capturing Paris”.

The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. The rest is history.

This scenario was originally included in the Sword of Stalingrad battle map pack, and as such is not available online.  Given the incredibly limited print run these scenarios had, and the fact that they’ve been out of print for years, Days of Wonder should really make them available online.  Here’s my bad photo of the layout.

Pavlov's House

The Germans start out with a moderately superior force, but it’s jammed up against the baseline in fire range of the Russian artillery and snipers.  The German left flank is in a particularly ugly position, with a number of units in the second row that cannot retreat.  If the Russian player is rich in multi-regional cards, he or she can tear the German force to pieces before the attack even begins.

However, a strong assault by the Germans on their right flank can quickly turn things around for the Germans.  They have the units and the firepower to quickly push the Russians out of their front-line positions.  Once that happens, the German can leverage their superior firepower to wear down the Russian forces around the square, and then move in to take a number of victory medals.  In particular, if the German player can take out the Russian artillery unit fortified behind the square, then he or she is quite likely to win.

On the other hand, if the German player suffers from bad dice or a bad hand at the start, things can quickly turn ugly.  Every turn the Germans are stuck engaging the Russian front-line forces, their chance of victory pulls further and further away.  It is entirely possible for the Russian player to beat the Germans on their baseline.

We played this game three times, the first time with me playing Russians, and the second two times with me as German.  A video of that first game will go up shortly.  I lost all three games.  The first game was very tight.  The German player made substantial progress on the German right flank, but I took a serious lead in medals.  However, the German player moved up with his tanks to take medals in the Russian backfield, and my bad hand didn’t allow me to either repel the Armor advance, or to get the final winning medal off long-range artillery plinks.  The second and third were pathetic humiliations.  My German forces had decided to pack rubber bullets, which did minimal damage to the Russian forces.  Both games were brutal Russian romps, where were not in doubt after the third turn.

This is a good map.

Overall Evaluation – 4/5 – If the German player does not have at least average cards and dice in the first two turns of this game, he or she will likely lose in a slow and humiliating manner.  This super-critical early game prevents me from giving this otherwise excellent scenario the highest marks.

Balance Evaluation – Slightly Russian Favored – For the reasons explained above.  DoW Online has this at 55/45 Russians, which sounds about right.

First-Turn Win Possibility – Moderate – As I said, a bad German opening makes victory almost impossible.

Plink-Fest Danger – Mild – Russian artillery and snipers give the Germans an incentive to move up quickly, but in the late game it’s quite likely for the deciding move to be a long-distance plink given the ability of both sides to pull back and hide behind terrain.

Scenario Review – Red Barricades Factory

Red Barricades Factory is one of the better scenarios included in the East Front expansion for Memoir ’44.  It’s a tough scenario for both sides, as they need to be aggressive in the face of daunting odds, and they absolutely need luck to be on their side for this aggression to pay off.

By mid October the fighting amidst the rubble of the Red Barricades Factory Complex in the northern section of Stalingrad had drawn in more and more of the German 6th Army’s forces. On the 22nd the 79th Infantry division, supported by engineers, tanks and artillery, launched an intense attack over the Railroad embankment toward the Barricades Factory.

Under heavy fire from dug-in tanks and Russian snipers, the German troops slowly made ground toward the Factory. The Soviet line finally broke, but by day’s end only a corner of the factory had been taken.

The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. The rest is history.

red barricades map

There is no consistent point of engagement.  This is a long battle, and at some point every hex of the map will be involved in one way or another.  The Germans need to push the Russians back evenly, move up, and break their enemy in a single sector for the victory.  The Russians need to bleed the Germans on the front line for a few medals, and then prevent the final German advance.  The decisive engagement can happen in any sector, but due to the terrain and the opening balance of forces it is most likely to occur near the Red Barricades factor.

This map rewards aggressive play.  The Germans can, of course, try to grind down the Russian front line with plinks from artillery and units on the embankment.  This is only really effective if the German player has a really excellent hand, though, as he or she begins play with a few units that are dangerously exposed.  Unless they are moved into engagement quickly, they become easy targets for the Russians, and their loss makes the final push very difficult.  Most of the time, the German player will be rewarded for a quick and comprehensive attack.  It gains the German player a few quick medals with potentially few losses, and it will draw the Russian tanks forward, which in turn allows the German player to destroy them with his own superior armor force.  With those down, the map opens up for the final attack.

The Russian player, too, is rewarded for an aggressive defense.  A Russian player may be tempted to withdraw his units from the front lines, to get them out of 2-dice artillery range.  However, this will allow the Germans to occupy forward positions with almost no loss, and allow the Germans to better use his or her superiority in Armor at almost no risk.  A German force that gets set up around the first Russian line of defense is almost impossible fro the Russian player to dislodge.  Forcing the German player into a grinding close-combat battle around the front line by throwing forward his infantry from the center is the best way to take advantage of his or her greater ability to take losses (thanks to starting the game with three victory point medals).

This need for aggression gives a big advantage to whichever player is luckier.  The player that gets the better of the die rolls, and that can more consistently move up large numbers of units, is the player that wins.

This puts me at a serious disadvantage playing this map, as I am not a very lucky player.  I played this map five times in preparation for this writeup, and was pummeled badly in every game by bad cards and bad dice, and corresponding good cards and hot dice by my enemy.  The three times I played as Germans, I lost 10/5, 10/7, and 10/6, and only in the last game was the final outcome ever in doubt.  Thinking back, I cannot say if I have ever won on this map.  Consistently unlucky players should avoid it.

General Evaluation – 4/5 – This is a good, reasonably balanced map.  Both sides have things to do, and the outcome often comes down to the last few moves.

Balance Evaluation – Mostly Balanced – The Russians win 55/45 according to the battle reports on DoW online, which seems about right.

First-Turn Win Possibility – None – With a 10 medal victory condition and a ton of units on the board, this scenario is long enough that any early advantage can evaporate.

Plink-Fest Danger – Moderate – A German player with a good hand can, on occasion, create a game-state where the Russian player cannot advance or retaliate, and must sit and absorb long-range fire from the Germans.  Likewise, a German player whose opening offensive is badly beaten might end up with a force that is insufficient for any further attacks, thus becoming reliant on artillery and long-range tank attacks.  This is what prevents me from giving this map the highest mark.

Scenario Review – Red Barricade Factory Complex OVERLORD

Red Barricade Factory Complex, by independent author Winter Storm, is a good Overlord scenario about a classic East Front battle for Memoir ’44.  It takes the classic Red Barricades official scenario as its inspiration, expands the map, and gives the battle a slightly different flavor.  For the sake of balance I suggest a fairly major change to the opening setup, but in general I can recommend this map.

By mid October the fighting amidst the rubble of the Red Barricades Factory Complex in the northern section of Stalingrad had drawn in more and more of the German 6th Army’s forces. On the 22nd the 79th Infantry division, supported by engineers, tanks and artillery, launched an intense attack over the Railroad embankment toward the Barricades Factory.

Under heavy fire from dug-in tanks and Russian snipers, the German troops slowly made ground toward the Factory. The Soviet line finally broke, but by day’s end only a corner of the factory had been taken.

The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. The rest is history.

The opening setup shows the overwhemling German force massed on the far side of the railroad embankment, facing a dispersed Russian force in good defensive terrain.

Red Barricades OverlordThe Russians can quickly take up to four area control medals, but may find it hard to keep them in the end due to the horrible attrition they are bound to suffer.  The German player is strongest on their left flank, while the Russian player is strongest in the center.  There is no one key engagement on this map.  The battle is to 17 medals, and the Germans are going to need to mount an offensive in every sector to rack up that many kills.

In my opinion, the opening setup makes it too easy for the Germans to use their firepower advantage without fear of retaliation.  Notice the multiple German artillery units in 2-dice range of the Russian frontline.  There is nothing the Russians can do about this, except to abandon their forward positions and retreat.  But if they do, the German player can move his guns up in almost perfect safety.  The German armor advantage means that any attempt to advance on the German guns can be cut down pretty quickly, as the Russian player would have to leave his dug-in positions to advance.  Firing from safety, there’s little reason for the Germans to ever advance, and a brutally slow win via plinkage is entirely possible.

This is why I recommend a change in the opening setup.  Move the Russian guns two spaces forward (don’t put them on the sector line – that’s too brutal – and don’t put them in a town), and dig them in with sandbags.  Now, they’ll be able to fire onto the German baseline.  This will encourage the Germans to move their units up quickly and start the real fight.  This doesn’t put the German player at much of a disadvantage, as they have the quantity and type of units to knock out the Russian front-line defenses, and the flexibility to choose the point of attack.  Moving the artillery up also makes the Russian guns tempting targets, and might lead the German player to make interesting gambles to take them out quickly.

General Evaluation – 4/5 – With a slight alteration, this is a pretty fun map.

Balance Evaluation – Even – With the altered artillery position, it is not likely that the German player will be able to pull off an easy win, even with excellent cards and dice on their side.

First-Turn Win Possibility – None – This should end with a nasty exchange between weakened units not far from the Russian baseline – entirely appropriate for a Stalingrad scenario.

Plink-Fest Danger – Moderate – With the original setup, this would be High, because there is nothing the Russian player can do to force the German player to advance beyond the embankment.  But with the altered setup, the German player will get mauled pretty badly on the baseline by the Russian artillery if he/she does not advance, and once the advance begins, the Russian player is going to have more important things to do than plinking German units on the baseline.