Thursday, October 30, 2008

Distraction 3: Kiev-to-Rostov

Barbarossa: Kiev to Rostov landed in the swamp toward the end of last week. I ordered it on P500 from GMT some time ago, so I was happy to see it finally arrive.

Eastern Front games typically rate high on my list of favorites. War for the Motherland/Red Star Rising tops them all, I think, but various PanzerGrenadier and ATS modules set amidst the titanic struggle aren’t far behind. Other favorites from the period include GMT’s Ukraine ’43 and most of the East Front games in the Operational Combat Series (MMP/The Gamers).

I have all of the games in the EFS, with the exception of Typhoon (which was more of a fore-runner to the ‘series’). It’s been a couple of years since I’ve messed with any of them (Army Group North most recently) so picking up on all of the changes to the rules isn’t that difficult because I basically don’t remember any of the ‘old’ rules. One of the advantages of being an old, bald guy I suppose.

While the series is built around a map scale similar to OCS (5 miles per hex), there are few similarities beyond that. I find it rather interesting to play both systems and compare the different treatments given to operational combat in the same theater at the same ground scale.

EFS has a number of mechanisms that are slightly more abstract, which means it plays a bit more quickly on the tabletop (or in Cyberboard, whatever). What it sacrifices is flexibility. The system is highly tailored to the situation found at the opening of the war on the eastern front. The sequence of play is assymetrical and favors coordination on the part of the Germans, while it also imposes headquarters-bound restraints on the Soviets that their counterparts do not face.

OCS, on the other hand, is a system flexible enough to be used across theaters and time-frames – although it can get a bit complicated in spots. I also happen to believe that OCS works best for the games set on the eastern front and begins to break down a little bit when applied to theaters with either low density or high positional attrition.

But my point today isn’t to compare the two systems. I really just want to observe and report that Kiev-to-Rostov appears to be a worthy addition to the series. Half a bazillion counters and four well-done maps continue eastward with the action from Army Group South. The box also includes a couple of ‘mini’ maps printed on cardstock that reproduce small slices of the main maps for use with the game’s introductory scenarios.

I want to dwell for a moment on the mini-maps. It’s a concept that I can’t praise highly enough. It’s a single 8.5 x 11 inch bit of cardstock, each side printed with a different mini-map AND the setup charts needed to play the scenario. The scenarios cover fairly small areas, use small forces and are 3-4 turns long. The mini-maps couldn’t make setup or gameplay any simpler. They seem the perfect setting for a manageable introduction to a fairly complex, sprawling game system.

Maybe in future ‘monster’ games we’ll see some more of the same. Hope springs eternal, etc.

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