SPI, OPERATION TYPHOON (1978)

OPERATION TYPHOON: The German Assault on Moscow, 1941 is an operational simulation of the last desperate German offensive to capture Moscow in the fall and winter of 1941. Based loosely on the highly successful WACHT AM RHEIN Game System, the game was designed by Joseph Angiolillo and published by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI) in 1978. OPERATION TYPHOON is packaged in the large soap-box format that SPI reserved, during this period, for its monster games.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND


In early November 1941, Hitler and the Oberkommando Des Heeres (OKH) surveyed the enormous gains won by the Werhmacht during the first months of the German “Barbarossa” Offensive. Russia seemed, given the Red Army’s enormous losses in men and materiel, on the verge of utter collapse. It appeared to Hitler and many of his senior generals that a final offensive blow would shatter the Russian forces gathered in front of Moscow and that the war might yet be brought to a successful conclusion in its first year. A final German victory seemed tantalizingly close; too close not to try for.

Thus it was that, with Moscow only forty miles from the German front lines, Army Group Center’s Third Panzer Group, as well as its Ninth Army, attacked Soviet positions on 15 November. The Second Panzer group, commanded by Heinz Guderian, attacked through Tula in the southwest on 17 November. The Führer’s plan was a simple one: envelope the Soviet capital from the north and south and destroy the few Russian divisions still barring the Wehrmacht’s path into Moscow. After promising initial gains, however, the German offensive soon began to stall. New improved Soviet aircraft started to appear in the sky over the battle area; larger numbers of the superb Russian T-34 tank also began to make their presence felt as the offensive ground on; but most menacing of all, fresh, battle-hardened troops — recently transferred from Siberia — began to show up in ever greater numbers directly in the path of the German advance. A final desperate push carried the Third and Fourth Panzer Groups to within sight of the Kremlin towers only twenty-five miles away, but the German offensive finally sputtered to a halt on 4 December. The Wehrmacht had come as close to Moscow as it was ever going to get, and on 5 December, a massive Soviet counter-offensive began all along Army Group Center’s front.

DESCRIPTION

OPERATION TYPHOON: The German Assault on Moscow, 1941 is a historical simulation, at the operational (division/regiment/battalion) level, of the final all-out German push to capture Moscow and bring the War in the East to an end during its first year. The hexagonal grid, four-color game map represents the territory around Moscow over which the German and Soviet units maneuvered and fought in November-December 1941. Each hex is approximately 2.7 miles from side to side. The playing pieces in the game represent the historical combat units that were actually present in the battle area during the period covered by the game.

OPERATION TYPHOON is played in game turns, each of which represents one day (24 hours) of real time. The game begins on 15 November and ends, depending on the scenario being played, either on 30 November or 15 December. A typical game turn consists of the following phases: weather and ground determination phase; German support allocation (every fourth game turn); mutual supply determination phase; movement phase (tactical and strategic); combat phase; and interdiction phase. The Soviet player turn follows the same pattern except that there are two additional segments during the movement phase: the commitment phase (Russian units react to the movement of German units in the immediately preceding game turn); and a rail movement segment (during which up to five “committed” units that already occupy rail hexes may be moved by rail).

Besides its modified — one game turn per 24 hour period rather than three — 'WACHT AM RHEIN' mechanics of play, the game design utilizes a variety of additional design elements to simulate the historical problems facing both the German attackers and the Soviet defenders as the summer campaign season ebbed and the dreaded Russian winter approached. Among the key elements that influenced the outcome of the German offensive were weather, operational support (command and logistical), and limited intelligence; and, not surprisingly, all three of these factors play critical roles in the game.  However, other elements also directly affected the fighting in front of Moscow during the closing days of 1941, and hence, are represented in the game; these other contributing factors include:  the effect of air power, the changing supply condition of both armies, unit morale, German divisional integrity, and the effect of Russian entrenchments.

The winner in OPERATION TYPHOON is determined on the basis of the number of victory points (or lack thereof) accrued by the German player. The Axis player receives victory points both for the capture and control of certain Russian cities and for the elimination of Soviet combat units. The Russian player wins by avoiding the specific victory conditions stipulated for the scenario being played. Like many SPI games, varying levels of victory are possible. In TYPHOON either player may, depending on the final victory point total, win a Decisive, a Substantive, or a Marginal victory. A Draw is not possible.

OPERATION TYPHOON offers four different scenarios. The first three are short (16 turn) scenarios, each using a single map section, that simulate the operations of a specific German force in one sector of the battlefield. These scenarios all begin on 15 November and end on 30 November. The fourth scenario ties all three short scenarios into a campaign game that uses all of the German forces and all three map sections. The larger Campaign Game starts on 15 November and ends at the conclusion of the 15 December game turn. In addition to the different scenarios, players may also incorporate one or more of the 'Optional' rules to vary the game or to adjust play balance. These optional rules cover: German hedgehogs; Soviet ski troops; and (more liberal) alternative German support rules.

A PERSONAL OBSERVATION

OPERATION TYPHOON was Germany’s last chance to achieve a decisive victory in 1941. The Germans failed because of the tenacity of the Russian defenders and because of deteriorating battlefield conditions brought about by the onset of the Russian winter: the Russian player need only match the historical result; it is up to the German player to change the outcome of this crucial battle on the Eastern Front. This would seem to be a classic military "race against time" situation: A determined German attacker fights to breakthrough the last few lines of Soviet defenses before a combination of arriving Russian reinforcements and worsening weather turns the tables on the attackers. Moreover, given the historical significance of the battle — Guderian argued, after the war, that Germany's only real chance for victory against Russia was lost, in 1941, before the gates of Moscow — it would seem to be an excellent candidate for a wargame. And, in fact, SPI had already visited this topic twice before OPERATION TYPHOON appeared in 1978. Unfortunately, for all of its innate promise, this newer game just never really seems to deliver.

It's not that OPERATION TYPHOON is a terrible game; because it really isn't. And to be fair, Joe Angiolillo's treatment of the Battle for Moscow is a reasonably historical simulation of Germany's last attempt to capture the Soviet capital before the close of 1941. Moreover, the game components (maps, counters, rules booklet, and charts) are — thanks to Redmond Simonsen — colorful, clear, and generally nicely done. Nonetheless, despite its more-or-less familiar game system and its superior eye-appeal, I still find that, when I am in the mood to refight this particular battle, I pretty much always turn to THE MOSCOW CAMPAIGN (1972) and not to OPERATION TYPHOON. I suspect that the main source of my bias in favor of the older title and against the newer game, if one can call it that, is rooted in the relatively severe restrictions placed on German operations by the 'Support' rules in TYPHOON; also, the shorter time period covered by the Angiolillo design doesn't help either: there is no real opportunity for the Russians to conduct their historical (and devastating) counteroffensive in the newer game, unless players mutually decide to simply slog on by playing the optional Extended Game. A regular game of TYPHOON ends on 15 December; during the actual campaign, Zhukov's crushing counterblow against the exhausted and exposed Germans did not really even jump off until 6 December, 1941. Unfortunately, there is no provision in the game design for players to concentrate exclusively on this phase of the battle; they either play through the entire campaign in order to get to the period of Zhukov's counteroffensive, or they don't. This omission, at least in my eyes, seriously detracts from the overall appeal of the Angiolillo design.

In the end, I can really only offer a weak recommendation for OPERATION TYPHOON. Despite its attractive graphics and its use of a modified version of the popular 'WACHT AM RHEIN' design platform, it just isn't that exciting a game. Certainly, the 1978 title would probably be a worthwhile acquisition for a dedicated "East Front" game collector, but for most regular players, I recommend that they invest their money in a nice copy of THE MOSCOW CAMPAIGN; not only does it provide the players with a lot more options in the form of additional (what if?) scenarios, but it also offers — even when playing one of the historical games — a far more interesting and challenging gaming experience for both players than does TYPHOON. And as a final thought: for those players interested in acquireing a superb adaptation of the 'WACHT AM RHEIN' game system to the Russian Front, I strongly recommend that they try to find a nice "player's copy" of Jack Radey's KORSUN POCKET (1979). Not only is Radey's design much truer than TYPHOON to the original 'WACHT AM RHEIN' game template, but it is also, despite its mammoth size, a terrific game for experienced East Front players.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 1 day (24 hours) per game turn
  • Map Scale: 2.7 miles per hex
  • Unit Size: battalion/regiment/division
  • Unit Types: armor, mechanized infantry, infantry, cavalry, ski, parachute, anti-aircraft, anti-tank, headquarters, air points, and information markers
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: medium
  • Solitaire Suitability: low
  • Average Playing Time: 2½-5 hours (depending on scenario)

Game Components:

  • Three 22” x 34” hexagonal grid Map Sheets
  • 800 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet with Scenario Instructions
  • One 11” x 17” combined German Game Turn Track/ Victory Point Index/ Combat Results Table/Terrain Effects Chart/Support Table/Air Points Display
  • One 11” x 17” combined Soviet Game Turn Track/Weather Table/Commitment
  • Table/ Combat Results Table/ Terrain Effects Chart/Air Points Display
  • Two small six-sided Dice
  • Two 8¾” x 11½” flat 20 compartment plastic storage trays with clear plastic covers
  • One 4” x 8½” SPI Catalogue and Order Form
  • One Customer Service Card
  • One SPI 9” x 11¾” x 4” bookcase-style cardboard Game Box

Related Blog Posts

SPI, THE MOSCOW CAMPAIGN (1972)
THREE DIFFERENT DESIGNERS LOOK AT THE SAME BATTLE SPI Simulates the '41 Battle for Moscow in 1970, 1972 and 1978
SPI, THE BATTLE OF MOSCOW (1970)

Recommended Reading

See my blog post Book Reviews of these titles which are strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background, or just go ahead and get the books:

Book Review: Panzer Battles, Book Review:  German Army 1933-1945
, Book Review:  Genius for War, the German Army ,Book Review:  Command Decisions


  

8 comments:

  • Have to agree with this review; OPERATION TYPHOON turned out to be a disappointment with me. I like playing the GMT version much better!

  • Well I guess I'm one of the odd ones here. I liked playing the game. Yes, the system was a modified "Wacht Am Rhein" which for the purest it probably sadden them just like those who went nuts at the way "Drive on Stalingrad" did a dis-service to the Panzergruppe Guderian system. In the many times I've played it I always found a new wringle in my play. This game demands a lot from the German player and he has to be careful in planning the assault on Moscow. The terrain is not his ally. The Russians have a stronge defense. Maybe I'm a sentimentalist for the old games but I really think there is a great game in there. I just hope some day I will finally discover it.
    Thanks for bringing this one up!
    Bob

  • Mark Acres said...

    I agree with anonymous above. I know this game has always had its detractors, but it's one of my all time SPI favorites. The uncertainty introduced by the hidden unit values, the power and fragility of the German panzer battalions, the race against time, weather and reinforcements, and having to plot the entire attack on a logistical shoestring - man, that's wargaming fun. As the Soviet, there was the constant danger that a single blunder, a single misplaced unit or a bad chit pull could quickly cascade from a minor breakthrough to a knock-out blow - and the need to plan to prevent that from happening.

    I used to play this game over New Year's weekend every year for many years, until my New Year's gaming buddy moved away.

  • Greetings Bob and Mark:

    Thanks for visiting; I appreciate both your comments and your interest.

    I understand your feelings about 'TYPHOON': a few of my friends also liked the game considerably more than I did. And, of course, they were just as mystified about my interest in 'VERACRUZ' as I was about their fondness for this title. I guess the old adage holds: find two wargamers and you'll also find three opinions!

    In any case, as I indicated at the close of my game profile, I really don't think that Joe Angiolillo did that bad a job with this game; only that the scope and scale of his final design -- much like that of 'ERIC GOLDBERG'S KURSK' -- tended, I think, to step on the larger narrative arc of the battle being depicted. I guess another way of putting it is to say that the game just felt -- and I confess that I was quite surprised by this -- smaller than its unit count and map size would otherwise suggest.

    Thanks Again for taking the time to share your thoughts and Best Regards to you both, Joe

  • Hi Joe

    Thi one was my FIRST wargame bought in a shop in London in 1978. So it always had a special place in my heart and on my wargaming tables.

    But, as always, I appreciate the quality of your analysis ! What a tremendous work, I'll hope I could do the same when I'll retire and in french obviously !

    Truly yours,

    JLuc from France

  • Greetings Jean-Luc:

    It is nice, as always, to hear from you.

    I understand your fondness for your first "real" wargame. Of course, in my case, that first game was 'AFRIKA KORPS'; but like you, I still find myself springing to the old Avalon Hill "classic" even now.

    So far as retirement goes: I personally think that it's a little over-rated; but, nonetheless, I look forward to reading your commentary when you finally have the time to blog full time.

    Thanks again for your kind words and
    Best Regards, Joe

  • JCB, how do I send you a personal email? I have a request.

  • Greetings Sharp:

    While my personal computer is in the shop -- hopefully, receiving a few much-needed upgrades -- you can email me at jcbeard1@cox.net; that way, I should be able to receive your request and act on it fairly promptly. Right now, I am using my wife's computer which I dislike (speed and keyboard issues) but I expect to be back up and running normally by Tuesday or Wednesday PM.

    Best Regards, Joe

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