SPI, THE BATTLE OF MOSCOW (1970)

THE BATTLE OF MOSCOW is an operational level game of World War II combat on the Eastern Front. The game was designed by Dave Williams and published by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI) in 1970.

INTRODUCTION

THE BATTLE OF MOSCOW was originally published, without die cut counters, as an insert game with S&T #24; later it was reissued — with die cut counters — as an independent game in the standard SPI flat plastic game tray format. For both SPI and East Front game collectors, this title is interesting not only for its innovative movement and combat system, but also because of its unusual history. It was one of a limited number of games published by SPI that was not designed “in house.” In this instance, the game’s creator had previously designed ANZIO for Avalon Hill.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

In the closing days of 1941, Hitler and the Oberkommando Des Heeres (OKH) surveyed the enormous gains won 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 1941. Thus, 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 wore 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


THE BATTLE OF MOSCOW is a historical simulation, at the regiment/division/corps/army level, of the fall-winter offensive by the Wehrmacht to capture Moscow before the end of the 1941 campaign season. The game begins with the first October turn and continues through to the last week of February 1942: a total of twenty weekly game turns. The game mechanics are a little unorthodox. During this period, SPI had been experimenting with different ways of increasing mobility in the battle area, and this was one of several experiments that the people at SPI tried before they finally settled on the KURSK Game System. In the case of THE BATTLE OF MOSCOW, each player turn is sequenced as follows: first movement phase; first combat phase; second movement phase; and second combat phase. All combat units, not just mechanized units, are eligible for this set of double movement and combat phases. Needless to say, since the Russians are on the receiving end of the German offensive for most of the game, it is the Russian player who must tend most carefully to the depth of his defenses. The German player wins by capturing and occupying Moscow for four consecutive game turns; failing that, he can also win by isolating, rather than capturing, both Leningrad and Moscow for four consecutive turns.

A PERSONAL OBSERVATION


The game counters and cartography of THE BATTLE OF MOSCOW, while perfectly adequate in 1970, are now, to put it charitably, pretty primitive. For this reason it is quite illuminating to compare these components and graphics to those of SPI’s OPERATION TYPHOON, published just eight years later. The differences between the two games and their components are amazing: THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW already looked very outdated and old-fashioned in 1978; in contrast, OPERATION TYPHOON would probably still hold up today against contemporary simulations in overall quality and appearance. On the other hand, everything about the older game isn’t necessarily obsolete: two players who have never seen THE BATTLE OF MOSCOW can both read and understand the rules, and set the game up for play in a about forty minutes or so; and as much as I admire some aspects of the newer game, I challenge anyone to do the same with OPERATION TYPHOON.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 1 week per game turn
  • Map Scale: not given
  • Unit Size: Russian operational group/regiment/division/corps/army
  • Unit Types: armor, armored infantry, infantry/guards infantry/fortress infantry, cavalry, security, workers, partisans, paratroops, and replacements
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: low/medium
  • Solitaire Suitability: average
  • Average Playing Time: 2½-3 hours

Game Components:

  • One 22” x 28” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record Chart, Terrain Effects Chart, Combat Results Tables, and Scenario Set-up Charts incorporated)
  • 255 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 5¾” x 11” map-fold style Set of Rules (with Terrain Effects Chart and Errata incorporated)
  • One 8½” x 11” combined Turn Record Track, Combat Results Table, Weather Table, Weather Effects Table and German order of Appearance and Set-up
  • One 8½” x 11” Russian Order of Appearance and Set-up
  • One small six-sided Die
  • One SPI 12”x 15”x 1” flat 24 compartment plastic Game Box (with clear compartment tray covers) and clear plastic game cover with Title Sheet

4 comments:

  • The stylized German and Russian counters of the original, unassembled S&T edition were fantastic. The map is highly abbreviated, but adequate. The order of battle is very good for the time it was published.

    This is a fascinating game, and its Leningrad vs. Moscow scope makes it very intriguing.

    Lou Coatney, http://www.coatneyhistory.com

  • Greetings Lou:

    I agree whole-heartedly. Moreo ver, I think that Dave Williams gets far too little credit from contemporary gamers when it comes to his influence on the hobby. It is interesting, for example, to ponder what present-day players' reactions to this ingeniously-conceived design might be if it was dressed up with better graphics and more accurate OoBs for both Soviet and Axis forces. And yes, the Russian problem of discerning the ultimate German goal (Leningrad or Moscow?) creates a very tense and challenging game dynamic.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Just played this for the first time. I like the dual goals of Leningrad and Moscow. It makes for a much more interesting strategic situation. I felt it captured the flavor of the conflict very well.

    I don't have a problem with the graphics, but then I built my own game from scratch (which, for me, is half the fun of playing these old games).

    Between this game and Flight of the Goeben, Dave Williams made the two best games of S&T's first year. Anzio Beachhead wasn't bad, but BoM is what Anzio Beachhead needed to be.

  • Greetings Gideon:

    Yes, Dave Williams' game designs tend to be underrated by contemporary players, but many of his ideas ended up being used by designers like John Edwards (THE RUSSIAN CAMPAIGN and FORTRESS EUROPA) to great effect.

    When it comes to this title, I have to confess that although I wasn't too crazy about the funky-looking counters in THE BATTLE OF MOSCOW, the game played surprisingly (if nerve-rackingly for the Russians) smoothly: really, an interesting, if largely undiscovered little "gem" of a game.

    Thanks for visiting and
    Best Regards, Joe

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