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 1941 RACE TO MOSCOW FROM  PHALANX At last a follow-up to the successful Race to the Rhine [pub. 2014], as Phalanx Games has just...




At last a follow-up to the successful Race to the Rhine [pub. 2014], as Phalanx Games has just launched their Kickstarter . The only surprise is that it's taken five years to launch this elegant sequel, in terms of real time, and prequel in terms of WWII.  Both games are interesting hybrids of the war gaming and Euro gaming stables.  Personally, both for topic and for game play, 1941 Race to Moscow is immediately more to my preference.  

For those of you unfamiliar with the games, they offer a three player game that can also be played two player and solo.  For Race to the Rhine, the rivalry between Patton and Montgomery is a well documented fact and to provide a third player by including General Bradley is not wholly inappropriate.  However, Race to Moscow has an even more immediately easy and logical division by simulating the three-pronged invasion of Operation Barbarossa by Army Groups North, Centre and South.

In broad terms the two games, as might be expected, share very similar features.  The map board is covered in a series of oval-shaped point to point areas, linked by coloured arrows.  The colour of the arrow determines which player/s may use that connection.  In contrast to the portrait orientation of Race to the Rhine [RttR], Race to Moscow's orientation is a landscape one. 

This change has made little difference in the number of areas each player has to fight their way through to reach their respective goals of Leningrad, Moscow and Rostov.  What I think is a greatly improved feature is the background of a geographic map instead of the bland, plain tones of RttR.  This gives a stronger war game feel, with a sense of real armies manoeuvring over terrain that grows steadily more inhospitable. 

This is reinforced by the second improvement which is the change from the all-wooden blocks to tank and infantry armies, aircraft and navy, trucks, trains and the variety of three supplies [food, fuel and ammunition] all being rendered in plastic.  Understandably, those who regard wooden pieces as aesthetically better may not share my view.  However, though my review copy [for which once again many, many thanks to Phalanx] is a prototype, I think everyone would agree that most of the components are already of an impressive quality.

A minor detail I'd recommend, to help make recognition clearer, is that the tanks used for each of the panzergruppes either be distinguished more obviously by size or by a different shape of base just as the Field armies are.

I particularly like the three supply elements: food, ammunition and fuel and the trains and trucks that transport them.  All of these can be seen in the next picture, along with the Southern Army's aircraft and cardboard aircraft and HQ markers.
Identical to RttR, each Army has a card with spaces for up to six supplies and marked with its own specific initial load.  Field Armies begin with three ammunition, a single fuel and two food supplies, while Panzergruppes carry three ammunition and three fuel at start.  As is appropriate, Field Armies are much slower, moving only a single space at a time [unless they spend a food supply to move an additional area], while the panzers can move up to three spaces.

Each player has their own deck of Pursuit cards, while all three share the single Soviet deck.  Unlike RttR, each player has to fight their way from the start through a line of spaces containing Soviet markers.  As an Army enters such a space, it has to draw and reveal a Soviet card; all of which will have icons showing what supplies the player must spend to defeat the card.  The stronger the enemy the more supplies you have to spend to do so, but the more likely you are to gain a victory medal whose acquisition will contribute to one of the two ways of winning the game.  A conquered space also then gains a control marker of the appropriate player's colour: black for Army Group North, white for Army Group Centre and brown for Army Group South.

The front line of Soviet markers

Beyond this front line, you are more likely to enter a space that doesn't contain a Soviet marker.  In this case, a player draws a card from their own Pursuit deck of eighteen cards.  With these, you'll encounter a mix of minor losses or gains or historical events [the latter essentially serve as no effect cards!].

Each player's goal for an automatic victory is to be first to take control of their Objective city, as mentioned at the beginning of my review.  Rather oddly, each player can win an automatic victory by taking Moscow, which seems a little hard on the player of Army Group Centre for whom capturing Moscow is the one and only auto win!

If nobody succeeds before the last Soviet marker is placed on the board, then victory is determined by who has gained the most victory medals by that point.  I like the dynamics of this, as each player balances gaining medals against making progress towards their automatic win condition.

A major part of this effective system of checks and balances is that as the final phase of a player's turn, they must either remove another player's control marker [this must be chosen as the first priority, if possible] or place a Soviet marker on the board.  If  this latter is what you have to do, at first the logical thought is simply to choose a placement that will hinder an opponent.  [By the way if you're playing solo, there's only one person to affect and that's you!]

However, though you may well be slowing an opponent down, you're also giving them the slim chance to gain another victory medal.  Besides, what you do to others will undoubtedly be done back to you - retaliation is definitely the name of the game here!

Also you must remember that the game will end if all Soviet markers have been placed on the board.  As the game begins with only six markers not on the board and by the end of a full turn, up to three new markers may have been placed on the board, it's obviously essential that a fair degree of attacking areas containing Soviet markers must happen.  A corollary to that, of course, is that a player who's in the lead may actively seek to end the game this way.  So there is a constant interaction between players, as part of what I've called the checks and balances of Race to Moscow of game play.

So far, I've concentrated on the aspects that create the atmosphere of a war game with a sequence of conflicts.  However, just as the battles have to be won by expending your precious supplies, all the other possible actions you can choose from focus on replenishing those supplies and transporting them to your armies as the frontline advances.  This is no mean feat and will tax you to the limit.

Army Group Centre begins to haul supplies forward

It also adds just as much both to the tension of game play and to the overall sensation of waging a military campaign.  This is no dry exercise in resource management, but a dynamic part of fuelling your attacks and advances.

The railhead from which to gain more trains

The one major element I haven't so far referred to is the rule book.  This is slightly harder to assess mainly because, as a prototype copy of the game, it comes as a simple A4 paper booklet in black and white.  Overall, it does an adequate job of presenting a clear set of rules with a reasonable number of examples and illustrations.  However, the latter pictures being black and white are nowhere near as clear and helpful as ultimately the coloured versions will be.  Currently, the major lack was the excellent section that explains all the pictorial symbols on the many cards in play.  I certainly had no problems interpreting most of them, but that's said from 40+ years of board war games.

So some of my following judgements are based on the contents and quality of the glossy and lavishly illustrated rule book for RttR.  First of all, that contained a thorough section elaborating on all those symbols I've referred to in the previous paragraph.  Secondly, the rule book for RttR contains some of the most extensive and clearly detailed examples of play I've come across.  For a newcomer whether to war games or Euro games, this made learning the game a very easy step by step process.   Consequently, I'm fully expecting the quality and accessibility of Race to Moscow's rule book to replicate this same high standard.  

A minor point is that the decision has been made to move to an A4 format for the final version rather than the larger square format familiar in several of Phalanx's games.  Personally I prefer the A4 format, as do many of my gaming friends, but as always that is a matter of personal taste.

Overall, this is a game that I want to play because of its visual appeal, its topic and its game play.  I can enjoy a solo session as well as a two-player one, but the full highlights of this game for me will always come from the contest of all three players.