By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
A while back, we shifted our production methods to small-batch printing: just a few hundred at a time after the game or book’s initial printing, to keep it in stock as long as there’s still demand. And when that demand slacks off, then we just stop printing more batches.
Defiant Russia has reached that point. For a game in one of our series like Panzer Grenadier or Second World War at Sea we could revive demand with an expansion book of some sort, but that gets a lot tougher for a stand-alone game like Defiant Russia. And as a relatively inexpensive game, we’d have to sell twice as many copies of Defiant Russia as, say, Jutland or Fire in the Steppe, to justify the same amount of effort.
So the most recent printing of Defiant Russia will be its last, and we’ve removed the game from its boxes (so we can use them elsewhere). It’s on sale now for half its usual price, and when the current stock runs out, that will be the last of them. We won’t be printing any more.
Defiant Russia is an exceptional game, covering the first seven months of the 1941 Axis invasion of the Soviet Union. The units are corps for the Axis, and infantry armies and tank corps for the Soviets; each hex is about 60 miles across.
The action unfolds in monthly turns from June 1941 through December. The emphasis is on mobile action; those tank corps (German and Soviet; none of the Axis allies have any) are very important units. Most units have two strength steps; when they lose one step (usually in combat), they’re flipped to their back, weaker side. When they lose another, they’re eliminated from play.
Combat is resolved pretty simply: pick up a die, roll a 6. Actually, pick up a fistful of dice, roll a bunch of sixes. Each 6 result is a hit, and reduces one target unit by one step. There are modifications, so armor fights better when it attacks, fortresses and mountains are better for defenders, that sort of thing. You can also fulfill some of those step losses as retreats, yielding ground to preserve your forces. It makes for fast play and puts the emphasis on decision-making rather than counting factors and odds.
As for the campaign itself, the Red Army is quite impressive sitting there on the sheet of pieces, with lots and lots of tank corps, strong infantry and a handful of specialized units: NKVD armies that don’t like to retreat, mountain troops who fight better in the mountains, shock armies with special attack abilities, cavalry, airborne, marines, workers’ militia and fleets for both the Baltic and Black Seas. Stalin himself, the Vozhd, appears as a less-than-inspirational leader, while Zhukov and Timoshenko are more useful.
The German Army is slightly better, with infantry of about the same strength and armored corps a little stronger and notably faster than those of the Soviets. They get just one leader, Guderian, one mountain corps and an airborne corps that only shows up when the variants are in play. They do have allies of dubious quality: the Finns have good infantry and their very own leader (Mannerheim), but won’t stray far from Finland; the Romanians are numerous but not very fierce outside of their mountain and cavalry corps; the Hungarians and Italians contribute one weak corps apiece.
That comparison belies the real balance of power. The Soviets aren’t prepared for this war, despite months of, well, preparation. The Vozhd said that Hitler could be trusted, and so most of those powerful tank corps are at reduced strength, and the infantry’s not ready for war, either. The Germans of 1941 are at their peak, well-experienced from their successful campaigns in Poland and France, with the lessons learned there (and the weapons and vehicles captured there) integrated into their force structure.
In game terms, that gives German units extra powers on the first turn, allowing a well-planned attack to blow holes in the Soviet line that will be very difficult to fill. German armor can move again and attack a second time; German infantry as well as Romanian mountain and cavalry units and the Italian unit can move a little and attack again, too. The Soviets only have a few units capable of moving and attacking a second time: armor, shock and cavalry. Yes, they have a lot of armor at the start of the game, but the Axis player is going to target those units and blow them up on Turn One. At least if he or she wants to win. And that second attack by German infantry is a devastating capability.
Even so, Russia is vast, and Moscow is behind the Red Army. The Soviets get a replace many of their losses, and bring on a great many new infantry armies from the eastern military districts and raised from new recruits. They don’t get a whole lot of additional tanks - those will come later in the war - so it will be up to the infantry to slow the Axis juggernaut and, as the weather deteriorates, stop it.
Winning is pretty simple: the Axis needs to capture and hold a line roughly extending from Leningrad to Moscow to Stalingrad, and chew up the Red Army while doing so (the latter is pretty much going to be a function of the former). The Soviets win by preventing this. Losses have some impact on victory but are not decisive; the Soviet Union can give a lot of ground but ultimately will stand or fall based on its ability to hold its key population centers.
Defiant Russia is one of my favorite games, so I loaded it with cool extras, what gamers call “chrome.” There’s a chance of Turkish intervention, if things go really well for the Axis (by which point, it’s not going to matter much, but I wanted it in there). The NKVD armies aren’t strictly necessary, as their special powers are pretty limited, but they add a little flavor. And then there are the optional rules and pieces: Rommel and his Afrika Korps can come to the Eastern Front, the Axis can leave Yugoslavia alone and start the campaign early, Lithuania can fight alongside the Axis, and a whole lot more.
So there it is: a fine little game, lots of fun, and at $22.49 pretty hard to pass up. Don’t be left out.
Click right here to order Defiant Russia right now!
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published countless books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold approves of this message.
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