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Strategy in Defiant Russia
By Doug McNair
March 2006

Having recently written a strategy article on our new Red Vengeance game, it seems appropriate to look at its predecessor, Defiant Russia. The two games share the same system and are bookends to the war on the Eastern Front, so many of the same factors that drive Red Vengeance also drive Defiant Russia. However, since Defiant Russia takes place entirely on Russian soil, and starts at a time when Russia was previously untouched by war, there are other factors that present Defiant Russia players with a different set of challenges.


The railroads are vital to the Red Army of Workers and Peasants.

Rail Lines

There are no rail lines in Red Vengeance, but the Defiant Russia board is crisscrossed with them. By 1945, four years of war had done extensive damage to the rail network of eastern Europe, and retreating Germans could be counted on to destroy rail lines to slow the Russian advance. But the 1941 Russian rail network is intact in Defiant Russia, so the ability of both players to use strategic movement is greatly enhanced. The Russian player can move up to six units per turn by rail, and can move them an unlimited distance through Russian-controlled rail hexes that aren’t blocked by Axis units or Zones of Control (ZOC). This is extremely important for the Russians, because their forces are dispersed at start and must be able to plug breaches in their defensive lines quickly. Rail movement lets them do this, plus form entirely new lines along the rails.

The Germans can move up to three units per turn by rail, and can also move them an unlimited distance through German-controlled rail hexes with no Russian units or ZOC. It is therefore very important for the Germans to advance their lead units along rail lines, so that rear-echelon units can follow the moving front quickly by rail.

Supply

Just as in Red Vengeance, each unit must be able to trace a supply line in order to move and fight at full capacity. But in Defiant Russia, supply lines run along rail lines to friendly board edges. So, players can cut enemy supply lines not only by surrounding enemy units, but by moving far behind them and occupying enemy rail lines with units and ZOC. This means that large numbers of enemy units can be put Out of Supply just by occuping a few key rail junctions.

Weather

Also like Red Vengeance, the weather plays a major role in Defiant Russia. The Germans in particular need Clear weather conditions in order to advance through breaches in the enemy line using Exploitation Movement and Combat. The rules recommend that players use the random weather table to generate weather each game turn (historically, the weather in late 1941 was unusually pleasant). After the first two turns, chances are good that Light Mud or Mud conditions will slow the German advance. So, the Germans must do all they can to advance as far as possible early in the game before winter closes in and slows their movement. Of course, if the weather in the game turns out like the weather was in 1941, they’ll have a much easier time of it.

Fighting Withdrawal

The Russians get no reinforcements until the third turn, and it takes two replacement points to bring a dead unit back into play at half-strength. So, it’s very important for the Russian player to spread his step losses out among units to keep as many units on the board as possible. It’s also important for him to avoid the temptation to stand his ground and absorb hits to keep the Germans in Germany. Russia is big, and there’s a lot of room between Warsaw and Moscow. The Russian player must carefully weigh the costs and benefits of retreating versus taking losses so that his army doesn’t melt away just as the Germans are nearing their objectives.

Game Summary

The following summary of a recent game illustrates the importance of these factors.


“Artillery is the god of war.” – J.V. Stalin.

Turn 1 — June

All units are in supply at the start of Turn 1.

Axis: The Axis player goes first each turn. He gets 6 Air points in the June turn, and these can be used to support any attacks desired.

The Finns would like to be able to launch an all-out attack southward on Leningrad, but that would put them at risk of having the rail line to Helsinki cut off by the Soviet 23rd Army to the east. So they send two corps eastward to attack the Soviet 23rd, and send their other two armies down toward Leningrad. The Finnish attacks push the Soviets back, but they don’t capture Leningrad.

The German Army Group North attacks due east toward Riga. They roll 28 dice against the Soviet line, but score only 3 hits. The Russians also score 3 hits and take all 3 as step losses. The Germans do not advance.

Army Group Center attacks east toward Minsk. The northern flank of the German attack is crushed by the Soviet 13th Army and 6th Tank Corps, which score 4 hits to the Germans’ one. Guderian then puts three German air points into his attack on Brest, but he scores only 2 hits to the Soviets’ 3. Once again the Soviets take the hits as step losses, and there is no German advance. German attacks just to the south of Brest do little better.

But then (finally . . . ), three German tank corps plus a Mountain Corps and an Infantry Corps attack two Soviet armies and two tank corps around Lvov and do 9 hits on 26 dice. This is more than the 8 steps the four units have, so they are all destroyed with no hope of retreating. But they do 3 hits in return to the Germans, and to advance the Germans must take them all as step losses. They do, and advance one hex eastward into the sole breach the Germans have made thus far. Finally, the German and Romanian attack east of Bucharest is repulsed.

The Germans have made only one breach in the Russian line, but it’s a good one. Neutral Hungary is due south of it, and no Russian units are there to oppose the advance. But there’s no Exploitation Movement on Turn 1, so the Germans can’t move beyond their initial one-hex advance. Still, it’s a good deal for the Germans, because the Soviets will have to send their reserve units south to plug the breach at Lvov rather than reinforce the Russian line to the north that has thus far stopped the Germans cold.

Soviet: Now the Soviets take their half of the turn. They send their reserve units up to Leningrad and southwest toward the German breach. They take up defensive positions on the eastern banks of rivers and in swamps and forests. Soviet units that can’t rail-move stay on the rail lines when moving so that they’ll be able to rail-move later.

Then the Soviet units in the Baltic Military District attack the Germans whose attack they blunted earlier. They kill two steps worth of Germans and drive back a third. The Russians advance to a position on the east bank of the Newman River.

The Soviets of the Western Military District throw the Germans all the way back to Koenigsberg, and advance westward.

The Soviets then attack Guderian at Brest but are repulsed. However, the Soviet attack on the German breach near Lvov does better and drives back the invaders.

Turn 1 is over, and the Germans have taken 19 step losses. They haven’t advanced anywhere along the line except one hex at Lvov. The Soviet line has held (and even moved west in places), and stretches from the Baltic at the Neiman River southward to Odessa on the Black Sea. But they’ve paid a high price for holding the line — 30 step losses to be exact.


Hungarian Csaba armored cars invade the Soviet Union.

July

Axis: All German units are in supply. The Germans get 8 air points (they’ll need them . . .). Axis reinforcements appear in Hungary (which enters the war on the Axis side now), and the Axis player places the rest of in the board-edge rail hex northwest of Lvov (to support the only German advance thus far). The Germans need to make some big gains soon, because the Russians start getting massive reinforcements in August.

The Germans decide to cut their losses and maximize their potential gains by relocating their forces southward, hitting the weakly-defended Romanian front along with the Russian forces east of Lvov. The terrain east of Romania is clearer as well, so it makes for better country in which to use exploitation movement. Army Group North pulls back westward, while Army Group Center and South send units southeast. German tank corps move eastward into Soviet ZOC to put some Soviet units near Lvov out of supply.

Starting at the south of the board, the Germans destroy two Soviet units on the west bank of the Dnestr River near the Black Sea. Then Guderian hits the Soviet 24th Army and 10th Tank Corps two hexes southeast of Lvov (both of which are outof supply due to the aforementioned German tank advance). The Germans roll 28 dice to the Russians’ 3. The Germans kill both Soviet units and advance eastward. The German attack into the Kiev Military District northeast of Lvov is thrown back, except for the northern German flank, which advances. Then Army Group Center northeast of Brest pushes the Soviets back and advances eastward.

In the Exploitation Movement and Combat phases, the Germans surround the Soviet 9th Army east of Kishinev, putting it out of supply and destroying it easily. Guderian then spearheads a tank advance eastward through the breach and moves along the rail line to within 2 hexes of Kiev. The rest of the German line to the north engages the weakened Soviet line in the swamps south of Minsk. The swamp provides excellent defensive terrain and the Germans are stopped, but Guderian destroys a Soviet army just south of the swamps and advances.

Soviet: All Soviet units are in supply. The Soviet player starts getting replacements this turn, so he puts them into the armor units guarding the swamp line, and brings in a reformed dead unit at Kiev. He also gets two reinforcement armies, so he puts them in Sevastopol (to hit the south flank of the German advance) and at the east board edge.

The Soviets pull back east to reform their line from the Newman River at the Baltic southward to Odessa. They attack Guderian only, but are repulsed back to Kiev. Soviet armor moves in the Exploitation Movement Phase to reinforce the new Soviet line.

The Germans have now taken 29 step losses, and Guderian has pushed 4 hexes east of the German start line. The Soviets have taken 49 step losses, and their line is still holding, but for how long?


Rockets of the Proletariat.

August

Axis: The German player rolls a 2 for weather, so it’s still Clear. This is very good — he can still conduct exploitation movement and combat to speed his advance eastward. All Axis units are in supply, and the units to the south get replacement points to strengthen the German advance there. The German player gets 8 air points and 2 more reinforcements (which appear in the board-edge rail hex in Hungary).

The Germans advance as many units as possible up to the Soviet lines south of Lvov, and attack in strength. Infantry only attacks through the swamps (armor is halved on attacks there) to guard Guderian’s northern flank and generally keep the northern Soviet units busy so they can’t move south to block the German advance.

The Axis attack on Odessa is stopped, but the forces attacking across the South Bug River east of Dnepropetrovsk score 7 hits on the Soviet 19th Army and 7th Tank Corps, destroying them both with no hits taken in return. They advance across the South Bug.

Guderian hits Kiev and takes it, and his line advances while taking no damage. The swamp attacks to his north bog down, however.

In the Exploitation Movement and Combat Phases, the swamp attacks come out mixed, but Guderian’s forces south of the swamp destroy all Soviet units around Kiev except for the 22nd Army one hex east of Kiev.

Soviet: The Soviets now get only 5 replacement points, because the Germans have taken Kiev. They need to maximize the number of new units on the board this turn to block the German advance, so they bring in two dead units and flip a third to full-strength. They also get 7 reinforcements this turn, and place them in major cities in the south and central sections of the board.

The Black Sea Fleet transports the Soviet 44th Army from Odessa (which has already been bypassed by the Axis advance) to Novorossisk to the east. The Soviets pull back the rest of their line eastward and rail-move their reinforcements to create a new line east of Kiev. They try an attack to free an unsupplied Soviet army, but it dies in the process (along with a German tank corps).

Soviet Exploitation Movement and Combat sees two Soviet tank corps killing the one remaining German tank corps east of the Dnepr and southeast of Kiev. Most of the Soviet line there is now on the east bank of the Dnepr.

The Germans have taken 32 step losses, and their easternmost units are 2 hexes southeast of Kiev. The Russians have taken 64 step losses, and their line now runs S/SE from the Newman River on the Baltic to Novorossisk.

September

Axis: The Germans roll a 1, and the weather is still Clear! This is outstanding for the Germans (and makes up for their lousy performance in June). All Axis units are in supply, and German replacement points go to strengthen the southern advance. They get 7 Air points and 2 reinforcements.

The entire German line now advances to the attack, with 4 of Guderian’s tank corps plunging eastward into gaps in the Soviet line (seeking to put ZOC behind the Soviets and make them out of supply). The Soviet line holds at the rivers, and the swamp lines are perforated but not broken, so some German tanks may be out of supply themselves soon if the Germans can’t break through to them in the Exploitation Movement Phase. The Finns are repelled from Leningrad.

In the Exploitation Movement and Combat phases, Guderian does break through to his advance tank units, which take Kharkov. To his north, the broad German attack shreds the weak Soviet line in the swamp, while to his south the Axis advance stalls at the Dnepr.

Soviet: The Soviet 34th Army just east of the swamps is out of supply due to German exploitation movement. The Soviets get 1 Air point this turn, but the Partisans do no damage. Ten Soviet reinforcements come in, plus General Zhukov, who starts in Stalningrad. The Soviets use rail and regular movement to mass forces in and around Kursk under Zhukov, blocking Guderian’s advance as best they can. The Soviets try to attack the Germans at weak points in their line, but the attacks bog down or backfire.

 

The Germans have now taken 42 step losses, and their units have advanced as far as Kharkov and Dnepropetrovsk. The Russians have taken 88 step losses, and they have an every-other-hex line running south/southeast from the Neiman on the Baltic to the Sea of Azov south of Dnepropetrovsk, with a large bulge running out to Smolensk, Bryansk, Kursk and just southeast of Kharkov.


Turning their own weapons on them. A Soviet artillery battery uses german 75mm anti-tank guns as light artillery.

October

Axis: The weather stays Clear! The Germans are ecstatic. Two German corps southwest of Smolensk and east of the swamps are out of supply. The German player puts a replacement point into an armored corps in the swamps southwest of Minsk, hoping to move it up to Minsk and break through there, bringing Army Group North up behind it and through the breach. He puts his other replacement point into an infantry corps near Kursk. He gets 6 air points, and gets no more reinforcements for the rest of the game. The German line advances, with two armored corps moving just south and southeast of Kursk to hit Zhukov’s rear guard east of Kursk (maintaining a column to the east to protect the supply line for the easternmost armored corps by negating the Kursk units’ ZOC).

Guderian then has his forces hit the units guarding Kursk’s northern and eastern flanks, putting all his air points into the attacks. They do 3 hits each, destroying the one army that occupies each of Zhukov’s flanks with no hope of retreat. Guderian’s forces advance into the ex-Soviet hexes, surrounding Zhukov in Kursk and putting him out of supply. Then Guderian’s three remaining tank corps plus one infantry corps hit Zhukov in Kursk. They roll 19 dice to Zhukov’s 3 and do 4 hits vs. zero. All units in Kursk are destroyed, and the German rolls a 1 on the leader casualty die, killing Zhukov!

The German armored advance on Minsk destroys the Russian unit there, leaving nothing in the area but a few Russians around Smolensk. The German advance south of Kursk pushes the two remaining Russian armies there south toward Stalino.

In the Exploitation Movement and Combat Phases, the Germans wipe out all Soviet units south of Bryansk. The German tank corps which took Minsk moves eastward to within 1 hex of Smolensk.

Soviet: Two Soviet units southwest of Smolensk just east of the swamps are out of supply. The Soviets get 2 air points but only 3 reinforcements this turn, and the partisans do no damage. The reinforcements go in Moscow, Smolensk and Gorki.

The Soviets pull back and make a ragged, thin line running southeast from Riga thru Smolensk and Tula down to a point 2 hexes east/northeast of Voronezh.

November

The only thing that can save Russia at this point is the weather. It doesn’t. The Germans roll a 3, and the weather stays Clear. The Germans can move at full speed, and will reach Sevastopol and Rostov this turn. They have already taken Minsk, Kiev, Karkhov and Bryansk, so that’s 6 Victory Points, which is all they need. The Red Army is in tatters, and doesn’t have the power to mount a counterattack anywhere on the line.

The Germans win!

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