Russo Designer's Notes
By Ottavio Ricchi
Grenadier is currently my favorite game.
What has struck me since I started playing
it, back in 2000, is the combination between
the excellent visual aspects and its interesting
game mechanics. I was initially not very pleased
with the playing time, a bit higher than that
of other tactical games, and the slowness
of the tanks.
After a while I convinced myself that squeezing
the playing time would be detrimental to the
most important feature of this system: the
capability to simulate combat situations in
a realistic way and in a simple manner. What
struck me most, and convinced me for good
that I like the game, was realizing that every
scenario, if well designed, could deliver
interesting tactical situations. In particular,
I could play several infantry battles in a
row without feeling bored to death. That factor
was pivotal in making the decision to design
Back in the ’90s a group of my fellow
Italian wargamers had engineered an Italian
army Russian campaign module using my former
favorite platoon-level tactical game. Although
they had designed incredibly good scenarios
on other subjects, for instance the 1943 to
1945 Italian campaign, they were ready to
admit that this time the outcome was not satisfactory.
It proved to be impossible to deliver good
scenarios because it was difficult to match
Italian infantry platoons against Russian
companies. The Soviets just could not be harmed
without massive artillery intervention, and
there were not enough tanks to make the game
decently interesting. With the Panzer Grenadier
system I had good chances to succeed.
other relevant factor was that I liked the
idea to offer quite an unexplored subject
to the “international community,”
especially at the tactical level. The Italian
role in the African campaign is covered by
many English-language written works. In general,
much, much less detail is known about the
Italian intervention in Russia.
Without any doubt, many wargamers are aware
of Operation Little Saturn, but awareness
of Italian operations is, to my knowledge,
much less developed, especially at tactical
level. This is even more the case for the
period covered by this module — July
1941 to September 1942.
Of course, this can be explained. Considering
the gigantic clash that took place on the
Eastern Front, the role of the Regio Esercito
was absolutely secondary. Furthermore, reliable
works in English are hard to come by. This
asymmetry however remains a bit striking considering
that the effort made by Italians was of similar
magnitude in the two fronts. The Russian campaign
in Italy, especially due to its disastrous
final outcome, has remained in the collective
imagination. Books on this issue are numerous,
veterans' memoirs innumerable.
In designing scenarios, the wealth of sources
was certainly something I had to confront.
It took me more than one year to gather (almost)
all available information. The reference book,
needless to say, is the official publication
of the Italian Army, Ufficio Storico dello
Stato Maggiore. This book is essential,
but many other publications offer precious
additional information (and more tactical
insight) for scenario design.
book I want to quote first is by Aldo Valori,
La campagna di Russia: CSIR-ARMIR: 1941-1943.
It was published back in 1950 to 1951 and,
incredibly, it provides often more detail
than the Stato Maggiore official history.
Other key volumes containing information
on divisions, regiments and even battalions
deserve to be mentioned. For the Pasubio Division,
La Pasubio sul fronte russo and Dall’Adige
al Don. For the Celere Division, Bersaglieri
sul Don, Storia del 3. Reggimento Bersaglieri
and Il sesto reggimento Bersaglieri.
For the Tagliamento Black Shirt Legion, Dal
Dnieper al Don : la 63a. legione CC. NN. Tagliamento
nella Campagna di Russia. For the Savoia
and Novara cavalry regiments, Sciabole
nella Steppa, Trotto, Galoppo . . . Caricat!
and I Lancieri di Novara. Finally,
for the Sforzesca division, In Russia con
il 54. fanteria Sforzesca.
Finding rare volumes and information has
been a treasure-hunting adventure. The book
I researched the most was Le cariche .
. . This was the official report by Colonello
Guglielmo Barbň, on the operations
of the Raggruppamento Truppe a Cavallo —
the unit that regrouped the two cavalry regiments
and the horse drawn artillery — during
the August 1942 defensive battle. I found
it due to the courtesy of Fabio D’Inzeo,
a member of the Italian Cavalry Association
who I contacted via the Internet.
fact, the Internet has been of tremendous
help in several other occasions and thanks
to it I made great discoveries. For instance,
I learned that the German tanks that rescued
the Celere division during the Christmas battle
(December 1941) were part of the 10th Panzer
Division. These tanks, actually, had been
hastily repaired just before the Russian attack.
One more interesting finding I made was
the disposition of Russian divisions facing
the Italians before the 26-29 September encirclement
maneuver in the lower Dniepr area. It was
amazing to realize that this information,
not reported by the official Stato Maggiore
publication, coincided with that provided
in the Valori book.
One final success I want to mention is called
“Number 652.” This is the number
of the independent tank brigade attached to
the Russian division confronting the Celere
division during the Serafimovich battle. It
took me two years to find this information
but, thanks to my co-designer Lorenzo, who
dug out the right article, I made it!
Orders and Battles
Most of the research on Italian counter values
was carried out by Lorenzo. He looked, for
instance, into Italian artillery pieces' performance
and other information. He also wrote the article
on the new counters provided in this book.
values assigned to Italian units were jointly
decided. On this regard you might notice that
Fronte Russo units are in general more
worthwhile than Italian units that appeared
in previous modules. This is due to the fact
that the three divisions initially sent were
of very good quality by Italian standards
and a few regiment or battalion-level units
were truly elite forces. Average quality declined
during summer 1942 when the Sforzesca division
joined the Italian expeditionary corps.
Concerning scenario design itself, I would
like to mention the main challenges I met.
Hard to believe though it might be, one of
the most time-consuming tasks was the choice
of maps and of their disposition. I often
had quite good information on the actual battle
ground and on units' disposition (mostly derived
by military maps and in a few cases by battle
accounts). As a consequence, I strived to
find maps matching faithfully to that information.
The release of Road to Berlin, with eight
additional maps, was definitely a blessing
and a number of scenarios were greatly enhanced
by that. A special rule very often adopted
is assuming rivers represent gullies. I discovered
that kind of terrain future was ubiquitous,
at least in southern Ukraine, and that it
was tactically relevant as often gullies were
used to infiltrate enemy lines.
of Battle were not a difficult issue for Italians,
for which often I had detailed information.
Concerning Russian units the situation was
slightly different. Most of the times Italian
reports mention the Russian regiment involved
and approximately how many Russians were deployed
(either number of battalions or a straight
numerical estimate). Additional information
could be gained by the actual description
of the battle — “the Italians
came under fire of mortars, medium size artillery
. . . machine gun fire,” and so forth.
Another, indirect way of estimating Russian
strength was to deduce it from Italian “achievements.”
For instance, if two Italian battalions assaulted
and conquered a given position in three hours,
probably that position was defended by no
more than a battalion.
The last relevant part of scenario design
was deciding victory conditions. Quite a few
times I used loss requirements in an asymmetric
way. The Russian player wins, or at least
the Italian does not win, if Italian step
losses are above a given threshold. Italian,
and more in general Axis, casualties count
more. The Russian player has most often purely
territorial tasks. Losses are relevant for
him only indirectly: Too many losses weaken
Russian forces and prevent him from achieving
the victory conditions in any case.
I hope that all of you enjoy playing this
module and find the information in it interesting.
I also hope that you will discover that these
battles, mostly focused on infantry fighting,
are more fluid than you expected.
here to buy Fronte Russo now!