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Strategy in
Defiant Russia




Strategy in Red Vengeance
By Doug McNair
February 2006

Red Vengeance is a fascinating little powerhouse of a game, and deceptively simple as well. The rules are as straightforward as can be, with classic wargame mechanics like zones of control, supply paths, and standard, strategic and exploitation movement. However, once you set it up and start trying to outflank and penetrate your enemy’s lines, you realize that you’ve got to pay very close attention to coordinating the movements of your different unit types. Otherwise, your opponent will bog you down in a hurry — a major issue, since Red Vengeance is fundamentally a race against time.


The main issues which players must focus on to win at Red Vengeance are:

Movement Mechanics and Coordination

In Red Vengeance, almost all units exert a zone of control (ZOC) in the six hexes surrounding them. Non-armored units must stop moving upon entering an enemy ZOC hex, and can’t move directly from enemy ZOC to enemy ZOC (armored units don’t have to stop, and can move through enemy ZOC hexes at a cost of +1 movement point per hex).

However, this restriction is negated if a friendly unit is already in the enemy ZOC hex when the friendly unit enters it. Add to this the fact that units move one at a time, and the possibilities become apparent. Units can “leapfrog” through enemy ZOC hexes in order to expand fronts, reach and wrap-around flanks, exploit breaches, or escape from encirclement before the trap closes. But to do this at top speed, players must keep a mix of unit types on hand in each sector, so faster units like cavalry, guards and armor can make the initial plunge into enemy-held areas, and other units can then leapfrog over them to bring maximum force to bear.

Another mechanic players can use in concert with the above is Strategic Movement (which represents rapid road and rail movement). Each turn, a limited number of units which don’t enter an enemy ZOC hex can move at triple their normal movement rate. But once again, if an enemy ZOC hex contains a friendly unit, a unit can move through there with strategic movement. This means that players can reinforce assaults quickly as long as front-line and reserve units coordinate their movements properly. Fast-moving units toward the front can spread out to cover an enemy line, and then rear-echelon units can use strategic movement to come from far behind, relocate from another sector, or leapfrog down the line to stack with the just-moved frontline units and augment their strength.

Finally, managing retreats is very important as well. Units which take multiple hits when attacked can avoid step losses by retreating a number of hexes equal to the number of step losses they wish to avoid (attacking units can only avoid one step loss by retreating). The decision of how many step losses to take and how many hexes to retreat depends on how far those units will be able to advance (using regular, strategic and exploitation movement) in their next turn. Players must manage their retreats carefully to minimize damage while blunting Russian advances (if German) or maintaining forward momentum (if Russian).

Weather rules the waves. And the game.


The main task for the Germans is to hold the Russians back, to keep them from taking Berlin, Vienna, and other important objectives before April 1945. If they can keep control of several objective hexes and keep Hitler alive, they win even if they take numerous losses in the process. Because of this, weather plays a stronger role in Red Vengeance than in any other land wargame I can remember. There are only eleven turns in the game (June 1944 to April 1945), and pushing the German lines west from Vitebsk, Brest-Litovsk and Lvov to Berlin, Prague and Vienna would be hard enough in good weather.

But on Turn 5 the mud sets in. This robs the Soviets of their ability to perform exploitation movement and combat, one of their most effective tools for moving through and widening breaches. Then, on Turn 7, you get snow, which cuts most units’ combat strengths in half. This is really bad for the Soviets, because the Germans can deploy behind rivers or in rough terrain, lowering the Russians’ combat strengths further while augmenting their own. So, the Russians must damn the step losses and throw everything they’ve got into forcing breaches and exploiting them early, since their movement rates and combat strengths will shrink later. This shrinkage will be at the same time when the Germans get some powerful reinforcements, so Russian urgency is doubly important.


One advantage the Soviets have that the Germans largely don’t is leaders. The Germans get Dietrich on Turn 9, and Hitler adds some strength to units in Berlin, but that’s all. The Russians get Zhukov and Konev at game start, and both add attack and defense strength to units they’re with. Also, in each 1944 turn the Red Army gives one of them “maximum support,” which increases the combat strengths of units within 2 hexes of him by +1 per hex. And since they can move as fast as an armored unit, Zhukov and Konev can relocate quickly to reinforce Russian lines or punch through weak points in the German line.

Another Allied leader, more of a wildcard but highly effective in the endgame, is Tito. He and his partisans will spend most of the game fighting the Germans in Yugoslavia, but if the Germans start pulling out of there to reinforce their main lines, Tito has a chance to eliminate them from his country and then quick-march his mountain troops north to take objectives for the Allies and cut off German supply lines and retreat routes.

Don’t confuse him with Michael’s brother.

Shock Armies

It takes one hit to cause a step loss to most units. But for Russian shock armies it takes two. This, plus the fact that shock armies can attack in both the Combat and Exploitation combat phases and fight at full strength in snow, makes them extremely powerful tools for the Soviet player.

The rules require the Soviet player to attack every German unit which is adjacent to a Soviet unit (the Germans don’t have this requirement). So, there will be times when one Russian unit must “soak off” against units on the edges of a breaching attempt. Placing shock armies there means they can take on superior enemy units while risking little, and then help to widen the breach by attacking again in Exploitation Combat. Alternatively, shock armies work as excellent cannon fodder, since one full-strength unit can absorb four step losses.

The Russian player should spend his Replacement Points to restore half-strength shock armies to full strength whenever possible. Restoring a shock army to full strength, or bringing a destroyed shock army back onto the board at half-strength, costs only one Replacement Point (just like with any other unit). So restoring or bringing back a shock army is a bargain for the Russian player.

Game Summary

The following narrative of a recent game illustrates the points above.


The rules require the Germans and Russians to set up their units so that every front-line hex, from just east of Talinn on the north board edge to just west of Odessa on the south, contains at least one unit. The Germans set up their infantry first, spreading it out evenly. The Russians then set up all their units, and elect to concentrate their armor and guards units in the Soviet bulge east of Lublin. The Germans then setup their armored units, concentrating many of them on the bulge to oppose the Soviets.

A Soviet air point.

June 1944

Both players roll for air power, and both get one air point which they can use to increase the strength of one attack. The Allies go first each turn, and Tito begins by moving all his armies to attack the Germans in Yugoslavia. The rest of the Soviet armies attack from their starting positions along the whole German line.

Zhukov, in the bulge, gets “maximum support,” but his and all other Russian attacks during the Combat Phase bog down (with many step losses on both sides but no significant movement). They do force a one-hex-wide hole on the western flank of the bulge, and a Soviet Armored and Guards unit leapfrog through it during Exploitation Movement, getting behind the Germans at Lvov and cutting them off from supply. Zhukov then attacks in Exploitation Combat from his starting position and pushes the Germans back at the forward point of the bulge near Lublin, but decides not to advance to avoid the risk of being cut off by the Germans later. Konev, who is in charge of the Soviet forces up near the Baltic, weakens the German line but doesn’t breach it.

The Germans then take their half of the turn. Two German armored units and one infantry near Lvov are Out of Supply (OOS) due to Soviet ZOC behind them. But since they aren’t cut off from each other, they are able to leapfrog west through Soviet ZOC hexes to join the German line, which has pulled back one hex and reformed at Brest-Litovsk and Lublin. The German line north of the bulge also pulls back one hex so it can shorten and strengthen. German armor on the undamaged northern flank of the bulge attacks Zhukov and pushes him back east.

At the end of June ’44, the German line has only retreated one hex overall. But, it’s been a very bloody turn. The Germans have taken 31 step losses, and the Russians have lost 25.

July 1944

The Soviet player rolls for Baltic Sea control, and gets a 5, moving the control marker to “Soviet Subs,” which interferes with German sea movement and naval support there.

The Soviets take their turn, roll and get one point of air power. Having gotten a bloody nose in the bulge, they pull back from it and move forces northeast to hit an exposed point in the German line 3 hexes east of Brest-Litovsk. Konev also deploys forces northward to hit the German Baltic flank as hard as possible. The Red Army gives him maximum support, and he wipes out the entire German flank north of Riga. Zhukov’s forces also destroy two hexes worth of German units at the aforementioned point east of Brest-Litovsk.

The German player decides that Yugoslavia is less important than holding the Russians back, so he pulls most of his forces out of there, leaving one SS Mountain unit there to keep a lid on Tito. The Germans, outflanked in the north by Konev and weakened in the center by Zhukov, pull back and regroup.

The German line now extends from Riga in the north, through Brest-Litovsk and down to Bucharest in the south. After replacements, the Germans have now lost 52 steps, while the Russians have lost 34.

August 1944

The Russians roll a 6 for Baltic control, and the marker moves to Light Soviet Surface Forces (further degrading German support in the Baltic). The Soviets also get three air points this turn. Konev and his armies which broke the German northern flank close in on the new German north flank at Riga. Two Russian infantry who can’t make it to the German line by normal movement use Strategic Movement to join forward units that got there before.

Konev’s attack pushes the German north flank back to Memel, but the Russian drive just south of there (between the rivers east of Minsk) gets beaten back with massive losses. The Germans score six hits on the advancing Russian line, which can only retreat one hex and has to take the other five hits as step losses. The Germans take four hits, but they only take one step loss and avoid the rest by retreating three hexes. The Russians then do Exploitation Movement and Combat. Konev’s forces take Memel, but the Russians between the rivers east of Minsk start pulling back and reforming their lines to avoid getting blown away by the soon-to-be-advancing Germans.

The Germans between the rivers do indeed advance eastward, along with other units to the south. Several armored units attack Zhukov in what used to be the Bulge, and destroy the unit he’s with (he escapes to the Russian lines farther east).

The German line now extends from just south of Memel (two hexes east of Konigsberg) through Brest-Litovsk, to Bucharest in the south. Only the northern flank has been pushed back. After replacements the Germans have lost 64 steps, and the Russians have lost 49.

Czech women fight the fascists, 1944.

September 1944

This is the last turn on which the Russian forces can act unhampered by weather, so they really need to make some gains. Konev decides to throw as many units as possible into breaking and pushing past the north German flank. He gets maximum support from the Red Army, and brings in two more armored units from the south, plus two Shock Armies using Strategic Movement. The north-central section of the Soviet line pulls back to a line even with Brest-Litovsk, while Soviet units from the south leapfrog northward. Zhukov, really angry now at being bogged down while Konev gets all the glory, takes his remaining units northwest, and mounts yet another push between the rivers.

Konev then attacks the German north flank and crushes it. Zhukov, on the other hand, has two shock armies, three Guards and four armored units to help him repair his reputation. The Germans opposing him consist of three armored corps, one SS armored corps and a half-strength mountain corps. Zhukov gets to roll 40 dice, while the Germans roll 22. Finally, his luck turns! He gets eight hits, and the Germans get only one. The Germans take three step losses and retreat five hexes back to Torun.

Sudden success seems contagious, because Russian forces to the south (between Brest-Litovsk and Romania) which have been stuck in a pocket and unable to retreat, suddenly get six hits on the Germans there! The German southern flank starts falling back now, and Konev and Zhukov race each other westward in the Exploitation Movement and Combat phases, with Konev ending up near Konigsberg and Zhukov near Warsaw.

The Germans pull their lines back and end up with a diagonal line running northwest to southeast across Europe starting at Danzig, going down the west bank of the river past Torun and Warsaw, and then through the mountains to Bucharest. The northern half of the German line is almost completely armored units now, while the southern half is mostly infantry. After replacements, the Germans have lost 65 steps, while the Russians are holding steady at 49.

October 1944

The weather conditions have turned to Light Mud, so exploitation movement and combat are no longer possible. The Russians will be slowed, which is just in time as far as the Germans are concerned. Konev advances and attacks at Danzig, but has little luck. But Zhukov’s luck holds, and he attacks across the river west of Warsaw and gets seven hits! The Germans inflict four hits, and Zhukov applies them all to a shock army, leaving the rest of his units free to advance across the river and breach the German line.

The Germans move to plug the breach, using reinforcements from Berlin for this purpose, but the north half of the German line is out of room to run. Deploying behind rivers helps reduce Russian attack strength, but if they retreat and deploy behind the next river westward, the Russians will advance up to Berlin’s doorstep. So, the Germans decide to hold their position, and their line now runs from Stettin in the northwest down through Krakaw to Bucharest in the southeast. After replacements, the Germans have lost 70 steps, and the Soviets have lost 51.

November 1944

The weather condition is now Mud, which halves movement rates. The Russians start slogging forces south to exploit their new gains near Romania. Front-line Russian units in the north move adjacent to the Germans, and rear-echelon units use strategic movement to move up and join them. Konev’s forces cross the river at Stettin and do eight hits to two armored and one cavalry unit north of Frankfurt, wiping them out. This opens a three-hex breach in the German lines, five hexes from Berlin. Then Zhukov, not to be outdone, attacks the next two German-held hexes south of the breach, doing six hits and wiping the units there out as well. He takes only one hit in return. There is now a five-hex breach in the German line, and Zhukov and Konev are in a race to Berlin.

The Germans pull back and shorten their line, using reinforcements to plug gaps. Their line now extends from Rostock southward, through the hex just east of Berlin, then southeast to the Romanian border just south of Cluj. After replacements, the Germans have lost 84 steps, while the Russians have lost 53.

Winter snows shall not stop the Red Army of Workers and Peasants.

December 1944

The weather changes to Snow. Exploitation movement is possible now, but the maximum move is one hex. All combat strengths are halved, except for Shock Armies and Mountain Units.

The Soviets use their replacement points to restore damaged shock armies, and Konev moves and wipes out the north German flank at Rostock, clearing out three hexes. The Germans east of Berlin hold back the Russian attack across the river at Frankfurt. Then Zhukov attacks across the river between Frankfurt and Breslau and crosses it, forcing the Germans back toward Prague.

Romania surrenders, and Tito wipes out the last German unit in Yugoslavia. Konev uses Exploitation Movement and Combat to advance into the hex just northwest of Berlin. Zhukov gets bogged down and does not advance.

The German line now extends from Berlin to Budapest. After replacements, the Germans have lost 90 steps, while the Russians have lost 57.

January 1945

The Soviets send a Guards unit behind Berlin using Strategic Movement. If the Russians attacking from Frankfurt are able to cross the river there, Berlin will be OOS.

Tito takes Vienna.

The Soviets wrap around both German flanks and move two units into Yugoslavia. Konev attacks Berlin from the northwest, but Berlin holds, and Hitler doesn’t kill himself. But then the Germans attack from the east, crossing the river at Frankfurt. Berlin is now OOS. Zhukov then attacks the German line east of Prague and scores seven hits, taking none in return. The Germans flee southeast. Konev then attacks Berlin again during Exploitation Combat (the units in Berlin being half-strength because they’re OOS). Berlin falls, Konev enters, and Hitler kills himself.

The German line extends from Prague to just east of Vienna. The Soviet line extends in a thick red crescent from Berlin to Belgrade.

Germany surrenders, and the Soviets win!