in Red Vengeance
By Doug McNair
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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!