Tabletop Operational Wargame Inspired by Drive on Moscow

I’m still looking at my options for Wargaming Rules to use for the Operational Level of War. This time I thought I’d have a look at the iPad wargame “Drive on Moscow” by Shenandoah Studio. It is right up my alley being an operational level warfare and on the Eastern Front. Continuing my experiment of translating other game systems to the table top, I wondered what Drive on Moscow would look like as a generic set of table top rules. I haven’t tried to follow the original game slavishly, just get something with the same flavour.

Previously I did the same thing with Hell’s Gate. Now I’m trying a bigger scale (1 hex/square = 40km; units are corps or armies), different turn sequence, more ground conditions (easy, mud, frozen and snow), and different combat mechanism.


Game set up

The scenario will specify the game calendar, ground conditions, map, supply bases, order of battle, reinforcement schedule, and initiative. You’ll also need to find some markers to play the game.

Game calendar

The scenario has to specify the historical start date and game duration in turns. Typically games have 5-30 game turns, each representing three or five days of fighting depending on the ground conditions.

Example: the game starts 24 Jan 1944 and lasts 22 game turns.

Ground conditions

The historical date of the game will indicate the season and hence the ground conditions. Depending on the time of year the ground conditions might change during the game.

There are four types of ground conditions in the game: easy, mud, frozen, and snow:

  • Easy ground conditions is the norm against which other ground conditions are measured. Air interdiction is possible.
  • Mud ground conditions makes armoured breakthroughs impossible and reduces German movement to one hex/square. Mud also makes attacking harder for everybody.
  • Frozen ground conditions makes rivers and lakes irrelevant and reduces the defensive benefit of difficult terrain.
  • Snow ground conditions also makes rivers and lakes irrelevant. In addition, for the Germans, it makes armoured breakthroughs impossible and removes the defensive benefit of difficult terrain.

Example: Ground conditions start snow. Chance of mud from game turn 3. Roll d6 at the beginning of each turn: ground conditions turn to mud on a score of 1-2.

Map

The table is divided into a grid of hexes, or squares, or offset squares. For convenience each cell in the grid is called a hex/square. Each hex/square is 40km across from flat side to flat side. Assuming 10cm hex/squares that is a ground scale of 1:400,000; if the hex/squares are 15cm across then the ground scale is 1:266,666.

Each hex/square is open, difficult (woods, swamp, rough), urban (city), or impassable (mountain, sea, lake). Difficult terrain restrict movement and affect combat. Urban terrain just affects combat. Impassable terrain is, well, impassable. Place an appropriate terrain model in each hex/square to indicate the type of terrain for the whole hex/square. For example, put a single tree model in each woods hex/square. Similarly, put a single building in each urban hex/square.

Rivers run along the sides of hex/squares. Rivers restrict movement and affect combat.

The scenario defines initial control of each hex/square. Mark all hex/squares with a marker of the side controlling it (or just those hex/squares controlled by the Soviets and blank is assumed to be German.)

The example map is for a modest sized game covering approximately 240 km x 240 km.

Balagan Operational Warfare Example Map 2 v2

Balagan Operational Warfare Example Map 2 v2

Definitions of “control” and “contested” states

The “control” and “contested” state of a hex/square are related but different concepts.

Contested: If both sides have units in a hex/square then the hex/square is “contested”. If a hex/square ie empty or contains troops of only one side then it is “uncontested”.

Control: All hex/squares on the table are “controlled”, at all times, by either the Germans or Soviets. Control affects movement, supply, and victory. The scenario defines initial control of each hex/square. A side takes control of a enemy controlled hex/square when friendly units occupy the hex/square and either:

  • The hex/square is uncontested by enemy units i.e. it is vacant
  • The hex/square is contested by enemy units, however, the enemy are entirely destroyed or have retreated, vacating the hex/square; change of control occurs in this case, even if all attacking units are themselves destroyed in the attack

Supply bases

Each side has 4 or 5 hex/squares on the table edge designated as supply bases. Lose them at your peril.

The example map has the supply bases shown as flags. You must also indicate which hex/squares on table are supply bases. You can use a supply dump model, truck, flag, or any other marker that suits you.

Order of battle

Each stand is a unit. Most units represent German corps or Soviet armies. Smaller units – divisions or brigades – are used for specialist troops (tanks, mechanised, or cavalry) or formations on thinly held sections of the front. These smaller units are assumed to occupy the same frontage as the larger units.

Units are defined by branch of service, combat strength, activation status and supply status. Some particularly staunch units are “Elite” and get a bonus in combat.

Branch of service options are infantry, tank, mechanised, and cavalry. Airborne units are a specialist type of infantry that can do an airborne drops. Tanks are good at attacking. Tanks, mechanised and cavalry can, if the conditions allow, move faster than infantry. Any Soviet units have the option to travel by railway and Soviets on trains move the fastest of all.

Combat strength largely depends on the number of men in the unit. For infantry, mechanised and cavalry, award one combat strength point per 10,000 men in the historical strength of the unit (actual rather than theoretical). For tank units award one combat strength per 5,000 men.

The scenario will specify the starting hex/squares for the troops on table at the start of the game.

Example: A modest sized game will have about 55 combat strength points on each side, 110 in total. This equates to about one and a half a million men in the battle.

During the game units have an activation status of either ready, active, or expended. A ready unit can be activated – can move and attack – and an expended unit cannot. By default all units start the game ready.

Units also have a supply status. Units can be in-supply, out-of-supply, isolated, or desperate. This affects how well they can move and fight. By default units start in-supply.

Stands can be any size; the only restriction is that a hex/square must be able to contain several units. A unit of infantry will be a single stand with several figures on it. The same is true of a cavalry unit. A tank or mechanised unit might be a single vehicle; the vehicle may or may not be actually based on a separate stand but is still considered a “stand” and a “unit” for game purposes. At smaller scales a mechanised unit might have both infantry and vehicles on the same stand.

Example: This is how I base my figures:

  • Infantry units are three 15mm figures on a 30x30mm stand.
  • Cavalry units are two mounted 15mm figures on a 30x30mm stand.
  • Tank units are individual 15mm tank or assault gun models.
  • Mechanised units are individual 15mm half-track or truck models.

Prepared offensive schedule

The Eastern Front was sprinkled with major offensives. Even within a single campaign there might be more than one big push. And, of course, when exhaustion and/or ground conditions brought the offensive to a halt, the other side would have a go. These big pushes are called “prepared offensives”. The scenario will specify which sides get these “prepared offensives” in which turn, and how many.

Example: The Germans get the three prepared offensives player turns on game turn 1, two prepared offensives on game turn 2, and one prepared offensives on game turn 3.

Reinforcement schedule

The reinforcement schedule will state the turns on which reinforcements arrive; reinforcements cannot be delayed. Reinforcements can be new units or replacements. For new units the reinforcement schedule will list the turn of arrival, branch of service, Combat Strength, and the entry hex/square. Replacements just have a turn of arrival and Combat Strength.

Initiative

One side or the other will have initiative for every game turn in the the game. That side gets to take their player turn first in those game turns.

Example: The Germans have initiative in turns 1−18 and the Soviets for the rest of the game.

Find some markers

The game uses markers of various kinds:

  • Combat Strength loss
  • Expended
  • Out-of-supply
  • Isolated
  • Desperate
  • Soviet / German control (or assume absence of a marker is German control)
  • Victory points
  • Time clock in hours
  • Game Turn

Game play

A game will run for a number of game turns. Each game turn lasts for either three days (72 hours) or five days (120 hours), depending on the ground conditions.

The side with initiative gets to take their player turn first in each game turn. A player is “active” in their player turn, otherwise “reactive”.

Each game turn has a specific sequence of play:

  • 1. Change Ground Conditions phase
  • 2. Supply phase
  • 3. Fuel shortage phase
  • 4. Air interdiction phase
  • 5. Prepared Offensive Player turn1,2
    • 5.1. Player Reinforcement3
    • 5.2. Player Activation
    • 5.3. Player Movement
    • 5.4. Player Attack
    • 5.5. Enemy Command Confusion
  • 6. Prepared Offensive Rally phase
  • 7. Reset time phase
  • 8. Normal Player turn2
    • 8.1. Player Reinforcement3
    • 8.2. Player Activation
    • 8.3. Player Movement
    • 8.4. Player Attack phase
    • 8.5. Enemy Command Confusion
    • 8.6. Passage of Time
  • 9. Rally phase
  • 10. Check Victory phase

Note:
(1) The scenario will specify on what turns a player gets “Prepared Offensives” and how many.
(2) The Players alternate player turns, starting with the player with initiative, until the game turn ends.
(3) Reinforcements for a player only happen in their first player turn of the game turn, whether Prepared Offensive Player Turn or Normal Player turn.

Phase 1. Change Ground Conditions phase

Assuming the scenario gives a possible change in ground conditions, e.g. from easy to mud or vice versa, now is the time to roll for that.

Phase 2. Supply phase

Both players assesses the supply status of all friendly units as either in-supply, out-of-supply, isolated, or desperate. A unit retains the same supply status until it checks again in the next supply phase. The owning player marks units with the supply status and, if appropriate, marks them as expended.

A unit is getting-supplies if any of these conditions apply and is not-getting-supplies if none apply:

  • the unit occupies a hex/square with a supply base
  • the unit can trace a supply line to a friendly supply base
  • the unit is cavalry or airborne

By default there is no limit to the length of a supply line however a scenario might impose a limit. A supply line can never enter enemy controlled hex/squares. The side that controls a contested hex/square can have a supply line through the hex/square. Both sides can have a supply line out of a contested hex/square.

If a unit is getting-supplies then it is in-supply and ready. If a unit is not-getting-supplies then it is expended, however, it’s supply status depends on how long this has been true. If it is the first game turn in which the unit is not-getting-supplies, it becomes out-of-supply. On the second turn it becomes isolated. On the third game turn it becomes desperate.

Effect of Supply Table
Supply state last game turn Getting supplies this turn Supply state this game turn Activation state
Any Yes In-supply Ready
In-supply No Out-of-supply Expended
Out-of-supply No Isolated Expended
Isolated or Desperate No Desperate Expended

The scenario can specify that one side or other gets air lifted supplies. Air lifted supplies prevent a friendly unit from becoming isolated or desperate; instead it remains out-of-supply.

Expended means, of course, that the unit cannot activate this game turn – so cannot move or attack. Out-of-supply units defend less well. An isolated unit cannot defend at all. Desperate units cannot defend and also immediately take two combat strength losses if they are in an enemy occupied hex/square.

The supply status of a unit makes no difference to whether or not they contest the hex/square they occupy.

Phase 3. Fuel Shortage phase

The scenario can specify that one side, usually German, suffers from fuel shortages, which turns this applies to, and how many tank units it can apply to. The opposing player selects the tanks units and rolls 1d6 for each; on a 4+ the target tank unit is “out of fuel”. If the unit is in-supply, then mark the unit as out-of-supply; otherwise there is no effect.

Phase 4. Air Interdiction phase

The scenario will specify which side gets the opportunity for air interdiction, and when. This will be when ground conditions are easy. On a turn where they get air interdiction, the player choses a single enemy unit and that unit is expended for the game turn.

Phase 5. Prepared Offensive Player Turn

The scenario will specify which sides get these “prepared offensives” in which turn. Prepared offensives are much like a normal player turn, however they differ from the norm because:

  • No defensive fire from defending units
  • Time does not pass
  • After all prepared offensive player turns within a game turn, both attacking and defending units involved are returned to ready state (remove expended markers)

The steps in a Prepared Offensive Player turn are:

  • Step 5.1. Player Reinforcement3
  • Step 5.2. Player Activation
  • Step 5.3. Player Movement
  • Step 5.4. Player Attack
  • Step 5.5. Enemy Command Confusion

Note:
(3) Reinforcements for a player only happen in their first player turn of the game turn, whether Prepared Offensive Player Turn or Normal Player turn.

Steps 5.1. through 5.5 are identical to Steps 8.1 through 8.5. See below.

Phase 6. Prepared Offensive Rally phase

After all prepared offensive player turns within a game turn, both attacking and defending units involved are returned to ready state (remove expended markers). This does not affect units that are expended for other reasons e.g. supply and air interdiction.

Phase 7. Reset time phase

Reset the time clock to 0 hours. Also determine the game turn duration.

Game turn duration is:

  • 3 days (72 hours) when ground conditions are easy
  • 5 days (120 hours) when ground conditions are mud, frozen, or snow

Phase 8. Normal Player turn

The Players alternate player turns, starting with the player with initiative, until the game turn ends.

The steps in a Normal Player turn are:

  • Step 8.1. Player Reinforcement3
  • Step 8.2. Player Activation
  • Step 8.3. Player Movement
  • Step 8.4. Player Attack
  • Step 8.5. Enemy Command Confusion
  • Step 8.6. Passage of Time

Note:
(3) Reinforcements for a player only happen in their first player turn of the game turn, whether Prepared Offensive Player Turn or Normal Player turn.

Steps 8.1. through 8.5 are identical to Steps 5.1 through 5.5.

Step 5.1/8.1. Player Reinforcement phase

The player gets scheduled reinforcements and replacements. The scenario may also allow rebuilds, usually only to the Soviets.

Reinforcements

Reinforcements for a player only happen in their first player turn of the game turn, whether it is Prepared Offensive Player Turn or a Player Turn.

On the turn of arrival, the active player places new units in their entry hex/square with full combat strength. If the entry hex/square is occupied by enemy, the new unit arrives in the nearest friendly supply base (if vacant or friendly occupied) has has less than three friendly units in it. New units can attack and move on their first turn on table.

Replacements

The active player uses replacement combat strength points to bring units that have suffered combat losses back up to full strength. Units must be in-supply to benefit from replacements. Replacements can be used to refresh more than one depleted unit. Just add some or all of the replacement combat strength to the combat strength of the units being refreshed. No unit can use replacements to increase in size past its original combat strength. Replacements may be restricted to units a particular branch of service, typically Tanks and all other units. Elite units are refreshed like any others.

Rebuids

If the scenario allows, destroyed units may be rebuilt using replacements. The first two combat strength point costs one replacement point, and subsequent combat strength points cost one replace point each. The replacement/rebuilt unit can arrive on any friendly controlled, and uncontested, supply base. Otherwise normal reinforcement rules apply.

Step 5.2/8.2. Player Activation

The active player selects one hex/square and “activates” all friendly units in that hex/square that have not yet been activated in this game turn. Each unit may be activated only once per game turn. Expended units cannot be activated, even if the hex/square they occupy is selected.

The activated units may move and, if they end up in a hex/square with enemy, must engage the enemy in combat. Do the movement for all activated units first, then do all the combats. You do not have to move an activated unit; so you could even activate a hex/square and not move any units.

The active player can pass instead of activating a hex/square. If a player has no friendly units eligible for activation, they must pass. The game turn ends immediate, regardless of the time on the clock, when both players pass in succession.

Step 5.3/8.3. Movement

Most active units, most of the time, only move one hex/square per turn. Movement is always from the hex/square the unit occupies to an adjacent hex/square.

At the end of any movement, no hex/square can contain more than three units from each side (six total). A hex/square with three friendly units in it is crowded. You can move a unit through a uncontested but crowded space (with three friendly units in it), as long as the unit moves on.

A unit that enters an enemy occupied hex/square must stop moving. This is true even if the destination hex/square is already contested. In contrast, an enemy controlled, but not enemy occupied, hex/square does not stop movement. A unit may not move directly from a contested hex/square to another contested hex/square.

Expended units cannot move.

Strategic Movement

Some units can conduct “Strategic movement” by moving entirely through friendly controlled hex/squares. Such a strategic movement cannot start in, end in, or pass through any hex/squares that are enemy-controlled, enemy-occupied, or even contested. Strategic movement allows:

  • Tank, mechanised, and cavalry units to move up to three hex/squares if every hex side moved through has either a road or a railway line crossing it. The movement can jump between roads and railway lines, and also between different roads and railway lines
  • Soviet units (except cavalry) to move up to four spaces if they move exclusively along contiguous railway lines (but not roads).

River Movement

Crossing an unbridged river limits movement to one hex/square i.e. cross the river and stop. Both road bridges and rail bridges allow units to conduct strategic movement, i.e. move faster along a road and/or railway. If the hex/square across the river is enemy-occupied, whether or not there is a bridge present, then only one friendly unit may cross that particular section of river in that player turn.

Rivers and lakes freeze when ground conditions are frost and snow. In these ground conditions, units ignore rivers and lakes for movement.

Airborne Movement

Each airborne units may conduct an “airborne drop” once per game. An airborne drop is only allowed if all of these conditions are true:

  • the airborne unit must start in supply
  • the airborne unit must start in a friendly-controlled and uncontested hex/square
  • the ground conditions must be easy, frozen, or snow (not mud)

During an airborne drop the airborne unit can move up to three hex/squares and ignores rivers, enemy-occupied hex/squares, and contested hex/squares. The unit must stop in in a hex/square that is not enemy-controlled.

Step 5.4/8.4. Attack

The active player must attack with any active forces in the same hex/square as enemy. Attacks are mandatory. The attacks occur sequentially, in the order the active player chooses. Each attack has these steps:

  • identify the target of the attack
  • identify the attacking units
  • resolve the attack

The active player then repeats the attack process until they have not more combats to fight.

Target of the attack

Potentially all enemy units in the target hex/square defend. Out-of-supply units defend less well. Isolated and desperate units cannot defend at all. All other units defend whether they are ready or expended.

Attacking units

The attack must include all friendly units in the hex/square with an activation status of ready or active including:

  • all currently active units
  • all friendly units that have not, so far, been activated in the game turn

Expended units do not participate in the attack.

Resolve an attack

All troops fight with their combat strength. Roll 1d6 for each point of combat strength. Base chance to hit: 5+

The chance to hit depends on the type of unit and the terrain.

Attacker Modifiers:
+1 if Tank unit
+1 if Elite and a Tank, Cavalry, or Mechanised unit
-1 if any defending unit is Tanks

Defender Modifiers:
+1 if in-supply Tank unit
+1 if Elite and an Infantry or Airborne unit
+1 if occupying friendly-controlled fortifications
+1 if both (a) all attacking units crossed a river this player turn to enter the hex/square and (b) ground conditions are easy or mud (i.e. ignore rivers in frozen or snow)
-1 if any attacking unit is Tanks
-1 if defending unit is out-of-supply

There are four possible results from an attack, which can occur in combinations:

  • attacker expended
  • losses to combat strength after the terrain absorbs losses
  • a retreat
  • and/or armoured breakthrough

Attacker expended

Regardless of the result, mark all attacking units as expended.

Losses to Combat Strength after the terrain absorbs losses

Some terrain can absorb losses for the defender.

  • An friendly-controlled urban hex/square absorbs up to two hits.
  • A difficult terrain hex/square absorbs up to two hits unless either (a) ground conditions are frost or (b) German defenders in snow ground conditions.

The losses are cumulative so a friendly-controlled urban hex/square that also has difficult terrain can potentially absorb up to four hits.

But notice the “up to” in these loss reductions. The combat strength of the defending force dictates how many losses can be absorbed up to the maximum specified above.

Defender’s Combat Strength Maximum losses absorbed by Terrain
2 or less 1
3 2
4 or more 4

The losses remaining, after being absorbed by terrain, are removed from the combat strength of units involved in the combat. Losses are removed in a certain order:

  • The unit with the largest combat strength takes the first hit, then the second largest, third, etc.
  • Only when all units have taken a hit does the largest unit take a second hit, etc.
  • If two units have the same combat strength, then a tank unit will take the hit before other types of units.
  • Otherwise the owning player chooses which units take the next combat strength loss

Units are destroyed when they reach a combat strength of zero.

Retreat

The reactive player can sometimes reduce losses by retreating. If the number of combat losses exceeds the total combat strength of the defending force, there is no chance of retreat, and all defending units are destroyed. However, If the total combat strength of the defending force equals or exceeds the number of combat losses, there is a option to retreat. Retreat is voluntary.

Defender losses are reduced by one combat strength if the reactive player chooses to retreat ALL surviving defending units in the hex/square. If, for any reason, some defending units retreat and others remain in place then the defender’s losses are not reduced.

The reactive player chooses the retreat destinations. A retreat destination must be an adjacent hex/square that is friendly-controlled and uncontested. A retreat move may be over a river. A retreat can also be over a lake when ground conditions are frost or snow.

Retreat destinations can never be:

  • A hex/square from which any attackers entered the hex/square of the combat
  • A hex/square that is already crowded for the friendly side
  • On the other side of a lake when ground conditions are easy or mud
  • Off table

If possible all retreating units move to the same retreat destination. Only if it is not possible, e.g. due to crowding limitations, can the reactive player choose a second or retreat destination, or third if necessary.

Move the retreating units one at a time. The order of the retreat moves is pre-ordained. The last unit to lose a combat strength point retreats first, then the second to last to take a loss, etc.

Mark any unit that retreats as “expended” so it won’t be able to activate in the current game turn. A unit that is already expended can retreat and remains expended.

Armoured Breakthrough

A “armoured breakthrough” is possible when both these conditions apply:

  • all defending units are destroyed and
  • following the removal of combat losses the attacking force still includes one or more tank units

An armoured breakthrough is not possible if any defenders retreat, the defenders must be destroyed. If more than one attacking tank unit survives, they can each move to a different breakthrough destination. Tank units that breakthrough do not attack again, even if they move to an enemy-occupied hex/square.

The breakthrough destination is an adjacent hex/square irrespective of the control and contested status of the hex/square.

There are some constraints on armoured breakthroughs:

  • The breakthrough destination can be a difficult terrain hex/square only if the move is along a road or railway
  • At most one tank unit can breakthrough across a particular river section
  • Both sides can breakthrough when ground conditions are easy or frost; only the Soviets can breakthrough when ground conditions are snow; neither side can breakthrough in mud

Some scenarios allow a “deep penetration”. A deep penetration is two successive breakthrough moves, so each tank unit can move two hex/squares. The first space cannot be enemy-occupied. The breakthrough move must follow a road and/or railway. A river blocks a deep penetration when ground conditions are easy, mud or snow; this is true even if there is a bridge; rivers are ignored in frost conditions.

Step 5.5/8.5. Enemy Command Confusion

A scenario may specify that one side or the other suffers “command confusion” during certain turns. Usually the Soviets. Command confusion occurs when units of the potentially confused side, are in a contested hex/square after a normal enemy player turn (not Prepared Offensive).

Step 8.6. Passage of Time phase

The ground conditions dictate whether the duration of a game turn is be 72 or 120 hours. Each normal player turn chews into that time. In normal player turns, a random number of hours pass. Roll 1d6 and multiply by the factor below to see how many hours pass:

  • 1d6 x 3 hours when ground conditions are easy
  • 1d6 x 5 hours when ground conditions are mud, frozen, or snow

The game turn ends when any of these conditions occur:

  • The turn clock equals (or exceeds) the game turn duration
  • Both players have activated all their units
  • Both players pass one after the other

No time passes in a Prepared Offensive player turn.

Phase 9. Rally phase

Remove “expended” markers from all troops.

Phase 10. Check Victory phase

At the end of each game turn and at the end of the game check victory conditions. Each side gains victory points.

Victory points (VP) earned at the end of each game turn:

  • +2 VP for control of particular hex/squares specified in the scenario

Victory points (VP) earned at the end of the game:

  • +1 VP for each Combat Strength of destroyed enemy units
  • +4 to +6 VP for control of particular hex/squares specified in the scenario

VP are awarded for control of a hex/square even if the hex/square cannot trace supply.

The side with the most victory points at the end of the game wins.


References

Shenandoah Studio. (2013, 21 November). Drive on Moscow. Author.

4 comments to Tabletop Operational Wargame Inspired by Drive on Moscow

  • A beautiful operational level set. Thanks for these – I especially like the simplicity and supply rules.

  • Hmmm! I am looking forward to the report on a game run with these.
    Dick Bryant

    • Steven Thomas

      What Dick, you actually expect me to play wargames rather than just write about the potential for playing games? You may be disappointed as I’ve got years of procrastination left in me yet. 😉

      In fact a game is not too far way. I’m just waiting for (1) a wargaming mat with 4″ hexes and (2) a solution to my rivers quandary. The mat is ordered (from the US after a UK supplier failed me). I’ve got two river options in play at the moment – both look promising. So my operational project is rolling along nicely.

  • Being retired, “procrastination” is now my second hobby! I flatter myself that if I have enough project stacked up unfinished – I can never die!

    Seriously I look forward to this as It may be the way for me to go forward for an operational level game.
    Dick Bryant

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