Roads to Leningrad – Boardgame Review
Roads to Leningrad: Battles of Soltsy and Staraya Russia, 1941
On July 14, 1941, the German fuehrer was so confident that the Soviet invasion was planmaessig (according to plan) that he issued a directive suggesting that the strength of the overall Army could be reduced in "the near future" so that production could focus on naval and Luftwaffe production.1 In Vance von Borries’ Roads to Leningrad: Battles of Soltsy and Staraya Russia, 1941 (RTL), as in reality, the situation was not so planmaessig. In four intriguing scenarios, von Borries presents the conflict of July 10, 1941 near Soltsy and the counterattack at Soltsy of July 15, 1941, as well as the Soviet counter-offensive near Staraya that reached a critical mass on August 15, 1941 and the famous von Manstein counter-attack of August 19, 1941.
Published by GMT Games, RTL is an operational level (battalion level) game covering the early moves of Leeb’s Army Group North as the blitzkrieg advanced toward Leningrad in 1941. It is so finely balanced that when one player commands the same army through all four scenarios, there is: a time to be aggressive on offense, a time to be stingy on defense, a time to feel like one’s forces are spread so thin that the task is impossible and a time when one must build slowly and fortify with strongpoints. RTL offers maneuver, combat and historical flavor without excessive complexity.
Reconnaissance (Material Components)
RTL features a double-sided 22" by 34" map with full color on both sides, the equivalent of putting eight typical magazine pages side-by-side. This is the same size as the Sword of Rome, Napoleonic Wars and Great Battles of History X:Devil’s Horsemen maps. The difference is that the former two are single-sided and the latter product makes very little use of its color on the double-sided map. RTL‘s maps, the Soltsy area for Scenarios #1 and #2 on one side and Staraya Russia for Scenarios #3 and #4 on the other, look like they came from a high-quality atlas and merely had the hex grids superimposed over them.
Further, the map has generous hex grids to handle the 528 (5/8") die-cut counters (the size in AH’s/MMP’s Breakout: Normandy, Avalanche Press’s Soldier Kings, and GMT’s Sword of Rome) as opposed to ½" die-cuts of Avalon Hill’s Richtofen’s War, Avalanche Press’ Great Pacific War, The Gamers’ The Emperor Returns, GMT’s Paths of Glory, Moments in History’s A Famous Victory and 3W’s Ironsides. Although this may seem like a tedious comparison, it is significant with regard to play value because RTL packs a lot of information on these counters while keeping them easy to read. Plus, those of us who have played games on this scale and needed tweezers to handle the stacks can appreciate that these counters are easier to handle.
IN LIVING COLOR / GMT’s design crew gets an "A" for their vibrant and easy-to-use package of two-sided map,
colorful counters, set-up cards and playing aids.
When you add in four full-color set-up sheets, a black and white 32-page rule book, a black and white 24-page playbook with detailed examples of play and interesting historical information, a 4-page color booklet (filled with playing aids and well-annotated combat results tables), and the 10-sided die, it is easy to see why this game is a value at the $55.00 price tag. About the only possible quibble to be made about RTL‘s components would be with regard to the similarity of the colors between both Axis and Allied air units (especially since they are stationed in a Ready Box of approximately the same background color for each) and a few minor misprints with regard to counters (e.g. The 4/48 antitank unit has another artillery unit printed on its reverse side. It should be blank because it cannot take a step loss.)
Truppenfuhrung (Rules and Mechanics)
RTL‘s rules are incredibly well-written (or edited) and should play for experienced gamers like a cleaned-up version of GMT’s Kasserine. Though the rules seemed incredibly clear upon first reading, some errata can be found here, mostly to add additional set-up information and provide agreement between counters, maps and player aid cards. In addition, players who find it difficult to follow the player aid format provided by GMT, might prefer this player aid provided by an independent gamer here.
Some may not like combat resolution that requires adding and subtracting die roll modifiers (DRM) between offensive and defensive calculations until reaching a net DRM for the entire combat equation. Yet, this mathematical tennis match of DRMs allows the defender to decide whether it is worth calling in defensive CAS (close air support) to diminish the attacker’s chances, using the HQ modifier to accomplish the same result or attempting to combine both in a last ditch effort to blunt the attack. In the same way, the attacker has to decide when committing his CAS is worth it and when the ground units should merely combine and get the job done without them.
RTL uses an activation system to simulate the fluidity of the situation and the friction that comes both from trying to anticipate the enemy’s move and coordinate one’s own efforts. Unlike the OSG games for AH (Napoleon at Bay) or The Gamers (The Emperor Returns), activation is not tied to one "live or die" roll of the die per operational phase. Nor is activation tied to a tough choice between automatic activation of a formation or leader (and formation) versus a roll on a separate command table (that can backfire such that it gives one’s opponent extra activations) as in Rob Markham’s Give Me Liberty! (3W) And Ironsides (3W). Every formation (with one exception noted below) gets a chance to move in each of its friendly operational phases, but one must draw a counter to do so. Of course, one would prefer to be able to immediately respond to an aggressive move by one’s opponent, but that can be impossible if the chits are drawn in the wrong order. Fortunately, there is one option that I rather like. It is possible to select a Pass option after drawing a chit and waiting to attempt to coordinate with another formation. Regardless, this simple mechanic brings an "I go, you go" game into a semblance of a real-time situation.
The exception to the guaranteed activation is found in Scenario #1. In that scenario, the 70th Soviet Rifle Division is precluded from moving and the 202nd Soviet Rifle Division has a stacking restriction, simulating the confusion where withdrawing Soviet units were trying to get out of the way so that fresh units could reach the front. Lest one think such historical adjustments to the rules are always anti-Soviet, note that Vance allows the 70th Soviet Rifle Division to fire twice during the 15 AM activation of Scenario #2, simulating the successful execution of a well-prepared attack. Of course, that advantage quickly drifts away after the initial contact with the enemy. Whenever von Borries deviates from his own mechanics, there is a bit of historical chrome or flavor to it that makes each scenario have a distinct flavor.
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