East Front Review
East Front: The War in Russia, 1941-45, is Columbia Games’ massive strategic/operational-level World War II wooden block game. This "second edition" sports a nice set of red (Russians/Allies) and dark grey (Germans/Axis) blocks, and two massive fold-out boards.
East Front offers eight scenarios, each of which covers roughly 6 months of the war in the East. We begin with Barbarossa in the summer of 1941 and end with the drive on Berlin in the winter of 1944. Each scenario can be played separately, or can be linked to offer players the full campaign of the eastern front. In addition, there is also a small introductory scenario, Operation Edelweiss, which allows players to acquaint themselves to the rules with a small unit count and simple objectives.
The game is played in a series of game turns, which comprise a "production segment," followed by two so-called "fortnights" of play. Within a fortnight, each player takes two alternating player turns, moving and attacking with his or her units. Movement is rather simple. When it’s a player’s turn, he or she "activates" any and all Headquarter units currently in play. Doing so allows the movement and/or attack of any and all combat units within command radius of that HQ. Units can move a distance based upon their type-infantry, mechanized, armored-and expend movement points as they enter each hex. Movement range is modified by terrain and units may also perform "Blitz" moves. A Blitz move is a double move and attack; it’s costly, but it allows you to exploit gaps created within enemy lines. It’s a good tactic for the Germans especially.
When opposing units move into contact with each other, combat occurs. Combat in East Front uses the tried-and-true Columbia Games method of Single Fire (SF) and Double Fire (DF). Units with SF firepower hit on die rolls of 6, while units with DF firepower hit on die rolls of 5 and 6. A unit’s firepower is determined by its combat posture (attacking or defending). Units can be defending at double or triple defense as well, which in simple terms, means that it takes either 2 or 3 full hits for it to sustain one combat strength loss.
The number of dice a unit rolls in combat is based upon its current "strength" value. Most units start with either 3 or 4 combat strength points. When a unit attacks, the player rolls a number of dice equal to is current strength value. For each hit inflicted, an opposing unit is reduced in combat strength by flipping its wooden block counter-clockwise once. This could eliminate the unit outright, or it could greatly weaken it when it counterattacks later in the combat round.
Combat rarely resolves itself in one turn, however. Since units are either corps (Axis) or armies (Allies), combat can go on for several weeks of game time. Opposing units that find themselves in the same hex at the end of a combat round can continue the fight in subsequent rounds, and this allows both players to move reinforcements into the hex to try to break the stalemate.
There are several other rules that apply, such as air strikes, production points, retreats, river assaults and repulses, "unsupported" combat, zones of control, supply lines, strategic rail movement, reinforcements, etc. They all help to add flavor and enjoyment to this game. It may all seem complicated at first, but in application, the rules of East Front are very simple. It was pleasant surprise at just how simple this game was. Over the years, stories have floated around about how complex Columbia Games’ "front" series is. Don’t believe it. Indeed, this author has a lot of experience with block games of this nature, and so many of the concepts in here are second nature. But quite honestly, a novice won’t have much trouble putting these rules to practice. With such a low component mix (maps, blocks, and rules), there’s no doubt that even the casual wargamer can quickly absorb and apply these concepts.
Where East Front starts to waiver is the price tag. At nearly $100 retail, the un-initiated or casual gamer will hardly be exposed to it, which is sad. In my opinion, however, it’s really one of the best Russian campaign games out there. For players who really enjoy large-scale World War II games, this one is not to be ignored.