Roads to Moscow: Battles of Mozhaysk and Mtsenks, 1941 – Boardgame Review
Passed Inspection: Well-researched game with a solid set of rules that are thoroughly explained in two rule books. Best feature is the random activation of unit formations by drawing chits.
Failed Inspection: Rules complexity is high and will require patience for new wargamers. There is no “grand campaign” scenario due to the scope of the battle.
The German offensive into the Soviet lines during Operation Barbarossa provided Hitler with one of the greatest chances of taking Moscow, especially during the battles of Mozhaysk and Mtensk. General Heinz Guderian pushed through with his panzer divisions, forcing the Soviets to scramble for new defensive lines. Long stretches of highways that were the battlegrounds essential to a German victory have often been dubbed “The Roads to Moscow.” GMT’s Roads to Moscow: Battles of Mozhaysk and Mtsensk, 1941 highlights the operational-level fighting of Mozhaysk and Mtsensk during October 1941, which covers 4 scenarios on two maps. Game designer Vance von Borries provides wargamers with a well-researched and well-designed wargame of a critical period depicting an almost unstoppable but overstretched German army against Soviet forces.
Opening the Box
One of the exciting features of any wargame is the chance to fight on different maps. The game comes with a two-sided, 22×34-inch, hex-grid map. One side covers the Battle of Mozhaysk and the other Mtsensk. Prior to setting up the game, one can see where the major fighting will take place on either map, and that is along the highways themselves, as they lead to the eastern-most objectives for the Germans.
Also included are three countersheets for the 528 die-cut counters and a turn record track card. Besides coming with the very thorough 36-page rule book, which is a standard with most GMT games, the game comes with a 32-page scenario playbook. The playbook gives a detailed explanation of each of the four scenarios. Each scenario description in the booklet is presented with its historical background, order of battle setup, victory conditions, and special rules for the scenario.
Order of Battle
Although the game comes with four scenarios, there is no grand campaign scenario that ties all of them together. Instead, Roads to Moscow highlights two separate battles, depicted in two scenarios for each battle. The Battle of Mtsensk scenarios cover 13 turns from October 5 to October 11, 1941. German forces consist of the 24 Panzer Corps, which is just beginning its offensive after running low on fuel. Here, players command a mix of mostly infantry units supported by Panzer IIIs and IVs, and artillery. Air assets include reliable Ju87 and Ju88 bombers. Most of the German units will be effective in combat, due to their high efficiency rating when player rolls for their combat coordination checks. The Soviets are relying on the 1st Guards Special Rifle Corps, which consists of the 6th Guard Rifle Division, 5th Air Assault Corps, 4th Tank Brigade, 11th Tank Brigade, and an assortment of attached units. Soviet air units have lower efficiency rating than those of their opponents but can be just as reliable as the Germans if designated to assist in some tight defensive positions. These Soviet forces were quickly put together by General Lelyushenko while the Germans were delayed in their advance due to fuel shortages. The Germans are tasked with securing Mtsensk for victory points, and will be awarded more points if they can secure it in the earlier turns. Additionally, victory points can also be awarded if secondary objectives are secured.
The Battle of Mozhaysk is represented in the third and fourth scenarios of the game and makes up much of the larger fighting between the Soviet 32nd Rifle Division against the elements of the 40th Panzer Corps. The Germans are following up the attack on October 11 after the previous Mtsensk battle; the Soviets continue to form desperate lines of defense as reinforcements trickle into the battlefield.
Roads to Moscow‘s rules are based on GMT’s Roads to Leningrad, also designed by Vance von Borries. The almost overwhelming player aid card includes two Combat Results tables (assault and mobile combat). Declaring a mobile attack typically provides the best results for the attacker; however, to utilize mobile attack the player must ensure that certain combat requirements are met, such as attacking with armor while the defender has none, or not attacking across a river. If these conditions are not met, then the attacker will refer to the assault combat results table. Most of the games from GMT, and others for that matter, are usually not this extensive when it comes to possible attack options and outcomes, but this does give players the incentive to form a “combined arms attack” under the right battlefield conditions.
Declaring an attack is a multistep process and can take several turns of gameplay to fully understand these rules. The attacker designates the counters that are eligible to attack an adjacent enemy hex, along with the support of nearby artillery within range. After the attacker-to-defense odds are determined, a series of dice roll modifier factors are applied such as the use of air support units, whether the defender can declare a “No Retreat” to any attack outcome, the defender’s hex terrain, the efficiency rating difference between the lead German and Soviet forces of the declared attack, etc. This may seem like a daunting set of steps to resolve a declared attack, but it will appeal to gamers who are looking to play out the most critical factors in a battle.
The most exciting rule of this wargame is the random activation of unit formations on the map by the use of drawing chit formations from a cup. For instance, the Soviets have four formation chits in the first scenario: one each for the 4th Tank Brigade, 5th Air Assault Corps, the 11th Tank Brigade and the 6th Guards Rifle Division. Each group may consist of anywhere from 8 to 18 chits on the map. The German player also has four formation chits that are placed in a separate cup. The German and Soviet player will take turns drawing chits and activating formations for movement and attack. This often leads to a nail-biting wargaming experience when one formation is poised to take advantage of an attack before the enemy formation can respond to it. This happened during my playout of the first scenario Drive on Mtsensk when the formation KG Eberbach, which had advancing panzer units, needed to press on the Soviet’s left flank before the Soviet player had the chance to activate his formations to form a defensive line. No turn is the same as the last since activation sequences will be different every time. This will definitely frustrate both sides as they wait for the perfect combination of formation activations, but it keeps players on their toes with the need to improvise their attacks.
Having had a chance to play GMT’s Kasserine back in 2001, I was already familiar with the game rules of Roads to Moscow. I was a new wargamer at the time, and playing Kasserine for the first time was an overwhelming experience. The rules were long, with combat procedures, special rules, and general gaming mechanics. GMT rates Roads to Moscow‘s rules complexity as medium but also rated their France ’40 as medium. Having played that game, I can say that France ’40 is considerably lighter in rules complexity. Thankfully, Moscow comes with a 14-page extended example of play that players are encouraged to read to understand the mechanics of the game.
The game itself is a classic move and attack with limited supplies for the Germans, while the Soviets must stem the tide by taking advantage of defensive positions. There are many timed victory conditions the Germans must consider; securing positions earlier is better but may come at a price. This requires a lot of cautious but calculated attacks. For example, do the Germans push to capture Sheino on the morning of October 5 for 40 victory points or do they wait until the morning of October 9 for a measly 10 VP?
Roads to Moscow – Battles of Mozhaysk and Mtsensk, 1941 is a game you’d want to add to any Eastern Front wargaming collection if you aren’t put off by complexity. It is rich in content; even the designer’s and developer’s notes in the manual are worth the read. Playing the game truly provides an educational experience, but players must constantly refer to the manual and player aids for the first several turns—if not for the first play of an entire scenario—to fully understand and appreciate them.
Armchair General Rating: 87%
Solitaire Rating (1 is low, 5 is high) 4, random formation activation makes for an extremely enjoyable solitaire experience but complexity can lead to broken focus during the combat procedures.
About the Author
Ed William has his Masters in Library and Information Science and works in public libraries. This allows him access to databases of historical content while reviewing wargames. He took an interest in military history and wargaming as a teenager after learning that his hometown was home to General George S. Patton. Ed is the author of an article that explains how to convert interactive games in Armchair General magazine to PC scenarios using the Combat Mission series.