Sergeants on the Eastern Front – Boardgame Review
Sergeants on the Eastern Front and Repple Depple 1 Expansion. Boardgame review. Lost Battalion Games Game $39.95; Repple Depple Expansion $44.95.
Passed Inspection: Excellent pricing, wonderful quality graphics and layout, fluid, simple, and fun to play.
Failed Basic: Rules need an index, scale is off and terrain needs more detailed effects on units, ink rubs off on hands.
Lost Battalion Games began publishing in 2002 and have published innovative, fun, and high quality board and card games such as the Battle Group, a World War II card game set on the high seas, and Napoleon’s Battles. Now, Lost Battalion’s Sergeants on the Eastern Front and its expansion Sergeants Repple Depple 1 let gamers play out tactical skirmish battles on the Russian Front of World War II.
Since Sergeants is a skirmish game, each unit is either one soldier or a team of two or three soldiers manning mortars, machine guns, artillery pieces, a tank, truck, jeep, or armored car. A small scenario may feature 15 men on each side while a large game may feature 40 people and three or four tanks and artillery on each side. The scale of the game is 100 meters per hex and two minutes per turn. Each unit may be modified with special items such as binoculars, radios, satchel charges, etc.
The first thing a player will notice when opening the box is how colorful and well printed the counters, maps, rule book, and play aids are. The designers even included dice (one black and one red appropriately) and zip lock bags to put the counters in. The double sided full color counters themselves are thick and well protected with a nice finish to protect against those accidental spills we have all encountered at the gaming table. Each counter is one man, a small special weapons team, a vehicle, terrain feature, or special feature like star shells (for night fighting) or “fake” units which I shall explain later in this review. Counters for units which are “pinned” are also included. Noticeably missing are counters for special equipment like radios, binoculars, etc. The rules instruct the players to keep track of what unit has each item on a piece of paper, but this is sometimes not practical and counters would have helped immensely. The only other problem I noticed with the counters was something that I discovered while punching out units to use in the scenarios – the unvarnished sides of the counters leave dark ink stains on the player’s fingers and hands. I have included a picture of my fingers after punching out just eight counters. This is a major nuisance and caused me to wash my hands after punching out the units so as not to leave ink stains on the rules, the maps or the face of the counters.
The map boards are geomorphic and double sided. The basic game includes 4 geomorphic maps while the Repple Depple expansion adds 12 more double sided geomorphic map boards. Enough to fight just about any battle a player could think of except for city encounters. The maps are mostly country side. A few city maps would have been a wonderful inclusion for those of us wanting to play a Stalingrad like fight. Oh well, maybe we’ll get those in another expansion. The maps are hex-based with each hex being rated for terrain features and elevation. Unfortunately, terrain only seems to play a factor in spotting with little attention being paid to cover or terrain influence on movement.
Gameplay is fast and furious. The basic game includes ten scenarios while the expansion adds another 16 missions. Each mission gives the set-up of the maps plus any morale rules for the troops and time period (each mission is dated so can be used to form a campaign) as well as who goes first and second for each turn. There is no initiative die roll in this game.
Each unit is rated for movement, fire/defense power, special weapons and armor type (if the unit is a vehicle) and a unique unit identifier. Expansions on www.lostbattaliongames.com add rules for keeping track of soldier experience, wounding, etc. making this a true campaign experience if the players want to add that aspect. Some units are even rated for being “drunks” or other interesting personality quirks.
It can be played quickly after only a short study of the rules.
The turns are simple with each side moving and firing at each other. Opposed die rolls modified by the unit’s statistics give combat results which include a total miss, being pinned, or being destroyed. Advanced rules add flamethrowers, satchel charges, and figuring unit facing for tanks and assault guns with lower valued rear armor. No rules for air strikes are included in the first two games but bunker busting, trenches, and off-map artillery are included.
Before the units are spotted, the counters are upside down so the player doesn’t know what’s on the other side. Some of the units in the game are marked “FAKE” and represent things that the soldiers may think are real threats when, in fact, they are birds flying out of a bush or just the soldiers misidentifying a shadow in the woods. This adds a nice “fog of war” to Sergeants which many others games don’t have.
I played three games before writing this review. In one game, a German squad was moving out of some tree cover when a Russian team with a machine gun opened up on them – wiping out the squad. The German squad made the fatal mistake of thinking that the unit in the woods was a “FAKE” and not a true threat (I like how he blames the squad – Ed.).
In another game, the Germans were wiping out a Russian platoon trying to hold an area near a bridge when Russian reinforcements in the form of an armored car, a light tank, and a T-34/76 arrived. The light tank was quickly wiped out by a Panzer IVE. The T-34 took two assaults from German infantry armed with grenades and satchel charges but drove the troops back, “pinning” them with machine-gun fire. Then as a German Panzer IV E tank tried to sneak up on the rear of the T-34 (the only way its low velocity 75mm cannon had a chance to penetrate the T-34’s impressive armor), the Russian armored car, which was armed with a 50mm cannon, attacked the Pz IV from the rear and got a lucky shot, destroying it. The German assault was contained by the timely arrival of Russian armored fighting vehicles and the Russians held the bridge with only a German eight-wheeled armored car escaping to attack the Russian rear lines.
The game rules are well illustrated with examples and flow charts for playing, but an index would still have been a nice thing to include. Far too many games today do not include indexes for finding rule quickly and efficiently during play. A “medical kit’ made up of bandages and alcohol wipes are included in the box for giggles, but the wipes could actually be used to remove the ink from the players’ fingers after punching out the counters.
While the missions are nice, they were not published in date order, which means players need to read the date on each mission and then pick the earliest if they want to play a campaign as I did. Also, the scale seems slightly off. One hundred yards per hex and two minutes a turn would seem to indicate that each man was an Olympic class sprinter. It appears that a scale of 20 to 50 meters per hex would be more realistic based upon the one man per counter scale of the game. At 100 meters per hex, I constantly stacked my counters of men in order to accurately reflect the nature of squad formations during World War II. Also the rules for flame effects from satchel charges appeared to be unrealistic, giving too much power to what are really point-attack weapons.
While Sergeants covers some of the same ground as the classic game Squad Leader, it can be played quickly after only a short study of the rules. You don’t have to go to a “Squad Leader Academy” in order to play this fascinating game. Its expansion, Repple Depple 1, adds more maps, special counters and tons of more vehicles for both the Russians and the Germans. Lost Battalion Games has promised more expansions to this fine game system including rules for the Western Front, North Africa, and the fighting in the Pacific. I can hardly wait – even with ink stained fingers! Highly recommended!
Overall Rating: 88 %
Solitaire Rating: 3 out of 5
About the author:
A college film instructor and founder of Nouveau Cinema Group, Inc., an organization which rescues old movie theaters, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember wargames which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!