HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDAt 0300 hour on 22 June 1941, a massive German offensive — codenamed Operation Barbarossa — opened along the entire length of the western Soviet frontier from the Baltic to the Black Sea. The Russo-German War had begun. This war would rage for four long, bloody years, from 1941 to 1945. It would ultimately see fighting all the way from the desolate tundra above the Arctic Circle in the North, to the craggy passes of the Caucasus Mountains in the South. The initial German onslaught would carry the Wehrmacht to the gates of Moscow in the fall of 1941, and yet, three and half years later, it would end among the ruined buildings and rubble-choked streets of Berlin. The Russo-German War would turn out to be the largest and most brutal military conflict in modern European history. It would also, by sowing the seeds of a generations-long post-war struggle between East and West, be instrumental in completely transforming the political landscape of Europe.
EAST FRONT is a grand tactical (corps/army level) simulation of the Russo-German War, 1941-45. One player controls the armies of the USSR and the other player, the forces of Germany and its Axis Allies. The game map covers all of European Russia from the tip of Finland in the North, to the Caspian Sea in the South, and from eastern Germany in the West, to central Siberia in the East. EAST FRONT utilizes the familiar KURSK Game System: first Movement Phase, Combat Phase, and Second (mechanized, cavalry, and artillery) Movement Phase. Besides the standard rules governing movement, supply, and combat, the game also incorporates special rules dealing with rail movement, sea movement, overruns, Russian Unit Production, Russian Unit Promotion, rebuilding German kampfgrüppen, partisans, fortifications, counterattacks, German tactical withdrawal (the familiar “Hitler stand-fast” rule), and even German frostbite. In addition, the game design also offers an extensive menu of experimental (what-if?) optional rules for the players to try.
EAST FRONT offers seven historical scenarios: the Poland Scenario, the Campaign Game Scenario, the Barbarossa Scenario, the Stalingrad Scenario, the High Water Mark Scenario, the Kursk Scenario, and last but not least, the Destruction of Army Group Center Scenario. Each of these standard scenarios is presented with its own historical set up. However, players may instead opt for free deployment, or they may choose to incorporate one or more of the many optional rules into a scenario in order to add variety and excitement to the game situation, or just to fine-tune play balance.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
Sometimes a game designer’s willingness to think outside the box can produce a genuine breakthrough in the hobby. Titles like, but not limited to, LOST BATTLES, KURSK, PANZERBLITZ, LEIPZIG, SQUAD LEADER, Gama Games’ NAPOLEON, THIRD REICH, PANZERGRÜPPE GUDERIAN, and even CIVILIZATION, have all, because of their innovative new game systems, radically affected the future growth and trajectory of the whole wargaming hobby. On the other hand, some alternative design ideas have, in the immortal words of the movie character, Borat, turned out to be: “not so much.”
The basic rules system and game mechanics of EAST FRONT are neither particularly innovative nor are they unusual. It is the eccentric choice by the game’s designers to use hexagonal-shaped unit counters instead of the more traditional ½” squares that really sets this title apart from other war games. Only a limited number of copies of EAST FRONT were ever sold. And of those copies, I can — based on personal experience — state unequivocally that far fewer were actually played. The hexagonal shape was a nightmare to print and to die-cut because of centering problems; but it was an even bigger nightmare for the prospective players to punch out and trim. Moreover, it turned out that, once the pieces were actually in play, the hexagonal shape also made the unit counters extremely awkward to manipulate, either when adjacent to each other or when in stacks. Despite this genuine playability issue, however, EAST FRONT — probably because of its unique place in game design history — has become something of a sought-after collectible. So, my suggestion to World War II game collectors is this: if you ever stumble across a copy of EAST FRONT that is still in very good, or better condition, grab it; such a copy is already worth a surprising amount of money. Who knows? It might even continue to appreciate in value, as time goes on.
- Time Scale: 2 game-turns per month (3 turns in December)
- Map Scale: 55 kilometers per hex (estimated)
- Unit Size: corps/army
- Unit Types: tank/panzer, mechanized/panzer grenadier, rifle/infantry, cavalry, artillery, and information counters
- Number of Players: two (appropriate for team play)
- Complexity: above average
- Solitaire Suitability: average
- Average Playing Time: 3-20 + hours
- Two 21½” x 28” hexagonal grid Map Sheets (with Unit Holding Boxes and Terrain Key incorporated)
- 800 ½” hexagonal cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Scenario Instructions, Game Charts, and Combat Results Table incorporated)
- One 22” x 28” Turn Record/Reinforcement Track (with all Game Charts and Combat Results Table incorporated)
- One 8½” x 11” Errata Sheet (Dated 20 July, 1976)