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Battle for Moscow - A Wargame Review

Battle for Moscow Board Game Review - Victory Point Games Cover


This is a review from a series of articles I am writing about my foray into wargaming. The introduction to these articles, with a bit of background can be found here. 

My previous review in this series looked at Strike Force One, a very basic introduction to some of the main ideas found in hex and counter wargames. I enjoyed playing it, and it piqued my interest, but after playing it several times I was interested in tackling something with a bit more depth. Luckily I found just that in Victory Point Games’ printing of Battle for Moscow.

Battle for Moscow is a small, beginning level hex and counter wargame that simulates the Battle of Moscow during the start of World War II.  Battle for Moscow takes the ideas introduced in Strike Force One (zone of control, retreat paths, combat tables, etc..) and builds upon them to deliver a deeper play experience. Due to this added complexity, and the actual historical setting of the game, it feels much less abstract than Strike Force One, and stands on its own as a game that can be replayed multiple times, while remaining enjoyable.



Battle for Moscow comes packaged in a plastic bag, with 40 full color double sided counters, a foldout cardstock map, and cardstock turn tracker/player aid. The 4 page rule booklet is concise, but informative, and the full color illustrations do a good job in describing the different movement and attack scenarios that the player will encounter. A welcome bonus for the new wargamer is the BATTLESSON sheet that goes into some detail about the wargaming hobby.

All of the components have a matte finish, and have been handcrafted using high end desktop publishing equipment, so the artwork on the map, counters, and in the manual is vivid and readable. The only complaint I have with the components is the fact that the handmade nature of the counters can cause the front and back of the counters to be slightly misaligned. This is purely a cosmetic concern, however, andBattle for Moscow Board Game Review - Wargame in progress doesn’t affect actual gameplay at all. Victory Point Games is looking into upgrading the equipment they use to create die-cut components, which should alleviate this issue in new games manufactured after spring of 2012.



Setup in Battle for Moscow is fairly easy: players place their pieces on the indicated hexes of the game board. Each unit in Battle for Moscow is double sided. This is one of the new concepts introduced in the game. Both sides of the unit counter have numbers printed on them, representing the unit’s movement allocation and strength of the unit. One side shows the unit’s full strength capability, while the other displays the unit’s half-strength capability.  During gameplay, a unit can be damaged, but not completely destroyed; and likewise, reinforcements can be brought in to bring a half-strength unit back to full strength.

Setup for the Russian player is a breeze. He just places all of his units in the indicated hexes, with the half-strength side facing up. All of the Russian units have the same statistics, so it doesn’t matter where they are placed. The German player however, has to give some more thought to his setup process. The German player’s units are all brought in at full strength, but he has two different types of units – armored units, and infantry. Even within these two different types, units have different strength and movement stats, so initial placement for the German player can have huge implications during the game.

When a player is first introduced to the game as the Russians, looking at the initial setup can be intimidating. The German player has many more units on the board, and they are all at full strength, while the entirety of the Russian army is at half strength. This is a bit deceiving, because due to reinforcement rules, and geographic factors, the Russian player actually has a bit of an advantage. I must meekly admit that I have yet to win a game as the Germans, although I have come very close a couple of times.


Playing the Game:

In Battle for Moscow, the German player is attempting to infiltrate, and take over Moscow, while the Russian player is trying to push back the attack, while maintaining control of Moscow and one other city on the map. This battle takes place over 7 turns, with some unique events occurring during a few of these turns. Just as occurred during the Battle of Moscow during WWII, roughly halfway through the operation, heavy rains cause the landscape to turn to a boggy mud, severely limiting unit movement, and decreasing the effectiveness of the German armored units.

Each game turn is split into a German portion and a Russian portion.


German Phase:

First, the German player receives one reinforcement unit. This allows the player to flip a unit from half strength to full strength, or place a new half-strength unit on the board at certain German controlled locations.

Next, the Germans are allowed to move their tanks. Each unit in Battle for Moscow has a speed value printed on its marker. This value represents the number of hexes that the unit can move per movement action. In Battle for Moscow, however, not all hexes are created equal. Forest hexes are more difficult to pass through, and cost two movement points to enter. This has tactical implications, as players must take this into consideration when planning unit movement. There are a few more movement rules, such as the inability to enter a space beiBattle for Moscow Board Game Review - Wargame in progressng occupied by an enemy, the ability to move through spaces occupied by friendly units (but not ending in these spaces), as well as the requirement that movement stop when entering enemy zone of control.

After the German tanks have moved, combat is resolved. Combat uses a concept called a differential. The strength of all attacking units are added together, and divided by the strength of the defending unit. This number, rounded down, represents the odds. Certain geographic features, such as rivers, forests, or fortifications, can reduce this number. The attacking player rolls a six sided die to attack, and then cross references the result against the odds on a table to determine combat results. Depending on the result, players may be required to retreat units, take damage to units (called a step-loss; the player must flip his unit over to the half-strength side, or remove it from play if already at the half-strength side), or find that nothing happens.

Once combat is completed, the German player can then move all of his units, including his tanks, following the previously discussed movement rules and restrictions, before his phase ends.


Russian Phase:

After the Germans complete their portion of the turn, the Russians get the opportunity to retaliate. Like the Germans, the Russians get reinforcement units. The number of units the Russian player gets is dependent on the game turn, with the amount clearly printed on the turn track. Russians get significantly more reinforcements than the Germans, though.

The use of reinforcements introduces the idea of “line of communication” into the game. Each player has colored lines surrounding the edge of the map closest to his starting location. A line of communication is a path that can be drawn from the edge of the map, to a given location, without passing through enemy zone of control. If a path like this exists, the location is considered to be “in communication”, if a path cannot be found, the location is not in communication. Reinforcements (both German and Russian) can only be brought into the game in locations that are in communication. This concept is absolutely pivotal in formulating a successful strategy in Battle for Moscow.

Once he has received his reinforcements, the Russian player can use the many railroads depicted on the map. Railroads allow the Russian player to ignore terrain based movement limitations, as well as the movement limitations introduced by the mud turns. Units can only be moved along the rails, but this gives the Russians a sizeable advantage during the mud turns, when all other movement is limited to only 1 hex.

Combat commences after rail movement, following the same combat rules described for the German phase.

Finally, the Russian player is able to move all of his units, before play proceeds to the next turn, starting again with the German reinforcement phase.


End Game:

The game concludes at the end of the seventh round. If the German player is in control of Moscow, he wins. If the Russian player is in control of Moscow, and one other city, then he is successful. If the Russian player has maintained control of Moscow, but does not control any other cities, then the game is a draw.



I had a lot of fun playing Battle for Moscow, and was surprised by how dynamic the scenario felt. Not only were tactics important in determining specific unit movement, overarching strategy was very important as well - and that strategy really had to take into account lines of communication.

The first time I played Battle for Moscow, I didn’t really have a solid strategy. I played the Germans, and attempted to poke a hole in the Russian defense, and steamroll towards Moscow. While penetrating the Russian defense was fairly easy, I found that right as I was reaching Moscow, my mobility was brought to a standstill due to the mud rounds. During this time, the Russian player was able to bring in significant reinforcements around Moscow, and create an impenetrable wall.  Even though I had Moscow corralled, the reinforcements coming from the corner of the board made it impossible for me to penetrate into the city. I realized that between the mud rounds, and the Russian reinforcements, I had to somehow break the Russian lines of communication into Moscow, without leaving my fast moving tanks behind enemy lines, without any sort of backup.

Every game of Battle for Moscow I have played has been followed by an in-depth analysis in my head, where i contemplate what I could have done differently, or what could have worked better. I know that I can crack the conundrum, and build a successful attack as the Germans, but it is not an easy proposition. That the game can accurately model the actual events of the Battle of Moscow and so consistently deliver the same outcome really surprises and intrigues the wargaming newbie in me. I’m not a huge fan of military history, but when presented like this, I can’t help but read more about the actual battles, and learn what happened.

I played Battle for Moscow several times with both my teenaged son and daughter, and I was really impressed to heBattle for Moscow Board Game Review - Wargame in progressar them not only talking about their strategies for next time (There was no question in their minds - there WOULD be a next time), but discussing with me related information regarding the battle that they had learned about at school. I never would have thought that a game could be such a useful teaching aid, and really cement the history that my kids were learning about. But, it makes a lot of sense: Things are always more meaningful when they happen to you. By playing a game, it brings history out of the pages of someone else’s life, and makes it relevant to your own life – and that is knowledge that is more likely to be retained.

Battle for Moscow gets high marks from me, and not just as a “tutorial” or “learning game”. While it may have nowhere near the depth of some of the more complicated wargames out there, its short playtime, meaningful decisions, and interesting interactions make it a game that I want to keep returning to. I’m sure after many plays, this may wear off a bit, but so far it has a longevity that has exceeded that of many non-wargames that I have played and enjoyed.

One thing that I did notice about Battle for Moscow is that the increased number of pieces certainly makes it a bit more “fiddly” than simpler games. I found myself forgetting which units I had already moved, and which units had already attacked. I’m sure there is a methodology for keeping track of this that is known by grizzled grognards, but in my naivety I decided to rotate the counters that had been activated by 45 degrees to indicate that they had taken an action, and that seemed to work well. I don't know if later in my exploration of wargaming I will find that unit direction has gameplay implications, but if there is a better way to keep track of actions, I’d love to hear it. I can’t imagine keeping track of the hundreds of counters on a map in bigger games, without some sort of system in place.  

Battle for Moscow gets my recommendation. Even if you don’t think wargames are your thing, it’s definitely worth giving a play. I would still suggest playing Strike Force One first, just to get a strong handle on zone of control, and movement. But the added depth of terrain, different units, and lines of communication found in Battle for Moscow really bring it to the next level, and despite its simplicity in the ranks of wargames, I think it rivals the complexity and replayability of many more mainstream hobby games.

The next installment of this series reviews Paul Koenig's Market Garden: Arnhem Bridge

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Reader Comments (1)

Rotating your counters to remind you that they've acted for that turn IS the standard method used by grizzled veteran wargamers, by the way.

What an excellent review! I'm glad that the history is working for you and your children!!

Alan Emrich

October 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Emrich

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