The 2019 Russian Campaign tournament was played as part of the free–form “Grognard-style” classic wargames event – many thanks to Bruno Sinigaglio and Bill Morse for their continuing efforts! TRC was also played against a backdrop of uncertainty. Total games played had dropped from 66 in 2017 to 32 last year. What would this year bring? Fortunately, 2019 saw a modest increase to 40 games played, momentarily quelling fears of further significant declines. Hopefully, the long-promised release of TRC 5 will stimulate interest and participation for 2020 and beyond. Meanwhile, I’d like to express my appreciation to the 20 players who showed up to play TRC in this year’s tournament.
As in past years, we played the 5-Turn scenario. This scenario has proven its worth for tournament play, coupling intense excitement with a territorial dynamic that rewards aggressive German play. Meanwhile, the Russian player desperately tries to keep the railroads open to allow Turn 3 and later reinforcements to reach the key forward worker cities. Victory is all about controlling territory – achieving minus one small city from the Green Line or capturing Moscow in 1941 yields a German victory, otherwise, the Russians are victorious. This dynamic has spawned all manner of clever German strategies, from a “Heavy North” approach intended to capture Moscow, to an all-out panzer blitz from Rumania to clear the south, the latter sometimes coupled with a “starve the Russian replacements” strategy. Russian responses have been equally clever, exploiting the inevitable weaknesses of any German plan. For example, one Russian player, when faced with all 10 available panzer corps coming out of Rumania, focused his attention on absolutely halting any German advance in the north. The Russian counterattack was wildly successful - Konigsberg fell, Stavka moved aggressively forward, and the Russians were preparing to drop paratroopers on Berlin when the Germans conceded.
One game convention that sometimes intimidates newcomers is the bidding process. It need not be so as history has shown almost no correlation between high bids and Russian victories, or low bids and German victories. Players bid for sides based on extra replacement factors given to the Russians over the course of the match. The average 2019 bid was 11.4, down slightly from the previous year’s average bid of 14.4. Bids ranged from a low of -1 to a high of 22. Bids were NOT a good predictor of victory: the average bid in German wins was 12.2, whereas the average bid in Russian wins was 10.4. The data suggests the bidding process is functioning as intended to allow players to play their preferred side, with little or no impact on game outcome.
One interesting feature of the 5 Turn Scenario is the treatment of the weather. Following 2 straight clear weather turns to start the game, the Germans roll normally for weather at the start of their Turn 3 September/October move. There is an equal chance to get clear (3 stukas, full mechanized movement) and light mud (1 stuka, limited mechanized movement). Obviously a clear turn would favor the Germans on that turn, but there is a major “catch”. If clear is rolled, the weather in the following Turn 4 is automatically snow, which is very bad for the Germans. Conversely, if light mud is rolled on Turn 3, the Turn 4 weather is also automatically light mud. This often leads players (especially those new to the scenario) to conclude that the Germans are at a disadvantage given Turn 3 clear, since they’ve got to “do it all” on that one turn given that snow will follow. However, the statistics suggest otherwise.
Of the 40 games played, the Germans won 23 and the Russians 17. The September/October weather was clear 21 times and light mud 14 times (5 games neglected to state the weather). Of the 23 German wins, 15 of them occurred when the September/October weather was clear, and only 7 when it was light mud. Of the 17 Russian wins, 6 occurred with clear weather and 7 with light mud (4 neglected to state the weather). So if anything the data suggests it may be the Russians who are disadvantaged if the weather is clear/snow rather than light mud/light mud. The special dynamics of the 5 Turn Scenario do require adjustments to German play, to embrace selected lower odds attacks and take advantage of “retreat forward” options.,/p>
As to the games themselves, prior to the semifinals, 12 players won at least 1 game, 9 players won at least 2 games, and 5 players won 3 or more games. Alan Zasada led all parties with 8 wins and 0 losses heading into the semifinals, most impressive and a nice boost to his AREA rating!
Remaining semifinalists were myself and John Ohlin, (5 wins and 2 losses), and George Karahalios (4 wins and 3 losses).
Semifinal A featured Alan Zasada (#1) vs George Karahalios (#4), while Semifinal B matched myself (#2) vs John Ohlin (#3).,/p>
In Semifinal A, George obtained the Germans for a bid of 17. His opening attacks were everywhere successful, especially in Finland, where the Finns, through a clever combination of D1 and AR results (and luck!) were able to kill a Russian 5-3 and end up 2 hexes from Leningrad. Elsewhere, the Baltic and Western Military Districts were largely pulverized, and the Kiev Military District was left in supply but cut off. Alan’s only saving grace was that the lower Bug River was not breached. Turn 2 brought more bad news for the Russians, as Leningrad fell to a 2-1 all-Finn attack, which was immediately followed by a successful German sea transfer to occupy the city itself. In the south, 4 panzer units crossed the Dnepr River near Kharkov. Turn 3 saw Alan hoping for light mud weather to help slow the Axis onslaught - alas, it was not to be as the weather came up clear. George’s panzers rolled, capturing Smolensk, Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov, Stalino, and Sevastopol. In response, Alan counterattacked fiercely, successfully landed a sea invasion, and somehow managed to stay in the game. Ultimately, he could not overcome the devastation of the first 3 turns, and George was able to claim the hard-fought victory.
In semifinal B, John claimed the Germans for a bid of 11. I braced for John’s latest innovative attack concept. Would it be the Massive Odessa Overrun, with Turn 1 panzers across the lower Bug River? Or perhaps some nasty variation of the Heavy North attack, seeking to capture Moscow, or at least attract all available Russians in a desperate attempt to save the capitol? As it turned out, the answer was none of the above. Instead, John tried a hybrid attack approach, which (if successful) promised to at least keep all options open. Alas, the combat dice were miserably uncooperative, and I was left with a Russian player’s dream – minimal German penetration and lots of surviving Russian units at or near the front. John did better on Turn 2, until his sea invasion sunk while attempting to cut off Stalino from Russian reinforcements. The Turn 3 light mud weather did little to help the Axis cause. Well before the match ended with a Russian victory, John was berating himself for straying from his normal opening strategy. “Stick with what you know!” was his oft-repeated admonition to himself, and to the TRC world. True enough John, and I’ll try to remember your words for my own future play.
In the final, George got the Germans for a bid of 12. The Axis started off very well, getting numerous DEs, a D1 in Finland, and a 1-1 bounce off in the south to break the Bug River and surround my Kiev Military District “hinge” forces. Turn 2 saw the Axis decline potential automatic victory attacks while taking Kiev and continuing to grind forward on all fronts. The Turn 3 weather was clear and the panzers rolled, taking Leningrad, Sevastopol, Bryansk, and getting a smother attack at Stalino. The follow-up 1-2 counterattack failed with an AR and the Stalino workers died, however George could only muster a 2-1 from within the city against the survivors (which he won). The Russians did manage to take back Bryansk and George’s sea invasion failed, providing a brief respite for the beleaguered defenders. Starting on Turn 4, George determined that he had enough victory points to win, and went into protective mode everywhere. The Russian Turn 5 saw the Germans sitting on a zero score (plus 4 for Sevastopol and Leningrad, minus 4 for Kharkov, Kursk, and Bryansk). The Russians only shot was to re-take Stalino, which was occupied by 3 panzer units, with two others stacked adjacent. On first impulse the Russians eliminated the adjacent defenders, while a 1-1 attack on the city itself resulted in a contact. And so it came down to the final die roll for the game – a 46 to 46 (1-1) surrounded Russian attack versus Stalino. The Russians needed a 5 or 6 to win; any other result would yield a German victory. Against the backdrop of a small crowd which had gathered to watch, the die was cast, the Russians were repulsed, and George claimed a well-earned victory and his first ever TRC WBC crown. Congratulations George!