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Posted on Jan 15, 2010 in Boardgames

The Caucasus Campaign – Boardgame Review

By Michael Peccolo

The Caucasus Campaign. Board game by Mark Simonitch. Published by GMT Games. $49.00.

Passed Inspection: The map has large hexes on a nicely illustrated map, and there are 5/8" counters. Good examples of play, challenging game play for both players.

Failed Basic: Double-move system is a little fiddly; game set-up instructions not crystal clear and some hexes have locations numbers that are difficult, if not impossible, to read.

The game can really become a nail-biter in the last few turns.

The Germans were across the Sal River and the Soviet commander of the 51st Army was in a bind. The German 14th Panzer Division was rampaging who-knows-where and there was another panzer division following. He had ordered the 155th Tank brigade to counterattack west from its position south of Dubovskoe, but there was no word of late, and Stukas were all over the sky. Now, he had just heard that remnants of the 91st Infantry Division were in full-blown retreat. If he didn’t pull back his troops now to the Manych River, he may very well not be able to block the road to Salsk. To his west the reports from the 37th Army were just as bad. As he discussed this move with his staff, he was interrupted by his Commisar who said, "Comrade General, you must stand your ground as stated in Order #227 from Stalin. Talk of withdrawal is defeatist. The Germans will be stopped if you make your men fight to hold back the attack."

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The Caucasus is lost in discussions of the War in the East as many tend to talk about the German blitz thru western Russia, the meat grinder at Stalingrad, the great masses of tanks at Kursk or the desperate struggles by the Germans to stem the tide of the Red Army late in the war. Some, like myself, are familiar with the resources produced in the Caucasus region and the German desire to add these to their hungry industrial machine but are generally unfamiliar with the struggle that occurred here. I was pleasantly surprised to find a great campaign with lots of land space and not enough troops for either side in this new board game from GMT Games. The Caucasus Campaign can be set up and easily played in a day.

The rules book is nicely printed with unit counters shown in color, something I hadn’t seen in a GMT product before. The counters are the nice, big, 5/8" style and separate easily from the sheet. Many of the counters are printed front and back and all information needed for play is easily readable. The map is nicely illustrated, and the counters fit easily within the boundary of a hex. There are two cards with the game charts on them, which will allow the player to keep one flipped to the TEC side and the other to the CRT. The game is rounded out with a nice, large die and zip-lock bags for counter storage.

Much of the game has standard features with ZOCs, supply lines, road movement and advances after combat, but there are several little tweaks to keep in mind while playing. First, exiting a ZOC only costs extra movement points – no other penalties – and a unit can advance after combat across multiple hexes as long as it doesn’t move from one ZOC to another ZOC of the same enemy unit. Second, the benefits of road movement can only be used as long as the moving unit doesn’t enter an enemy ZOC. In addition, if a unit doesn’t end its move in an enemy ZOC it can also use extended movement, which gives it an extra two movement points. Third, the rail lines and roads of the region are important to supply; to be in full supply a unit must be able to trace a path of five hexes to a rail line or road that travels to an entry hex.

The turn sequence is different, and it does seem to put the Soviets at a slight disadvantage.

The Caucasus Campaign Turn Sequence

A turn begins with the Axis Initial Phase, in which the Axis player places reinforcements and previously removed HQs, rolls for replacements and, on turns 6-14, rolls to determine weather.

This is followed by the Axis Primary Impulse phase, in which Axis and Soviet air support markers are flipped to "ready." The Axis player conducts movements, receives reinforcements (if any), and carries out combat.

Then comes the Soviet Secondary Impulse phase, when Soviet movement is made at reduced rates and Soviet-initiated combat is carried out. Next comes the Axis Secondary Impulse phase, which is identical to that of the Soviet. The Axis player completes his turn by checking supply, rolling for attrition in isolated units and removing disruption markers.

Then the Soviet Player Turn begins. It generally follows the same course as the Axis Turn, but the Soviet receives random reinforcements and must roll on the Soviet Event Table at the beginning of his turn.

The Axis player is under the gun to win; the Soviet player must be ready to watch dead units pile up, but, if they prevent the German from getting the needed victory points, either by a timeline or by the end of the game, the Soviets win. There are no middle-of-the-road victories here.

The majority of the units represented are divisions and brigades; specialized regiments and other units like armored trains and StuG brigades are also present. The German has only a limited number of units and, until Hitler takes command, replacements only come at a trickle. The most powerful armor units slowly get whittled away and usually end up sitting, waiting to receive replacements just when the player really needs those units.

The Soviet starts with many depleted units and receives a constant stream of reinforcements, but many of them are also depleted. Some units can combine and there are replacements, but, often the Soviets need bodies to plug the line and there just aren’t quite enough to go around.

Caucasus Combat

The Combat Results Table goes from low odds of 1:2 up to 9:1. Troop quality, armor, AT, naval support and air support can provide column shifts, and terrain may add in a Defensive Terrain Benefit (DTB) to the defense factor. A full -strength Soviet infantry division has a defense of five – but put them in a major city or the mountains and they get a +5 DTB, making their defense factor a 10.

During movement, players can make attacks at 10 to 1 and receive an auto kill of all defenders. This will end the movement of the attacking units but will allow others to move thru the defender’s hex.

The CRT is rather straightforward, with step losses, exchanges and defender-retreat results. The attacker will find that at 3:1 odds half of the results will cause a step loss and only one result will not force the defender back. But drop down to a 2:1 attack and the attacker will take step losses two-thirds of the time and one-third of the results will not force the defender back. The attacker always runs a one-third risk of step loss until odds reach 7:1, after which it drops to a sixth.

The German really does not have it easy. The first turn or two can be great as his units bash thru the Soviet line and gobble up the slow Russian infantry units, but as German units advance, they start to get spread out and losses begin to become an issue. When Hitler takes command replacements increase, but weather starts to be a problem. The game can really become a nail-biter in the last few turns.

The rules come with complete examples of two turns of play that lay out most of the game’s mechanics completely. This is a normal GMT Games trait, and I have found it to be very useful in quickly learning the mechanics of any of their games.

The Russian player will feel like a punching bag with few opportunities to attack until the middle or late in the game. It truly is a defensive game that will require the Russian to conduct a withdrawal under pressure and identify where to establish defensive lines. This may be a turn-off for some players.

In play, the German has a rousing start as the Soviets are under the effects of Order #227 prohibiting Soviet retreats. With patience, the Soviet can slowly give ground and frustrate the Axis, and over time begin to make spoiling attacks at vulnerable points and possibly gain back victory points or stymie Axis attempts to seize the final few VPs needed to win. This is a nicely balanced design with enough variables to insure no two games will play the same.

About the Author

Michael Peccolo is a retired Armor Major from the US Army with overseas duties, Company commands and additional assignments in recruiting and ROTC. He lives in Tennessee where he raises horses with his wife.

1 Comment

  1. Nice review, but not sure what is “fiddly” or what that even means about the double move. What it tries to deal with is the problems with Drive on Stalingrad and others have — fast moving Germans that are slowed down by punishing supply rules that lack reality. As far as the Russians just defending for the first have of the game, well that’s pretty realistic I believe. The Germans came very close to getting Gronzy, but no cigar.

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