Moscow Burning (Command 40)

 

This is the twin of Buena Vista which I have yet to play which due to an all too common subscription mix-up arrived in the same envelope as the Bulge double issue. Of the 3 games Moscow Burning is the simplest and least historical. My excuse for punching and playing this and only this game is a strange interest in recent Russian history (I have also played Objective Moscow and 6mm Afghan 1980s games). Frankly anyone lacking this sort of impetus is unlikely to bother with Moscow Burning.

 

The game is harmless enough but seriously lacks depth and is best seen as the sort of game played after another has finished early. The basic premise is some sort of armed coup in Russia where the 1st few weeks see well equipped Airmobile units race to capture key cities with limited aid from slow moving ground forces. The game stops after 10 turns (30 days) although 1 side may give up well before then, this can lead to some very short games. The 2 sides are labelled Red and White each of which rolls for control of a city hex at the beginning of the game and gains use of the intrinsic militia. Each side also controls 3 Airmobile units which take 6 hits to kill compared to the militia which have only 1 step and the ground units that appear by random event and possess 2. The key point in set up is that although both sides have 3 mobile units either side has a 50% chance of controlling a city and its static militia. Victory is gained by controlling cities so poor dice luck can give a faction a set up that cannot produce a win prompting another round of setting up. Random events occur at the beginning of every game turn and are generally linked to control of cities. The most common random event is the generation of 1D6 ground units each at a randomly chosen city, naturally if you control more cities more ground units are going to support you giving a landslide effect which tends to shorten games further.

 

The map is a bit of a shock in that terrain is mostly city and road, the marshes and forests of Russia are absent. This seems pretty odd until the scale and objective of the game are considered. The Airmobile units will be flying about and not bothering with terrain while other units are either immobile or will be sticking to roads to get anywhere. With victory being based on cities most combat will occur in cities or at roads closeby. The city militia units have 1D6 strength points determined randomly each time that they are used. They die on 1 step loss but take losses only after all friendly units in the hex are destroyed. Other units start at strength 6 and with luck can take a city hex on their own, 2 units should make certain but to hold that city hex 1 of the attackers must be left behind or the opposition will sidle up and re-take the hex. To get anywhere you need an excess of units over the enemy which can happen in localised corners of the map due to the set up or hope that random events will bring in more units than the opposition gets. Ground units are fixed by random events and none at all may turn up after turn 1 (leading to a tag like game), new Airmobile units appear at the end of each turn, 2 on turn 1, 1 on other turns. Each side has a 50% chance of gaining control of these units which appear on any friendly city.

 

The by-word to this game is luck, I have played it about 8 times (some attempts did not last long enough to count as games) with a decent go lasting some 45 minutes. The general outcome is for the factions to try to control groups of cities in distinct areas. Moscow is a block of 10 adjacent city hexes with several other cities not far away. This can be a mess in the early game turns leading to an 1 side taking all Moscow and garrisoning it with non-militia units. If the opposition controls many other cities there is a scope for further play but loss of Moscow does not imply control of the rest of Russia. The random events bring in new units, give air support for 1 turn or block off a city for 1 turn for various reasons. The plague events blocks off 1 extra city every turn of the game and can close down play in many areas if it is drawn on turn 1. The Ukrainian army can also turn up and in theory win the game (both players lose) but will generally not show and can be blocked by a couple of mobile units even if in doing so that player will eventually lose himself.

 

Clearly the game is not history and does not reflect the course of events in Yugoslavia where a city could not be taken in a few days, still the random element has some reflections of the Albania situation. The game may end in 1 side having an obvious victory or a firming up of front lines as a prelude to a longer war. It is a shame that there is no attempt to extend the situation over a longer time with serious forces having a go in conventional fashion, front lines, armoured punches and all that. Owning Objective Moscow I can see an unlikely use as a scenario builder but the scenario as it stands is very shallow. The game would benefit greatly from set piece scenarios, different victory conditions (seize that before this happens) and different (less silly) random events. Unfortunately the core concept is not gripping enough to inspire this degree of work unlike games that are obviously flawed but have a certain charm which begs further attention. Moscow Burning may be colourful and playable if not always balanced but remains a quick fix rather than anything to mull over.

 

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