Designed by Craig Besinque & Tom Dalgleish
Published 1991 by Columbia Games
This review copyright 1991, 1997 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated November 2, 1997

EastFront is a fresh treatment of a classic wargaming topic: the German/Russian conflict, 1941 to 1945. It is strategic in scale: the map covers from Poland to Stalingrad, Finland to Turkey. Units represent corps for the Germans and armies for the Russians. There are two turns and one production phase each month.

At this point, resemblance to any other Eastern front game ceases. There are no cardboard counters in EastFront. The game has handsome wooden blocks and an attractive thick cardstock (not paper) map.

Two important game mechanics arise effortlessly out of the wooden blocks: limited intelligence ("fog of war") and step reduction. When in play, a block stands on end so the opposing player cannot see the unit type or current strength. As a unit takes hits, the block is rotated from the highest number around the edge to one less, until eliminated.

Game mechanics are thus relatively unobtrusive, yet still provide realistic and enjoyable results. There is no "number crunching" in this game; no looking around for one more attack factor to achieve a safe 3 to 1. You simply decide what your objectives are (there are plenty to choose from) and allocate your forces the way a real general would.

Command Control is of vital importance in EastFront, and handled beautifully. Each player has a number of headquarter units (HQs), which are also wooden blocks. During his turn, a player must first activate as many HQs as desired by flipping them face up in place. An HQ has a command radius equal to the number currently at the top of the block: any piece within that radius may move. In addition, each side has a High Command HQ which allows some units to move whether in command radius or not.

Active HQs also can support battles within their command radius, which allows a better chance of success. The battle phase begins after all movement is ended. An HQ may call an Air Strike into one battle hex, which is resolved first. Then the defending units get defensive fire, and finally the attackers get offensive fire. If both sides still have units in the hex, the battle continues the next turn. However, it might stalemate, as battle reactivation is optional after the first intrusion.

Combat resolution is simple and tends to minimize luck. Instead of a single die roll that decides the outcome of a battle, players roll a number of dice for each unit equal to the combat value: the number on the top edge of the unit. Terrain and unit type affect what constitutes a hit: "single fire" means that one hit is scored for each "6" rolled. Double fire means a hit is scored on either a 5 or a 6, and so on. Terrain can also award double defense, which means the unit only takes one hit for every two hits scored.

At the end of battle, each HQ is reduced one level and stands back up. The expenditure of an HQ level represents, in an abstract way, the material, time and effort required to deploy troops. Once again the game mechanics simplify a task that many wargames make overly detailed. HQs may also "blitz" - drop two steps in one turn - to exploit a breakthrough. HQs and regular units may be built up in the production phase; production centers are thus major objectives.

EastFront's rules are a model of clarity. While the game is on the low end of moderate complexity, in a wargame that still means you have to hunt up a rule now and then. The rules appear to have been written unambiguously in direct response to my questions - a remarkable achievement! While there are a few minor omissions, an errata sheet is available from Columbia Games. As of the fall of 1997, Columbia is planning a "final" version of all their Front games, probably due out in early 1998.

On the whole, this is a superb game. In addition to a learning scenario, there are eight full scenarios (4-6 hours each) which can be linked if desired. We actually prefer to play the Barbarossa scenario, and see how far we can get. Play balance is achieved by handicapping the appropriate side a certain number of victory points. The game provides the right mix of tension and elation that is the hallmark of a great wargame. High replay value (due to the limited intelligence), quality components, smooth game mechanics and clear rules make it well worth its price tag. For those who like (or would like to try) a low-to-moderate-complexity wargame, this game is among the best. Well done, Columbia!

Read the review of the expansion set for EastFront, VolgaFront

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