A fellow-gamer from Silicon Valley Boardgamers was looking to learn to play EastFront. EastFront being one of my favorite games, I was willing to help out.
Usually when I teach EastFront, I’m playing with people who have wargaming experience, so I’d start with the Summer or Winter 1942 scenarios, which are pretty well-balanced, interesting for both sides, and show off the game more than the more minimalistic Edelweiss intro scenario. But they are also pretty big, and since Dave hadn’t played much in the way of wargames, I went back to the rulebook and checked out Edelweiss, which I actually had never played.
It looked OK – it’s the push to the Caucuses by Army Group A in Summer 1942, alongside 6th Army’s ill-fated trip to Stalingrad. It’s got only one “combat” HQ and one “supreme” HQ per side, and a handful of units; but it does cover much of what you need to know. It’s got most of the terrain (including a river, the most important terrain type), it’s got all the important unit types, it’s got weather, the Germans have some blitz opportunities on turn one, the rail net is awkward out there so you have to worry about supply a bit, and there are enough production points involved to make things interesting.
It played OK too, even if it’s not going to really “sell” the game the way a great introductory scenario should. The Soviets lack any teeth in this scenario, so they’re just holding on – the Germans have all the firepower. With only one “real” HQ per side, your options are rather limited compared to the bigger scenarios, especially 1942 and 1943 where there are real titanic clashes. And I may be influenced by the fact that I played the Soviets and lost, but I really don’t see how they have any chance to win this scenario. The Germans just have to take exactly one city, Rostov (which is right on their start line, and the Soviets are anemically weak at start), then not lose any units (not an issue given that the Soviets have exactly one shock army – not even in play at start – and no armor) to force a draw. It seems like the Germans might need a bit more of a handicap in this one, although it was my first play of the scenario and I may have missed something.
Critically, though, we played in only about 2 hours, including talking through rules. OK, so the scenario isn’t great, but it does convey a pretty good feel for the system, and it plays quickly. So I think it works. But move on to 1942.
Every time I play EastFront, I am impressed by the game. It’s such an incredibly clean system for a medium-complexity wargame; having played Europe Engulfed just a couple days ago, a game that I quite like but can be a touch fiddly, the more streamlined play of EastFront stood out. Maybe EastFront doesn’t quite have quite the compact design elegance of Rommel in the Desert, but EastFront is also a grander, more dramatic game.