No Retreat 11/02/2012 (Nick)

From the small unit actions on the Russian Front of “Fighting Formations” last time, this week we take several steppes up (sorry) to a simulation of the entire war on the Russian Front with “No Retreat” from GMT Games. I’m a sucker for any game which recreates the Eastern Front in a playable form (no brain-burners which take a year to play, thank you). Though we have played a few Eastern Front games, (notably and enjoyably the Barbarossa scenario from “Europe Engulfed”) I felt we hadn’t found the perfect match for our style of play –  we can’t leave games set up, and only have 4-5 hours at a time to play – but after 1 game of “No Retreat” I think we might have.

The mounted mapboard

“No Retreat” is a clever combination of cards and traditional hex-and-counter mechanisms. In this it sounds not unlike “Stalin’s War” (which we’ve played previously, which also uses cards, but to actually activate the units for combat and provide reinforcements as well as to trigger events. However, being based on the “Paths of Glory” system, a full game of “Stalin’s War” can take a long time to play. In “No Retreat” every unit can move, but only a certain number can attack (usually 5, but this can vary with the weather and game turn). Replacements can come from dead or surrendered units, but the price to get them back is simply 1 or 2 cards – it doesn’t matter what the card event says, it is ignored. Cards don’t drive the game, but add uncertainty and chrome (combat benefits, retrieving events from the discard file, moving during the opponent’s turn etc).

Initial setup

In our game, Nick was the Germans, needing to get to 24 VPs or take Moscow and one other strategic objective (most likely Leningrad given the 5 turn time limit, but Sevastapol in the south is also a possibility). I fell back trying to form a defensive line, but defended too heavily in the south, where I actually managed to stop his advance altogether. However, in the north around Leningrad I didn’t get the chance to turn the Soviet unit into a fortified one (I didn’t have a spare card to do it in time), but an EX result stopped Nick moving into the city after combat. I then put a replacement unit in but a bad combat result forced a counterblow, and Leningrad fell on turn 4. On the same turn Nick took Moscow with 2 Panzer armies, but I managed to get reinforcements into Tula and was able to cut off the German supply with a counter attack which re-took Smolensk. The Panzers died in the next turn as the attempts to re-supply them failed against some good cards I had, and the placement of a cadre unit in Tula after the unit defending it was wiped out.

Sevastapol under threat

On turn 5 Nick had to go all out to re-take Moscow, as he was not close to winning the game on victory points alone. He managed to get enough units into contact to make it pointless for me to waste cards forcing counterblows.  In the Moscow combat,  an EX or no effect result would have given the game to me so I played a card which forced Nick to use the Soviet CRT column which had 2 EX and 1 no effect result on it – a 50:50 chance – the game was going to go down to a single die roll (or not!). Nick played a card which allowed him to roll 2 dice and pick the best result and one of the rolls (even with a 2 column shift against him) resulted in a DR and the Soviets had to retreat  leaving Moscow to the Germans again. Due to a lot of my better units being in the south, I didn’t really have enough strength to guarantee success in re-taking the city, but I had nothing to lose by trying. Nick wisely drew off my best unit by paying a card for a counterblow and the attack fizzled out.

Three hours to play 5 turns is not bad at all by our standards, especially as this was the first time out for the game. We are still getting to grips with the rules, especially in the use of counterblows to dilute attacks, and the effects which could be triggered by card play were all new to us so our card choices probably weren’t optimum – I should have spent a card fortifying Leningrad for example. It was a really tense finish which could have gone either way, so expect another game of this when we reconvene in a couple of weeks time.


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