1941: Race to Moscow Review


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17 May 2023
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A sorry theme for sound design

I can see the rationale that led to this game’s creation. You release a well-received wargame that recreates US forces attacking Germany in World War II, but upset expectations by making the focus on logistics, where getting supplies where they’re needed is the meaty core to your puzzle. You want to improve on that core with new mechanics and more dynamic differences for players to contemplate, but can’t just use the same setting again.

The part where you then play as Nazis charging through Eastern Europe to Russia is where you lost me.
To clarify, there is no mention or direct iconography of the Nazi Party in any part of Race to Moscow. The game does mention and feature historical photographs of prominent German wartime figures, but only ever refers to them as ‘German army personnel.’ You are still playing as the logistical division of the World War II war machine, using trucks and (of all new things to include) trains to transport goods and build networks through Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania to name a few countries.

Mechanically, the game improves upon its predecessor in many ways. The challenge comes from 1-3 players each being responsible for one of the fronts that is trying to push into Russia. Moving forward costs food and oil, with the possibility of each step forward discovering more Russian forces which cost ammo to overcome. It’s not only difficult to get new supplies, but you must also find a way to logistically transport said supplies to the front lines, limited by the capacity of your transporting vehicles and ability to move (as trains without railroads aren’t moving anywhere fast, so prioritising which routes to establish are crucial.)

Success comes from not only planning three or four moves ahead, but making sure to work with your competing players, each struggling with their own unique challenges (such as controlling naval channels or covering a significantly wider map with a greater quantity of units) but all working to ensure a constant stack of Soviet tokens remains, as if these run out, the game ends with whichever player earned the most medals earning a sort of pyrrhic victory.

Production quality has also vastly improved from its spiritual predecessor, with better looking cards, miniatures, tokens and game board that give the game a tactility and scope that reinforce the necessity to look at this as less a wargame (though it absolutely is still a wargame at its core) and more of a management migraine where success is solvable if you can take everything you see into consideration.

Unfortunately, the game theme isn’t the least of the issues with getting this to the table. The rulebook is a mess that piles rule after rule in what feels like a haphazard list. Learning the game takes a significant amount of time more than most games and you will most likely fail your first few games, but only realise many turns after you’ve made irredeemable mistakes, which can take over an hour to discover. Such a punishing game needed to have a coherent rulebook that clearly explained every hieroglyph printed on cards, without needing to lean on a 6-page document of rules corrections and FAQs online (especially when said document still doesn’t clarify other issues that cropped up in my playthroughs.)

If you can struggle through the rules and take onboard the historical baggage that the game clumsily ignores, there is a fascinating mechanical core that I would have loved to play in literally any other scenario or setting. As it stands, only buy if Race to Rhine wasn’t challenging enough.

Matthew Vernall

PLAY IT? NO

I can’t in good faith recommend you buy a game this expensive with such a flawed rulebook and tone-deaf setting, which is a shame when the logistical puzzle is genuinely interesting.

TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED Race to the Rhine...

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Whilst the original version is out of print, a new edition of Race to the Rhine is on the horizon, recapturing the hair-pulling frustration of slogging through enemy territory, showing war in a way rarely presented in any game

Designer: Waldemar Gumienny

Publisher: Phalanx

Time: 120m

Players: 1-4

Ages: 14+

Price: £110

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