One of the neat things about historical miniatures wargaming is its cottage industry status. In other words, although there are some full-time major players pumping out rules, figures and accessories, there are also oodles of smaller firms, some full-time and some not, doing great work as well. So while Flames of War (hammer) might be the 800 lb gorilla in the realm of 20th Century armored warfare, the Seven Days to the River Rhine rules by Great Escape Games is a top notch alternative using the same scale and basing system.
And, IMHO, it’s also easier to play, very realistic and a Hell of a lot more fun. Here’s why.
Seven Days to the River Rhine (Семь дней до реки Рейн, or SDRR for all you non-Russian types) was the name given to the top secret 1979 Soviet plan for the invasion of Western Europe, a document that became not so top secret when Polish Defense Minister Radislaw Sikorsky released it to the public in 2005 to ‘educate the Polish public about the old regime.’ Moscow was less than amused, particularly when it was revealed that several Warsaw Pact nations considered the time schedule far too ambitious and current NATO analysts labeled it downright nuts.
This is the setting for SDRR, NATO vs the Category 1 Divisions of GSFG (Group of Soviet Forces Germany) sometime in the 80s and 90s. The time frame is important because it means that while some relatively modern equipment packages like the British Challenger tank are on hand, the ultra-modern French AMX-56 Char Leclerc is not. Default game scale is 15 mm where each mech model represents one real vehicle and the infantry represent squads, fire teams or specialty sections such as heavy machine guns. Mounting seems to be exactly like Flames of War (FOW), and in fact starter SDRR starter sets are bundled with Battlefront Team Yankee miniature sets. There is no time or ground scale given – I swear this must be a British thing designed to drive us Colonials nuts – but given the only weapons systems in the game that do not have unlimited range are light AT weapons like the US M-72 LAW (12 inch range), my guess is maybe 20 yards per inch.
The rule book is full color paperback, though I snagged mine digital as a free perk from WI Prime, with a cost of £15.00 to include card deck. National Command Tokens are an additional cost, but quite frankly I used a lot of those unprinted, extra counters from boardgames and they work just fine. The book itself is 44 pages long of easy to play rules, plus four generic scenarios (Meeting Engagement, Escalating Engagement, Capture and Breakthrough), data sheets on the Soviet army plus all opposing NATO countries, a single page quick reference sheet and special sections for fighting multi-player games and so on. Print is large, spacing wide and illustrations plentiful, so this is not a complex game, though some of the Queens English may take a bit of deciphering for Americans. And for those of us who actually did this for real (that would be me, US Army intel type, in Germany dealing with guess who), some of the phrasing did evoke a chuckle. For example the US Army’s M-901 ITV (Improved TOW Vehicle) is called a “cherry picker” by the authors because of its lift up ATGM launcher. However, in 1st “Old Ironsides” Armored Division and everywhere else in Uncle Sam’s army, we lovingly called them “Hammerheads.” Nevertheless, this was the kind of stuff that made reading quite enjoyable.
One thing that I really liked was the use of QR codes within the rules. This allows the reader further explanation of important sections by scanning a QR Code that will take him directly to a YouTube video which explains the appropriate process in painstaking detail, with examples to boot. To me this is a pretty forward thinking way to do business. Instead of adding extra verbiage and pages the customer will ultimately pay for, why not leverage the technology of the digital age. This is the shape of things to come.
Gunner, Sabot, Moving Tank . . . Fire!
Winning in SDRR requires mastering the ability to control tabletop chaos which comes in two forms – Command Tokens and Tactical Advantage Cards (TACs). The game uses a highly integrated sequence of play, so the ability to react to the unexpected both offensively and defensively, is far more important than detailed planning. Consider the typical two player game.
Prior to the beginning of each turn each player collects Command Tokens for his side, one per vehicle, APC with squad, foot only squad or speciality section, plus an additional two for any unit designated as the Battlegroup Commander. If a unit is lost, so is one Command Token permanently. Then at the beginning of the turn the two players have a 1D10 roll off, with the high die winning the Initiative and thus deciding whether he or his opponent will start first. Initiative remains with this player until he a) expends all his Command Tokens, or b) he voluntarily passes the Initiative to his opponent or c) his opponent steals the Initiative away when expending one of his own Tokens in Reaction.
Whenever a player wants a vehicle or squad to perform a function, one Command Token must be expended. Possible functions include Move, Shoot, Embark and Disembark, and one Token will allow any two of these Actions to be performed in combination. For example, a tank may Shoot and Move using one Token, or Move and Shoot instead. Certain single functions, however, count as two Actions. For example, firing an ATGM counts as two Actions, as does a Rapid Move. Later in the turn a unit can use another Token again if any are left, but here a 1D6 must be rolled and the resulting number must be greater than the number of Tokens already used. Again as an example, if a BTR60P has already used two Tokens, to use a third it must roll above a two.
But your enemy can React, and here is where SDRR gets REAL interesting. When a player attempts to activate a vehicle or squad to perform Actions using a Command Token, his opponent can attempt to supersede him by using one of his own. Assume the player directs a German Leo II tank to rumble across the road. The Soviet player could React by expending his own Token and announcing an opportunity fire against the Leopard. A 1D6 is rolled and depending upon target type and terrain, various results are needed to succeed. In this case, the Russian would need to roll a 3+ to React to a main battle tank doing something in the open. After the Reaction function is finished, the original player continues unless the Reaction roll was a six, which additionally passes the Initiative over to the enemy player who begins the same process.
If you figured the game couldn’t get any dicier, you would be wrong. This is where the TACs come into play of which each player gets five with the ability to discard two he doesn’t like and select two more. These may be expended at any time by both players, to include playing a TAC to counter your opponent’s playing a TAC. Typical TACs include the ability to call in a one-time Precision Guided Munitions artillery strike, or allow an MBT to use Depleted Uranium Munitions. Call in an Airstrike? Yup, there’s a card for that, as well as an Anti-Air card that could be played by your opponent to negate the bombs dropping. Heck, moving vehicles thru rough terrain is damned unpredictable. Here a 1D6 die roll is need to determine whether the unit moves on through or stops dead when entering. There is no flat, degraded movement rate for such real estate, thus its difficult to predict how far a unit might maneuver until it tries
All above is the heart and soul of SDRR. Nevertheless, I did notice a couple of other bits of chrome worth mentioning. First, there are rules for formations and tactics, to include expending a single Token to activate an entire multi-vehicle platoon, or cutting a vehicle’s movement in half if within 12 inches of enemy infantry without friendly “Grunts” in support to counteract them. And as one might expect, the general rule of thumb in the game is that NATO equals quality, the Soviets quantity. Thus there is a rule for catastrophic explosion on Soviet vehicles due to lowest bidder designed ammunition storage, while taking out the Battlegroup Commander results in a permanent loss of Command Tokens equal to the number on a 1D6 roll for NATO, but a 2D6 for the Soviets. Actual fire combat and the like is reasonably standard.
After Action Report
I don’t play this period much because its too much like what I did in the service for 20 + years. But then again when you assist training the US Army’s 32d Guard Motorized Infantry Regiment for the National Training Center, you emerge with a pretty good inkling on at least how the Russians were supposed to do business. Now combine this with numerous Reforgers over in Germany, courtesy of the US army. No its not the same as having the pleasure of a Soviet 120 mm APFSDS round whistle by your ears, but IMHO more than enough to conclude that real war does not operate according to a formal, scripted, alternating sequence of play. Its unanticipated unpredictability wrapped around an enigma times 10, making you realize when Napoleon said the best generals were the one’s “who were lucky,” he wasn’t kidding.
It all means Seven Days to the River Rhine does an excellent job of capturing this uncertainty, making gameplay a nail biting quality vs quantity showdown, often not decided until the last turn. If you really want to move closer to the way it really could have been and are up to the challenge, this game is an exceptional choice. I’m impressed and I highly recommend it.