Learning to Play GMT’s East Front Series: The Battle of Sumy

About a year ago I decided I really wanted to get involved with one of the “heavier ” game systems out there. After reading several posts on BGG that compared GMT’s “East Front Series” and MMP’s “Operational Combat Series” I decided to start with EFS.

The main reason I picked EFS over OCS came down to footprint. I was very impressed with the number of 1 map scenarios that came with each EFS game. I know many people will argue that the “full, 50+ turn Barbarossa campaign over four maps” is the best way to experience this game, and maybe one day I’ll be one of those people. But right now a single map experience with 15 or less turns is my preferred way to play.

Then I realized that the 80th anniversary of Operation Barbarossa was coming up in June. I’ve mentioned before that I tend to gravitate towards “anniversary gaming” and it just seemed like a perfect fit! Over the Christmas holidays I managed to mention the game titles so many times to my family they were literally forced to buy Army Group South and Crimea for me. I was able to pick up Army Group North and Kiev to Rostov on eBay for a steal as well. Army Group Center trends around $200 (too rich for my blood) right now, but I’m hopeful that the reprint will be shipping before the year is up.

I mean, I was pretty good last year.

I wanted to cut my teeth a little on some of the learning scenarios before June got here and I launched into Army Group North. So where to start? Each boxed game has at least one or two learning scenarios, and some of them have an extensive example of play included in the playbook. The Battle of Sumy from Kiev to Rostov got some high praise on the scenario list, so it seemed like a good entry to the series.

Similar to how I did for my campaign play through for “The Dark Sands” I’ll be using the “What Happened/What Did I Learn” format as I go through each section of the expanded sequence of play. Eventually I’ll move towards a more streamlined approach for this post as I become more comfortable with the rules.

Now Kiev To Rostov already has an example of play using the first two turns of this scenario…so why would I choose to do my own version? Here’s a few reasons:

  • I feel that if I write down all the steps they will “stick” better as I move to the bigger scenarios.
  • I’m hoping that people who have never played this system before will discover just how playable this rules system is.
  • I’m hoping for feedback from the most excellent folks at the ConSim World “EFS Series” folder. Very active group (including people who work on the game and rules) and they are always friendly and willing to help. I’m sure there are a few mistakes I didn’t catch and I’m hopeful this will be helpful documentation when they go to “debug” this AAR.
  • It’s fun. Like a lot of fun.

Ok so let’s do this! Also fair warning there is going to be a lot of Ivan Drago GIFS. Because those are also fun.

Turn #50

Strategic Segment

Really nothing doing here. This learning scenario nixed a lot of the stuff that would show up in the campaign or larger scenarios. But that’s ok because it lets me focus on the basics like the turn structure, terrain modifiers and combat procedures…and I still made mistakes so obviously I’m not ready for the whole enchilada just yet anyways.

Axis Player Segment

Axis Movement

What Happened

The Germans are pushing East and Southeast. The 9th Panzer Division is hoping to rout the Soviet force and then move East. Artillery and the 16th Mechanized Divison set up for a battle before crossing the river.

What I Learned

Two big things that I can tell I am going to have to remember. First, for road movement to count as being “on the road” you basically have to start on the road, stay on the road and end on the road. Otherwise you pay the regular terrain cost. Also, some terrain (like forests) are “in addition” to the other terrain cost. Also, most of the time you move one of your units into an enemy zone of control, you have to pay an extra movement point.

Axis Attack Declaration

What Happened

Uhhh…I attacked the guys I was next to. Well I placed the markers at least.

This learning scenario isn’t really about me implementing some “genius strategy”. I’m just trying to learn the dance steps. That being said my goal here with the Germans is to push southeast and then maybe rush back up the road system to snag those three juicy red stars (Victory Points).

So when I got to the attack phase…I realized I goofed up during my movement regarding a zone of control rule…but I’ll address that in just a bit.

I changed my mind….

What I Learned

So…at this point I decided that I should probably leave at least one unit behind to defend the town (and victory point location) of Lipovaya Dolina from any Soviet counterattack. So I pulled one out of the declared attack in 1511. Hey it’s my first time! Cut me some slack.

Soviet Reaction

What Happened

The only eligible Soviet units were the 129th and 1st tank brigades. The 129th moves towards Shtepovka and prepares to defend the town from the advancing Panzers. The 1st joins up with the forces west of the town to (hopefully) stall the German attack and set up for a possible counterattack with the units on the other side of the river. Now, looking back I realized I should have only activated one of those units. Each HQ has that command value in red, and I should only have done one reaction. Oh well.

What I Learned

I really like how this works because it is one (of several) asymmetric parts of the rules that really shows the historical difference between these two armies and their command structure. In short, a Soviet HQ unit has a certain amount of points it can spend to activated motorized units that:

  • Are within a 4-hex range of the HQ
  • Are NOT within a 4-hex range of an inoperative HQ.
  • Are within a 3-hex range of a declared attack.

I had been wondering “why is it so important I label all these declared attacks with these nifty markers?” but I can see why now. You need to keep track of all those attacks so you can see who is eligible for things like reaction. The activated units can use half their movement points, and there are also some restrictions involving where the activated unit can go, but the major idea is:

“If you put it next to an enemy unit it has to be into a hex of friendly units that was already defending a declared attack”

Axis Combat

First we handle close air support. The game rules suggest a neat option for solitaire play where you mix the dummy counters in with your actual mission units as a way to keep things interesting. I ended up guessing wrong with the Soviet fighters, so there will be no air combat this round because the German He111 unit was unopposed. That’s going to end up giving the Germans a -1 roll modification when we resolve this combat (low rolls=better attacks). I didn’t get a chance to use AA fire (fewer Russian units have it) but it will come up during the Soviet half of the turn.

Ok now it’s time to start resolving the attack…and that’s where I realized I made a rules whoopsie. Actually two rules whoopsies.


So here’s the deal. I had thought that those small river/canal hex sides stopped the zone of control…but they don’t. First I realized since the Soviet units across the river were projecting a zone of control into 1606, the Panzers in 1606 would have to include those Soviet units in the attack. Then I realized that I shouldn’t have even been allowed to move into hex 1606 because an enemy zone of control forces you to halt!

So here’s the easy fix. All the 9th Panzer Division moved into hex 1506. Happy? Good. Great. Wonderful. Let’s roll some dice.

There’s a decent checklist of things to go over when you are trying to get the final total for these attacks. The most interesting thing (and the thing I’ll have to remember to check) is the combined arms bonus and the Panzer divisional integrity bonus. The rules are available from GMT online if you want the full explanation, but here’s the basics:

  • Certain combinations of units get an attack bonus, as unless there’s bad weather…or there’s an armored unit…or the defense is in certain types of terrain.
  • If you have certain combinations of German armor and motorized infantry from the same division there’s an attack bonus.

Combat Resolution

Got some very good rolls here. Both of the smaller attacks in the southeast totally eliminated the Russian forces with no German step losses. The Russians defending against the 9th Panzer retreat to Shtepovka.

Axis Motorized Movement

I was able to move the 16th Motorized Division almost all the way to Lebedin. In the center of the map elements of the 25th Motorized Division have now surrounded some Soviet cavalry. They won’t be able to escape with infiltration movement, so there’s a chance they will surrender at the end of the Soviet turn if they can’t break out. The surrender rules in this scenario are a little different since there is no supply, but since they are surrounded by uncontested zones of control I still checked. No surrender!

Axis Engineering

Nothing really applicable in this scenario, so I will be skipping it for the rest of this post.

Soviet Player Segment

Soviet Motorized Movement

First, most of the Soviet reinforcements showed up on the road to Sumy. Pay no attention to the Guards unit hanging out in Sumy. I took the picture and realized they don’t get to come on the board until the movement section. I moved most of the armor and motorized infantry to Viry. I set up an attack in the center of the map by moving the armor units just West of Shtepovka. And you can use those Soviet HQ units to activate one “non motorized” unit in range. Perfect, I feel like I should have a decent counter attack on the 9th Panzer.

I also moved this motorized infantry down near Lebedin, and the plan will be to move the rest of the new forces down there later in the turn.

Soviet Attack Declaration

Here’s that attack I mentioned setting up in the motorized movement phase. Quick note on defending across those river hex sides: you don’t get the defense bonus (+DRM) to the combat unless everyone is attacking across the river. I didn’t really do anything in terms of Axis reaction so let’s skip to combat.

Combat Resolution

Go ahead, say something about clipping counters. I know you want to.

The Soviet mission units had free reign in the skies over the battlefield, but the German AA fire was able to drive them off. I got a “damaged” result so not only is there no close air support for the Soviets, but I won’t be able to use those planes for at least one turn. Phooey.

Yuck….Got a really bad roll here (I want to say 8) and even the CAS support wouldn’t have saved the Soviets. No step losses for either side, but the Soviets have to retreat.

Soviet Movement

Needing to regroup after the defeat, the Soviets move back to defend Shtepovka. The 2/4 Guards come on the board and race down to Lebedin.

Maybe you are wondering why I didn’t move the 227th Infantry Division? It’s because it was activated and moved during the motorized movement segment so it wasn’t eligible to be moved here.

Soviet Surrender

Only the Soviet cavalry was eligible, and they rolled a 10! No surrender!

Turn #51

Strategic Segment

Now I can talk a little about the air readiness portion. This is where you roll to see if your “damaged” air units can be moved to the “flown section, and likewise if your “flown” units before “ready”. I was not able to “ready” the He111, but some Bf109 reinforcements have arrived just in time.

Axis Air Interdiction

So the Axis can send mission air units on “interdiction” missions against Soviet HQ’s. Since those HQ units are necessary for things like reaction movement and “no retreat” orders, it really hampers the Russians when they are out of commission.

I again used the solitaire system described in the rules. Looks like we will have air combat! Well…it looked like it for a second. I Rolled on the air initiative chart but got the no combat result. But then, the Soviet HQ AA fire forced a mission abort! Oh those Soviet HQ’s! Is there anything they can’t do!?

FYI there’s a lot they can’t do. Like have a zone of control…or attack…

Movement + Axis Attack Declaration

Condensed some of the decision making here. We have a lot attacks going on! Maybe too many… 🤔

Soviet Reaction

This is why I wanted that interdiction! The motorized infantry was able to move in and support the defense against the 9th Panzer.

Axis Combat

Ugggghhhh I got to aggressive and it’s really going to cost the Germans. Every single attack resulted in either a step loss, or a German retreat. Those Russian defenders really pack a punch!

See what I did there? ⬆️ ⬆️ ⬆️
Some “cheese” retreats toward the Southeast will (hopefully) set up another assault towards Sumy.

Axis Motorized Movement

Was able to surround those armor units just outside Vasyevka. But I shouldn’t have moved those Panzers East because it opened up a huge hole for a Soviet counterattack. I thought about backtracking, but I decided to “play it where it lies”.

Soviet Player Segment

Soviet Motorized Movement

I forgot to take a picture here, so I just drew what happened. I actually like how this looked, so I’ll be coming back to the “map doodles” in just a bit.

Soviet Combat Declaration

This could be pretty rough for 20th/10th Motorized here. They are looking at 4-1 odds and there are no Axis fighter units available to oppose that Soviet mission unit.

Axis Reactions

Finally I get a chance here to talk about how the Germans handle the reaction movement. The rules are similar, but the Axis don’t need an HQ to be in range. I wasn’t able to move the 9th Panzer back far enough to support the defense, but they closed in for a potential counterattack.

Air Support + Combat Resolution

First, the German AA fire forced the air mission to abort. Then a bad roll forces the Soviets to lose a step, while the Germans retreat unscathed. Even at 4-1 odds nothing is guaranteed in this game.

Soviet Movement

The Defense of Sumy continues to strengthen, as AA reinforcements arrive.

Checked for surrender of the surrounded Soviet tanks. No surrender!

Turn #52

At this point I’m switching the format for the rest of this blog post. I’ll show my plan, maybe make some commentary about rules or what I learned, and then show how things ended up at the end of the Axis/Soviet segment. Green lines show planned movement, red lines show planned movement with a declared combat.

The Axis Plan

The chance for an Axis victory feels like it’s slipping away. I feel like at this plan a direct assault on Sumy. As I’m taking a second look at this movement I’m second guessing if payed the correct movement costs for the force that moved through the woods.

What Happened

Another valiant Soviet defense! All of the German forces from the Sumy attack were forced to retreat. They later rushed back to the center of the map in the motorized movement segment. The Germans found more success with the battle near Nedrigaylov where an entire Soviet armor regiment was destroyed.

What I Learned

Man the modifiers that Soviets get defending in a city are no joke! Attacking armor gets halved and there’s a +2 DRM. There’s several scenarios in Army Group North that have a lot of urban fighting and I can’t imagine how tough it’s going to be…

Soviet Plan

Since there were no attacks, there was no reaction or combat. The Soviet plan is to move into those victory point locations. Might get a chance to use some of those “no retreat” markers.

Turn #53

Axis Plan

This is it, it all comes down to a desperate German assault to take 3 separate victory point locations. With limited air support, this is a long shot.

What Happened

Nothing doing. After the first attack failed I knew the scenario was over, but I went ahead and rolled the rest of them just so see what happened. Soviets win.

I feel like I squandered those early Axis successes by trying to be in too many places at once. This CRT really encourages 3-1 odds or higher (which is realistic) and I feel like this scenario really shows how important those air units are when it comes to the DRM shifts.

Final Thoughts

  • I am realizing after looking back and finalizing this post that I am still trying to master the movement rules as far as terrain costs. You really…really need to pay attention. Even when you are on the roads there’s so many potential modifiers to keep an eye on. And this scenario didn’t even have any nasty weather to worry about!
  • Normally I stay away from things like “reaction/reserve” movement as a solo gamer. But the way the reaction works in this system is highly conducive to solo play. In fact this whole system feels phenomenally solo friendly.
  • There is a delicate balance between knowing when to “spread out” your stacks as a way to use ZOC to slow down the enemy, and when to pile ‘em up for better attack/defense odds. I’m obviously still figuring that balance out…
  • The air system is “just enough” in terms of complexity. It’s not as simple as “put down a plane counter and you get a better CRT result” like some games. But it’s also not such a beast to learn that you feel like it’s a separate game within the main game. I feel like this scenario really gives the player(a) a chance to dig in to the air combat system. If you have played some of the other learning scenarios that don’t have as many air units I would recommend taking this one for a spin as a crash course on how this game handles air combat and support.
  • I would like to play around with the artillery units some more. I got a taste of how they function, but always as part of an attack, never as a defense.
  • I was never able to get high enough odds for an overrun, and the community at ConSimWorld has talked a lot about how important it is for the Axis player to use and exploit that as a weapon. Definitely need to work that in for my next scenario if possible.
  • This scenario “hand waives” both attack and general supply. I’d like to get a little practice with both before I start with the chronological replay, so I’m planning a a modified play of “Rostov Redeemed” with the on map supply units for my next game.
  • As I mentioned way back at the beginning, the 2nd edition of Army Group Center is (hopefully) going to be published by GMT before the year is out. If you have been on fence about these games, or the high resale prices have kept you away, I HIGHLY encourage you to put in a preorder for the upcoming AGC/AGN/AGS reprints. Go track down a used copy of Crimea or Kiev to Rostov while you are at it. I had so much fun with this, and I can’t wait to share my next learning scenario with anyone who cares to read about it.

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