REVIEW: Combat Infantry EastFront

Last year Columbia Games released the second installment in their World War II tactical series, Combat Infantry EastFront 1941-43. A follow up to the WestFront edition released in 2017, the two games together mark Columbia’s fore into platoon level block games.

Before continuing, a brief disclaimer: prior to its release, I assisted Columbia Games with scenario play testing and rules book editing. I also designed one of the six scenarios along with Tom Dalgliesh of Columbia. Finally, Columbia provided me with a review copy of the game. So to some degree, this may be as much a preview as it is a review.

Even with my involvement, it’s important to note that I was already a huge fan of the WestFront edition, having reviewed the game shortly after its release.

The rules set for EastFront is the same as WestFront. As Columbia notes on their site:

“The game system features innovative and interactive rules for Fire Combat, Close Combat, Morale, and Leaders. The game is sophisticated, yet very playable.”

Game turns are comprised of HQ activations, as command integrity is maintained within each company & platoon.

Activated units can choose to either Rally, Move, or Fire combat. If activated units move into an enemy controlled hex, a three round Assault sequence follows.

Most infantry blocks have an F2 or F3 firepower; with company assets such as mortars, machine guns, and anti tank guns having F4-F6 firepower.

There are also a good selection of battalion weapons such as Soviet T-34’s and German Tiger tanks.

Combat Infantry uses ten sided dice for both combat resolution and morale rolls.

Just like the WestFront edition, EastFront’s components include:

  • 2 geomorphic maps (16.5’’ x 22” each)
  • 132 Blocks: 66 red, 66 black
  • 22 yellow wooden markers
  • Unit Label sheet (1)
  • 6 scenarios
  • 4 x d10 dice

A brief comment about the rules: some have criticized Combat Infantry for terrain ambiguities and Line of Sight difficulties. There is merit to some of these complaints, many which come from veterans of tactical games such as ASL and Combat Commander.

EastFront largely avoids these occasional issues due to its two geomorphic maps; terrain has minimal elevation ambiguities and avoids the bocage/hedge features of the Westfront edition. In addition, several rules clarifications (as well as several BGG threads), have answered many questions about LOS.

Scenarios also play very smoothly as most avoid large block counts, rather opting for only one or two companies per side. This lower block count permits for more tactical decisions and maneuverability, which is further aided by stacking limitations and map scale (100 meters per hex).

In a previous post I discussed a few of the more unique features of the series:

There is no Opportunity Fire (this is handled through defender first fire in assault); Suppression Fire is represented by the step reduction mechanic common to block games; and status markers are eliminated, with units either upright, face-up, or face-down depending on status.

Due to its game turn sequence and required HQ activation, Combat Infantry lends itself well to solitaire play. Probably 50% of my gameplays are solo. The rulesbook provides optional instruction for solitaire play.

Most scenarios can be played in 1-2 hours, requiring 5-8 game turns. I have found them to be balanced overall, with most, however, providing a definite & difficult victory challenge for one side or the other.

In the coming years there is the promise of more expansions and stand alone games in the series.

From additional units for EastFront (possibly Panzergrenadiers), to possible stand alone games for other theaters (North Africa or the Pacific), Combat Infantry will only get better. In the meantime, Columbia continues to publish new WestFront scenarios several times a year, many designed by fans themselves.

For someone like myself, a fan of faster playing block games like Julius Caesar, Hammer of the Scots, and Columbia’s ACW games, a fast playing, tactical level, block wargame is a welcomed edition to my library.

Photo credit: Brian Williams/WarGame Blockhead

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