Holowczyn Battle of the Moscow Road Review

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Holowczyn: Battle of the Moscow Road By Swedish Game Production

Combat Series No.1, 1980.  Review written by Leonard Krol.

This could have been one of the most decisive battles in history. Instead it is a Pyrrhic victory that has been largely forgotten.  When Charles XII ascended to the throne of Sweden, a coalition of nations (Demark, Poland and Russia) declared war on Sweden causing the great Northern war (1700-1721). They thought Charles was too young to oppose them. Later they learned that they had a tiger by the tail, Charles was one of the great military leaders of his time.

Charles XII first invaded Denmark and knocked them out of the war. He then invaded Russia. At Narva, Charles attacked a Russian force that was ten times larger and routed them. He presumed that the Russians would surrender later. Not wanting to wait, Charles marched on Poland. After a few battles, he knocked Poland out of the fight. Russia made no move to negotiate for peace, so it was time to march against Russia again. On New Year’s Day 1708, Charles invaded Russia. You will note that Charles invades Russia in the winter. He is one tough guy and that is why he is deep in Russia to fight this battle on July 4th.


Each hex is 160 meters. Each game turn is 30 minutes. Each strength point is 100 soldiers or two cannons.

The Units

There are three types of units: infantry, cavalry, and artillery. They are Battalion size. Infantry and cavalry cannot stack, with the exception of one artillery unit. Each infantry and cavalry unit has two ratings. The number on the left is the combat rating while the one on the right is the morale rating. Artillery has a firepower rating and range.

Infantry units can form squares for defense in melee, but cannot move and fire attacks hurt them more. Both infantry and cavalry can change into columns to increase movement at the cost of combat effectiveness

Dragoons are the only cavalry units that have firepower. They can fire at full strength while dismounted, or at a reduced strength while mounted.

Most artillery units have a range of one. One Russian and three Swedish batteries have longer ranges. Artillery can either move or shoot. If forced to retreat, the artillery unit is lost.

Leaders have a rating and this number increases the morale of any unit they are stacked with.

The Map

By 1980’s technology the map is good. All the terrain is easily marked and defined. There is even a separate sheet to track the turns and what phases you are in.

Turn sequence

A: First player turn

1) Formation change

2) Movement Phase

First, reinforcements enter, then regular movement, then routed units move.

3) Defensive fire phase

4) Offensive fire phase

5) Melee phase

a) Attacker rolls morale to determine which units attack

b) If any attacking units pass morale, then defensive units check morale. If they fail, the unit routs.

c) Melee execution phase.

6) Rally phase

B) Second player turn The other player repeats step 1-6.

There are two types of combat: fire combat and melee. In fire combat, you total up your firepower points and roll a D6. The result is the number of hit points you inflict, or you may have no effect. There are two fire phases: defensive and offensive. In defensive fire, you can only fire into adjacent hexes, while in offensive fire you can fire out to your maximum range. Infantry have a maximum of two hexes, while artillery can fire farther.

If you are adjacent, you can melee. First the attackers roll for morale, then the defenders. If anyone is still there, you can melee. The attackers total up their attack strength and morale, and any leader ratings and divide by the number of combat units. The defender adds his combat and morale strength. The attacker is compared to the defender. The differential (+1, +2, ect.) will tell you what table to roll on. In Melee, units may get an “engaged” result. This means both units lose a strength point and must melee again in the next Melee Phase.

Except at high odds or strength, you tend to grind the units down.

The Battle

The area is very swampy so it was lightly held by the Russians. This encouraged the Swedes to attack. They were hoping for a quick victory.

The Russians set up first. The ID number for the starting units is printed on the back, which made setup a breeze. For reinforcements, the turn and entry point is listed on the back. Due to poor scouting the Russians cannot move the first turn, and only four units are active in the second turn.

The Swedes come in from the North. They can carry pontoon bridges. It takes a turn to set up the bridges.

At the end of 12 turns, the players total up points. You get points for each strength point lost with an extra point for each unit eliminated. The Russians get points if they keep certain roads clear of Swedish units. Russians also get 4 points if they eliminate 60 or more Swedish strength points.

I played this game twice. As a solo game my Swedes aggressively attacked. I would move next to a Russian unit, usually take one hit, during offensive fire inflict one hit, then melee. Hopefully, the Russian unit would fail morale and rout. Otherwise there would be a melee and more hits. The average infantry unit has strength of 4. It has a .33 chance of inflicting one hit, and a .16 chance of inflicting two hits, otherwise no hits are inflicted. In melee the attacker always seem to suffer one hit even at a high differential. After a couple turns of combat, your army will be ground down.

On turn 8, the Russians receive four fresh units on the B to C road. The Russian receives 5 victory points for holding this road. I diverted units to attack this menace. On the last turn I captured the road at a high cost. The rest of my forces were attacking the Russians in the forest before the road south from Visoki. This road is worth 10 victory points. After a ferocious battle that left few Russian units standing, but I failed to cut the road.

I counted up the victory points. Due to the heavy Swedish losses, the Russians scored more points.

I then played with a friend. He was the Swedes and I was the Russians. He moved more carefully. It took him six turn to cross the river. I reorganized my defense to take advantage of good defensive terrain. He attacked strongly and I took heavy losses. I delayed him enough to form a second defensive line in the forest covering the road south from Visoki. I had a much stronger force than last game. Then he did two actions that surprised me. He refused to contest the B to C road. This gave the Russians 15 easy victory points. However when we counted up the victory points, the Swedes had a major victory. Historically, this is right. Charles XII won this battle and forced the Russians to retreat, he did not have enough soldiers to guard his lines of communication. He had to find some other way to defeat Russia. This would eventually lead to his defeat at Poltava.

There are problems. I presume all units that rout off the map are eliminated. The rules are not clear on this. I presume that the Swedish units with a () around their strength points cannot attack. The biggest problem is that there are not enough strength point markers.

This is a good clean system. It is easy to learn, easy to set up and play. I would play this battle again.

I wish they would use this system for other battles like Blenheim or Malplaquet.

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  • This covers a battle seldom represented in historical gaming
  • The game play is relatively quick.
  • This simulates the historical battle well.


  • Since this is an old game the map and counters are not as visually appealing as modern game components


Fun - 8
Originality - 9
Component Quality - 6
Replayability - 10
Average User Rating Write A Review 0 User Reviews
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1 Comment

  1. Nice review Len! I failed to attack your line protecting the B to C road because my forces were spread out and I assumed your coherent line would annihilate them if I attacked piecemeal.


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