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Isn't That Special (Movement)?

Isn't That Special (Movement)?

Posted by John Tiehen on Nov 26th 2018

Isn’t That Special (Movement)?

What Your Forces Should Do to Prepare for the Future

By John Tiehen

ETO Special Movement PhaseThe Special Movement Phase, a cornerstone of the core Move-Fight-Move system in the Frank Chadwick’s ETO series, is Special (as opposed to Regular) in that it occurs before combat. This is the time where qualifying units can march, fly, rail, or sail – typically to redeploy long distances or to bring enemy units to battle on favorable terms. Notable Special Movement Phase activities include:

  • Placing HQ markers in Attack mode:
  •      o Strategic HQ makers can commit multiple Ground units from their Theater Reserve (springing off-map troops directly into a developing Battle situation) at this time. 

         o Arranging Battles with appropriate available Attack mode HQ shifts allocated (and Odds markers placed).

  • “Grunting” Leg Ground units that are not in EZOCs to nearby hexes.
  • “Rushing” non-Leg Ground units tither and yon.
  • “Oozing” (i.e., infiltrating and exfiltrating) non-Leg Ground units directly from one EZOC hex to another.
  • Strategically moving Ground units via Rail, Naval, or Air Transport.
  • Commit/deploy Air and Naval Strike and Bombing Missions (and their Escorts).
  • Commit/deploy Partisan Detachment markers to attack a City hex nearby.

  • Freedom of Action or Freedom of Faction?

    Mechanized warfare emphasizing Motorized unit maneuver is the soul of a Panzer Pusher wargame like Thunder in the East. Russia is vast – consider: gaze upon a full moon and illuminated before you is a land mass 1/8 the size of Earth; if you looked back from the moon at Russia, you are seeing something that is roughly the same size! Moreover, you can neither conquer nor defend such a vast area with half-vast planning. An invader must open up avenues of approach to conquer the myriad dispersed Soviet Objective hexes. Conversely, the defender must deny those avenues of access and, failing that, disrupt them to play for time. That is the simple yin-and-yang of the ground war in Russia.

    While every Ground unit can qualify for Special Movement, the discriminating factor here is each unit’s mobility class as follows (from lowest to highest):

    Leg Units: Your Leg units (those with a black Movement Allowance) that begin your Special Movement Step in an EZOC cannot move. Your Leg units that do not begin your Special Movement Step in an EZOC can move up to half their Movement Allowance (rounded up).

    Mounted Units: Your Mounted units (those with a yellow Movement Allowance) that begin your Special Movement Phase in an EZOC can move up to half their Movement Allowance (rounded up). Your Mounted units that do not begin your Special Movement Phase in an EZOC can move their entire Movement Allowance.

    Motorized Units: Your Motorized units (those with a white Movement Allowance) can always move during your Special Movement Step and do so up to their entire Movement Allowance.

    "Operational Reserve" Leg Infantry unitsIn this way, Leg units in an EZOC at the beginning of the Special Movement Phase are pinned (i.e., they cannot move at that time and better position themselves for ensuing Battles). This is an important consideration during your Regular (“final”) Movement Phase – to pin enemy Leg units with your EZOCs and eliminate their freedom to maneuver before their own Combat Phase!

    Maneuver flexibility and seizing the operational initiative is the purview of Motorized and Cavalry units and, in particular, employing them adroitly during their Special Movement Phase. Their intrinsic mobility makes them the keys to creating or denying opportunities on the ground (where the war, and Thunder in the East in particular, is won or lost).

    Axis Special Movement

    The Axis initiated the war with less than a dozen of the premier striking and exploitation unit: the Panzer Corps. These are the backbone of the Axis’ mobile forces (with some support by smaller Mechanized and Motorized units). The intriguing Wehrmacht Motorization card can expand their mobile forces each Season (at an RP cost) by replacing a “first line” (i.e., a 6-4) German Infantry Corps unit with a motorized version of itself (i.e., a 7-[4]).

    German Motorized Infantry CorpsTheir contribution supporting offensive and defensive operations makes them worth the high cost of a card plus RPs. However there are often more urgent and expedient cards needs from the Axis player’s hand, thus making opportunities for greater Motorized Infantry support more of a hope than a mass-employed reality.

    Soviet Special Movement

    Soviet "Mystery" Mech CorpsAt the time of Barbarossa, Soviet mobile forces are, primarily, their 27 Early Mechanized Corps units sharing the same Special Movement potential as the Axis’ Panzer Corps. Well, almost the same. They are one Movement Point slower, have wildly variable unrevealed Combat Strengths, half of them are not even Heavy unit types when revealed (being merely Motorized Infantry Corps units!), are 1-step units that can be overrun, and few have the strength of even a common 4-6-4 German Infantry Corps. Worse, they are often being tossed into the line as weak defenders and typically die in droves early in the war. And since the enemy chooses which step you lose in an Exchange combat result, the life expectancy of these "Mystery Mech" units is pretty low.

    Equally important therefore are Soviet Cavalry Corps units. Although more restricted during Special Movement, Cavalry Corps can at least maneuver a bit before attacking and, as a Small unit, stack easily into a hex and join a Large unit attacking through the same hexside (hopefully able to chip in enough strength to affect their Battles’ odds). Eventually, Soviet mobility evolves to the sphere of the 3-1-[6] Tank Corps and the Cav-Mech Group units they can form. These give way to Soviet Late Mechanized Corps which are the building blocks for Tank Armies.


    The Factions’ disparity on the ground is featured in our article, Deconstructing Factional Asymmetry in TitE.

    Iron Horses, Cats, and Dogs

    Soviet Strategic Redeployment cardRail Movement is a freedom of action equalizer for the Soviets, particularly early in the war. Early Mechanized Corps units can harass advancing Panzer Corps, but it takes a beefy, 3-step 8-4 Soviet Rifle Army to draw the Panzers into a pitched fight – and a pitched fight is exactly what the Soviets want to limit the Axis’ freedom of action. Control of the rail lines opens up supply and, in the Special Movement Phase, strategic maneuver opportunities that are vital to success.

    Both sides have a Strategic Redeployment card allowing that faction to move troops to and from the forward edge of the front more easily. To exploit this Special Movement Phase enhancement on that single turn for maximum advantage, you must be prepared with strong units already sitting on Rail Lines, a full rack of Rail Capacity to create sufficient mass at their destination, and a fortuitous confluence of Rail Line density at your planned point of arrival.

    Therefore, proper timing and map placement are critical for getting the most out of a Strategic Redeployment card. It is going to take some planning on your part to deliver an offensive surprise, and preparation on your part (having sufficient strategic and operational reserves on rail lines) to suddenly create an instant defense/counterattack via rail with them, but when you can pull it off, your opponent will be amazed.

    Rail lines are thoroughly discussed in our article, What the Rail?

    Soviet Airdrop markerThe Special Movement Phase includes positioning your Air and Naval units which are instrumental in teeing up (or topping off) your Battles on the ground. Never forget that all of this is orchestrated during your Special Movement Phase, so never lose sight of your supporting military arms even as your Mobile (and “operational reserve” Leg, i.e., those not in an EZOC) units jockey into positions along the front and prepare to hurl the die in anger. The drama of an amphibious landing or a paradrop will certainly require some Special Movement Phase coordination – your focus on these events occurs naturally by their very rarity in gameplay.

    Concerning Air units, do not get lazy and take your Air Bases for granted. Although City hexes in Russia are plentiful enough to always feel like every front line hex is a Short (“S”) Range flight away, your opponent has a say in their availability to you. Remember, a City hex in an EZOC is not an Air Base! Also, Air Bases can change hands rapidly. Suddenly, an Air Mission you thought you were flying is perhaps by just one hex beyond their range! Surveying the map reveals sparsely populated areas devoid of City (and hence Air Base) hexes and, when fighting there, pay attention during your Special Movement Phase! You might suddenly discover your need at least Medium (“M”) Range Air units to get the job done (and that could greatly restrict your options and prospects).

    Marshal Rokossovsky cardMoreover, the Special Movement Phase is also the crucial launch time for repositioning your HQ markers by Rail Movement, thus starting their 3-turn countdown clock on their ability to serve again as logistical hubs. This clock is important not only as a limiting factor on your behavior but also as a signal of your intentions to your opponent. That is, you position HQ markers to threaten or defend specific Objective hexes; your opponent will be able to deduce by their proximity where you are making your effort. This knowledge certainty reduces the fog of war, especially for the defender knowing with little doubt where the attacker will be projecting their energy.

    The Axis’ Army Organization and Soviet Maskirovka and Marshal Rokossovsky cards allow the player to alter the placement of, or remove the Countdown marker for, an HQ marker, thus allowing some strategic surprise (particularly to your offensive operations). You want to keep the opponent guessing as long as possible. If they no longer have to guess strategically, keep them guessing operationally; if they no longer have to guess operationally, keep them guessing tactically. Surprise is always an imperative.

    Road Trip – the Attacker’s Prerogative

    Motorized units are your spear points, flanking forces, and fire brigades – and they must get that job done even when out of supply. If you don’t have them doing all three of these at once, you are probably doing something wrong. It is during the Special Movement Phase where the spotlight of offensive spear point operations and defensive fire brigade counterattacks shines on your Motorized units.

    German 12-9-[6] Panzer Corps   Soviet 3-[5] Motorized Corps   

    Major Heavy Ground units with 10+ Attack Strengths are the staple of these efforts, and they can overrun in both Movement Phases. However, during the Special Movement Phase an overrun can create cascading opportunities by the removal of the overrun unit prior to the Combat Phase. By their nature, an overrun failure has a high cost, but the high reward gained on the map combined with the unhappy look on your opponent’s face when successful is a sure indicator that you are doing something right. Your Major Heavy Ground units must be Bringers of Chaos to your foe – not only during the Combat Phase, but also by conducting judicious overruns during the Special Movement Phase.

    German 10th Panzer DivisionAs noted in another ETO Reference article, there is a time and a place for breaking down and building up units, but the panzerwaffe has remarkable versatility. The judicious breakdown of a Panzer Corps unit into its component Divisions during the Special Movement Phase to help raise combat odds (as these Minor units can enjoy attacking through the same hexside as a Major unit they are stacked with) or put some steel in the spines of attacking Infantry units (to insure Heavy Close Support die result shifts) cannot be overstated. Axis Divisions (and Korpsgruppes) are too weak when fighting on their own, but in concert with their Major unit brethren, they can certainly add to the Soviets’ problems.

    The Hungarian, Italian, and Romanian Motorized units operate in a similar capacity and, if not squandered, can be effectively leveraged during their Special Movement Phase.

    Bring It! – The Active Defense Doctrine

    The Special Movement Phase also serves the player conducting an active defense. That is, employing lateral-thinking hit-and-run operations by moving unto the foe during the Special Movement Phase, slapping the enemy during the Combat Phase, and then running away to take up a more defensible, rearward position during the (post-Combat) Regular Movement Phase. Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee!

    These backhand blow operations benefit from some infantry in the operational front-line “reserve” (i.e., not pinned by EZOCs during their Special Movement Phase) and innocuously positioned Motorized units that can assemble (to attack) and then disperse again after combat. With luck, you opponent will not foresee all of these potential counter-punches and leave you an opening to deliver a good thrashing.

    Unless, of course, the weather dumps on such mobility… but there is little we can advise you about that!

    Another useful active defense tactic is using your Regular Movement Phase to confound your opponent’s upcoming Special Movement Phase. Specifically, anticipate their intentions by blocking choke points or likely avenues of attack and pin their front line Infantry units with your ZOCs to deny them flexibility to set up attacks against you.

    Your Air Force has a couple of great tools for your active defense toolbox. If, on your turn, you can inflict a precise Interdiction Strike or broader Logistics Bombing Mission you will reap the reward during your opponent’s next turn. A successful Interdiction Mission denies the targeted unit its next Special Movement Phase and halves its Attack Strength (should it lash out). Successful Logistics Missions can plunk down Out of Supply markers along the front line and really mess up your opponent’s ability to attack on their turn. This is an advantage worth leveraging when the enemy’s plans hinge on a few key units that you can identify.

    Special Movement Phase (and Theater Reserves, covered in a separate article) reactions are how you can destroy your opponent’s equanimity and help them make gaffes from operational failures to strategic blunders. As your skill with the ETO systems improves, you will experience more and better ways to turn the tables. Learn from those experiences!

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