What The Rail?

Updated: Sep 24, 2019

“Training” for Victory: An Analysis of ETO Rails, their Uses, and Limitations

By Alan Emrich

In wargame terms, the Rules for Rails in Frank Chadwick’s ETO are not onerous, but properly using them, and denying their use to your opponent, is another key to victory. This article focuses in detail upon these Railroad lines, so all aboard!

Rail Lines: Friend or Foe?

As is true of most rules, what makes them “click” is defining and understanding their terms. Concerning the Rails in ETO, we have:

Line of Communication: A “Rail Line” used for tracing a Rail Line of Communication (RLoC) must be an unblocked line of connected Railroad hexes of any length (including 0 hexes) traced exclusively along Railroad hexes and hexsides (only, not unimproved Roads). Thus, when tracing a RLoC, as long as you can avoid enemy units and their unblocked ZOCs, any friendly Rail Line will do as long as it goes back to a functioning (i.e., having no Countdown marker) friendly Supply Source. You cannot trace an RLoC to a Minor Port or Naval Base having an NLoC; units must occupy those 0-range Anchorage hexes to be able to trace an NLoC from them.

Rail Movement: Ground units moving via Rail Movement can only move along “Friendly” Railroad hexes defined as those between two friendly-controlled City hexes with no enemy units or EZOCs anywhere along it. This means if you don’t control “both ends” of that section of Rail Line, you cannot use it for Rail Movement; the implication is that it can be tricky conducting Rail Movement along the forward edge of the front line where Rail Lines are often contested (i.e., not friendly to either side).

You MUST pay attention to the way the rails run between cities.

Blocking Enemy LoCs: The opposite is also true -- your “Friendly” Railroad hexes (defined above) cut your opponent’s communication lines. When unblocked (unbridged?) by enemy Ground units, your friendly rail lines prevent enemy units from tracing their LoCs through them. Think about that. If the enemy advances across your Friendly Railroad hexes, they cannot even trace an Overland Line of Communication (OLoC) across it and will be Out of Supply at the start of your next turn unless they “block” your Friendly Railroad hexes with some of their Ground units to “hold the line open.”

Rail Movement: Tickets, Please!

The key concept for Rail Moves is that you can make a limited number of them each turn by using your Rail Capacity during your Special Movement Phase. Typically, this Rail Capacity is spent moving your individual Ground units via Rail Movement, but your Rail Capacity can also be temporarily consumed by successful enemy Logistics Bombing Missions and Partisan attacks.

Where Rail Capacity Comes From

During your Regular Movement Phase, your Rail Capacity Used marker resets to 0 for use again next turn when you can spend it again up to your Rail Capacity marker (representing your per-turn maximum capacity available).

Typically, a Faction's per-turn Rail Capacity is scenario-defined. For example, in Thunder in the East, the Axis find theirs on the Game Turn Record Track (4 from the beginning of the game until April 1943, 3 until April 1944, and 2 for the duration).

For the Soviets, who are playing with their entire economy (and so it will be for the Axis in the Full ETO combined game) it is half (round up) of their EPs (excluding those gifted from Lend-Lease) received from the previous quarter. At the beginning of the war with the Axis, Soviet Rail Capacity is at 5, waning to a low of 3 in January of 1942 (with the Factory markers for Kharkov and Stalino relocating), and rising again from there. Wilderness Logistics: You may only conduct one Rail Move per Faction per Wilderness Theater per turn.

Using this Rail Capacity to shuffle Ground units around behind your lines is usually enough to service the war’s average needs, but a large scale redeployment of forces by Rail Movement will take a bit of planning and a few turns’ of capacity to see it completed. At that point, you might well be “telegraphing your punches” and might want to reach for your Strategic Redeployment card.