"A panoramic view of Inkerman", 1854, William Simpson.
One of the most interesting things about the Battle of Inkerman is that what should have been a Russian slam-dunk (sneak attack, dense fog negating the long-range of the Allied Minié Rifle, not to mention what was originally a five-to-one advantage in numbers) turned into a decisive, humiliating, lopsided defeat. The mechanisms that power Blood in the Fog are designed to recreate the factors that led to that lopsided Allied victory. That doesn't mean that the Russians can't win, however. It's harder for them to do so, and I would advocate that more experienced players take that side when playing with a new gamer. In our playtesting, against players of equal skill, the Russians won two out of every five games.
As I mentioned in my designer's notes, the game favors the Russians in the early game, and the Allies in the late game. The longer the game goes on, the harder it is for the Russians to win, and the more inevitable an Allied victory becomes. That's not to say that the Russians can win the game in the first two or three turns. I mean, theoretically, it's possible, but against even a remotely competent Allied player, it's not going to happen. What it does mean is that the seeds for Russian victory need to be sown in the early game. It will generally be clear by turn five or so (the mid-game) if you've done so sufficiently; if you haven't, you'll find yourself wasting most of your activations without making any visible progress.
A staged photograph of Russian soldiers ready to depart St. Petersburg for the Crimea. They even found one semi-enthusiastic serf to cheer.
There are two things the Russian player needs to keep in mind throughout the game, but especially in the early-going. The first is remembering how he wins, and also how he doesn't. While the Allied Player wins by inflicting step losses, the Russian player only gets credit for Infantry and Cavalry Units he's actually Eliminated. The biggest mistake the Russian player can make is focusing on grinding down various Allied Units a step or two at a time without ever sealing the deal. Having six or eight Allied Units down to their last step is worthless if you can't eliminate any of them.
Granted, grinding them down is part of eliminating them, as you need to get them down to their last step before you can deliver the coup de grace. But if you spread your attacks against too many enemy units, it's pretty easy for them to pull them away from the front, especially as new, fresh units enter the game as Allied reinforcements.
It's also important not to let yourself get distracted by Allied Artillery and Picket Units. Pickets are easy to Eliminate, and given their pesky ZOCs, it's often necessary to do so. But you don't want to go into Turn 4 or 5 with a pile of dead Pickets and nothing else to show for it.
“The Guards attacking the Sandbag Battery, at Inkerman”, 1870, Orlando Norie. This is just one of many assaults as the battery changed hands repeatedly during the battle.
You also want to draw the Allies out of their defensive positions. In the first few turns, when the fog reduces the range of their attacks to a single hex, they're more likely to come out to meet you, as that's the only way to slow your advance. But it also behooves you to go after the Sandbag Battery. Possession of the hex at the end of a Game Turn moves you one space closer to victory. If you can hold it two or three times over the course of the game, you're probably in a good position to win it. Of course, the Allied Player doesn't want to let you do that, and so you'll find that hex hotly contested. Use that to your advantage.
Most Russian Infantry fire at a two-hex range (compared to nine for most Allied Infantry), and so Fire Combat naturally isn't their forte. Charge early and charge often; you're unlikely to fail Courage Checks in the early game. Most of your units have five steps when fresh compared to three steps for British Units, so you're also unlikely to trigger Rout checks. Of course, as your forces get ground down as a result of your Charges and Allied Fire, you're more likely to trigger a check, and once you fail one, you're more likely to fail future checks. By the time you get to the mid-game, Charging becomes a much dicier proposition, and I'd say if you're in danger of being Demoralized - say three more failed checks - I'd swear off them altogether.
Of course, you're going to minimize your exposure to that risk by continually Charging with fresh, full-strength Units. Let's assume a typical three step target and that you're not attacking uphill. A five step Infantry Unit is going to have an Attack Strength of 11-12, and the defense roll is going to be between 7-12. Your chances of winning are pretty good, but you're likely to take one or two step losses. It's unlikely that you're going to escape unscathed. A four step Infantry Unit will attack the same target with an Attack Strength of 9-10; a three step Unit, 7-8, in both cases again contending with a 7-12 defense roll. Not only is there a better chance you're going to lose the combat, but you're going to suffer more losses and probably trigger a Rout check.
"The Battle of Inkerman - Final Effort of the Russians, and Joint Charge of the French and English Troops", 1884, published by the Illustrated London News.
The only time I'd suggest Charging with a two or three step Infantry Unit is against a one-step enemy, but even then I'd be weary. My preference is to always Charge with fresh Units whenever possible. A five step Unit charging a one step enemy is pitting their Attack Strength of 11-12 against a defense roll of 3-8: that is, you're guaranteed to win the Charge, and you're only going to take one step loss.
All this, again, is assuming you're not Charging uphill, and if the Allied Player is any good at all, he's going to try to force you to make your Charges uphill so he gets to roll two dice. The best way to avoid having to Charge uphill is to traverse the stretch between Shell Hill and the Great Barrier, but that's also the route that leaves you dangerously exposed to Allied fire, especially in the late game.
Of course, the need to constantly bring in fresh Units brings us to the other big thing the Russian Player needs to keep in mind throughout the game, and that's the simple fact that all the five step Units in the world won't do you a lick of good if they're not in the right place at the right time. If you're cruising into turn five or six with a bunch of exhausted, verge-of-collapse units where the action is, and full-strength units hanging back or waiting to enter as reinforcements, you've got a serious problem. Instead of using your activations to attack with those full-strength units, you're using them to try to nudge them, in fits and starts, to the front. And if you're spending an inordinate amount of time doing that in the middle and late game, chances are the fog's lifting and your nice fresh units are being shot to pieces before they can get anywhere near the enemy units they're meant to attack.
"Second Charge of the Guards when they retook the Two-Gun Battery at the Battle of Inkerman, 5th November 1854", 1854, William Simpson. The Russians have climbed the steep slope and are engaged in fierce hand to hand fighting with the British. Note the Guards are wearing tall bearskin headgear and both sides wear greatcoats.
This is exacerbated by the fact that it's much easier for the Allied reinforcements to get into useful places. Most of the action is going to take place around Home Ridge, the Sandbag Battery, and the pass that forks into the Wellway. Most of these locations can be reached by Allied Units using Road Movement on the turn that they enter the map; that is, with one activation. The next time those Units activate, they might be able to attack. Whereas Russian Units - whether they start on the map or are entering via the bridge - will typically take two or three turns to do so. They're not attacking, then, until their third or fourth activation.
That's why it's important to maximize those activations, and to think long-term. Charging once again is your friend; you can Charge with one or two Units, and move the remaining one or two Units for that activation closer to the front. Of course, you can't use Road Movement or bring on Reinforcements in a Charge Phase, so this is probably more useful for Units that start on the map, who are less positioned to use roads. Whereas you want to go with a straight Move Phase to bring new guys onto the map. If you're able to get them set up so they can utilize a Charge Phase the next time their chit comes up, great. This is especially useful for the 17th, as it has two activation chits, and is thus more likely to activate twice in the same Game Turn.
"The Return from Inkerman", 1877, Elizabeth Southerden Thompson, Lady Butler. A column of exhausted and wounded men of the Coldstream Guards and the 20th East Devonshire regiment slowly, silently wend there way back to camp.
If you're careful and you're smart, the game should be fairly close by the time you reach the mid-game. While things might be leaning toward the Allies, you'll have Eliminated two or three Allied Units and be in a position to Eliminate a few more, with ample Units one activation away from being useful. As you approach the late game, you're going to need to lay off of the excessive Charging, and be very careful to stop the bleeding away of your step counters.
Generally, you're more likely to win if you haven't been Demoralized, as the Allies are going to need to take away twenty more of your Step Counters. That gives you the time you need to Eliminate the last Unit or two that you'll need to secure your own Victory. Plan on winning in Turn 7 or 8; if the game goes to 9 or 10 turns, your chances start to evaporate pretty quickly.