Jon Darlington
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Here in 2014 we’re kind of spoiled for choice with Zvezda’s WWII Art of Tactic series, because they have already published a couple of expansions and a second basic set. When I found the game in late 2013, my local hobby store had a copy of Barbarossa and Battle for the Danube side-by-side on their shelf, and I picked up both of them at the same time.

I’ve already reviewed the basic game of Barbarossa HERE, and everything I wrote there about the basic rules and game system still applies. This is my review of Barbarossa’s first the expansion set, Battle for the Danube, which adds new possibilities to the game for those who have mastered all the basics.

Box (a bit buried) and contents:



The units from the expansion when assembled and painted:



Because Battle for the Danube (which I'll just call Danube here) doesn't change the rules of the game, my review of this expansion is mostly concerned with the components, especially the new units, though I touch on the new scenarios and other information that's included and how that impacts the game. Some of that material is available for download from the Zvezda website without buying the expansion itself, and I touch on that where relevant below. In the coming week I will accompany this review with a session report from one of the scenarios, so you can see the new components in action.

This review is broken down as follows:

.....1. New units
.....2. New game boards
.....3. A copy of the rules
.....4. New scenarios
.....5. Overall impressions
.....6 Full disclosure & availability

In addition to the major components listed above, Danube also comes with more game supplies -- smoke markers, fire markers, dice, dry-erase markers and erasers -- which are always handy.

1. New units
Danube comes with a selection of new and unusual units for the Germans and Soviets, plus a couple that can be used by either side.

When it was first released, buying Danube was the only way to obtain most of these. And that’s still true for the moment. But Zvezda’s 2014 catalogue shows that it’s releasing all but the Headquarters units separately later this year. Still, if you want all the units in the box, this is a pretty cost-efficient way to get hold of them.

German infantry: 1 Headquarters, 2 Romanian infantry squads
(These are my finished models; they come unassembled and unpainted in the box.)


A second HQ isn’t a high priority for most games, where just one HQ is a significant investment of points. In especially large games or in home-made scenarios, though, they might come in handy.

The Romanians are exceedingly weak but low-cost infantry, and it’s the low cost that makes these units interesting (and very common additions to the German forces in our games). The Romanians don’t fight well; they have lower accuracy, firepower, and morale than a regular German unit. But at about half the cost of a regular German squad (7 pts vs. 12 pts), we find it’s always good to invest the points in a couple of these guys to perform those less-aggressive yet important duties in the game (like passively contesting objectives, or spotting for other units). These things the Romanians do just as well as other units, and thereby free up more capable fighters for the front line.

Soviet infantry: 1 Headquarters, 2 Border Guards (strong infantry)
(These are my finished models; they come unassembled and unpainted in the box.)


Same comments for the Soviet HQ as for the Germans; nice to have but not essential.

The Border Guards, on the other hand, are the polar opposite of the Romanians. Although they cost about 50% more than standard Soviet Squads (14 pts vs. 10 pts), the Border Guards have better range, firepower, morale, and Defense; with a base defense of 2, I think these are the best troops currently available in the game. (I like to think it’s their dog that adds the morale, and the tree stump they’re permanently carrying around that gives them the extra protection plus a stable platform on which to balance their little Degtyaryov LMG for the added firepower!). In our games these guys have proven so effective that we’ve had to impose a rule that we’ll take at least one regular Soviet squad for each one of these; otherwise our battles would portray the entire Soviet Union as thickly defended with “border guards” all the way to Moscow.

Soviet vehicles: 2 Armoured Boats, 1 Armoured Train
(These are my finished models; they come unassembled and unpainted in the box.)


These are interesting new units for the game, and certainly add a new twist and character to the scenarios in which they appear. In each case, they represent powerful combat units whose abilities are offset by their restriction to travelling only on rivers or rails.

The Armoured Boats are treated as light-tank targets for the enemy, but have long range, good accuracy (3/2/2/1/1), and very high firepower (at full strength 15 dice vs. infantry; 12/11/10 against light, medium, or heavy armour). It also comes with strong built-in anti-aircraft capabilities (rolling six dice when at full strength), giving second thoughts to German commanders used to throwing Stukas at strong obstacles. At 38 points, and with just one point of armour but five “wounds”, these boats are a serious concern for the enemy and a powerful threat when trying to cross the rivers they patrol.

The Armoured Train is like a monster version of the boats, costing 50 points. Treated as a heavy tank target by the enemy (which significantly reduces the number of dice rolled when attacking it), the train comes with two points of armour and five “wounds”. It also has good range (3/3/2/1/1), high firepower (16 dice vs. infantry; 13/12/11 vs. tanks) and good anti-air defenses (rolling 7 dice vs. aircraft). The train is a major threat that the German player must devote considerable resources to dealing with, or else find a way to avoid it altogether.

Neutral forces: 2 Trains (can be used by either side depending on scenario)
(These are my finished models; they come unassembled and unpainted in the box.)


The trains are passive transport units with some special rules detailed in the main rulebook. While there’s nothing special about the units themselves, what they do add is the possibility of “stop the train!” scenarios for both sides, and sure enough Danube comes with a couple of those to get you started. Unlike other “exit the board” scenarios, with the train your enemy knows the route you must take; all you can control is the speed, and how you bring supporting units to bear.

2. New Boards
Danube comes with three double-sided game boards to supplement the six in the base game, featuring railroads (on 5/6 sides) and ravine (3/6 sides), plus a number of overlay hexes with different terrain types and a set of elevation tiles to represent hills.

ONE SIDE OF THE EXTRA BOARDS:


OTHER SIDE OF THE SAME BOARDS:


The boards especially are a unique asset that you just can’t get any other way, and you’ll need these boards to play the scenarios that come with Danube. That’s a big deal, because so far those scenarios are the only official way to make use of the trains, armoured train, and armoured boats that come in the box. As any Squad Leader player can tell you, having more and varied boards is always an asset once you turn to designing your own scenarios or simply playing big games.

If you already want the units that come with Danube, then getting these boards for “free” makes Danube an easy purchase.

3. The second edition rules
Danube comes with a full second-edition rulebook. Although this was a big deal when Danube first came out, this is less of a selling point now that you can download them from Zvezda’s website HERE, as well as from the Files section for Barbarossa here on BGG.

Plus, the release of Battle for Moscow is coming this year with the third-edition rules, which will no doubt be a selling point when that time comes. So, never hurts to have another copy of the rules, but not a big deal today.

4. New Scenarios
The new scenario book is once again less of a selling point now that it’s available for download from Zvezda’s website HERE.

However, you’ll need the boards that come with the set to play them!

A Strike Against: To be fair I have to report that the presentation of some of these scenarios suffers from frustrating typos and other errors that are a needless obstacle when sitting down to play. These aren't just grammar or spelling quibbles; sometimes descriptions are contradictory (the scenario text says one thing and accompanying setup diagram say another, like which board one army sets up on...), or descriptions are incomplete (how can Romanians destroy supply depots in Scenario 2?), or just don't make sense.

You can puzzle these issues out and get past them, but you really shouldn't have to. Zvezda continued at this point to have some issues with quality control in either authoring, translation, or both.

I think I see improvement in the subsequent Blitzkrieg, but the problem is on full display in some parts of Danube. Nevertheless...

The scenarios included are:

A tutorial scenario (featuring just the four basic infantry scrambling for a small city in the middle of the board; given that this means it’s Romanians vs. Border Guards the outcome is preordained, but it does let new player dip their toes into moving units and firing.

If you want to play an improved version of this tutorial, I suggest giving each side two basic infantry squads from the Barbarossa set instead of the mismatched troops suggested here.

Scenario 1, Evacuation: Just the infantry that come in the box plus a train. The Soviet player must evacuate his HQ on the train; but if the German player can assault the Soviet HQ they’ll win the game. Also makes a good tutorial, with only a small number of units in play but enough to offer a tactical puzzle.

I see that Zvezda's Russian-language forum amends the scenario as follows (thanks, Google Translate!): "As part of the Soviet Army [there] should not be a [second Border Guards] squad [in] hex 557.

Scenario 2, Crossing the Border: features Romanians trying to destroy Soviet supply depots… though we’re not sure how, since the Romanians lack the ability to destroy installations.

Once again, I see that Zvezda's Russian-language forum amends the scenario: "The task of the German army to destroy the enemy warehouses and grab. Warehouse is captured, if at the end positions on the hex with the warehouse is at least one squad player and any enemy unit." I think Google Translate has failed badly here and I'm not entirely sure how to interpret this; seems like maybe Romanians will destroy a supply depot at the end of any turn that they're the sole occupant of that hex.

See: Zvezda Russian Forum translated or for Russian speakers with a compatible browser, http://art-of-tactic.com/ru/forum/.

Scenario 3, Blitzkrieg: an enormous scenario using all nine boards and large forces; this looks well suited to four players with each taking half of an army. We’re keen to try this once we have four players and the enormous 400 and 450-point armies required to play.

Scenario 4, River Crossing: both Armoured Boats and the Armoured Train try to stop a German assault across a river, with the final victor determined by who survives with the most forces on the destination boards. Has some frustrating issues with typos in the presentation, but shows lots of promise.

Scenario 5, Falling Back: Modest forces battle while the Soviets try to evacuate their HQ from the board by train; the grown-up and more interesting sibling of Scenario 1.

In addition to the scenarios themselves, the Danube scenario book comes with two valuable supplements to the game rules:

- a table of updated point costs for all of the units available at the time

These usually nudge things a few points way or that; especially handy if you have some later cards printed with these new values, and older ones with the original costs. Once again, you can get these by downloading the scenario booklet from the Zvezda site I linked to above.

- a set of force organization guidelines that establish composition limits for the Soviet and German armies.

I give Zvezda huge kudos for including these organization guidelines, since they help mitigate one of the issues the game can suffer from otherwise; the simple superiority of armour units for their points cost. Without some kind of rules for building forces, players have every reason to field armies of nothing but tanks. These composition guidelines provide a way for both sides to build somewhat historical forces with a mix of troops (based on the units available from Zvezda when they were released).

We’ve adopted these force composition guidelines for our games, more or less, when using armies numbering 200 points or so. (At lower values you can't really build the minimum forces these rules expect.)

Because they're included in the scenario booklet, once again you can download these for free from Zvezda's website HERE. I’ve also made some graphical representations of the composition rules that are perhaps easier to grasp right away and also fix a few typos. I’ll post in this thread following the review.

5. Overall impressions
We're having fun with the new scenarios, and messing around a bit with force mixes and so on. I'll be posting a report of the River Crossing scenario in the coming week. All told I find Danube a great addition to Barbarossa, although in my opinion it’s not the very first thing you should buy after the base set.

Your first priority after Barbarossa should really be adding more basic infantry, AT guns, trucks, and a few armoured units to get more experience and play some bigger games with the base set. Those are all available for purchase separately, so you don’t need the contents of Battle for the Danube for that.

But once you’ve got the hang of the game, there's no question that the units and scenarios you get with Danube let you add some fun and interesting new options to the now-familiar sandbox.

6. Full Disclosure & Availability
Full disclosure: after I posted my review of Barbarossa in January and then a session report from that game last month, I got an e-mail from William, a Zvezda representative for North America. William thanked me for the posts here and asked if I’d be willing to review some of their other related products to help get the word out about the game.

William offered to send me a couple of Barbarossa add-ons to try out, but there were no conditions attached and I promised only a fair review. As it was, William sent me Battle for the Danube (which I already had) and Tank Battles (which I didn’t).

Truth be told, I had been planning to review both the Battle for the Danube expansion and the Blitzkrieg base set when I wrote my Barbarossa review, but I was discouraged by reports on the Russian Zvezda forum that the sets were discontinued. (They don’t appear in Zvezda’s big 2014 catalog.) But William assured me that Battle for the Danube is still in production:

“The games catalog only includes the plastic models that can be used in the games, while the models catalog only includes the "core" game titles. The catalog that you have seen is obviously the models catalog, which does not show the Battle for the Danube expansion. I assure you that title is still being supported and is available.”

So, now that I'm assured that this review will be useful going forward and that readers can expect to find the expansion in stores and online, you see here my assessment of Danube I’d hoped to post originally. I'm keen to see others pick it up and post their own experiences with the new units.
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Jon Darlington
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By the way, here are images of the force organization guidelines that come with the Battle for the Danube scenario book. Armies are built out of regiments (the big red boxes at the top of the columns) and these have certain mandatory minimum units, and optional extra slots... but only up to a pre-set maximum number.

They're presented as all-text in the scenario book (and have a few typos/other errors... sigh...). I made these chart forms of the same information so it would be easier to wrap my head around the details and explain them to others. Picture, thousand words.

It's a great composition system that I really commend Zvezda for including, since it tackles head-on one of my reservations about force balance in the original game. If you use this system to buy your whole force, you'll end up with a nice balance of infantry, support units, and limited armour so tanks shouldn't dominate the game.

Soviet force organization chart:



German force organization chart (it's bigger!):


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Matt Price
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Awesome review and summary, and nice graphical representation of those force org diagram.

So we need to take or fill up all the colored squares before we can take any units represented by blank squares, right? As you alluded to above, how well does this work with smaller forces? Are scenarios with small points common?
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Jon Darlington
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Yup, you've got it. So let's say you're a Soviet player and you start with an Infantry Regiment. You MUST take the following:

..... 1 HQ

..... Infantry Batallion A
..... - 2 Rifles (i.e. infantry squads)
..... - 1 Machine Gun
..... - 1 Mortar

..... Infantry Batallion B
..... - 2 Rifles (i.e. infantry squads)
..... - 1 Machine Gun
..... - 1 Mortar

..... 1 Artillery unit

But that's just the minimum.

- Each of those Infantry Batallions has the option of taking up to five more Rifles, a second MG and a second Mortar.

- The Infantry Regiment as a whole has the option to add one more Infantry Batallion and up to two AT teams, one Medic, one Recon unit, one Engineer unit, two more pieces of Artillery, and up to three Vehicles.

- If you do take a third Infantry Batallion, it MUST include a minimum of 2 Rifles, 1 Machine Gun, and 1 Mortar; but then you can give it more Rifles and an additioal MG and/or Mortar if you want.

Applying point values to the composition-ed armies:
Re. point values: The absolute minimum Soviet Infantry Regiment will cost you:

- 1 HQ @35 pts
- 4 Rifles @10 pts
- 2 Machine Gun @12 pts
- 2 Mortar @15 pts
- 1 AT Gun @17 pts

... comes out to 146 points.

Adding a minimum Tank Regiment will cost you:

- 2 Light Tanks (say, BT-5) @25 pts
- 1 Medium Tank (T-34) @35 pts

... adding 85 points for a total of 231 points. And, you've got 13 units to manage.

Add some more stuff to approach a typical and balanced Soviet army:

- a second AT gun @17 pts
- two AT Rifles @15 pts
- two trucks @15 pts
- a Medic @ 8 pts

... and you've arrived at 316 points and 19 units, appraoching the maximum number of units I'd want to be controlling as a single player.

How this relates to the available scenarios
Now... of the scenarios in the Barbarossa game and the Danube expansion, let's see what the typical forces are.

Barbarossa
The Barbarossa scenarios tended to assign some fixed forces with specific units to each side, and then gave you small pools of points with which to add to those. Here the composition rules mostly offer guidelines in how to spend those extra points in a way that conforms broadly to the composition rules.

Scenario 1: mixture of fixed and some optional forces;
Soviets 167 + 40pts fortifications, Germans 210

Scenario 2: mixture of fixed and optional;
Soviets 125, Germans 193

Scenario 3: mixture of fixed and optional;
Soviets 119 + 50pts fortifications, Germans 303

Scenario 4: mixture of fixed and optional;
Soviets 207 + 60 pts fortifications, Germans 120
(I think the forces here are misprinted and Germans should be stronger)

Scenario 5: mixture of fixed and optional;
Soviets 185 + 50 pts fortifications, Germans 170
(I think the forces here are also misprinted and Germans should be stronger)

Scenario 6: mixture of fixed and optional;
Soviets 80 + 20 pts fortifications, Germans 120


Danube
Danube, with its larger scenarios 3 and 4, work well with the composition guidelines, although Scenario 4 includes the armoured boats and armoured train with skew the composition and it's up the players how they want to adapt to that.

Scenario 1: fixed (small) forces
Scenario 2: fixed (small) forces
Scenario 3: Soviets 400 points; Germans 450 points
Scenario 4: Soviets 126pts + X pts; Germans 2X pts
Scenario 5: Soviets 150 pts, Germans 200 pts

A few limitations here:
- I haven't looked at the extra scenarios from the Zvezda site.

- I know there are many Russian player-made scenarios I see discussed on the Zvezda forum, but I don't have access to them.

- I also haven't addressed the Blitzkrieg scenarios here because we don't have charts for the British forces.

So overall, the composition rules work as broad guidelines for both sets of scenarios, but in many cases you'll need to ignore some of the minimums... especialy for Barbarossa. Then again, you may want to ignore some of the scenario-recommended forces, and just play the same scenario out using forces you build from scratch using the composition rules.

I expect my group will be doing a lot of this not long down the road, especially adapting older scenarios from Barbarossa and removing the fixed parts of the forces, and instead buying the armies from the ground up. Those Barbarossa scenarios tried to make the best use of the limited forces in the base game and the extras available at the time, but the available units have come a long way since then so this is a good chance to breathe some balanced life into those older game set-ups.
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Matt Price
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Thanks Jon!

Is there a place somewhere that lists what units fall under what categories? I'm not that much of a WWII buff, and could see myself confusing AT guns with artillery, various tank types, etc. Particularly since some of the cards don't have the unit names on them (I think I have the older cards)
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Jon Darlington
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mattprice wrote:
Thanks Jon!

Is there a place somewhere that lists what units fall under what categories? I'm not that much of a WWII buff, and could see myself confusing AT guns with artillery, various tank types, etc. Particularly since some of the cards don't have the unit names on them (I think I have the older cards)

No worries; the categores are all based on the in-game target type. So "artillery" would include anything with the artillery symbol on its unit card: AT guns, Anti-aircraft guns, and genuine Howitzers and infantry guns. "Vehicles" would include trucks, but also motorcycles. "Armoured vehicles" would be halftracks and armoured cars. Light, medium, and heavy tanks are self-explanatory.

Other entries in the table are quite specific ("Engineers", "Recon", etc.) and so there's no trouble figuring out just what it applies to in the forces available for either side.

I don't have a list, but if you've got the unit cards handy it shouldn't be too difficult by consulting the target type for each unit in the top-left.
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Hi, very good models. Where do you get the ID Numbers on the Flag Poles?
They look very much better than just writing them on with a pen. Is there a download?
 
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Jon Darlington
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senexissorbas wrote:
Hi, very good models. Where do you get the ID Numbers on the Flag Poles?
They look very much better than just writing them on with a pen. Is there a download?


Thanks! I agree, the printed numbers on the flags really improve the look. Doubly so for painted models.

I made the numbers myself and just print them with a colour printer, then cut out and glue to the plastic flags.

My German and Soviet unit flags are downloadable on BGG, HERE .

... and for the British, HERE.
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Dan Buman
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Your painted miniatures are gorgeous! I was wondering how you paint them. Do you paint the soldiers before attaching them to the base? It looks like it might be difficult to paint them completely if you fasten the soldiers to the bases first. Thanks for any tips!
 
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Jon Darlington
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1932f20 wrote:
Your painted miniatures are gorgeous! I was wondering how you paint them. Do you paint the soldiers before attaching them to the base? It looks like it might be difficult to paint them completely if you fasten the soldiers to the bases first. Thanks for any tips!


Hey Dan:

Thanks! Yeah, painting the units is half the fun for me. I've been doing this stuff for a long time now.

Yup, you're right; for the soldiers it's impractical to paint them when they're already on the base. Usually my sequence is:

a) Assemble the soldiers and file away any excess bits

b) Add some texture (like sand) to the base

c) spray a light coat of primer on all the soldiers and the base

d) Paint all of the soldiers separately (you can get everywhere because they aren't attached to the base yet)

e) Glue the soldiers to the base when they're done

f) Brush a light coat of the Army Painter's QuickShade over everything (soldiers and the base) to help with shading and highlights; works like a charm. See: http://shop.thearmypainter.com/products.php?ProductGroupId=1

g) Add grass/flock to the base (sparingly)

h) Print and glue an identifying number on the flag

That's it! Sometimes there's a step "f.5" where there's additional weathering or dirtying on top of the painted model, but it all depends how elaborate you want to be.
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Dan Buman
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Thanks Jon! I just purchased the Barbarossa 1941 base game and am getting ready to paint. I have painted lots of minis before but never groups of soldiers on stands before. I always assemble and paint, but in this case I was having second thoughts! Thanks for confirming my concerns.
 
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Scott Blanchett

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I. The scenarios where it states a regiment must be held in reserve, does it preclude it being used in the battle at all?
 
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Hello!

Scenarios that have reserves should also have instructions on where, when, and how those units will enter the game.

Is there a specific scenario you are looking at that does not have those instructions?

Thanks!
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