Robert "Smitty" Smith
United States
Unspecified
Pennsylvania
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb

The CORRECT Set-up but flawed it seems later.


The initial phase of Operation Barbarossa in the area of Army Group Centre’s operations is an under-gamed area to date. I found it rather bold for Victory Point Games (VPG) to go after a topic that seems facially uninviting, since the Germans crushed the Soviet opposition up until what is now known as the Smolensk land bridge battles. But if there is anybody who might be able to bring it off, it would be Frank Chadwick, known for the little GDW gem of the 80, Battle for Moscow.
Regardless, The Arduous Beginning (TAB) looked like a game where you would try it, say yeah the Germans run amok and after two plays, it gets put away or goes to Ebay. Well, be prepared to be surprised, or perhaps even shocked.

COMPONENTS
The fact that VPG launched now four games on the opening moves of the war has allowed them to standardize components, map sheets, and such. By doing so, you are able to easily move from one game to the other in this series with a single reading of the game’s rules. Yep – one read through is all you need. At 16.95 for 40 nice 5/8 counters, a colorful and sturdy 11” x 17” map and one player aid mat, it’s a worthy bargain.

RULES
The 6 pages of rules to TAB are well written, and clean to such a degree that after a single reading I could play the game – and didn’t pooch a single rule. Moreover, I only had to check back several times on several small areas. I have noted in the past that VPG’s rules are sometimes like the stream of consciousness writer – at times disorganized or simply hard to fathom their logic and their intent. No such case here as TAB is a model of clarity in rules writing I hope VPG continues to emulate.


A pretty darn successful opening German turn....



GAME PLAY
TAB is exciting in terms of game play. It may rate a little lower than VPG’s reissue of Battle of Moscow in excitement, but not by much. The beauty of having so few units is that it forces you to make decisions as to where your limited forces attack as the German. For the Soviet, like in 1941 you simply don’t have enough of anything and simply throw stuff in the way to buy time – hoping it lasts more than a turn before it gets vaporized. The beauty of TAB is that it is fun to play both sides, as the outcomes are radically different for the two sides.

What makes the game work is a combination of factors that when taken together as a package simply work. The use of untried Soviet mechanized units, German air power that gives a one or 2 column shift, low unit density and a bloody CRT makes for a continuous dead pile of Soviet units. All of these design effects allow the German to neatly replicate a type of advance that they sustained in the opening stages of Barbarossa without it being rote.

Like in 1941 you must be daring with your panzers, sweeping far afield and in front of your plodding infantry. Units must stop upon entering a zone of control (ZOC) but are free to leave without penalty and are able to move freely from ZOC to ZOC. The player turn facilitates movement as you have a movement phase where all units can move, followed by combat and then a special movement phase. In the Special movement phase all German panzer and Reserve units (those not in a ZOC) may move again. In both phases mechanized forces can move their full movement allowance. In the special movement phase infantry can move half of its printed movement allowance. What makes it harder for the Soviet player is that sequence is reversed for their turn, meaning it's harder to marshal and coordinate their forces for combat. The German Surprise Attack Rule during the German first special movement phase allows the German player to run riot as all ZOC’s and terrain movement penalties are ignored.

As the Soviet player, that although you can stack up to 2 units (2 corps, or 1 Army and 1 corps), you are loathe to do so except in the most critical areas since your unit to space ratio is often vast due to your casualty rate. The Combat Results Table is a standards odds ratio table. All retreats must end up two hexes away. Like some other games a unit can continue retreating as long as it does not end its retreat in an enemy ZOC or overstacked. If it violates those conditions, it is eliminated. The “harsh” victory conditions add to the enjoyment as with only seven turns the German must take all 12 city hexes on the map to win, with 11 a draw and 10 a Soviet victory. It’s harder to do than you imagine since there is always a decent chance of an Exchange result on the Combat Results Table at the lower odds end. Remember only one unit can advance into a hex so it’s possible for the Soviets to launch a vicious enough counter attack.

My only comments in terms of design is that there should have been a special Brest-Litovsk fortress rule. The fortress held out for a considerable time and by being astride German lines of communication and supply, served as a logistical bottleneck for Army Group Centre. The tying up of several German infantry corps for even an additional turn at Brest-Litovsk would make the game more evenly balanced. Yet despite it being for the most part a German walk, the Soviet player stays engaged.


Things seemed to have stabilized out for the Soviet Player but...all those Panzers already up in the Smolensk land bridge are bad for Soviet life expectancy.


CONCLUSIONS
My still favorite toy train engine was a Lionel steam engine, a 2-6-4 type, numbered 2037. Forty plus years later it is still my favorite engine, reliable and sexy in a workmanlike way. In that same way, it reminds me of their new East Front mini-games and the gobs of fun you will have playing them, a veritable childlike delight. Arduous Campaign is to be played until the map is discolored due to your heavy use. If you don’t have tons of fun with this game, then I simply feel sorry for you. I ended up playing it game after game after game, cutting into reviewing time for other games. Like its namesake TAB, the quirky soda, this TAB also satisfies. It passes the basic sniff test in terms of history and it’s fun – so what are you waiting for Russian front gamers?


I suppose by this point I had been recalled and escorted back by the NKVD to the Kremlin to be shot for being a traitor to the Rodina.... Great German die-rolls, perhaps sub-optimal set-up and failure to stay in contact to freeze German infantry in the Special Movement Phase.


8 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Alan Emrich
United States
Irvine
California
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb

Great review!

This series proved so popular we're linking everything together into a single, larger game and polishing it up into THUNDER IN THE EAST:

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/209951/thunder-east

Alan Emrich
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Robert "Smitty" Smith
United States
Unspecified
Pennsylvania
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
WE thank you Sir!

Smitty
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.