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Barbarossa: The Russo-German War 1941-45» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Barbarossa and the Evolution of Wargaming rss

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Tony Watson
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[Note: To avoid any confusion as to the version being reviewed,the information below pertains to the SPI flatbox edition with a 1971 copyright date.]

I recently came across this venerable title in my game closet and, swept up in nostalgia, decided to give it another go. Over 45 years old, this is an interesting study in the changing state of the wargaming hobby in the early 1970s (the copyright on this title is 1971). At that point, Avalon Hill was clearly the dominant publisher, and its hex and counter in-house designs used basically the same rules for all their games, regardless of the era portrayed. However, two of AH’s more interesting title of the ‘60s, 1914 and Jutland had been the work of wargaming design iconoclast Jim Dunnigan, who established SPI in 1968 as something of antithesis to AH in terms of design philosophy. This game is a good example of that approach and how through this new perspective, SPI was steering board wargaming in a new direction.

General Description
Barbarossa is, of course, a game about the Eastern Front in World War II. It includes four scenarios: the Barbarossa campaign in 1941, the German summer offensives in 1942 and 1943, and the Soviet offensive in 1944; additionally, the entire war can played as a large campaign game. Each turn euals one month. The basic units are armies (or the Soviet equivalent) which can be built up from and broken down to corps-sized units. The stacking rules favor the use of the army-level units and since there is a one army per hex limit, this tends toward a clean board with very few stacks. The scenarios are playable in an hour or two; the full campaign game would take about a day.

The game has a paper map sheet only about half of which is the map itself, the rest being charts, tables and explanations. The accordion folded rules are about the equivalent of an eight page rule book. Counters are die-cut, in gray for the Axis and a kind of bronze for the Soviets, with an interesting font choice. (One of the things I remembered most about this game is the font used on the counters.) SPI couldn’t afford full color maps, so many of their games from this period were black, white and blue, the latter being used for bodies of water, rivers and highlights on charts. That games produced under these limitations worked so well is a testament to the excellent graphic design of the estimable Redmond Simonsen.

Game Rules
As one might glean from the short page count for the rules, this a relatively simple game. For example, there is no production system. (Dunnigan would later ramp up that aspect of the war in the monster game War in the East a few years later). Units come in as pre-determined reinforcements, largely for the Russians. In the full campaign game the Germans can replace one infantry army and one panzer army, total. So, once the Soviets start forming their armies and can inflict some losses, the Germans will really feel the elimination of each unit.

Zones of controls (ZOCs) are a focus of the game, being fluid (units can move past enemy units at a movement point cost), and interestingly, functioning differently for the two sides for purposes of cutting enemy supply lines--Axis ZOCs extend into empty hexes; Soviet do not. In addition to the quantitative combat ratings of the units, Dunnigan more subtly simulates the qualitative differences between the Germans and Russian in the ZOC and stacking rules. The turn phasing is move-fight-move, so the fluid ZOCs will allow the mobile units, especially the German armor, to exploit holes made in the enemy line and create encirclements. Supply rules are innovative for the time. While general supply, needed for movement and existence, is traced to map edges, units need to be within range (which varies by season) of a supply unit to attack, which is expended in the process. Supply units are limited so their use must be carefully considered. Summertime is clearly the best campaigning season, aptly capturing the strategic rhythm of the actual war. Operations slow down considerably in mud and snow turns.

Combat uses, of course, an odds-based combat results table and a die roll. Results are either elimination, or more likely retreats, which can be nasty if you are surrounded. However, many losses, especially for the Russians in the early part of the war, come from being out of supply.

The rules certainly have a problem or two. At one point there is the reference to players choosing the CRT to use for combat, but the game has only one CRT. The rules for hex ownership for purposes rail movement are fuzzy, requiring players to remember what side last occupied a hex, but nothing that reasonably couldn't be worked out.

Game Evaluation
I find Barbarossa to be a good wargame. Its relative simplicity allows for easy and fast play, but doesn’t hinder its value as reasonably good simulation of the Eastern Front. A campaign game played by competent players will likely catch the main beats of the war: early on, the Axis will break through the weak Russian line, race eastward and encircle much of the Soviet army; at some point the Soviets will be able to form stacks and use river lines to slow the advance; eventually, the Russians will be able to create enough of their own army-level units to undertake their own grinding offensives.

But beyond its historical value, I find Barbarossa to be an interesting link in the development of board wargaming, a good example of how the James F Dunnigan-led SPI approach at the dawn of the 1970s was moving design away from the "one design fits all modality" of Avalon Hill.
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Nice article.

Quote:
SPI couldn’t afford full color maps, so many of their games from this period were black, white and blue, the latter being used for bodies of water, rivers and highlights on charts. That games produced under these limitations worked so well is a testament to the excellent graphic design of the estimable Redmond Simonsen.


The entire graphic presentation (map, charts, turn record display, etc.) shows that Redmond A. Simonsen was years ahead of his time. To paraphrase Mister Spock from Star Trek, Simonsen was essentially working with "stone knives and bearskins" in 1971... but those tools were enough to produce playable conflict simulations. Today even the most basic laptop computer has magnificent graphic arts capability when compared to early 1970s technology but any number of recently published wargames have gaudy, almost unreadable counters and hideous maps with a hodge-podge of clutter.
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Eric Walters
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"...the art of manoeuvering armies...an art which none may master by the light of nature. but to which, if he is to attain success, a man must serve a long apprenticeship." -- G.F.R. Henderson
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Given that the only other board wargame on the Russian front was Avalon Hill's old Stalingrad title, it's unsurprising that so many turned to this game. Unlike it's AH predecessor, it was a far better approximation of the Soviet-German War.

The small format for such a big war that was pioneered by this game persists to this day with titles such as Barbarossa Deluxe: The Russo-German War – 1941-1945, No Retreat! The Russian Front, Stalin's War, and Holdfast: Russia 1941-42 (now expanded to cover the entire war in the east, but in that same diminutive size).
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Donald Johnson
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Axis can replace 2 German Infantry Armies, not only 1.

Axis can stack 1 army or 3 corps. Soviets can stack any 2 units until June 1943 when they can stack 3.

I thought this game was a much more accurate simulation than AH Stalingrad, at least they was the potential for armored encirclements.
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George Van Wallendael
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Great game and memories here! Game was one of my first wargames owned. The Russian Campaign eventually replaced this one as my go to game. Still wished I owned this game.
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Gene Rodek
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Thanks for the review and trip back in time. This was one of my first serious boardgames. My copy was in the cardboard flatpack. Still have the game, though it is now in the more traditional SPI plastic flatpacks.

The game still works IMHO as an easy and quick play of the front. The Axis needs to win quickly as once 1942 comes along with the increasing number of Russian reinforcements, it gets mighty tough for the Axis to make any progress. I'll have to dust this one off again someday! Good stuff!
 
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Ron Campo
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Nice article Doc.....I still have this game, unpunched and sitting in my closet, along with Kursk from the same time period. Played, but not in a while, Turning Point and Winter War. I need to take a trip down memory lane....ahh, the days of only 8 pages of rules. *sigh*
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Bob James
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Re: Barbarossa a 1969 play test version
I remember some time back of a 1969 play test which was supposed to be better than the version actually published, anyone ever get that and play it?
 
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