Barbarossa: Crimea – Boardgame Review
Barbarossa: Crimea 1941–1942. Boardgame Review. Publisher: GMT Games. Designer: Vance von Borrie. $79
Passed Inspection: Good value for the money, usual quality maps and counters from GMT Games. Continuation of East Front Series of Games.
Failed Basic: The rules.
First, this game series has a strong following. For those familiar with the series (and the five previous titles), you will find this is a fine addition for your entertainment and enjoyment. For those wanting to test the waters for gaming at the operational level for the period, you best beware. The manufacturers rating for complexity of a 7 out of 9 (high) is deserved. I found the game as one I wanted to like but the rules kept nagging at me. A great site that can help one to get into the rules without the game, and it has some decent examples of play, can be found at: http://www.wargalley.com/efs/. I also like a game where you get lots of German allies (Romanians), get to play with Siege Artillery (I hear Dora knocking!) and you get to run air operations of Air Superiority, CAS, and Interdiction (land and sea). Add in amphibious operations and you get every armchair general’s dream of operational war.
At first reading, when I started, I thought that the game looked rather standard and I’d be able to pick it up quickly and that the manufacturers difficultly rating was in error. But, as I got farther into the rules, I found the devil was in the little details. It seems that everything has just got a little something extra to make the game special. The generic Sequence of Play table takes up about ¼ of a page but the expanded Sequence of Play (that also list references to particular rules sections) fills 2 and ¾ pages. The game comes with a 40-page rule book, which has two pages for an Index, but you’re not done: the Playbook with the scenarios has another 20 pages of rules specific to this edition of the Game Series. You will find a number of Examples of Play in the rules, but nothing that really shows an entire single turn from start to finish. The scenarios for the game start with some that are rather small and short in duration or, for the brave at heart, the whole Crimean Campaign (47 turns long). So, it is fairly user friendly to get a game up and running and to be completed in an evening for the smaller scenarios.
The game comes with a wealth of maps. There are six smaller scenario maps and one large campaign map. The game is compatible and can be joined up with Army Group South and/or Kiev to Rostov for those with great ambition. There are three game marker cards (8 ½ x 11) used for recording game turn, loss/replacement track, air unit ready box, etc. Two cards have VP information on both sides, depending upon scenario selected, and there are what equate to 11 cards of game charts (Yes, I said eleven!) but some of these have sections that are examples or explanatory portions such as Non-Op HQ effects, Attacker and Defender Artillery support, and How to Read the Units. So they are not all vital—only about four are and they are all located on a double sized card that is printed on both sides and folded in the middle.
The game uses the Sequence of Play to put the Russian at a rather distinct disadvantage. The Axis player has for a player Segment the following sequence: Movement, Russian Reaction, Combat, Motorized Movement and Engineering. The Russians then has their segment which goes: Motorized Movement, Axis Reaction, Combat, Movement, Engineering, and Soviet Surrender. This game sequence allows the German to move all units before declaring and resolving attacks. The Russian is only allowed to move Motorized units and those units a HQ can activate (usually no more that two if the HQ is operational). It makes it difficult for the Russian to mount a decent attack if infantry divisions need to move up. This is not helped by the fact that the Russians often find themselves with mandatory attack orders coming from Moscow which carry penalties for every turn they aren’t carried out.
What would be an East Front game if it didn’t include the weather? The game has four possible climate conditions for a scenario: Dry, Mud, Frost, and Snow. That determines which column you roll on the weather table, which can result in one of five weather conditions for a turn: Dry, Mud, Frost, Snow and Artic. There is also a subset condition, Storms, which can affect air unit readiness and flotillas. On a dry turn following Mud, all wooded hexes suffer Lingering Mud. There is also Lingering Snow, which takes two consecutive turns of Frost to change Snow to Frost. This is an example of the little nagging things in the rules that hinder my enjoyment of the game. Details, details, details.
Combat for the game is familiar in that if a unit or stack of units desires to attack, they must attack every hex that exerts a ZOC into their hex. Old hands will see that this brings about the old method of “Soak off attacks” (a lousy odds attack that may sacrifice the attacking unit in order to get better odds against the true focal point for the attack). But, for this game, all combat must be first declared and odds determined, (no attacks allowed to be planned at less that 1 to 4 odds). Then the opponent is allowed to react, with some movement of reserves, CAS, and/or artillery support. Odds are only then recomputed and the results of the attacks determined.
This is an exciting aspect of the game and can create tense moments; do you reinforce a battle or keep a unit behind to contain a possible breakthrough? The game uses a d10 for all die rolls, so there is a wide range of results on the CRT. Low rolls good, high rolls bad. Die role modifiers cannot exceed +/-3. On a straight die roll, the attacker has a 50/50 chance to win at 1 to 1 odds and casualties fall to a 50/50 chance at 2 to 1. At 4 to 1 odds the attacker cannot lose unless they roll a modified 11. On the low end of the spectrum, at 1 to 4 odds, the attacker runs a 50% chance of taking casualties which could go all the way to elimination, and the attacker cannot win unless they roll a modified 0. If you plan an attack at 1 to 4 odds and your opponent reacts and reinforces to make the odds 1 to 5, it is an automatic attacker eliminated result. There are seven combat effect modifiers available to the attacker such as engineer support, division integrity, super heavy artillery, etc. The defender also has seven combat effect modifiers to include terrain, strong point in a fortified line or belt, no attack supply, etc. It is not uncommon for an attacker to have to deal with unfavorable modifiers.
Supply is handled in the game similar to most other games with units being either in supply, out of supply and for combat, being in attack supply. Attack supply is established each turn in ASP’s (attack supply points) which are carried on the map by MSU’s (mobile supply units). These get consumed when supporting attacks or providing a temporary one turn supply source. The MSU’s can return when more ASP’s are received. There is a limited number of MSU’s for each side, and ASP’s that cannot be turned into MSU’s are lost. I found this method of supply to be similar to Avalon Hill’s Longest Day game. To attack without Attack Supply gives the attacker a +2 modifier and some results on the CRT carry an additional step loss to the attacker. Railroads are the best way to provide supply but the Germans suffer from Soviet rail cuts and must convert the Soviet rail net to German use. General Supply suffers the effects of weather which can prevent the tracing of supply thru certain hexes (i.e. woods during lingering mud) or shorten the length allowed along roads (i.e. dropped from 21 hexes in length to 15 in Mud, Snow or Artic). Some of the shorter scenarios do not use MSU’s and both sides are considered to be in Attack Supply as long as they are in General Supply.
The other game titles in the series have been given modules to use with Cyberboard Gamebox and Aide De Camp 2 and I expect one will be coming forth for Barbarossa: Crimea. I always think this is a nice feature for those who want to play the larger, longer scenarios but don’t have the space to leave the game set up. GMT is also looking at putting the game series into a computer game format, which if successful, will make this game very user friendly to the new player. If you lack an opponent, the solitaire playability (once you learn the rules) is high and I agree with the manufacturers 7 out of 9 rating. Most of the titles of the Series are out of stock (except Kiev to Rostov), but, it would be worth while, if the series interests you, to sign up for reprinting as you will save up to 1/3 the cost of a game. Overall, I like the game, but I sit and wonder if I could use a different, less complex game’s, set of rules to play it out. I’ve just got to figure out which one from those filling my shelves, hmmm, maybe the The Caucasus Campaign?
Armchair General Rating: 80%
Solitaire Suitability: 4 out of 5.
About the Author
Michael Peccolo is a retired Armor Major from the US Army with overseas duties, Company commands and additional assignments in recruiting and ROTC. He lives in Tennessee where he raises horses with his wife.