Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! Russia 1941-42 Second Edition – Boardgame Review
Passed Inspection: A fantastic update to a fantastic game. Incredible, photo-realistic mounted maps. Very high quality counters.
Failed Basic: No rating system for individual units, to allow players to create their own scenarios. A random scenario generator would have been a nice addition.
Rolf’s squad rushed the position of the Russian artillery gun just 400 yards from the old churchyard. A well-timed attack and coordination with an MG34 that provided covering fire allowed his squad to get close enough to hit the position with multiple grenades, killing and scattering the gun crew and silencing the gun. As Rolf and his men kept on eye on some suspicious activity near the church, a Russian tank rolled slowly around the bend in the road. It looked rather obsolete but Rolf’s men didn’t have much in the way of anti-tank weapons at the moment. Rolf cursed the supporting panzers. Where the hell were they? He heard their guns booming off to his left but couldn’t spot the mix of Panzer IIs, IIIs and one Panzer IV. His men took cover as the Russian tank approached. Rolf looked on in horror as the enemy tank belched forth flames right at his squad. It was an OT-26—a flamethrower tank! One of Rolf’s men pulled on his arm and Rolf looked back over his shoulder. One of their Panzer IIIs was moving towards them and trying to get the Russian flame-spouting dragon in its sights. But would it be too late for Rolf and his men?
So went the narrative for one of my play-throughs of the re-release of Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear. (If you must know, the OT-26 made casualties out of Rolf’s team and started a massive fire, which began to spread back towards the church—but the Panzer III took out the Russian tank.)
I fell in love with the Conflict of Heroes gaming system after playing two other entries in the series, Storms of Steel (Kursk) and The Price of Honor (Poland 1939). The first of the Conflict of Heroes series was Awakening the Bear, which covered the invasion of Russia from 1941 to 1942 (reviewed for Armchair General by Bill Bodden in 2008). Now, Academy Games has released a second edition of the game that brings it up to the current Conflict of Heroes standards.
While the primary focus of this review is to discuss what changes were made to Awakening the Bear, I would do a disservice if I didn’t offer a brief discussion of the game format and the gaming system in general.
The game is a squad-based system in which each counter represents one vehicle or up to eight or ten men. Each turn represents several minutes of real time. Each unit is rated for its front and rear defense, anti-personnel and anti-tank attack value, movement, etc. The game uses cards and counters as well as damage chits. The cards are used to add random events to the battles, which may include modifications to the leadership of the forces, items such as hand grenades and Molotov cocktails, and even weather/terrain effects such as tanks getting bogged in the lovely Russian mud.
The heart of the Conflict of Heroes system is the simple but very complete, well-written, and nicely illustrated set of rules. Each rule section walks the new player through more and more details and references to specific scenarios in order to familiarize the player with the system. Rules for armor, fortifications, artillery, etc., are added gradually, allowing the player to almost effortlessly become familiar with the complete rules set.
Each round is made up of phases in which a unit is activated and can then spend up to seven action points (or more depending on the scenarios and rules used) as well as CAPs (Command Action Points) in order to move, attack, sneak, turn a turret, dive to strafe, etc. After the unit makes an action, the other player can activate units in order to react to the dynamic battlefield situation. This move-react system keeps all players’ attention on the game and makes for some very tense moments.
The changes to the original release bring its rules up to version 2 of the Conflict of Heroes series. The first thing the player will notice is that the box has been redesigned; it is deeper but not quite as wide. This added depth accommodates a very nice and sturdy tray, which holds not only the counters but also the various cards; there’s even a spot for the six-sided dice. The charts have been re-designed for ease of legibility, and a turn chart has been added.
While retaining the same high quality sturdiness and size of the original game, the counters have been somewhat modified for ease of use. The HE and AP firepower factors are now listed one over the other instead of side by side. Foot units such as infantry are now rated for their anti-armor ability. Vehicle units are rated for rotatable turrets and types of propulsion (track, half track or wheeled). The counters still feature three-quarter perspective views of the vehicles, which can be somewhat counter-intuitive when looking at their placement on a map but this is purely a subjective observation.
This edition of the game also adds new and interesting units such as flamethrower tanks, mobile artillery and Russian NKVD political squads.
The rules booklet is smaller in size but packs even more examples than the original book. More rules have been added, including those for flamethrowers. Also included is an expanded simple and functional system for solitaire play.
Five beautiful, mounted maps are included. While the original maps were a work of stylized art (wonderfully colored in near pastel shades), the new boards look almost photo-realistic and, as the photos that accompany this review can attest, add an almost 3D view to the game.
A 20-page “Fire Fight Book” accompanies the game. It includes not only highly playable scenarios but also a full overview of the background and strategies of Operation Barbarossa.
Included with the game (but also available from the Academy Games Website) is an expansion with rules and counters of “Wrecks and Destruction on the Eastern Front.” This pack includes rules for vehicle wrecks, offboard artillery, rubble and fire. The double-sided counters included in this expansion are simply stunning, particularly the fire counters.
Those who already own Awakening the Bear may find less of a need to update their game with this new set, although if you already own the other Conflict of Heroes games, it is nice to have maximum crossover uniformity of design for those huge battles that I know you want to play.
It is easy to see why Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear was an Origins Award Winner for Best Historical Game and this new edition makes a great game nearly perfect!
Armchair General Rating: 98 %
Solitaire Rating: 4
About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!