World War II Barbarossa 1941: Battle for the Danube – Boardgame Review
World War II Barbarossa 1941 Expansion 1 Battle for the Danube. Boardgame. Publisher: Zvezda. Designer: Konstantin Krivenko. $49.99
Passed Inspection: More beautiful mounted, modular map boards and 3D extra terrain. Highly detailed snap-tight model kits included. Comes with an extra rulebook and a nicely illustrated scenario book. A novel look at the first few months of the German-Romanian push into southern Russia.
Failed Basic: Limited selection of new units. Rulebook still has typos. Background on this unique part of Operation Barbarossa should have been included.
As stated in my review of their first World War II game, World War II Barbarossa 1941, Zvezda is a Russian company which has been putting out high-quality plastic model kits for some twenty years. In fact, according to their Website, they are the largest manufacturer of games and model kits in Russia.
World War II Barbarossa 1941 Battle for the Danube is the first expansion for their much-vaunted World War II series of games. As such, it meets with mixed results.
As the name suggests, the beautiful mounted maps, terrain features and miniatures are focused around the battles in and around the Danube River in 1941. The maps are mounted and double sided—providing a wide range of terrain including rail yards, cities and large sections of the Danube River. Also included are modular terrain overlays (also double sided) and plastic, raised hexes that can be stacked to create hills of various sizes, plus extra 3D smoke and fire models.
The models, which must be snapped together before use, include the same Soviet and German headquarters units as in the original game, but the rest of the pieces are new. The two trains and Soviet armored train provide interesting options for re-supply of units as well as for moving troops around the map. The armored train is a tough nut to crack and has a good punch from its guns although, of course, its movement is limited to rail lines only.
The Soviet Border Guards units come complete with machine guns and guard dogs! These units are okay in combat but, more importantly, they have a special ability—they provide a good chance to locate hidden units. Use them to hold key positions and locate German units attempting to sneak up for an ambush.
Guard dogs alert Soviet border guards of Romanians sneaking up on their position, and the fight is on.
Romanian infantry units are acceptable in combat though not spectacular, but they must be well led by German HQs or they may flee the battlefield. The one benefit they give the Germans is that they are cheap to add to a combat force.
The Soviet armored boats are killers! Each unit represents a flotilla of five boats. Like the armored train, they are naturally limited in where they can be used.
The scenario book is nicely illustrated and includes a tutorial scenario and five more scenarios all centered around the Danube. Many of the larger scenarios include maps and units from the original game. Most scenarios can be played in 45 minutes to two hours but scenario # 3, "Blitzkrieg," is a huge, nine-board, 950-point epic battle that will take many hours to play through.
The Soviet armored boats are killers!
Also included is a master list of all models/units currently available either from the original game and this expansion or available to purchase in separate booster packs for as little as $4.00 each. A nice, multipage look at the structure of both the 1941 German Army and the 1941 Soviet Army is included to help the completist create a realistic regiment or battalion.
The original rulebook is included, as are double-sided playing aids and dice. Everything the new player needs to get started is in this box. While the game is, in fact, an expansion as the title says, it could be played on its own although the models included are somewhat limited.
It is this limitation of included models that is the biggest disappointment. While I understand Zvezda’s need to sell more model kits, I wish that there were a greater selection of units in the expansion. A Panzer IV platoon, anti-tank gun and either a Bf109 or a Ju52 transport would have been wonderful to include for the Germans. The Russian selection is much better, but they really need a light tank such as a T26 as well as a fighter plane to help shoot down those annoying Stukas from the first game.
Another element missing from this expansion is background material detailing the Danube fighting and the unique circumstances of this campaign.
The Soviet armored train is a tough nut to crack.
The rules are the same as used in the original game and, briefly, work as follows:
The game is platoon level, each unit representing 2 to 7 tanks, trucks, airplanes, infantry squads, etc. For each model, you get a laminated unit card that lists the speed, attack and defense values, fortitude (a combination of morale, training and fighting spirit), as well as the special characteristics and different types of orders that can be given to each unit. Two dry erase markers included in the game are used to mark damage, orders, etc. on the unit’s laminated card. The individual unit orders are kept face down, but each turn an HQ has a chance to intercept the orders of a specific enemy unit. If this happens, that unit’s orders must be shown to the other side.
The key mechanics of the game are the "Orders" boxes found on each unit’s status cards. The laminated status card combined with the included dry-erase markers make an innovative and easy way to track the units’ orders, casualties, ammo and re-supply status.
The orders you can give to the units include, but are not limited to, move, assault, defend, smoke, ambush, deploy, place land mines, destroy barb wire, etc. Airplanes can bomb, perform combat air patrol, perform reconnaissance, drop supplies and/or paratroopers, etc.
Every order that can be issued to a unit is nicely explained in the rules and very easy to look up.
The game is played in the following phases: planning (in which you give the units their orders), radio interception (try and find out the orders of one enemy unit), execution (move, shoot and generally carry out the units’ orders), and, finally, the fortitude test (which units panic). The game plays very quickly once you’re familiar with the rules, and a complete battle can be played in 60 to 90 minutes.
While this first expansion is welcome, a greater selection of included units and background material would have added higher value to this first expansion. Upcoming is an expansion for the blitzkrieg in France, and it looks to be much better.
Armchair General Rating: 80 %
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)!