World War II Barbarossa 1941 – Boardgame Review
World War II Barbarossa 1941. Boardgame. Publisher: Zvezda. Designer: Konstantin Krivenko. Price $69.99
Passed Inspection: Beautiful mounted, modular map boards with 3D extra terrain. Minutely detailed snap-tight model kits. High quality rulebook and components. Fantastic value for the money. Good introduction to World War II miniatures gaming.
Failed Basic: Some of the models don’t fit together right. Typos in the rulebook. Box needs to be deeper to accommodate the model kits.
Zvezda is a Russian company that has been putting out high-quality plastic model kits for some 20 years. In fact, according to their Website, they are the largest manufacturer of games and model kits in Russia. Their name means "star" in Russian and, while their high quality models are definitely "stars" in their own right, their star is rising in the gaming industry thanks to innovative products such as World War II Barbarossa 1941.
Zvezda’s World War II Barbarossa 1941 boardgame is a beautiful piece of work. The high-quality box features a stunning painting of Russian troops manning anti-tank guns and attempting to fight off a German tank battalion. Inside the box, you’ll find 21 snap-together models of German and Russian tanks, Stukas, infantry, etc. The infantry is meticulously molded in 1:72 scale, the tanks are 1:100 scale (15mm) and the Stuka is 1:144 scale. The Germans are molded in gray while the Russians are in olive green. Fortification models are also included and may be used by either sides, depending on the scenario. More adventurous and skilled gamers will want to paint their miniatures. The game comes with two cardboard holders to store your completed models in.
Most of the nicely detailed, snap-together models are very easy to build and fit almost perfectly. Some, such as the Opel Blitz truck, need some trimming to get pieces to fit correctly. In fact, the Opel Blitz was very frustrating to build; the tires wouldn’t fit and the small pieces of the suspension broke off and had to be glued. I also had to glue one soldier (the same guy) in each of the three German squads included; he just wouldn’t fit tightly into the unit base. Also, both mortar teams and the Russian anti-aircraft gun were very difficult to get right—the small parts and fragility of the plastic pieces made these problematic even with super glue.
With World War II Barbarossa 1941 you get tons of nicely detailed models and a game to go with them—seems like the perfect combination to get young people back into building model kits as well as for introducing them to wargaming.
The game also includes ten 6-sided dice, six full-color, double-sided mounted map boards and 30 double-sided terrain tiles, as well as 3D smoke and fire, and six plastic hex risers to make hills and other "raised" terrain. All the maps and terrain features are of the highest quality. Also included is a second edition of the Art of Tactics World War II Barbarossa 1941 rulebook, a scenario book, unit descriptions and full color handouts.
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 and the included dry-erase markers provide 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.
Russians defend a hill with mortars, an AT gun and armor support.
There are some typos in the game rules, mostly associated with the ample charts and illustrations. One more editing pass should have caught these, but most readers will be able to figure out what the charts are trying to impart. The line of sight chart is reversed: the white lines need to be listed as "There is a line of sight" while the black lines should be listed as "There is no line of sight" Also, the rules for anti-tank "Dragon’s Teeth" are missing; in that section is a description of trenches—which also appears twice in the Fortification Section of the book! Also, while the air rules cover almost all missions a wargamer could want, the actual bombing rules need clarification.
Strangely, tank panic (when a unit needs to be make a Fortitude Test for being attacked by a tank in overrun) is listed as a feature of the given infantry unit and not as a feature of the tank. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have specific tanks capable of causing "tank panic" when they assault or overrun instead of having specific infantry units more susceptible? I can see "green units" having a modifier to their die roll but this just seems somewhat backwards to me.
Overall, the rules are very easy to read and interpret. Almost any situation the player could account for is covered in these rules, including air strikes, assaults, engineer units, ambushes, defensive fire, suppression fire, ammo usage, smoke screens, deploying artillery, towing units, land mines, trains, boats, and even "arson," aka setting fire to buildings to create smoke and confusion!
3D extras include barbed wire, flames and smoke
While the game is focused on simultaneous play of each turn, it is very easy to adapt to solitaire play. When the included scenarios are used up, more can be downloaded from Zvezda’s website. Plus, each unit is given a point-value rating so that scenarios are very easy to create on the fly!
A few more units would have been nice to include, such as the T26 Soviet tank, a Soviet airplane, Panzer IV and maybe a German anti-tank gun would have helped provide more flexibility. These extra units would have balanced out each side nicely. (Additional units can be purchased separately, as explained below.)
The German "big gun" is the Stuka dive-bomber, while the most powerful Soviet unit is the early model T34 tank. Full air combat, reconnaissance, bombing and airdrop rules are included. Interestingly enough, airplanes can’t do their down tactical spotting for targets—the targets must first be spotted by friendly units before the air strike can occur. Even using reconnaissance, the airplane can only spot for ground artillery and not spot for its own ground attack mission. I propose letting an air unit use the reconnaissance rules to spot for a target on one turn and then attack the target on the next turn before it returns to its airfield to repair, refuel and rearm.
One of the examples of combat uses a Panzer II and a Soviet T26 tank but this example can’t be reenacted, as the game does not include a T26 tank.
Example of Play, World War II Barbarossa 1941
The flow of my first small test game went as follows:
Three Panzer IIs and two MG34 teams came face to face with six Russian trucks loaded with five infantry squads plus three anti-tank guns. The Russians stopped and unloaded the troops and AT guns while the German MG crews set up their MG34s. The three Panzer IIs opened fire. Great luck for the Germans as five trucks were destroyed and one Russian infantry squad was effectively eliminated before it could deploy. While the Russian infantry squads ran towards cover, the AT gun crews took advantage of the smoke from the burning trucks to set up their guns. The AT guns moved into firing positions while the Pz IIs tried to get them in their sites. The MG34 crews moved their guns to cover the shrubbery the Russian infantry had run to. Suddenly, the smoke begins to clear and the AT guns fired. One of the Panzer IIs was hit and burst into flames. The Panzers fired back with their 20mm cannons and machine guns and destroyed all three hastily set up AT guns! Meanwhile, the Russian infantry attacked the MG crews, who fired back. One MG crew was effectively destroyed but not before the fire from both MGs disrupted and panicked the Russian infantry, who fled away from the road. All was quiet again save for the sound of burning vehicles and the moan of wounded men.
Zvezda has released more models for the game including Russian airplanes, Panzer IVs and several more types of infantry. The first expansion was also just released and it covers the battles for the Danube River. The extra model kits are nicely priced at around $4.50 per model.
Overall, I’m very excited about this new line of games and models. Highly recommended!
Click here to read Rick Martin’s review of Battle for the Danube, the first expansion for World War II Barbarossa 1941.
Armchair General Rating: 86 %
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)!