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  Barbarossa Army Group Center, 1941 by GMT Games  On July 22nd, 1941, Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union. Barbar...

Barbarossa Army Group Center, 1941 by GMT Games Barbarossa Army Group Center, 1941 by GMT Games

Barbarossa Army Group Center, 1941 by GMT Games

Barbarossa Army Group Center, 1941 by GMT Games

 Barbarossa Army Group Center, 1941


GMT Games

 On July 22nd, 1941, Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union. Barbarossa (Red Beard) was the nickname of Frederick I Hohenstaufen the Holy Roman Emperor. He is supposed to be in a cave somewhere in Germany waiting until the country really needs him (much like King Arthur). It seems when we look back, it was an insane move made by a lunatic. However, at the time it wouldn't have looked like a bad decision. The Soviet Union had just finished the Winter war against Finland. This had not gone well at all for the Soviets. It was only because of the tremendous size difference between both countries' armed forces that Finland was finally defeated. The German officers also remembered how in World War I the German forces were able to consistently beat the Russian horde. So, how were they to know that the Soviet Union had made such strides in a little over twenty years.

 The plan to attack the Soviet Union had three German Army Groups attacking at the same time. These would be Army Groups North, Center, and South. The high command's plan always envisioned Army Group Center and its attack straight to Moscow as the biggest and most important part of Operation Barbarossa. It was given two Panzer Groups (while the others only had one). These were Panzer Group II under Guderian, and Panzer Group III under Hoth. The first six months of this titanic struggle saw another struggle in the German High Command over which Army Group was the most important. The High Command really wanted to conquer Moscow. Was this hubris because of Napoleon's capture of the city, or was it based on definable reasons? Hitler was more interested in the Ukraine and Leningrad.

Half of the Scenario 3 Map

 These are the game's components and features:

Four 22x34 inch full-color maps (Series Maps C, D, H, and I)
One 22x8.5 inch map (Map WA) (in 2nd edition only)
1400 multi-colored die-cut ½ inch counters
Rule Book
Play Book
4 - 22" X 17" Double-Sided Scenario Setup Cards (Axis and Soviet)
1 - 8 1/2" X 14 " Soviet Setup Card
1 - 22 X 17" Double-Sided Hard Stock Map (Scenarios 3 and 6)
1 - 8 1/2" X 11" Hard Stock Double-Sided Card (One side is the map for Scenario 1, the other side is the Axis Super-Heavy Artillery Effects Table)
2 - 22" X 17" Hard Stock Double-Sided Player Aids (Identical)
2 - 22" X 17" Hard Stock Double-Sided Player Aids (Identical, with the Expanded Sequence of Play)
1 - 8 1/2" X 11" Hard Stock Turn Record Track (One-sided)
1 - 8 1/2" X 11" Hard Stock Step Reduction Organization Card (One-sided)
2 - 8 1/2" X 11" Hard Stock Player Aids (One-sided, one for each side)
2 - 22" X 17" Hard Stock Double-Sided Player Aids (Numerous tables and charts)

TIME SCALE 2 days per turn
MAP SCALE 5 miles per hex
GROUND UNIT SCALE Division/Regiment
AIR UNIT SCALE 40-80 aircraft per counter

 Can you say plethora! I thought I was handed instructions to build a small Ikea house. Yes, the game has tons of players aids and is extremely large all by itself. However, the designer Vance von Borries has been working on the Eastern Front The Russo-German War Series since the late 1990s. The idea is to have the games and maps complement each other so that someone with an unused room in their house could have the entire Eastern Front sprawled out in front of them. You can see above that the map scale is five mile per hex! You might think that this is a game that you might want to wait until you are retired to dive into. This is not the case. The game and scenarios are designed for the grognard to get into the pool slowly without getting overwhelmed. If you look at some of the earlier games in the series right now you would definitely suffer sticker shock. These are:

Typhoon: The Drive on Moscow, 1941

Barbarossa: Kiev to Rostov, 1941

 Fortunately for we grognards, it looks like GMT is reissuing the series. Barbarossa Army Group North and Army Group North are on GMT's P500 right now. Do yourself a favor and pick them up now instead of when they are priced like hen's teeth.

Information from GMT about the game:

"Eight scenarios allow players to vary their level of involvement, complexity, and starting point, from introductory to full campaign
An asymmetrical sequence of play that highlights Axis armored breakthroughs and Soviet difficulties in combined arms warfare. This includes a “non-op” Soviet HQ system to simulate the rigid, yet fragile, Soviet Command structure. Detailed air rules which integrate with land combat and weather rules. Incredibly detailed Order of Battle, including special coverage of artillery, rocket artillery, engineers, bridge units, armored trains, and much more
Modifications to the proven “EFS” include many revised rules and procedures, as well as new Order of Battle information
Extensive bibliography and design/historical notes"

 So, the blurb about the maps is not really accurate. The game actually comes with five laminated paper maps and three hard stock ones of various sizes. The three hard stock are for small learning scenarios. The maps are gorgeous, in a subdued manner. They are uncluttered and you are able to distinguish all the terrain in the hexes. The counters are all 1/2" in size. They have to be, or the game would be twice as large and twice as costly. They are color coded to help the player see which belongs to what units, etc. The counters are not crowded or too busy looking. However, just because of their size I can see some people needing their specs to see the different formation information on them. As mentioned, the Player Aids are made of hard stock. If you took the time to add them up, you will see that there is an astonishing seventeen of them! Every one of them is also in full color. For your first few playthroughs it does take a bit of time to find the exact table or chart you are looking for. Soon you will become an old hand at it. The Rule Book is sixty-four pages long. It has some parts of it in color but is mostly black and white. Each page has two columns of type that is large enough for easy reading. It has both a Table of Contents and an Index. These will both come in handy when you will be starting out with the game. The Playbook is fifty-two pages long. It is printed out the same as the Rulebook. The first twenty-five pages start with some information about setting up the scenarios and the scenarios themselves. Pages twenty-six to thirty-nine are full of play examples. The next four pages are called the Designer's Section. These include the Designer's Historical Notes and Second Edition Notes. Next, we have the Counter Manifests. The last few pages are the Expanded Sequence of Play. All of the components are produced at a level that we have come to expect from GMT.

 These are the map/size needs for the scenarios:

Scenarios One, Three, Five and Six use only one map or the smaller maps.
Scenarios Two and Four use two maps.
Scenario Seven uses three maps.
Scenario Eight uses all of the five larger maps.

 This is a game that is not really meant for the tyro or neophyte entering our wargaming hobby. While it is true that there are smaller and simpler scenarios, you will not get the full panoply of the game until you have played some of the larger ones. It is a large game and has a rule book that is sixty pages long. 

This is a list of some the units:

Ground Unit Type Symbols:
Armored (motorized) units
Armored anti-tank
Armored engineer
Assault gun
Motorized Units
Reconnaissance (Recon)
Motorcycle infantry
Motorized infantry
Motorized engineer
Motorized anti-aircraft
Motorized anti-tank
Non-Motorized Units
Mountain infantry
Airborne infantry
Parachute infantry
Security infantry
Border guard
Ski infantry
Base unit
Special Units
Armored train
Artillery Units
Field artillery
Coast defense artillery
Rocket artillery
Railroad artillery
Super-Heavy Artillery (mobile mode)
(range value is blank)
Super-Heavy Artillery (firing mode) (silhouettes
vary) (includes an attack DRM and range)

 To this list you would need to add Air Units and Ground non-combat Units.

 The game has two types of Supply. They are General Supply and Attack Supply. Supply should always be a part of deeper wargames. A unit is in General Supply if it can show an unbroken supply line of seven hexes, not including the unit itself. This is subject to Zone of Control and terrain in the hexes that make up the supply line. Attack Supply is shown on the map by MSUs (Mobile Supply Unit). These can also be turned into Supply Dumps. Units also have to make a seven hex supply line to Attack Supply (both MSU and Supply Dumps). A unit can attack without Attack Supply, but it will suffer various negative effects during the attack and in losses that might happen when deciding the attack.

 The game also gives the player a large amount of historical detail in the rules. Take for example, the difference in plans on the German side. Most scenarios start with the German player using the OKH (Oberkommando des Heeres) Plan. On game turn sixteen the German player is forced to change it to the Hitler Plan. He can try to change it back to the OKH plan on turns seventeen to nineteen (the player loses two victory points and rolls one die), then checks on the table. If it is moved back to the OKH Plan, it automatically goes back to the Hitler Plan on turn twenty-six. 

 To help you with the record keeping these are also in the game:

Player Aid Markers:

Ammo Level - S-HA
Axis Logistics Pause
Bridge (completed)
Bridge (under construction)
Bridge Destroyed
Citadel Destroyed
Declared Attack
Declared Attack - Mandated Attack
Do Not Move GT 1 (front)
Do Not Move GT 2 (back)
Emergency Supply
Ferry (completed)
Ferry (under construction)
Fortified Belt Destroyed
Fortified Line Destroyed
Fuel Shortage
Game Turn
Garrison Hex
Interdiction Level (Axis and Soviet)
Mandated Attacks Not Yet Made
Naval Evacuation [use only with Naval Module]
Number marker

 These are only about half of all of the markers used in the game.

 This is a game for a grognard to sink his teeth into. There is so much put into the game including:

Soviet Armored Trains
NKVD Units
Soviet Militia

 If you wanted to, a player could get lost in the minutia. However, the original rules were printed in 1998 and have been repeatedly revised over that twenty-five-year span. This is some statements about the series two rules:

Without a doubt this area presented the greatest challenge.
The whole rules book has been rewritten, reorganized, added
to and trimmed of excess, and it includes more clarifications.
In our discussions we determined the original rules also needed
clarity and to be more accessible. Accordingly, we made more
use of bullet points, brief examples, and references to related
rules sections. The old rules had too many instances of critical
points scattered over the length of the rules. We prioritized
bringing these points together as opposed to a strict following
of the sequence of play. The Expanded Sequence of Play should
answer most of your questions on sequencing of functions. We
also provide a rules index to facilitate finding a rule. Then here
in the Playbook you can find several comprehensive examples
of play to illustrate important concepts."

 When I first opened the box this phrase popped into my mind "To drool or not to drool, that is the question". My love of large deep wargames goes back probably to 1976 or so. That means that for almost fifty years I have been overawed by games like this. 
As far as the gameplay goes there is not much to say. When it was first released, the series captured a large amount of grognard fans. This is the beginning of the Russo-German War brought forth in all of its glory for wargamers. The German player is placed on a knife edge of two disparate thoughts. The first is how much damage can I inflict on my opponent while using my Panzer Groups to slice through the Soviet lines and surrounding them. The second is how the devil am I supposed to keep my units supplied? In the rules, there is a separate section for Axis Fuel Shortage. The Soviet player must have a mindset of Marshal Zhukov. Throw everything at the invaders including the entire contents of the kitchen and not just the sink. You must always try and save what you can from the pockets that will be created while also building defense lines farther back. Be prepared to see your opponent break through your carefully made defense lines time and time again. The game length is fifty turns, from June 22nd until September 29th. Some players will doubtless say that one side or the other has an easier time of it. Others will look like Sherlock Holmes while examining the rules. My take on the game is just enjoy it for what it is, a grognard's dream come true. Either side can win the campaign or the separate scenarios. I believe Mr. von Borries and GMT have created an excellent and deep game of the first part of the first campaign in the war. Thank you GMT for allowing me to review this game.


GMT Games:

Barbarossa Army Group Center, 1941: