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David Scolari
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I have just finished playing my first full game of The Barbarossa Campaign (TBC) along with a partial learning game and wanted to give my first impressions.

Concept:
TBC is a solitaire wargame from Victory Point Games. The player represents the German High Command tasked with invading the Soviet Union (The Artificial Intelligence, AI). The core of the game is Initiative Points (IP). If the Germans score enough IP (6+) during a round, they gain a Victory Point (VP), while if the Soviets score IP into the negative territory (-14), the Germans lose victory points. IP represents German and Soviet morale, resources, prestige, experience, tactics and more. Thus, if the Germans score positive IP that represents their gaining resources from taking territories, increased morale from winning, etc. The Germans win if they capture Moscow, Leningrad, and Stalingrad, or if they score 5 VPs. They can also score marginal victories if they still have VPs at the end of the game, otherwise they lose.

Quick Review:
TBC is a quality game from VPG. Its Initiative Point System makes gameplay exciting and tense, with hours of enjoyment.


THE REVIEW:

Components:
First off, let me be clear here (as I have mentioned in my review of “We Must Tell the Emperor”), Victory Point Games is a small game company that does not have the resources of such game companies as Fantasy Flight or GMT. Thus if one is looking for a game that has "blow you away" components, TBC is going to disappoint potential buyers.

That being said, components are of good quality

The map and player aids are well done and printed on sturdy paper.

The cards are, like in “We Must Tell the Emperor”, very function, and very clean. While not the primary driver behind the game, they are involved in numerous elements and thus I think the uncluttered and clean way they are designed helps improve game play as it is easy to quickly find the information one is looking for on the card. Finally, the cards are printed on a very thick card stock.

Overall, component quality is good.

Score – 8/10

PS-
So when I received my copy of TBC in the mail, despite VPG labeling the envelope it was in “DO NOT BEND” the postal worker stuffed it the envelope into my very small mailbox. Needless to say the main board and some other components were bent rather badly. I emailed VPG and offered to pay for the replacements because it was obviously not their vault. Within days, I got an email response from THE Alan Emrich himself stating that replacement components were on their way and the envelope had cardboard pieces in them as to prevent the postal worker from shoving it the mailbox. All for free. Ladies and gentlemen, that it is what I call service of the utmost highest quality. It is this type of service that shows a company is dedicated to their customers. It is one of the reason why I will continue to order from VPG in the future. Not only do they have excellent games, but that type of service is first-rate and deeply appreciated.


Rules/Rulebook:
The Rules can be found on VPG’s website. I believe that they are well written and well organized ( I did have trouble with one or two areas but that is because I was suffering from a bad case of “The Stupids”). One can read through the rules once and start playing with occasional reference to the rulebook. In addition, most of the necessary information can be found in well placed areas on the map.

Overall, VPG comes through once again with a well laid out rulebook and well written rules.

Score: 10/10

Gameplay:
Overall gameplay is quality. Each turn one draws event cards that have some sort of effect on the game (i.e. Moscow becomes fortified, the Germans can get some extra production, Soviet Partisan attack, etc…). After the events, there is an economic section where either the Soviets, the Germans, or both (depending on the Game Turn) draw one or more economic chits. For the Germans these chits either increase German Tank Research (necessary for certain aspects of Blitz Combat) or allow the player to produce what have the player selected on the Axis Strategic Mode (i.e. Produce Tanks, and more).

The above mentioned phases of the game add much to gameplay. Events can be beneficial or not and that unknown factor adds tension and excitement to gameplay. Are the Soviets going to fortify Moscow which will cast a player’s plans to take it in 1941 into doubt, or will the Germans get an Elite Panzer Unit which make that drive on Stalingrad much easier. Not only do the events add tension and excitement, but I suspect that they will also make each game different. A player’s winning strategy of capturing Moscow first in a previous game may not work a second time if Moscow gets fortified before one can take it, or another event intervenes. Thus, events add an unpredictable layer that players have to adapt to .

The Economics Phase is an interesting way of simulating the Soviet Union’s growing economic and military superiority over Germany throughout WWII. For the Soviets, economic chits represent either Tank Research, Industrial Production, or Lend Lease. As the war drags on, the Soviet Union draws more and more economic chits. These chits, when placed on their appropriate track increase the Soviet Union’s IP. Thus, as the war reaches the later years, the player will find it harder and harder to maintain the initiative and thus score Victory Points. For the Germans, economic chits represent either Tank Research, which gives the Germans IPs and also is important for German Blitz Attacks, or the chits are for Economic Production. At the end of each turn, the player chooses where to emphasize his production. If a chit is drawn that allows production (not guaranteed every turn), the player gets what was selected previously. Thus, the player might gain a new panzer units, a 1+ IP Capture Marker, extra defenses, etc…

I love the economic system. As the turns pass by, I felt tremendous pressure to score the last VPs that I needed before the Soviet economic machine, like it did historically, put the screws on the German Military. For example, in 1942, the high mark for the Germans, I was getting around 13IPs a turn, by the 1943, when the game ended (I won), the Germans were making 6 IPs and that number was only going to go down from there. Thus, the economic system adds a lot of great tension.

Before I go over and review the combat phases, let me explain the Initiative System because it is core to the game’s combat phases. Not only does IP help score VPs, it also determines what type of combat is conducted. If the Germans are in positive territory in terms of IPs, they get to conduct both their Blitz and Regular Combat Phases while the Soviets can only conduct their Counter Attack Phase. If Initiative is contested, all combat phases are conducted, if the Soviets have the initiative, the Soviets conduct both their phases, the Germans only their Regular Combat, and if Germany collapses, the Germans conduct no combat phases. Thus, one can see that initiative is important for not only VPs but also for attacking.

Now combat phases. First, if the Germans have enough IPs, the player can conduct Blitz Combat. Blitz Combat is conducted by Tanks and Luftwaffe supported infantry units. The unique thing about Blitzing is that all panzer units can attack more than once depending on the chit pull. Just to clarify, Blitz Combat, Regular Combat, and Soviet Counter-Attack Combat is conducted through chit pulls. Depending on the chit pulled along with several other factors, one looks at the appropriate spot on the appropriate combat table and follows the result. Now back to blitzing. Basically, certain chit pulls will allow the panzers to advance several times after factoring in other things (such as spring weather conditions). I find this phase of combat a really nice way of representing Germany’s historical superiority in tank tactics and training. It allows the player to make rapid advances in the beginning of the game just like the Germans did. Of course further historical accuracy is added when either the Soviets gain the initiative or gain armor superiority. Both these either prevent Blitz Combat from happening or significantly slow down German advances. So the player will find himself rapidly advancing in the earlier years with many encirclements and then find the tide shift and progress rapidly slowdown until it is reversed In addition, adding and subtracting other factors is a breeze and one can quickly determine results. Overall excellent system.

After Blitz Combat, is the Regular Combat Phase. In Regular Combat, all units can attack,but only once, and attacks are much harder to make. Again chits are used to determine results by looking at the chit and applying the result from the appropriate spot on the combat table. I really like regular combat as well because one again it was easy to calculate and manage while at the same was based on history. The fact they can only attack once represents the fact that infantry units were not as mobile as the Panzer units nor were they as strong. The other key difference of Regular Combat to Blitz Combat is that Regular Combat is the only way for the Germans to capture major cities (Moscow, Leningrad, and Stalingrad) and rough terrain hexes. I love this little difference because it is again an accurate representation of tactics. Tanks don’t do well in heavily wooded, mountainous, or urban environments. It also makes capturing major cities and especially Leningrad (a major city surrounded by rough terrain) difficult to capture. Thus, one will find, just like in WWII, the Germans having an incredibly difficult time capturing major cities and it is very possible that one could like the Germans be battling desperately for such cities before Russian superiority kicks in and kick the player out. Overall, easy to understand and use, and lots of historical flavor.

So after the Germans run amok, the Soviets get their crack at the Germans. In the Soviet Counter-Attack Phase, the player counts up the number of Soviet units next to each German unit and then pulls a chit. After adding and subtracting modifiers, the player applies the result from a combat table. The player then recounts the number of Soviet units again to take into account the changed situation if the Soviets advanced. I really like this combat phase as well because it is just dripping with tension and excitement. The player is sitting there looking as his (hopefully) freshly made gains and hoping that they don’t get obliterated by the Soviet juggernaut. At the beginning of the game, the Soviet attack are pretty week unless one takes a huge gamble and create a massive bulge in the Soviet lines (which allows more Soviet units to attack German units). However, once more powerful Soviet reinforcements begin to pour in and winter comes, these counter-attacks become more and more deadly. Towards the end of my game, there was nothing more dreadful than watching Soviet Elite tank and infantry units roll up my lines all the way to Stalingrad before they were stopped or watching Elite Soviet infantry units almost take Moscow (If either had been taken, it would have been disastrous). Naturally, had I not won the game when I did, these Soviet advances would have been a lot worse.

The next phase is the Soviet Initiative Phase. Now I will be honest, my first game was a great success for the Germans and thus never actually encountered this phase except for my shorter learning game. This phase is different than other combat phases in that there is no actual combat involved. What happens is the player first determines Soviet Initiative (-14 through -2) and that determines the strength of the Soviet Initiative Combat Phase. The player then draws a card that has determines how many hexes the Soviets take (the player determines which hexes are taken). Depending on the level of Soviet Initiative, there are a number of rules that guide the player’s choices. For instance, at a certain level, a player must lose city, hexes have to be adjacent to each other, etc… and in addition if things get really bad, the player will have to do this phase twice. From my learning game, I liked this phase. To me, it represents the massive Soviet war machine that is so powerful, that the Germans just can’t stop it. Because this happens only in the later game this makes sense and fits historically.

After each nation’s combat phase, there is an encirclement phase that eliminates unsupplied units. These units give IP advantages for that turn and also allow for rapid advances for both sides. A nice little feature I believe.

After combat, one counts up initiative and then does some housekeeping. Then once the housekeeping phase is down the players moves the turn marker and starts another turn.

Now, there are two things I would like to address. First, there is criticism of the game in that there is a lot of calculation to be done for the Soviets and their attacks. The criticism goes that why bother with all the calculation when you can just go and play a computer game. I do agree that there are a lot of calculations to be done for the Soviets, more so towards the middle and late portions of the game when they attack more often; however, it is a solitaire wargame/board game. The calculations are for the AI in order to make it a challenging solitaire opponent. Yes they could have made the game with less calculations, but then one would get a crappy board game because the Soviets would be pushovers. Thus, if one wants a good AI, one needs the calculations which leads me to the computer games. If you are worried that you will not enjoy calculating Soviet attacks, then don’t get this solitaire wargame. In any solitaire wargame there is going to be “extra legwork” whether you are playing against an AI or playing both sides especially for larger operational or strategic games. If one does not want to do the mental work, then go play computer games which will do the work for you. Look, I love computer games, especially strategic ones such as the Hearts of Iron Series from Paradox and the Europa Universalis series, but sometimes I don’t want to play computer games (they can be pretty flipping complex, Hearts of Iron 3’s manual is 87 pages and the expansion is another 20 or so! While the computer may do all the number crunching the amount of thought one has do in order to understand all the complex parts of the game to make effective decisions is quite a bit, more so than TBC). Sometimes I like the feel of a board game or I don’t feel like staring at screen. So again to reiterate if one is looking at this game and going, “Man, seems like a lot of work” move on, if however one is looking for a board game that will challenge you and you don’t mind doing some basic math and housekeeping, then I believe one will enjoy this game.

The second criticism is the end game. In the end, the Germans will be overwhelmed by the Soviets and the opportunity for the player to attack will be rare. The fear of some is that eventually the player will just be calculating out the Soviet moves and watching as the Soviets steamroll the Germans. Thus, the player will have no meaningful decisions for the last part of the game. I would say this is partially true even though I have not played a game where the Germans are getting their asses kicked yet. I say this is partially true because the player still has teeth-grinding choices to make. For example, Panzers units get defense modifiers against the Soviet Counter-Attack Phase. Thus one decision the player has is where to put one’s panzers. Does one put them in the north to slow the Soviet advance on Berlin, or does one put them in the south to stop the attack on the oilfield in Romania. Panzers are also useful for limiting the number of hexes the Soviets take during the Initiative Combat Phase. So one can be faced with the critical decision of whether to sacrifice a Panzer to slow the Soviet advance at the cost of losing the ability to resist Soviet Counter-Attacks, future Initiative Combat, or weaken the Germanys offensive capabilities (of which it is still possible for the Germans to attack when the initiative is against them). Another choice one gets is defenses. Every winter, the Germans can get either Luftwaffe markers or two hedgehog markers. hedgehog markers can be used to resist both Soviet Counter-Attack and Initiative Combat. Luftwaffe markers can be used to slow Soviet Initiative Combat and can help with future offensives. Thus the player has more choices does one take the Luftwaffe and for future offensives and or to stop Soviet Initiative Combat, or does one take the defense markers and then have to face the tough choice of where to put them to best slow down the Soviet juggernaut. In the end I would say that the German player will have choices in the end, but they will be limited (as would historically make sense, once the Soviets got rolling in ’44 and ’45 the Germans could perhaps conduct some minor offensives and make stands at certain places, but ultimately they were not going to stop the Soviet war machine.).

Score - 8.5/10

So, if one is looking for a quality solitaire wargame of the Eastern Front for World War II, stop reading and head on down to VPG’s website and order The Barbarossa Campaign.


EDIT: For Grammar and Spelling, and one minor rule correction
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Brad Heath
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Hi David yes this is an excellent solitaire game. I've only played it three or four times so far and it can be hard to win but not impossible. I'll revisit this soon but right now am playing another excellent VPG game We Must Tell the emperor.

Personally I don't find doing all the calculations later in the game all that difficult and I'm not big on maths!

Merry Christmas and happy gaming
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David Scolari
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irreg77 wrote:
Hi David yes this is an excellent solitaire game. I've only played it three or four times so far and it can be hard to win but not impossible. I'll revisit this soon but right now am playing another excellent VPG game We Must Tell the emperor.

Personally I don't find doing all the calculations later in the game all that difficult and I'm not big on maths!

Merry Christmas and happy gaming:D


I heartily concur!
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Carl Paradis
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Thanks for the comprehensive review David!
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David Scolari
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licinius wrote:
Thnaks for the comprehensive review David! :)


My pleasure. It is the least I could do for a quality game such as this.
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Jason Sherlock
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Great review.

One minor correction. Each winter the Axis gets either a Luftwaffe counter or a Hedgehog counter. The defense counters are the result of strategic planning and are much more valuable (each gives +1 initiative).
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David Scolari
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jackalope wrote:
Great review.

One minor correction. Each winter the Axis gets either a Luftwaffe counter or a Hedgehog counter. The defense counters are the result of strategic planning and are much more valuable (each gives +1 initiative).


Yes you are right on. I'm not quite sure why I typed that because I played it the way you and the rules mentioned it. Brain fart I suppose.
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Frank
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Very good review David.

I bought this game several weeks ago and can't stop playing it. Each time you have to adapt your stategies to the variable Events, Economics and Battle results factors. The replayability is immense and after more than ten games, it keeps me hooked.

jackalope wrote:
Great review.
One minor correction. Each winter the Axis gets either a Luftwaffe counter or a Hedgehog counter. The defense counters are the result of strategic planning and are much more valuable (each gives +1 initiative).

Actually, as per rule 12.0, the Axis gets either one Luftwaffe counter OR two Hedgehogs counters.

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David Scolari
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FrUnit7 wrote:
Very good review David.

I bought this game several weeks ago and can't stop playing it. Each time you have to adapt your stategies to the variable Events, Economics and Battle results factors. The replayability is immense and after more than ten games, it keeps me hooked.

jackalope wrote:
Great review.
One minor correction. Each winter the Axis gets either a Luftwaffe counter or a Hedgehog counter. The defense counters are the result of strategic planning and are much more valuable (each gives +1 initiative).

Actually, as per rule 12.0, the Axis gets either one Luftwaffe counter OR two Hedgehogs counters.



Once again right on!
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Aaron Silverman
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Can anyone compare this to Eastern Front Solitaire?
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Justus Pendleton
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I've never played Eastern Front Solitaire and they don't make the rules available so I'm reduced to speculation but based on its description EFS sounds more complicated and longer than The Barbarossa Campaign.

TBC claims that it be played in 3--4 hours which is about right. EFS has ~40 turns (versus the ~12 for TBC) and has about 2x the number of counters. It also apparently has 9(!) play aids, which is a little intimidating.

(Then I looked at the comments for EFS, which seem to back this up: there aren't many but a few hint at the play length ("I've been playing the campaign for two weeks now") and rules complexity ("there are a lot of rules to keep track of").

TBC also has an Event Deck which introduces a certain of total randomness into the game, something that most solitaire designs need.
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Wendell Martin, Jr.
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DJ Kuul A wrote:
Can anyone compare this to Eastern Front Solitaire?

I played the "earlier" first(?) edition of EFS a couple of times, then bought the "later" second(?) edition, but both were lost in a flood in 2002 before I had a chance to get into that one. Hopefully an active player of both EFS and TBC will be able to provide more details, but here's my sketch in case it helps...

I recall EFS feeling a bit more detailed than TBC at the operational/combat level, with somewhat simpler rules overall, but the continuous front system wasn't as smooth. There were some situations that the rules seemed less-than-clear on, and I wasn't sure that I was playing them correctly. (The later rules seemed to retain some of these same issues, since I looked to see if they'd resolved them and don't think that they did.) TBC's rules are a bit more complex, but everything that's there is made clear.

To me, EFS gave a more detailed view of the fighting itself, while TBC gives a more complete view of the theater as a whole. The way that it covers so much more than the ground war really opens things up. I thought that EFS was a pretty good game, while I find TBC to be a great game.
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Lawrence Hung
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Great review, David. This makes me more and more closer to buying it. I have been watching for it for quite a time but not been determined to make the decision because of VPG's physical components quality.

Quote:
The player then draws a card that has determines how many hexes the Soviets take (the player determines which hexes are taken). Depending on the level of Soviet Initiative, there are a number of rules that guide the player’s choices. For instance, at a certain level, a player must lose city, hexes have to be adjacent to each other, etc… and in addition if things get really bad, the player will have to do this phase twice.


One thing about the above mechanic. It appears to be guided randomness to me if the initiative system calls for a direct loss of a city suddenly without the Soviet units actually attacking it. I cannot internalize how does it happen historically. Any thought?
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Justus Pendleton
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Lawrence Hung wrote:
One thing about the above mechanic. It appears to be guided randomness to me if the initiative system calls for a direct loss of a city suddenly without the Soviet units actually attacking it. I cannot internalize how does it happen historically.


I think maybe you are reading way too much into something that I don't think was an attempt to be a perfect condensation of the rules.

Quote:

Page 11
[14.2] Initiative Index Guidelines.
Initiative Index = Soviet (-6 to -7):

A. If at all possible, Initiative hexes must be taken in such a way that at least one city (on either side of the Operations Line) is captured by the Soviets.
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David Scolari
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Quoting directly from the rules:
Quote:
"Soviet Initiative represents broad pressure
upon a sector of the Axis Front Line that
must yield to what is, in effect, a land grab."


For me (and I'm not well read on the Eastern Front in WWII) I think of it as the Soviets launching massive general offensives across the front (which was possible with their manpower and later industrial advantage) which the Germans, stretched thin, undermanned, and outgunned give way in certain places because they just don't have the resources to defend everywhere (its the end of the war and the Germans are losing steam). Remember this phase only takes place when the Soviets are contesting the initiative or have the initiative which represents their manpower, armor, and industrial advantage while also representing the German's lack of manpower, armor, and industrial advantage. You can of course go to VPG's website and download the manual and take closer look at this phase.

Finally, I think that your concerns of component quality are unncessary. While they may not be as good as the components of other game companies like GMT or FFG, they are still very good in terms of art work and durability. You can take a look at the map and counters on VPG's website to look at the artwork and as for the durability, if you take care of the components (as you take similar care with other games), should last you quite a while.

Hope this helps in your decision. Great question also!


Lawrence Hung wrote:
Great review, David. This makes me more and more closer to buying it. I have been watching for it for quite a time but not been determined to make the decision because of VPG's physical components quality.

Quote:
The player then draws a card that has determines how many hexes the Soviets take (the player determines which hexes are taken). Depending on the level of Soviet Initiative, there are a number of rules that guide the player’s choices. For instance, at a certain level, a player must lose city, hexes have to be adjacent to each other, etc… and in addition if things get really bad, the player will have to do this phase twice.


One thing about the above mechanic. It appears to be guided randomness to me if the initiative system calls for a direct loss of a city suddenly without the Soviet units actually attacking it. I cannot internalize how does it happen historically. Any thought?
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Malcolm B
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Heading to the VPG site right now
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Thanks for the review David, I finally got to read the entire gameplay breakdown you did, and feel I got a pretty good sense of the gameplay. Definitely a game I'd like to check out - seems to fit in that "longer" category compared to some other titles that VPG has to offer. Most likley going to make it into my next order from them.

Thanks!
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Carl Paradis
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jholen wrote:
Thanks for the review David, I finally got to read the entire gameplay breakdown you did, and feel I got a pretty good sense of the gameplay. Definitely a game I'd like to check out - seems to fit in that "longer" category compared to some other titles that VPG has to offer. Most likley going to make it into my next order from them.

Thanks!


Yes, the game can last quite a bit of time. BUT if you are in a hurry, I made quite a lot of shorter scenarios that are included in the game (I mean, there is 5 scenarios, plus the campaign game!) This will allow for very quick play.
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