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Subject: A Few Nights With Barbarossa 1941: A Review rss

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Matt Snodgrass
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A review of Zvezda’s Barbarossa 1941

When I saw the box for Zvezda’s Barbarossa, my first thought was “Oh, this looks like a souped up version of Memoir ’44.”

It is.

And it isn’t. Read on to find out more.

COMPONENTS

Note: this is not a “crack the box and play” type game. Some assembly is required.

Upon opening the box, I was greeted with what appeared to be several Testors model kits: meticulously bagged plastic sprues of vehicles and troops. I was excited!

I took this game to my regular game night anticipating a bit of put-together time followed by a game or two to feel it out. I (incorrectly) assumed that it would be quick to assemble the components. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as quick as I thought. Three of us took about three hours to get most pieces assembled. I do have to point out, however, that my two gamers are NOT modelers. Asking them to put together pieces of infantry men, tanks, trucks, and anti-aircraft guns was like pulling teeth. I wound up with broken legs, missing machine gun parts, broken tank treads, and lots of hands thrown up in frustration. For the record, this has nothing to do with the game or the components (the parts are fairly easy to assemble if you have any experience with modeling or miniatures) and everything to do with the people that were helping me assemble.

Zvezda is a model company and, as such, has put their time into developing the pieces. It definitely shows. Once assembled, the components are gorgeous. Almost everything fit together simply and easily, with only a few minor shavings and modifications to get pegs into holes as required. The pieces are quite detailed and, while light, are feel sturdy. The plastic seems to be somewhat more flexible than a standard Testors-type model, but not as hard and brittle as, say, a Games Workshop mini. Interestingly, I noted when assembling that the green plastic feels different from the blue plastic (Russians vs. Germans). I’d be interested in seeing if anyone else has noticed that or if it’s just in my head? I also love the fact they even provide supply trucks as an integral part of the game (more on this later). It’s a model I haven’t seen much of in other games.

Each unit has a plastic flag that you attach and, to this, a sticker is affixed, denoting the unit number. We used dry erase markers to write unit numbers in initially, because we wanted to get to the playing.

Additionally, each unit has a unit card associated with it, detailing the unit’s cost, abilities, wounds, orders that it can receive, and attack values. Cards are a good cardstock and are made of a durable dry-erase material.

The battlefield is made up of six square boards that you arrange in different patterns based on the scenario you’re playing. Each board is covered in clean, vibrant, clearly-numbered hexes. To these hexes you’ll add various terrain pieces (roads, forests, towns, hills, etc). Nothing new here, in terms of wargaming, but the execution is clean and simple.

The instructions were somewhat confusing at first – the key to the game is the icons that are used for different actions your units can take. Once you get a few turns under your belt, the icons start to make sense and it becomes easier. The one thing that would have been extremely helpful is a glossary card of the icons that are used for each player. The order that they’re presented in the instruction book didn’t immediately make sense to us, so we sometimes were unsure of where to find something. Luckily, the rulebook isn’t that big. Additionally, there is a table of contents on the last page of the instruction book (a strange place for a ToC) but in all the flipping through, we forgot it was there. Again, a minor complication that, once you familiarize yourself with the rulebook a bit, probably won’t be an issue.

NOTE: After looking on BGG, I did find an official player aid which does, indeed, have a glossary. VERY helpful.

The scenario book took some getting used to as well, mostly the way things were written (map layout, special terrain selection, etc). Could be a translation issue? Took us a while to set up our first scenario but, again, once you get the hang of how it’s written, it goes more quickly. One thing I’d change is that it drops you right into a full-blown scenario which, prior to a few months ago, I would have been completely fine with. However, after playing the intro scenarios for D-Day Dice, where progressively more complexity is added to training missions, I see the value for this type of introductory scenario. Barbarossa could definitely benefit from a ‘lite’ starter scenario, especially for players new to the genre.

GAMEPLAY

I have variously described Barbarossa as “Memoir ’44 on steroids” and “a good mixture of an Avalon Hill hex-and-chit game and Memoir ‘44”. Both of which are meant as extremely complimentary.

Each player selects their force, based on the requirements of the scenario and determined by a certain number of points. Each unit is worth a specific number of points, so you continue to add units to your army until you’re out of points. As a side note, I personally love this method of selecting troops because it reminds me of a true miniatures game like Warhammer. Often the points can seem lopsided, based on the scenario, but you’ll find that reinforcements show up in later turns, to help keep the action from being too one-sided.

The game itself is based on the simultaneous action of both players. That is to say, there are no turns. Each side issues orders for their troops at the same time (called the Planning Phase). This is done by marking the specific box on the back of the unit cards with a dry erase marker. Once all orders are given, the actions are resolved in a prescribed order (called the Execution Phase). So any unit you've given the “Defend” command to will act before any unit given the “Open Fire” command, which will act before any unit given the “Move Out” command, etc. One flaw we did notice is that when drawing on the unit cards with the dry erase markers, we tended to smudge or erase them just in the course or normal handling of the cards. Something we need to be more cognizant of when we play.

One of the most interesting aspects of Barbarossa is the sheer number of options you have with your troops. The tactical opportunities you’re afforded in this game are astonishing. Want to load everyone into a truck and take them elsewhere? No problem. Want to dig in? Do it. Want to have your supply vehicles deliver more ammunition to your troops? You can do that. Want to spend a few turns fueling up your aircraft and getting it ready to attack? Absolutely. Lay/defuse mines, tow artillery, set up a pontoon bridge, drop a smokescreen, remove barbed wire, join up with another unit, set up an ambush, good old fashioned open fire? All possible, if you have the right troop types. There are more than 40 different commands you can give to your units, depending on their type.

Combat resolution is quick and easy, based on some quick dice rolling and consulting an easy chart on each unit card. Taking casualties definitely hinders the effectiveness of a unit, reducing the number of dice they roll in combat. Plus, each unit is required to make a Fortitude Test after taking casualties to determine whether they’ll have their effectiveness reduced even further.

The game is decided by glory points, which are achieved by completing certain objectives (holding/taking a bridgehead, for example) or by wiping out enemy units wholesale.

CONCLUSION

I like Barbarossa. I will definitely be getting it on the table more. The pace of the game is near-perfect – there’s very little down time and you never get stalled out by an opponent slow-playing. There may be some wait time for an opponent to write all his actions down, but never more than a minute or two. What took us the longest at the start, was deciphering the icons.

Components are top notch. No question there.

One of the greatest things this game has going for it is the sheer number of orders you can give a unit. It truly gives you a tactical flexibility that you don’t often see in a miniatures game.

Unfortunately, it’s also one of its biggest drawbacks in terms of its learning curve. There is A LOT that you can do and, as such, can feel heavy and overwhelming until you get it down.

In my specific case, I taught Barbarossa to two gamers who do not play military games. As such, our first foray into Zvezda’s world was somewhat less successful than I would have hoped. That takes nothing away from the game, however. Given an audience more receptive to the theme, this is an absolute winner.

If you’re looking for something a little more realistic than a Memoir ’44 but don’t have 6-8 hours to invest in an epic chit-based military sim, this is for you.
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Paul Shabatowski
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Stittsville
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I agree with your summation and absolutely love this game. It will see much more action on my game nights now that I have the base game, first expansion and many of the additional single units assembled, painted and numbered permanently.

Unfortunately the first expansion, Battle of the Danube, provides the proper beginner scenario, errata to correct translation issues of the first set of rules, clearer scenario set up instructions and WAY more units to mess with, along with smoke and fire markers.

Getting the two sets took me almost six months to assemble and paint because I wanted the game to look great before it hit the table. It is fabulous.

Differing from Memoir 44 is the complete elimination of chance to select units to activate. This steps up the strategic value and, as I mentioned in my review, is largely strategic when compared to the operational flavour of M44.

Thank you for your review. We really need more folks to try this game out and really give it a run for the money. I plan to bring my set to a convention next month to generate interest.
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Read the rulebook, plan for all contingencies, and…read the rulebook again.
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Nice review! It's good to see this game getting some fresh attention.

I think this is one of the few tactical ystems that is actually easier to play with more people. I think a typical scenario can be stretched to include four or even six players. Especially for new players, this will make order writing and execution easier to understand and manage.

There's also a new expansion set and wave of kit called "Blitzkrieg 1940" covering early war British troops, vehicles, and other equipment.
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Rolf Van Ishem
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I am glad to see this game get some well deserved attention! The more wargamers who try it, the more they will become interested in playing it.

The one thing I think is a little off is the comparison to Memoir '44. I feel it is closer to Tide Of Iron than Memoir, the series can be described as an abstract introductory wargame. The only similarities is it plays on a board and has minis. Not a knock on Memoir, just pointing out the obvious.

I have played quite a few games of OB and still love all the orders that can be given in a turn. What a great system!
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Matt Snodgrass
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Thanks for the comment, Rolf. I have not played Tide of Iron so I can't comment as to the similarities to Barbarossa but I'll certainly have to give it a try at our next games day. Thanks for the info!
 
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Mark long
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This review got me to buy the game. Also it helped get me back into boardgaming have been busy with life. Tanks a lot.laugh
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Matt Snodgrass
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This is great, Mark! So glad you liked it. I hope you enjoy the game as much as I have. Just wish I could get it on the table more frequently.

-matt
 
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Mark long
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Your welcome just played scenario 2 solo (since the Soviets are defending pretty easy to give their orders) I have a bunch of 1940 stuff coming from coolstuffinc.
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