Truth be told, I wasn’t going to subscribe to WORLD AT WAR (WAW) magazine. I’ve been a subscriber to STRATEGY AND TACTICS (S&T) since 1976 and am also a subscriber to AGAINST THE ODDS (ATO) magazine. I’ve got more games that came with those issues that I’ve not played, to say nothing of old WARGAMER and COMMAND magazine issue games. So I wasn’t thinking that I needed yet another military history magazine with a game in it and I’d felt I’d pretty much seen it all. On top of that, reading the ad copy for WAW didn’t make me want to jump out and subscribe. It was all WW II—goodness knows, I don’t have enough games and articles on that subject! Plus the games that were going to come out in the early issues seemed to be warmed over re-hashes of old SPI games that have long languished in my closet. Yawn.
I’d just started fiddling with Ty Bomba’s LAND WITHOUT END (LWE) and was generally impressed with that game. His earlier efforts, PROUD MONSTER and DEATH AND DESTRUCTION for COMMAND magazine, were great fun and LWE turned out to be a thought-provoking refinement. I noticed that he was going a remake of the old SPI—and I mean really old—BARBAROSSSA as the companion game to the premiere issue of WAW. Now, I was not a fan of BARBAROSSA—either the old SPI game or the TSR/SPI remake (although the latter has some very dedicated fans). So this didn’t exactly make me change my mind. But I decided to check out the DG BARBAROSSA folder in the CONSIMWORLD Forum just to see what people were saying about the game. Ah, not only could I see the map, but I also could download an electronic copy of the rules. Sure enough, the ruleset showed all the hallmarks of a Bomba design, but despite the magazine format this seemed to be a game to sink my teeth into.
Last week I happened to be in the COMPLEAT STRATEGIST in Falls Church, Virginia, and saw a copy of WAW on the new releases stand. Of course I purchased it and flipped through the magazine while sitting in stalled DC traffic on the Beltway and I-95 South. There was none of the thrill that I remember when I got my premier issue of ATO or even COMMAND (those were the days!). Back then, the magazine format and even the physical production of the game were new and fresh. WAW looks just like S&T, only it’s all WW II content and fully met my expectations of what a S&T would to look like. Content-wise, it was about what one would expect—I personally think ATO is better. As an example, compare WAW’s article on German long-range bombers that were being designed to bomb the US with a similar piece in ATO, and you’ll see what I mean. But that’s not to denigrate WAW or S&T. I read WAW the same way I read my S&T—cover to cover. What struck me was how thick the rulebook was for the magazine game. It wasn’t that they were complicated—they weren’t. Indeed, the rules are very clear and easy to grasp. But there’s a number of neat features and wrinkles in them!
Soon as I got home to Norfolk, I had the counters punched out and was playing through the first few turns of the long game (1941-1945). I was hooked. Re-reading the CONSIMWORLD Forum postings of one 1941-1942 reply (with photos) got me even more excited about the game. That typically does not happen with most wargaming magazine games.
This is not your grandfather’s BARBAROSSA. Sure, if you are a monstergame grognard, you are not going to get your fix for operational-level detail with this title. Bomba’s BARBAROSSA is first and foremost a strategic-level game. And it succeeds admirably in that role. It’s hard to compare it to any other game, even to works like RUSSIA BESEIGED (L2) and any edition of RUSSIAN CAMPAIGN. While the Soviets units tend to be armies with a few “oversize” Rifle Corps and the German pieces Corps, the resemblance stops there. I’d expected this game to be something like Lou Coatney’s old STURM NACH OSTEN (WARGAMER) and that ilk, yet it is anything but. The map, while colorful and seemingly larger than the old game, is compact with larger than usual hexes. It stretches from Berlin and Prague to Gorki and from Leningrad to the foothills/mountains of the Caucasus. The pieces are functional and relatively minimalist, with set up and reinforcement turn of entry information on the reverse—all the units are “one-steppers.” My only quibble is the blue color assigned to the Soviet oversized rifle corps, but these get killed and otherwise replaced by “reorganized” Soviet formations during the early game. There are two scenarios—one is the whole war and the other, entitled “The Road Back,” covers the Soviet drive from late 1942 into the Reich in 1945.
As has been common in many Bomba designs for this conflict, the sequence of activity varies—you can either have your combat phase first and your movement phase second, or you can have your movement phase first and your combat phase second. There are rare cases when you can fight twice and there are some strictures to capture special occasions, but that’s generally how things work. There is a provision for attacking while moving and going additional hexes during advance after combat to replicate blitzkrieg-style encirclements. The number of movement factors available are not printed on the counter but provided in the turn record chart. As you might expect, the Germans can go like gangbusters at first but then start running out of steam, particularly as the winter nears. Combat is relatively typical—odds-based with column shifts to reflect terrain and local circumstances…but with one-step units and “Blood Bath” results, those Panzer Korps can disappear in a hurry.
One might be quick to dismiss the game after seeing the turn record chart—32 turns for the full campaign seems a bit too much to ask for a game of this size, scope, and scale. But players have minimum VPs to achieve each turn and there are possibilities of “Sudden Death” victories that can end games well before the last turn. Indeed, the game is tense for both players and tantalizing prospects for victory in the short term can—if taken at some risk—turn out to compromise long term chances if things go badly.
But where BARBAROSSA really shines is in the economical application of chrome. The Soviet Player can declare “Hero Cities” and the German Player “Fortress Cities” which provide defensive benefits but come at a cost in Victory Points if lost to the enemy. The German player can declare a “Paulus Pause” to better his supply situation later in 1941, (a Bomba device we’ve seen in other games) and a “1943 Offensive” with or without a “Sudden Death” provision of “Manstein’s Gambit” that provides additional forces (to include German airborne capability!). If the game lasts into late 1944, the German can also declare a “Sudden Death” option of “Wacht On the Oder” with additional forces. The latest electronic rules provide alternative victory points for the capture of Kiev so that the German has more incentive to mount a major offensive in the south. If the Germans capture Moscow, there’s a chance of a “Sudden Death” victory as well (roll the die and see if the Bolsheviks continue the war or are overthrown). There’s provisions for German Kampfgruppe, Emergency units, and “rear area comb outs” to raise more shoestring formations.
Bomba has been labeled a Germanophile—fairly or unfairly—but you don’t get any sense of that in this particular game. Indeed, one of the best features of BARBAROSSA is watching the transformation of the Red Army into a formidable fighting machine in both “The Road Back” as well as the full campaign. Rifle Armies convert into Shock Armies and Guards Armies. Tank Armies convert into Guards Tank Armies.
In short, there’s enough color and strategic options to keep player interest high. The game moves briskly and often comes to an early end. Ty Bomba’s BARBAROSSA is a “player” and one of the best magazine games to be published in recent years. Indeed, I’d argue it deserves a place among the pantheon of the very best of magazine-published wargames, alongside such titles as the old SPI AMERICAN CIVIL WAR, PANZERGRUPPE GUDERIAN, and CONQUISTADOR. While WAW the magazine is mildly interesting, the accompanying BARBAROSSA game is what will sell the premier issue. This title has very little of its predecessors in its design—and thank goodness for that. One can only wonder what is in store with the redesign of THE SOLOMONS CAMPAIGN in the next issue!