Sunday, 15 January 2023

Campaign game - Defiant Russia ‘41




As my last post explained, whilst reading Barbarossa - How Hitler Lost the War by Jonathan Dimbleby, I am playing through nine of my boardgame titles that cover the same timeframe.



Operation Barbarossa deals with the Nazi German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.


Just going onto the table is Defiant Russia, designed by William Sariego and published by Avalanche Press. 


I am going to do something a little different with this. There are seven turns, each one representing a month. I will play one turn each day and update this blog with the events and proceedings of each day, so that a complete account will build on this post over the next seven days.


The post will be written in the ‘here and now’, so neither your good selves nor I will know for sure how the narrative will develop.


Each day, I will come back to this post and update it with how the next month of the war went, by adding text to the BOTTOM of the post, so that it will always read in a chronological order for future reading. 


So you may want to check in each day or so to see how things are going - but please don’t feel obliged to comment.


Since I am reading the book hand-in-hand with playing the game, I should mention that when reading the book, there are many reminders about the brutality of this war, something that is largely invisible in the games that we play - but these are first and foremost games, so whatever follows here, does not deliberately diminish the awfulness of war portrayed in the book.


Our map, all images can be clicked upon for the larger size



Firstly, we should understand the bare bones of our game. There are 7 monthly turns, starting with June 1941 and ending with the December 1941 turn. The sequence of play is Weather - Admin - Movement - Combat - Exploitation Movement - Exploitation Combat.


Important here is that combat is (mostly) mandatory in the normal combat phase, but is voluntary in the Exploitation Combat Phase. The Axis are better able to take advantage of the Exploitation phases than the Soviets, but exploitation is significantly curtailed on mud turns.


The first value on the counter is the attack value, this is how many D6 you roll in combat. Sixes score a hit. The first hit is always taken as a loss, but additional hits can be taken as retreats. On turn 1 (June), German armour has the Panzer Shock rule in which they hit on 5’s and 6’s. In December (always snow) the Soviets use 5’ and 6’s on all of their attacks.


I will be using the alternative random weather effects. Apparently, 1941 did not meet the usual weather pattern for Eastern Europe. Just as the historical parties were not sure what to expect weather wise …. neither will we!


Okay, that is all that I am going to explain, anything else of importance will no doubt pop up in the narrative. The victory conditions and points etc, will be set out at the end of the game, for now, suffice to say, the game is all about taking territory and inflicting damage on the others army. Moscow is of course a German prize - but there are other objectives and the German player can win without taking Moscow!


Oops, the circle for Moscow has not been added



Above - the game map with unit start positions. German objectives have been circled. each objective is worth 1 victory point, Moscow is worth 2. A further point is gained for causing the highest loss to the other side.


22nd June 1941.

Stalin, not wanting to believe the reports arriving at his headquarters that the Soviet Union’s principle ally, Nazi Germany, has been amassing troops along his border, intending to invade, has not made adequate preparation. 


Consequently German planners have managed to get three large army groups (North, Centre and South) into attack positions and the frontline troops of the Soviet Union army are ill-prepared to receive the inevitable onslaught.


Much of the German soldiery is confident and battle ready, having been part of the previously successful campaigns of Poland, France and the Balkans. 


On the Eve of Battle, Wilhelm Schmidt, a Private with the 448th Infantry Regiment (137th Division - attached 9th Infantry Corps, Army Group Centre), pens a letter to his sweetheart Karin.


‘My Dearest Karin, tomorrow we step foot onto Russian soil, intent on destroying the Bolshevik threat to the Fatherland. The Führer’s hand will guide us to victory as it did in France and the Balkans. Be not afraid for me, but be proud of what we do. As always, your Little Willy x’.


At 0315 hours, the attack begins with air raids against towns, cities and airfields to the enemy rear, while intense artillery barrages support the opening advance. The terror of war, on yet another front has started.


The German attacks tear into the Soviet front line and columns headed by armour, drive into Soviet territory.


Whilst the losses inflicted on the Red Army are high, everything has not gone the German way. Losses are higher than expected, especially amongst the armour and Army Group Centre have failed to take the Fortress Brest, it being tenaciously held by various remnants of Soviet two divisions.


To the north, Mannerheim’s Finnish assault towards Leningrad collapses and the counter-attack pushes his forces back across Finland’s border. General Colonel Popov, commander of the Leningrad Military District, cables Timoshenko at STAVKA (Soviet Headquarters), demanding five more infantry divisions with a view to advancing towards Helsinki.





Timoshenko orders Popov to make the defence of Leningrad his priority and tells him not to get drawn into Finland - there will be no reinforcements!


As the month ends, the Soviet defences are roughly aligned on the Riga / Minsk / Odessa axis.


Click for a better view


July 1941

There is despair at STAVKA at how quickly their front has dissolved. Holding back the Germans looks increasingly difficult, they seem to be breaking through everywhere! Stalin agrees to the release of reserves along the front to stabilise the line and slow the German advance, but some of these reserves don’t even have uniforms and are sharing a rifle between two people.


Riga has fallen. The Soviets have put up a particularly dogged defence here, and their own level of loss to take the city has shocked the Germans. This is not what they have been expecting, however, the way is now open to Talinn. 


With the situation deteriorating here, Timoshenko, uncertain that Popov can keep hold of Leningrad, sends a couple of divisions to ensure the city is secure - it would have to be enough, there is nobody to spare!


For most of the month Minsk has managed to hold out against repeated attacks, but on 28th July, the Soviets are finally pushed out, adding to Moscow’s grave sense of peril.


Though STAVKA see this as a worryingly very one sided fight, the German army is already coming under increasing strain and Guderian is becoming concerned about the shape of his panzer forces, which have taken significant losses and need replacements, but there is no time to lose, the time-table for success is tight.

  

Wilhelm Schmidt, during a lull in the fighting, picks up his pen; ‘My Dearest Karin, we have been advancing non-stop for more days than I care to count, at anything up to 30 - 50 kilometres a day. Our feet are sore and blistered while trying to keep up with our tanks, who have been racing ahead with abandon, trampling the enemy, such is the level of victory. I have been in action, liberating the Brest Fortress from the Bolsheviks. The fighting has been very hard, much more than we expected, with pity in short supply by either side. I look forward to the moment when this war is over and we can spend some time together. Our Generals are talking about being in Moscow in just six weeks and it is in them and the Führer that we place our trust. Love as always, your Little Willy.


As the month ends, the Soviet defences are roughly aligned along the Talinn / Minsk / Kiev / Sevastopol axis.





August 1941

For the first time since the opening of the campaign, German big gains are significantly slowing and the fighting is more intense as STAVKA release ever larger numbers from their reserve to take the place of fallen comrades at the front.


In his frustration, Guderian pushes ahead too boldly, to the annoyance of the high command, looking for a way to break through above the Pripet Marshes and Minsk, to open the way to Moscow. 


He loses 38th Panzer Corps, while making an unsupported assault on Smolensk after becoming snarled up there, as the rest of his own sector recoils in response to a major Soviet counter-attack just north of Smolensk.


Stalin puts out a directive that army fronts must not cede any more territory and that counter-attacks should be made wherever possible. [note - this directive simply explains away a turn in which the Germans have rolled very poorly despite having some promising attacks set up, leaving the Soviets with an opportunity for a significant counter-attack, plus the Soviet dice have been hot - such are the vagaries of ‘buckets of dice’ systems, but never-the-less, the dice is giving us a sense that the Germans are losing their momentum and the initiative].


Wilhelm Schmidt in sombre mood writes; ‘My Dearest Karin, our advance has slowed and I find myself in the Pripet Marshes, just south of Minsk. It is a difficult landscape, made worse by the heat. Fighting has been intense here. Our division has taken heavy casualties and I have lost several friends. The brutality of this war from both sides is dismaying and I fear that as I become numb to it, I will return a different person.  The enemy seem to have a never ending supply of troops that are just thrown in front of us. The thought of home leave has never seemed so precious. Love always, Willy.’





As the month ends, the Soviet defences are roughly aligned along the Talinn / Smolensk / Sevastopol axis.


September 1941

There is a noticeable change in the weather as heavy rains bring light mud, putting restrictions on movement and further hampering the German advance. The opportunity for exploiting enemy weakness in any meaningful way is virtually nil.


Guderian continues to be frustrated by the Soviet defences at Smolensk, while to the south Zhukov has just arrived at Kharkov and the race is on there for him to deepen Soviet defences to stop the advances of Army Group South.


Though Army Group Centre seems to be going nowhere fast! Army Groups North and South are both still making some progress. To the North, Talinn is about to fall, which will release German troops to put pressure on Leningrad, while to the south, Kharkov, Stalino, Rostov and ultimately Stalingrad are still campaign objectives that in Hitler’s mind remain achievable for the Germans to reach this year, the obvious threat of which being the reason that STAVKA are sending Zhukov to this front.


At OKH (German Headquarters), Brauchitsch is as much concerned with the overall deterioration of his army as he is dismayed with its overall slow progress. There is divided opinion as to whether Army Group Centre should give up some of its armour to reinforce other sectors. Hadler argues that south offers the best prospect of breaking the Soviet line and opening the campaign towards threatening the Soviet oil fields next year, but Brauchitsch is pre-occupied with Leningrad and its political significance.


Both men can agree that the Soviets are successfully building up forces rapidly, while the German army is running on empty! Most units are no better than half strength and the tanks are depleted and worn. 3rd Panzer Division is down to just 34 tanks and 4th Panzer Division is little better, with a third of those tanks being the obsolete Panzer II’s. 


Brauchitsch decides that Army Group South is too brittle to take on the ‘drive to Stalingrad’ and orders the centre to support Army Group North in securing Talinn and taking Leningrad.


Guderian is furious at the prospect of his tank force having to fight over such unsuitable ground (marsh and forrest) and complains to Field Marshal von Bock (Army Group Centre commander), who himself, in no mood to see his group carved up, has made representations back to OKH.


Brauchitsch concedes and so Hadler in part wins his argument for a southern drive and those panzers belonging to Centre that are south of the Pripet Marsh will support Army Group South, but accepting that the panzer corps with Guderian to the north of the marshes would be out of action for too long to reach von Rundstedt’s southern group, they are ordered instead to continue their push towards Moscow and are promised the much needed replacements to allow their momentum to continue.  


Wilhelm Schmidt for the moment still finds time to write; ‘My Dearest Karin, we now contend with two enemies, the Bolsheviks and the weather. I spend most of my day ankle deep in mud, trying to keep our supplies and equipment moving. The Hauptmann was killed yesterday by a sniper. He was one of the few that could give us the encouragement needed to press on, yet press on we must. They say that our regiment might soon be rotated out of the line for a few days rest, I shall no doubt sleep through it all! Until next time, Love Willy.





As the month ends, the Soviet defences are roughly aligned along the Leningrad / Rostov / Sevastopol axis. Talinn in the north has become isolated and is likely to fall to the Germans soon. 


October 1941

Mud continues to determine the pace of German operations. As promised, Guderian has received tank and infantry replacements and with typical vigour, he pushes his panzers forward. 


Initially he is successful, destroying a Soviet army and tank corps, but over enthusiastically and against the wishes of von Bock, he outpaces all of his support and finds himself isolated facing the first significant Soviet counter-attack of the war - even the Soviet airforce has turned up.



Above - assailed from all sides by four Soviet armies, Guderian’s two panzer corps are totally destroyed and he narrowly misses death as a Soviet fighter bomber strafes his half track. What a disaster. At a stroke, he has lost an essential part of Bock’s army group.


With such a catastrophe dominating minds at OKH, they draw small comfort from the fact that Talinn falls in the north (though even this was at great cost) and in the south, Kharkov is captured before Zhukov can establish his defences there.


STAVKA survey their maps with some satisfaction. The bad weather is coming and Moscow looks to be safe, with the nearest German forces being 250 miles away. In the North, Leningrad also looks relatively secure, it is only in the south that they have less confidence of holding the enemy back.


The hugely successful counter-attack against Guderian has excited Stalin and he orders Timoshenko to conduct fresh counter-offensives against each of the three German army groups. 


Timoshenko protests as far as he dare with some words of caution. He knows the army is not ready for such a large scale endeavour, but it is no use, Stalin believes or wants to believe that the German army is on its last legs and can be turned back and so Directive No 8 is made - for attacks in early November.


Wilhelm Schmidt is feeling the situation bleak as he once more puts pen to paper; ‘My Dearest Karin, this venture is becoming a hard companion with wet ground, cold nights and the loss of friends. We are hoping that our winter uniforms will turn up soon, but the mud persists and our supplies struggle to get through. Our platoon has taken more than 50% losses, but we never seem to get any replacements. Most of the men have become resigned to a sense of foreboding. We are still advancing, which I suppose is a good thing. If we can get to Orel, we will at least have a decent base to overwinter. Klaus reckons that he can make a sort of schnapps - if only we could stay in one place long enough. We have all put our drinks orders in to him! - another good reason to get to Orel. Love as always, Willy.  





As the month ends, the Soviet defences are still roughly aligned along the Leningrad / Rostov / Sevastapol axis.


November 1941

The Germans manage to capture Smolensk, a tough task as it is protected by water barriers and the mud is worsening as the rains increase.


Elsewhere, the Soviets launch their three offensives, one against each German army group. Timoshenko has not authorised the ‘all out’ assault that Stalin envisaged, preferring to balance limited assaults whilst preserving a minimal defensive line should things go badly wrong.


Whilst not spectacular, the offensives do make some positional gains in the south and perhaps more importantly, in the attritional battles than ensue, it is the Germans who will find it harder to get replacements in the coming weeks. 


STAVKA judge the results justified and generally successful, giving the Soviet forces a breathing space while a larger winter offensive is prepared, though Stalin berates Timoshenko for not making the breakthrough in the North that he thought was certainly possible.


Timoshenko might have expected worse, but the sense of relief at STAVKA that the relentless retreats have at least stopped, saves him from any punitive action.


OKH are aware that pretty much every one of their formations is operating at around 50% effectiveness or worse and that further fighting without refit, reorganisation and rest will doubtless see some units run into the ground. The considered opinion of both Brauchitsch and Hadler is that all three groups should pull back to better positions and consolidate. 


Hitler, finding such a proposal impossible to countenance, has directly interfered, demanding that an order of no retreat under any circumstances be given - and so it has!


Army group centre have suffered quite badly from the Soviet limited counter-offensive, 9th Infantry Corps in particular taking heavy losses.


9th Infantry Corps suffer the brunt of a Soviet armoured thrust



Oberst Fischer, sits to do what has become a regular and gloomy task over the past few months - writing to the bereaved concerning those of his men, lost to action or otherwise unaccounted for. With pen in hand, he scribes the first of seventeen letters;


‘From Oberst Fischer, Commanding Officer of 448th Infantry Regiment.

To Miss Karin. It is with the deepest regret that I have to advise you ……………..’





As the month ends, the Soviet defences are aligned along the Leningrad / Stalino / Sevastapol axis, reflecting some Soviet gains in the south.


December 1941

Hitler’s Directive of ‘No Retreat’ exposes the army to continued fighting and heavier losses as the formations must stand and absorb whatever is thrown at them.


The weather is now bitterly cold (-35 degrees overnight) and there is thick snow everywhere. Reinforced by excellent Siberian troops from the east, the Soviets begin their winter offensive, again attacking each of the German Army Groups.


Now the very worn and fragile German army starts to completely lose cohesiveness, with heavy losses across all army groups as the Soviet ‘Shock’ armies bite into them.


The greatest damage is done in the south where Zhukov’s attack has taken a very heavy toll on German armour. With just remnants of units still in place, this area is a rotting door waiting to be kicked down, plus Sevastopol, reinforced via the the Black Sea, is now an additional threat to the German right.


Army Group North has fared little better. Pskov has fallen to the Soviets and positionally, they have ensured the protection of Leningrad.


In the centre, the Germans have managed to retain Kharkov, but that city will soon be isolated and the Germans look like they are preparing to abandon the city.


There is little doubt that if the Soviet attacks continue into January, that the German flanks will fully collapse and so it seems unavoidable due to their extreme losses that OKH and Hitler must now agree to withdraw the army back to something like the Riga / Odessa line (black line on the map below), to significantly shorten it, while replacements are fed in during spring, ready for the 1942 offensive! 





As the month ends, the Soviet defences are aligned along the Leningrad / Pskov / Stalino / Sevastopol axis, reflecting some Soviet gains made in the north.


It is here that we must leave the game as we have fully played out the scenario which is seven turns long (June to December).


Victory.

Looking at the map and imagining how a January turn might play out, I am satisfied that this is a significant Soviet win and that the Germans have fallen short of their historical gains. 


I’m sure I get a bit hung up on the fact that in reality, historically the Germans got with 30 miles of Moscow, so anything very short of that looks to be a big fail (in my game they are still 250 miles away) however, in this game taking Moscow is not the only way to win and so is not the only measure of success. We must check the victory point schedule.


It appears that in game terms, the Germans made all of their historical objective milestones except they failed to take Orel. Their second failing is that they suffered more casualty point losses than the Soviets. Taking all of the Victory points into account, the Soviets won our game on a 9 to 4 score. The game designer mentions that the historical result measured in game victory point terms would be a Soviet win on a 7 - 6 score.


In our game, the Germans were unlikely to get Orel, but they could have taken the casualty victory point as losses (in terms of points) were really close and it was only my decision to throw in the ‘Hitler orders no retreat’ element in the last turn, that pushed the German casualty level higher than the Soviet one. Succeeding here would have narrowed the score down to 8 - 5 in the Soviet favour ….. still, a convincing Soviet win and better than history.


Conclusion


Firstly, if you are coming to this fresh, thanks for sticking with what has become a long read.


The game was certainly a lot of fun to play, as has been revealing campaign progress on a daily (monthly) basis and hopefully the reader feels the same. The game has a fairly simple engine, but there are quite a few small rules to add flavour. 


The initial Soviet defence seems harder to break through than the real battle, but the game is represented at 50 miles to the hex and quickly, the game settles into matching a similar timetable of progress to history, give or take. 


For example Kiev fell a month earlier than historically the case and Kharkov fell at the same time, while Minsk fell a month later than actually happened. What was noticeable was Army Group North’s progress was overall much slower than history and the centre did not get even close to Moscow - or Orel for that matter. That is not to say that a replaying wouldn’t change all of that, especially if I had made better use of the armour combined with air power.


Relying on my memory of history (Oh Dear!), by the September turn, I was thinking that the game was getting a little tough on the German player, but as I started to catch up on my reading of Dimbleby’s Barbarossa, it was very clear that the game was replicating the German problems well and that much of the course of the game was as per the book’s account, things did get tough for the Germans … quite quickly in fact.


The mandatory attack rule is something that has a big effect on the game. The Soviets will often disengage rather than risk a suicidal combat, even surrendering cities and so there is a natural pace of retreat shoe-horned into play Vs unit survival, that one needs to consider.


Historically the Soviets were not so adept at disengaging, losing hundreds of thousands of soldiers in huge German encirclements - the game does not seem to visually represent this, but perhaps that is what that second move / combat phase (exploitation) is doing in abstract style - or perhaps I am not playing the game to German strengths and not making more use of the ‘out of supply’ rules!


I have used Private Wilhelm Schmidt and his letter writing as a character who is generally representing the sentiments of the soldiery at various points in the campaign from initial arrogance to increasing despair. His loss or survival was never a certain thing. During one attack, his counter was one of two already reduced (flipped) counters in the target hex. One of them was destroyed in the fighting and I used a dice to determine which one to remove - the outcome of which did add some poignancy to the narrative.


Although initially, the German side did not see many units leave the game through loss, the truth was that each unit was taking hits and flipping to its weaker side, so though the army still looked strong in terms of number of units, it was becoming increasingly fragile and I was grubbing around looking for full strength units that could form the core of attacks - so that they at least could absorb the first loss without already flipped units being removed from play. 


This issue of continuing offensive capability became aggravated by two factors. Firstly in the August turn the Germans rolled some really poor dice scores, while the Soviets did really well. Those polarised results did make some critical differences and held the German back.


Secondly, there was mud on three consecutive turns and this pretty much closed down the German opportunity to use the exploitation movement / attack phases. Clearly these are two areas of the game that could change in another playing and give a different flow / pace of play. 


Forcing the Germans to abide by a ‘no retreat’ order in the last turn is not something that a gamer would choose to do voluntarily as it is potentially self destructive, but it gives a sense of the disconnect between Hitlers interference and what commanders on the field wanted to do. 


It did not treat the Germans particularly unfairly as I made a similarly damaging mandate on the Soviet side earlier when Stalin ordered an offensive be made against each German army group, while the player would instinctively at that point in the delicate building up of forces, not likely commit to. Rather they would likely continue to build defensive lines, making it harder for the Germans to progress and limiting their breakthroughs. I thought it helped the narrative to have the two leaders interfere in a realistic way rather than giving in to player ‘must win’ mode.


I will put this back on the table again before moving on to any other titles to put some of these thoughts to the test.


I am not sure which of the remaining seven (of the nine) Barbarossa games will hit the table after that. Most of the titles are worthy of blog attention, but I will likely keep those reports quite tight and brief, though there are a couple of newer titles that I might like to explore in more detail. 


The blogging viewing data seems to suggest that interest significantly waned after the first turn, so it may be the case that the daily small slice of action report, but overall longer format is not particularly what people are looking for and / or that the part of the blog audience interested only in figure gaming did not pursue the post. I quite enjoy the different perspective that daily play gives to the narrative, but it is a lot of work and so I see these as being only occasional blog outings.


As playing through these games while reading the Dimbleby book is something of a 2023 project, each game will of course get coverage over on my Commanders web page (link below). 


EDIT - I have replayed the game in a single session ( 3 hours and forty five minutes) and what a different game!





Above is the early situation that Army Group North found themselves in …. Pretty much unopposed. In November the Germans took Moscow and the Soviet Shock armies re-captured it in their December offensive. The Germans also took Leningrad. On points, it was the Germans that won this time (7-6).


Resource Section.


I have done this ‘day-by-day’ type of battle once before - for the Bulge 1944 (Bitter Woods by Compass Games). It is a lengthier post, but if interested, here is the LINK.


http://battlefieldswarriors.blogspot.com/2018/12/battle-of-bulge-1944.html


My sister webspace ‘COMMANDERS’ is being re-configured to showcase various figure and boardgame systems that I am enjoying and gives a flavour of where current projects are up to. Link.


https://commanders.simdif.com


47 comments:

  1. A great concept, I will get my game out (as yet unplayed) and follow along.

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    1. That would be great. We used to play the first version face - to -face and liked it, then I got the reprint years ago and only got to punch the counters out for this game a couple of days ago. I hope you enjoy what follows.

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  2. Nice start Norm and I have learned something already - I didn't know the Finns had a go as well - good job they got sent packing, cheeky beggers! Although........just Googled that and seems there is a very good reason I have never heard of the Finnish attack on Leningrad in support of the German advance!

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    1. I think the German side should have waited until Army Group North was nearer Leningrad and then the Fins might have attacked to go for the historical encirclement.

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  3. I'm really looking forward to seeing how this unfolds Norm. From the look of it an interesting first month already and I wonder how much impact the weather will have on both sides. How long did this first Turn take out of interest?

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  4. I think on turn one, I just looked at that sea of red counters and wondered how this is going to work - but the stack of red counters going out of the game happened in shocking numbers. I can’t remember exactly how long the first turn took (perhaps around 60 - 80 minutes), but the game blurb says it takes 2 - 4 hours to play the game, but turn 1 took long enough that I doubted being able to make that time, however, initial losses have been so high that I think following turns will move much faster and that the game in total can come in at around 3 hours - though I do play at a good pace.

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    1. I would have thought that as both sides forces thin out, then game play would speed up. Not bad though to be able to play out the campaign in a morning as it were.

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    2. I quite like what it is doing, so while the rules are fresh in my mind, it may be worth following this game up with a second outing, but without photographing, note taking and editing etc and just see how long a straight run through actually takes. I recall we played the first version in a single session, so I doubt anything has changed.

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    3. Norm, there may have been an illusion of a Sea of Red but the stacking and counter density looks manageable. Not like the stacks and counter density I am accustomed to seeing in games recreating this campaign on the Russian Front. Looks interesting although my satisfaction with Avalanche Games is mixed.

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    4. Hi Jonathan, Germans can stack 2, Soviets can only have 1 infantry army per hex plus an armoured brigade, so yes, very manageable. Once turn one is out of the way, the game fairly motors along, especially as that mandatory attack rule means that the Soviets will often want to disengage or stay disengaged rather than having to fight ….. even if that means abandoning a city.

      I did previously have this up on e-bay to sell and even real cheap it didn’t go and even considered just lashing it and keeping the box for 15mm hedge terrain …. Glad that in the end lack of momentum has kept it available to me!

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  5. Poor Willy - we all know how it turns out!

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  6. Watch this space! Handling disappointment is character building.

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  7. Great way to present a playthrough of a game, hope we see more in the future. I haven’t many WWII games but that is something that will change over the next couple of years. I sense the heavier than expected losses in German armour may be felt as the game progresses

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  8. It is an interesting way to look an AAR, because you write everything up immediately after the turn, so the account in no way gets ‘corrupted’ by knowledge of what follows, which it typically is when preparing an AAR after the game. Accordingly even I as the player get a sense of ‘revealing’ as the game progresses.

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  9. Interesting concept to play out the game slowly. It’d be a good excuse to skip chores. “Sorry honey, I can’t do the dishes bc I gotta go play out the game turn. My audience DEMANDS it. “

    I’ll come back when the campaign is over. No way I’ll keep up with daily updates. 😀

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  10. Hi Stew, bring coffee and biscuits and be ready for a night in :-)

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  11. Thanks for the July update Norm:). There are very few Soviet units in view, but then the vast expanse the Germans have to travel to reach Moscow is very evident. Army Group North looks like its ranks have been thineed somewhat. it will be interesting to see what Soviet reserves arrive when, where and what there quality will be like.

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  12. Hi Steve, yes comparing the current photo to the mass of red units in the opening set-up shot, you can see the rate of attrition and why subsequent turns play much faster than the first. Each hex is 50 miles.

    What is less obvious when looking at the map is that the German units are taking losses and flipping to their weaker sides, but they don’t get a replacement level that helps, so bit by bit, offensive capability is weakening, while further losses will see counter removal.

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  13. Great way of running the game, very entertaining!
    Best Iain

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  14. Hi Ian, some good mileage in this I think,

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  15. The Germans do look like the momentum is beginning to wain and from looking at the map, the Soviets appear to be in not too bad a position. Army Group North looks like it has quite a tough task as there seem to be plenty of Soviet units aligned against them, but of course what quality etc are they. Army Group South looks OK, but then they have their Romanian Allies which may not be too good. I'm worried about Army Group Centre as they look very thin in the Pripet Marshes and could be open to a counter-attack there that might split them in two. Let's see what Spetember brings and what the Dice Gods decide...

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  16. Good Morning Steve, yes, that is a fair assessment. The yellow counters down south are the Rumanian forces and they are in pretty bad shape, a worry for the Germans.

    The Germans are allowed 2 replacement steps per turn, only one of which can be spent on armour, so they are having a tough time keeping the armour functioning. The Soviets get 6 replacement points (drops to 5 once Kiev falls), plus a steady flow of reinforcements!

    The Germans are keeping an eye on the weather, once rain starts you can get light mud and then mud proper. The effect of mud is that the Germans can move / fight normally in their move / combat phases, but lose their exploitation move / combat phases …. Except in light mud, units stacked with Guderian can still use those phases …. So all eyes are on him!

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  17. Norm great to see the whole of the campaign laid out in a game, it’s hard not to see this and think it would make a great (but enormous) basis for a campaign using figures, I’m sure it’s been done but a very big undertaking !

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  18. Hi Matt, I think using this particular game, I would tame it so that each turn just the prime area of interest, or the most interesting situation is lifted from the game and ‘themed’ out as a figures game. Such a situation is occurring in the September turn, which will be apparent when I post tomorrow :-)

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  19. The Germans seem to be running out of steam over the past two months, which feels historically correct. I think Kershaw refers to a 500km (or miles) trip wire for the German supply lines, where further on from that it was incredibly hard to keep them with even the barest of essentials in terms of supplies, parts, replacements etc.

    I'm a tad worried that comrade Stalin has ordered the Soviets onto the offensive too soon, due to Guderian's unsupported push forward. Wait for General Winter to aid them and cause problems for the Germans and then attack with those Siberian Divisions.

    Well I'll have to wait for tomorrow to see what happens...

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  20. Steve, I did a bit of catch-up reading yesterday with the book and was surprised how much of this game narrative is close to the history. I thought I knew a bit about the campaign, but was surprised just how early in the campaign things started to unwind for the Germans.

    Yes, Stalin might be a little optimistic here. I am trying to reflect the Hitler / Stalin dynamic (i.e interference) into the game narrative rather than doing what a savvy player might ‘do best’ …. So we shall see :-)

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  21. Just started reading Norm and this is a tremendous way of playing and reporting the game. Thank you very much!

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  22. Hi Ben, thanks for the thumbs up. Just a couple of turns to add now.

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  23. The Soviets have done pretty well in attriting the German forces, which is probably better than creating the odd salient that might be nipped in the bud by local counter-attacks. Again the commanders wishing to draw back to better defensive positions, but not being allowed too, rings true too. It will be interesting to see what happens in December and how effective the Soviet offensive might be. Will the Siberian Divisions be making their debut?

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  24. Hi Steve, as the German player, I find myself grubbing around in the dirt looking for the precious few full strength units that can be used in attacks, as they at least can absorb the first loss without being removed from play. There is a sense of being overwhelmed by the size of the task and I think that sort of emotional connection to the campaign is good. More tomorrow!

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  25. Crikey, it’s getting tense! Last turn next, eh? Unless there’s a an evil miracle I think Stavka have this in hand, now…

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  26. Hi, it does feel tough from the German side of the board!

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  27. Well the Germans are holding what looks to be a very thin blue line against a rather stronger looking red one, the result of 'victoring themselves to death'. Having recently read Kershaw's book, the whole narrative felt very convincing and historically plausible too. Looking at the map each turn you do get the feeling of the sheer vastness of the campaign and do wonder how the Germans ever thought they could win. IIRC at one point the front was some 2.5K km/miles long.

    It is the sort of campaign that I would find worth repeating at my leisure, to what differences the early dice rolls might make if they had faovured the Germans, good weather further into the Autumn or even an early start date.

    I know quite early on German losses were very significant, certainly in terms of experienced NCO's and Officers, who took disprortionately higher casulaties than the standard infantryman. This led to less effective attacks etc due to new troops coming in or just Kompanies left of battalions. It was so bad that they were using Panzer troops as infantry who unsurprisingly weren't very good, but also it depleted this critical arm in advance of the fighting in 1942. Total German casualties were the equivalent of the whole of Army Group North, which makes for sobering reading.

    One small point on why your views might have dropped off, is that the 'updates' have not appeared in my feed of late, so I've had to scroll back down to this post. Maybe a new post for each month might help?

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    1. Hi Steve, reading Dimbleby has certainly helped put the meat on the bones of understanding. The Germans find themselves so critically short of strength that their fall back position that I have selected is pretty close to their start line considering all that they have gone through to get to where they are.

      I have just pushed past the chapter on Operation Typhoon and am concluding the chapter on ‘General Mud’ and Dimbleby’s conclusions are clearly that the German failures were ‘baked in’ much earlier than the mud season and so he does not see the mud as being the thing that defeated the Germans, but rather their own lack of planning and belief that they would all have this war wrapped up before the bad weather started.

      Of significance is the 1 month delay in invasion while Hitler attacked into the Balkans and then during the campaign there is a 3 week confusion of what the campaign objectives should be and that by time they switched back to Moscow, it was too late, plus the failure to plan for winter clothing and supply. All fascinating and occurring at a moment when the Soviet army was very close to total collapse.

      He also highlights that while the Germans were pre-occupied as to how the mud was affecting them, they lost sight of how it was having the same impact on their enemy!

      I have hugely enjoyed this whole thing as a venture. Today I am putting the game back onto the table, intending to play it out in one go this afternoon and see how my newly found insights change things.

      I have avoided separate posts so that at any point during this week (or at any future point) anyone ‘joins’ the post, they will have a fully chronological account in one place, so hopefully making the post future proof.

      And also many thanks for your observations along the way - you are without doubt the number one blogosphere supporter, responding to a huge range of blogs in general.

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    2. Being a full-time parent carer means that the Blogosphere is my main social activity for large parts of the year, hence my 'support'. When I can't game it also provides me with a nice 'fix', which is great.

      I've read somewhere that the one month delay didn't affect things as much as previously thought, but I'm damned if I can remember where! Again IIRC the move into North Africa had great impact, due to the logistics involved alongside the loss of those Divisions. Again one of those nice 'what if's?' of playing Barbarossa without that month's delay and will more Divisions to hand. This would not of course have helped the inherent planning and supply issues that plagued the Germans from the start, but an interesting exercise nonetheless.

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    3. There are several ‘what ifs’ in this game, one being the diverting of those units sent to Africa - sending them to the Russian front instead ….. so they have a DAK counter.

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  28. All I can say is that the next instalment of this narrative has been my first and much anticipated read every morning. Can’t wait to see what will be your choice of game for the next stage of this epic project.

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  29. Thank you very much for the thumbs up, it is really nice to know that your share the same enthusiasm for the post / subject. As to the next game to be played, I have three that I am immediately considering - The old SPI Leningrad (I have the Decision Games version), Blitzkrieg to Moscow 2, which I picked up at Christmas and Autumn of Barbarossa, which is a look at the Smolensk battle, using the Standard Combat Series from the Gamers - so plenty of gaming goodness!

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  30. Hi,
    Not quite sure why my post got labled anonymous! Mike

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    1. Hi Mike, I fancy that it is because you have PREVENT CROSS-SITE TRACKING switched on on your iPad (under Safari in settings).

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  31. Norm, I have been following along silently until the end. I mean, you did say, no need to feel obliged to comment daily.

    Like Steve, I did not see an update for a day or two either after your promised daily updates. I returned to the original post (this one!) and discovered that the monthly update was here (just like you said it would). I have returned each day to see where we are in the campaign. It is curious that the Germans did not meet their historical high-water mark in your game. Your replay suggests that the historical outcome can be duplicated.

    I thought this a fascinating study and a rewarding walkthrough of both historical campaign and game. I enjoyed both. Let the pageview counts be damned!

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    1. Also keep in mind why you put in this effort. Is it for page views or personal satisfaction and discovery?

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    2. Hi Jonathan, my replay was a turn-up for the books and there was some excitement with the Soviet counter-attack against Moscow on the last turn and I can’t remember Leningrad falling in this game. So this second game would have made an equally good ‘day-by-day’ narrative.

      There is a consequential outcome from the inter-relationship between the various combat and exploitation phases between both sides that I better understood in the second game and so the Germans ‘performed’ better as a result, plus they got less mud!

      The creative effort was not made for page views, but page views are of course the prime indication of whether there is readership interest in the post / topic. The original motivation behind the post was to offer the reader a little something different and to make an effort for the readership - not a treat so much, but in that vein.

      In truth, once the idea formed and the writing started, there was an excitement on my part to get to the next turn, to reveal progress, to interpret some things from the OKH / STAVKA perspective and even giving a voice to Wilhelm Schmidt. It did give the game an extra dimension to play which I have appreciated - but, alone, it has not been enough to justify the commitment of my time to a single game and reporting. So since the task was essentially done for the sake of the blog, then page views become relevant and tell their own tale ….. even the bots, considering the subject, have been quiet :-)

      As you know, for some time I have been in a quandary about post length V outcome V best use of gaming time V reducing screen time V enhancing hobby involvement - and this just adds a bit more sense of how the blog should evolve to hit all of those competing priorities.

      I am about to put Siege of Khartoum to the table, which comes from the same stable as Poltava. The systems are pretty much identical, so it only needs the counters cutting and it can be played straight away.

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    3. Thanks, Norm. I often wonder, myself, if writing battle reports is worth the effort spent.

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    4. At its most basic level, it would be fair to say that typically it takes longer to write up a respectable AAR than it does to actually play the game, in which case, the question arises - would one rather have twice as many gaming opportunities or run an AAR based blog? (or convert to another activity such as figure painting to increase productivity)

      As always, there is balance in everything, but where that comfortably sits for each of us is the question the blogger needs to resolve to their own satisfaction.

      We are lucky with modern tech and some brilliant games and figures etc to have so many options available to us, it is the time needed to service them that is in short supply :-)

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  32. Thanks as ever Norm,your board game stuff is some of my favourite hobby reading. And what a great looking map! Are there other scenarios, or is it purely Barbarossa?

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  33. Hi Gareth, thanks. No, the game is a pure Barbarossa in 7 monthly turns. It does however have some ‘what if’ optional rules. So you can have the DAK, because the North African campaign doesn’t happen and you can have Turkey entering the war - but essentially the game is just covering Barbarossa, which at the end had Operation Typhoon (the last German push) and then in the final turn - December, the Soviets start their counter-offensive.

    I have the old SPI (redone by Decision Games) Leningrad on the table at the moment, which is looking at Army Group North in isolation.

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Thanks for taking the time to comment