Sunday 7 April 2024

1941 - the Barbarossa Campaign

Coming straight off the back of the 1940 game (France) that I played last week, another game from the WWII Campaigns box goes onto the table for a face-to-face game. This time we are on the Russian front.

To remind the reader, Compass Games have just re-printed three of the old Games Designer Workshop titles that were part of their 120 Series. These were stand alone designs, related by the fact that they never had more than 120 counters and didn't take longer than 120 minutes to play.

The three re-prints have been combined into a single package. The previous post gave a close look at the France 1940 game and discussed such things as production and presentation values etc (link below).

Today, we are just going to look at the Barbarossa game for its own sake, which seems on a first reading, a bit slicker than the France game and I think this may be the title that may be useful to break into the package as a first game. EDIT we ended up playing twice due to the way the first game played out - observations of both playings are covered here.

For the rest of this post, please use the 'read more' tab.

Our map is the largest of the three at 26" x 33" and gives the full gamut of the offensive axis of German Army Groups North, Centre and South.

There are broad similarities with the 1940 (France) rules, but also plenty of variations, that make 1941 very much its own game (a different designer - John Astel).

Above - The German attack is coming in from the left. Moscow is located at 5-O’Clock to the Brown patch of terrain at the top of the map.

Very much like 1940, the Sequence of Play will see the active player moving and attacking twice before the other player does likewise in their part of the turn - but here, the Movement Phases and their function are rather cleverly weather dependent and so more dynamic than in the Battle of France game.

In rain, Armour has its second movement phase halved. In mud all units in both movement phases have movement rates halved and for armour, open ground costs are increased.

In snow, armour has its movement halved and Axis forces have their attack value halved!

Stacking is limited to two corps sized formations for the Germans - but they have four notably powerful units. These are armour groups and their respective combat values are 23, 16, 15 and 14 .... with most Soviet units valued at 3 and 4, I doubt that much will get in their way, except for that mud and snow :-).

The Soviet counters represent armies and generally don’t stack, though they do have a sprinkling of Corps sized units that can be added to an army.

Unlike the 1940 game, this game does not have units flipping onto their rear sides and so we don't have the issues here that the other game gave us.

Also there isn't a rule to restrict 'ganging up', so there is less mental juggling when putting attacks in.

The Combat Table has the capability of being brutal. There are some No Effect results, but mostly we are looking at Retreats, Exchanges and Eliminations, so quite decisive. 

Each hex is representing 41 miles and a turn covers a full month, with the campaign lasting 7 turns, into December. 

So the game scale and scope is close to the 'Defiant Russia' game by Avalanche Press that I covered last year (link in the Resource section below) and think the reader may enjoy a return to that as it examines a design V's the boundaries of the campaign and also includes a story line about a soldier who writes home to his sweet heart in ever despairing tones.

There is a useful Optional Rule that allows the game to be extended by 3 months to cover the Soviet winter counter offensive. This helps players choose the game that best suits the available time and if the extended game is used, it allows the Soviets to do something with the shock armies that they receive in December.

In effect, there are really only 8 pages of rules, plus a page of optionals if you want them, so taking this and everything else into account, as I type this intro section, it looks to be a 'players game'.

Let's see if real world play matches up to that instinct.


I set the game up ready for Mike coming over, it is a fixed set-up, so I placed out both sides and that took me 25 minutes.

Our game ran into some problems. We are both familiar with the campaign and the various games on the subject. The Germans had a very unlucky turn 1, with four consecutive die rolls giving a ‘1’ (bad) and so in our game, the Germans did not get off to a good start in the north / centre. enemy losses were few and and the Germans didn’t get any break throughs.

Above - turn 3 and the German attack just starts to get going, with a gap opening in the enemy line.

What we did find was that the Soviet reinforcement and replacement (units recovering from the dead pile) rate was enough that the Soviet player never really felt fear or threat, which is very un-Barbarossa like.

Further, the German rate of loss was very high, due to the high number of Exchange results that occurred during the game and by the September turn, it was pretty obvious that with the forces that the Germans had left, they could not prosecute the offensive. They had stalled!

The immediate response is to thinking that the game is just not functioning against historical gains or progress and that the player emotional balance is all wrong, the Russians feel good about the campaign rather than desperate and the Germans feel grim earlier than they should - there is no sense of a great victory being achievable for them.

HOWEVER! We discussed whether this just needs a different style of play by the German player. There are rules that give tank forces a lot of flexibility against enemy Zones of Control and the net rail is critical to supply …. So perhaps the designer envisaged a more Blitzkrieg style approach for the German player, with the armour cutting deeper into enemy territory and hitting rail hubs to get the effect of those pocketing style battles that were so typical of this campaign.

There is a surrender rule, which states that out of supply troops that do not have an in-supply friendly unit within 5 hexes, will surrender. This tends to further the design notion that the German player is expected to ‘Pocket’ the enemy.  

Plus the Germans get quite good air support, so this can be used to really concentrate on a breakthrough point or used across several attacks to keep the Germans off the 3:1 attack ratio, where two Exchange results exist out of the the six possible results. Going to a 4:1 attack only has one Exchange result and instead, an extra Defender Eliminated result sits in that attack column.

Anyway, this is worth exploring before putting this game to bed ….. so here we go again, solo this time.

I get a much better opening, with Army Groups Centre and North making progress and I wonder whether this is a game in which the timetable is so tight and unforgiving that a bad turn 1 for the German player is hard to recover from.

Above - German progress is promising, with the tank formations pressing on and allowing the following infantry to mop up.

Turn 2 (July) - Minsk and Smolensk both fall, but already there are 8 German units in the dead pile from Exchange results. When possible, I am using the powerful panzer groups to attack strength 4 units, as a special rule allows them to avoid their part of 'Exchange' result if they are at least three times stronger than the enemy. As a result the overall ratio of Soviet loss to German is higher than in our first game.

Above - Smolensk is in the white circle, German armour has really pushed ahead of the infantry. The white hex shape shows where Minsk is.

Turn 3 (August) - Riga falls. So far, the Germans are keeping within the boundaries of their historical progress.

Turn 4 (September) - Kiev falls (historical) and German lead units are just 4 hexes from Moscow (165 miles).

Turn 5 (October) - The dreadful mud!

Turn 6 (November) - The Germans get to within 3 hexes of Moscow (123 miles), but things are going disastrously wrong!

They lose a Panzer Group when putting in a failed attack against 8th Infantry army at Vyazma. This is one of those moments when an exchange result can bite the Panzer Groups as they attacked a strength 8 unit!

Then things got a whole lot worse. As the advancing groups pressed ahead, German campaign losses to date meant that the troops were not there in enough numbers to provide good flank security. The Soviets saw and opportunity to hit Army Group Centre in the right flank.

The limited offensive saw both Smolensk and Mogilev fall to the Soviets.

Above - The Soviet counter-offensive (white arrow).  The circle shows the furthest extent of the German advance, which is now threatened to the rear. Meanwhile the defences around Moscow thicken. The Germans have now passed their high point.

Turn 7 (December) - Snow falls. The German lead units, still 3 hexes away from Moscow, are forced to pull back. The Soviets increase their penetration at Smolensk, isolating German 8th Infantry Corps and destroying 40th Panzer Corps.

The game ends on turn 7, though there is an optional rue that allows the game to run for another 3 turns (3 months) to simulate the Soviet winter counter-offensive.

If we tot up the victory points, we get a ......... Soviet Major Victory. That feels about right and I think if we played the additional 3 turns, the Germans might consider themselves lucky if they can fall back onto and hold a Minsk / Kiev axis.

Well it must be said that felt much more Barbarossa like than my first playing. The attrition on the Germans combined with the bad weather will, I think, in most games, put Moscow beyond reach. 

Leningrad looks very difficult to take and I don't think Sevastopol is ever going to become a contender for German attention and when all is said and done, that is was the historical situation.

Comments at BoardGameGeek suggest that this is a tough game for the Germans and I think it is. I wouldn't mind that too much, but from my two games, I am getting a sense that it is also a tad too easy for the Soviet side - though I must admit, I did enjoy the November counter-offensive that recaptured Smolensk and basically killed of any German aspiration of reaching Moscow.

I think on balance, I enjoyed the Defiant Russia game by Avalanche Press more (see links below). It services the same campaign parameters, but I just think the pace and tempo is a little more stable, despite it being a 'bucket of dice' style game.

There is just one more game in the package to explore now - 1942, Manila / Philippines.


A look at the Defiant Russia game by Avalanche press. LINK

My COMMANDERS site, which covers my various projects and gaming in a more magazine style.