Intro & Game Comments:
I've had Barbarossa for a few months and finally found some time to give it a dedicated run-through, frankly thanks to virus quarantines and heatwaves here. I intend to post a full campaign AAR. It's the only scenario proferred which is a great decision. Barbarossa was intended to be a knock-out campaign by winter, or at least not long after into the New Year. Anything less was unimaginable to German planners.
I'm a scenario designer from way back and my own model of this--Drang nach Osten (TOAW--also ending late January 42) -- was far more detailed in terms of map and units as far as that goes, but this design inhabits other dimensions. First off let me say there are a few mostly cosmetic items in Barbarossa that will surely strike wargaming grognards, although they are nothing a mod could not easily rectify:
--Unit type IDs--no special mountain division NATO symbols and other fussy particulars. Panzergrenadier divisions should be portrayed as motorized infantry as they were lucky to have even one btn per rgt in half tracks.
--a map with washed-out colours that looks somewhat like a playtest development map, many critical towns and features omitted or overly simplified.
--some visual elements are just a bit too gamey, but that's neither here nor there.
--Unit colours--Red for Russians when the accepted choice is tan (which the later conscript divisions appear in), and feldgrau for the Germans not generic ash-gray.
I only mention these clearly minor items to make the point that wargamers can be a fickle and fussy bunch, myself included, and that perhaps these issues, along with the game's unusual 'outside the box' complexity, are part of the reasons for a startlingly sparse forum a few years after its release. A quick glance at the game can be off-putting for some. I am here to rectify that impression if I can. I consider this Barbarossa model a gem, and not rough-cut either.
Und so: Like one of those muscle car Roadrunners built from 1968-1980, you had a basic unimpressive stock body, but underneath was the magic--proven 383-cid V-8, but with heads, manifolds, camshaft, valve springs, and crankcase windage tray from the big, bad 440 Magnum. With its four-barrel carb and unsilenced air cleaner, the new mill made 335 bhp. I recall fondly those rubber-burning takeoffs outside of highschool at the time.
Likewise this Barbarossa model when you lift the hood is seriously potent in terms of detail and dynamics that incorporate unit strengths, experience, readiness, morale, fuel/ammo supply, Army commander benefits, designated Army heavy artillery, Luftwaffe support and focused Army assets, along with their overall stance from an aggressive Blitzkreig posture to Defensive, with Sustained Assault in-between. On top of this there are layers of critical decision-making that amp things up onto the uber-operational and strategic, immediately accompanied by the over-arching byzantine flux of relationships, pro and con, with personages in the Nazi and Wehrmacht hierarchies (I use the two adjectives on purpose to note their separation); all this under-girded by the designer's obsession with statistics and detail not seen since Gary Grigsby's fine efforts in days of wargaming yore. If it was a mouthful just writing and describing it thus, try playing it out. This is an inspired and unique model clearly aimed at Ostfrontniks like myself and diehard gamers. I believe the designer in his notes somewhere said it all aims at being "immersive"; and yep, it is. Not to despair though, many options at the beginning are offered to 'tone it down' into more simplified game-play.
But don't do it. Experience the full blast of all the minutae and critical decisions-to-be-made the model incessantly fires at you (Franz Halder), Chief of Staff of the Army High Command (OKH: Oberkommando des Heeres), uber-high-ranking staff officer who directed the planning and implementation of Operation Barbarossa, and is now in the thick of this full-bore campaign surrounded by a ravening pack of Nazi political hacks and ruthless army careerists. It's like a mental game of warball attempting to dodge shots from Hitler, Jodl, Keitel, von Brauchitsch, Leeb, Bock and Rundstedt, Wagner and Gercke, trick shots from Göring, Himmler and Goebbels, not to mention the odious Nazi Goldfasanen ("golden pheasant") Alfred Rosenberg, Reichminister of Occupied Eastern Territories. Hitler's dead hand is a constant threat to your win in this, but piss off your Army Group commanders on top of that and you are toast and will surely be dismissed--a sudden-death sword of Damocles that hangs over your head the entire campaign. All of these decisions forced upon you will affect how well your Army Groups will perform under your command. Go head, just play it like your regular board game: push units and attack, ignore the politics... and lose, badly. Get used to wading through the stack of reports on your desk every turn and play the Barbarossa Lottery with every decision you make. Feel the stress... but also the satisfaction in deciding well.
I'll add further comments on this as the AAR progresses. But let me say that as a veteran of hundreds of Ostfront recreations (18 of them self-designed) this is one of the most eclectic and clever studies of the campaign I have seen to date. I hope this AAR will generate interest and bring new players to this finely tooled piece of work. Hats off to the designers and if you can supply us with an editor--as you did with Case Blue, it would be most appreciated. I'd love to work on that map.
[Alas, in exchanges with Victor Reijkersz it's confirmed that no editor is coming for Barbarossa: "long story short is that there is too much hard scripting and it could cause bugs."]
To the War:
The play-through of this campaign has progressed in amazingly historical fashion up to early December where presently the 29th Mtz Div, the Falke-Division (Falcon Division), is pushing into the suburbs of Moscow from the north-east, and it's bloody cold. But no spoilers--read on to find out what happens. I intend to post it all here komme, was da wolle (come what may).
Game Settings: AI set at challenging and Slow AI speed (improved performance--we'll see).
Political notes: I've chosen no Geneva Convention, historical, and at the dreaded Führerkonferenze, I opted for "Moscow or Bust!" which did not go down well mit der GRÖFAZ (Größter Feldherr aller Zeiten: "Greatest Field Commander of all Time"), a decision I will come to regret later on in the campaign for specific reasons which shall unfold. My main aim is to keep all three Armeegruppe commanders happy (Leeb, Bock and Rundstedt north to south), as well as Generals Wagner, road supply (trucks) and Gercke, the Reichsbahn (railroads). I have no intention of joining the Nazi party (tempting for all those political point benefits you immediately get with Hitler's approval but, yeah... no), and I will attempt to thread the needle with Hitler and Himmler re the verdammte Einsatzgruppen and hopefully avoid a war crimes tribunal if we should lose this war.
[My historical counterpart managed to dodge the noose after the war mostly because, while he had not been part of the July 20/44 plot to kill Hitler, he had been involved in earlier attempts--that and the fact that the post-war (read cold-war) Pentagon viewed him as very useful and blocked further trials of Herr Halder who died in Bavaria in 1972, the only person to have received both the Meritorious Service Award from the Americans, as well as the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross from Hitler. In fact he became lead consultant for the US Army Historical Division and relentlessly pushed his apologia of a "clean Wehrmacht" in its war with Russia. He was lucky to get away with this as his involvement in the Barbarossa Decree and Commissar Order are quite damning.]
Some of my comments channeling Halder are noted as direct quotes from his personal diary, others are not.