Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Old and flawed, but still some fun

Sometimes it can be interesting to drag out the wargaming equivalent of a Golden Oldie and take it for a spin on The Big Table just for the heck of it.

This past weekend, in the couple of hours of unstructured time I managed to eke out, I dusted off my old, old copy of SPI’s Barbarossa (2nd edition, 1971) and set up the opening of World War II in the east. The game, which saw it’s first printing in 1969, essentially is the granddaddy of most ‘contemporary’ East Front games. A lot of the design mechanisms gamers take for granted first got their chops in Barbarossa.

The particular copy of the game I’ve got on the table is the second wargame I ever bought – purchased way back in 1974. My first wargame was SPI’s venerable Tank!, which I also purchased in 1974. That was back in the days when you could find SPI games stocking bookstore shelves, and indeed both of those games were bought a few months apart at a Waldenbooks in Altamonte Springs.

I haven’t stopped buying games since, but that’s beside the point.

Today’s photo shows a section of the front before the game kicks off. The deployments are likely far from historical, but this is the area where German Army Groups North and Center operated.

As a game produced entirely before the fall of Soviet Communism opened up a wealth of new material for history researchers, it suffers from a number of flaws in the orders of battle and in the geography of the game map. As one might suspect, later games have ‘done’ many things better – but for some reason this game can still produce a compelling game session every now and then.

Compared to today’s uber-complex designs, it’s quite simple and straightforward. The complexity of the rules, in fact, is probably on a par with Avalanche Press games like Defiant Russia and Red Vengeance. Barbarossa’s assymetrical application of the zone of control rules can take a bit to get used to, and can be a special, nasty surprise for the unwary Russian player.

The attacker-favoring combat results table is also somewhat assymetrical. The game heartily rewards the German player who can catch Russian units in a web of ZOCs and then eliminate them by forcing retreats with relatively low-odds attacks (at 1:1 odds, for example, there is only one ‘negative’ result for an attacker).

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