First Look at Decisive Campaigns: Barbarossa

By James Cobb 26 Nov 2015 0

The videos give players all they need to know in an entertaining Australian fashion.

The 1941 invasion of the USSR was Hitler’s first step toward disaster. The massive attacks in June could have worked if handled better, but they were bungled at critical points while underestimating Soviet resistance. Matrix/Slithrine and Victor Reijkersz have created a model where players can attempt to succeed where the Germans failed. Other games have attempted this simulation but Decisive Campaigns Barbarossa approaches the problem from very different angles.

Help is in the Eye of the Player

While the interface and mechanics are not complicated, some concepts in the game break with the usual wargame paradigm. Instead of the usual tutorial scenario, fourteen short videos constitute the in-game “Help” section. These videos not only cover the basic interface and mechanics but also very good tips on playing both sides. The videos complement the 320-page PDF manual. Players are thrown into the deep end of the pool by having only the entire campaign as the single scenario. This immersion is ameliorated by the videos and the new helper buttons that can yield more resources but lower the difficulty variable in the victory algorithm. Another change making play easier is elimination of on-board artillery, except for siege guns, and air units in favor of decision cards that increase those assets for a chosen area.

Decision cards are the heart of the full game.

“Just Business, Not Personal”

Unlike most games, personal relationships with different command levels are critical. Agreeing with Hitler yields more resources in the form of precious Political Points but could lose the game. Good relationships with Army Group commanders insure better performance while poor relations can prevent the use of crucial focus cards. For the Germans, shifting resources from fronts can turn relationships from good to neutral to distrustful to poor. The Soviet has it easier as Stalin’s paranoia level is the only concern. Players should pick German strategies and decisions that will keep the commanders on crucial fronts in good graces. Stalin, however, sees threats from all commanders, although some more than others. If his paranoia level becomes too high, he’ll have an “episode” and shoot a commander with all the related command dysfunctions. Stalin can be tranquilized to some extent by decision cards.

Not everybody will love the player.

On the Steppes

Players familiar with the Decisive Campaign series will be familiar with this game’s graphics. The zoomable map shows mountains, rivers, railroads, roads, cities and airfields well. Theater boundary lines are marked clearly as are supply routes when toggled on. A supply overlay gives a general idea of the supply status while clicking on an Army Group HQ brings up an overlay showing theater boundaries even more markedly. Many layered reports, daily logs and orders of battle provide players with an abundance of information and decision choices. Many choices have sub-windows detailing the careers of the officials affected by the decision.

A strategic map superimposed over the battle map shows the enormity of the German task.

This log shows the status of the Army Croup North after the first day.

The on-map units are represented by NATO symbols with a general number for unit strength. Clicking on a stack and unit, however, brings up an info bar showing nice illustrations of the regiments or battalions in the division. Clicking on the regiments provides further data on unit capabilities with an opportunity to compare the unit with all others. Decision cards are also good looking with clear implications of their use. The relations tab shows portraits of the commanders players must deal with along with their present mood and attributes.

The attributed of a Pzkw IV regiment stands out from the other units in the division.

Play starts with decisions each turn that players should make after reading reports. Movement is the usual: select a unit, click on a button or hotkey and move to a highlighted hex. Combat requires selection of a target and then picking possible attackers. A frontage limit penalizes absurd amounts of attackers but attackers get a bonus from commanders, postures and from flanking thrusts. As German units move deeper into the immense mass that is Russia, fatigue and friction causes supply and efficiency problems, matters that can be addressed with decision cards. If players do not want to concern themselves with decisions, they can ignore them and let the AI deal with them or turn them off in the game settings. Weather was the Germans’ downfall and no decision card will help them. Instead, players can choose mild weather in the settings.

Good supply likes are marked in green.


This Russian headquarters better finish their vodka quickly.

Decisive Campaign Barbarossa brings many innovations to the series. Game mechanics are easier and relationships with commanders bring a realistic RPG element to the table. What remains to be seen is if players can endure the single, long campaign. Time and the forums will tell.


About the Author

Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he deals with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Wargamer, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online. He is adjunct faculty at Cardinal Stritch University.



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