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The Axis' Barbarossa Bullet Points

The Axis' Barbarossa Bullet Points

Posted by Alan Emrich & the ETO Development Team on May 4th 2019

Don’t Leave Peace without It!

By Alan Emrich and the ETO development team

With a lot of Thunder in the East Barbarossa campaigns launched by myriad enthusiastic players since the game was published, and with their feedback pouring in at our ETO HQ, we have noticed some things that might have fallen off your radar on the first turn of Operation Barbarossa (June IV, ’41) and the first Seasonal turn that follows afterward (July I, ’40).

To help you, here is our checklist of important things to remember for the Axis:

Some Designer-ly Advice 

by Frank Chadwick

Is it harder to learn to play the Axis than the Soviets? Of course it is!

Designer Frank ChadwickWith the burden of the attack on the Germans, time is their enemy and, historically, they lost. Granted, they also had some pretty sophisticated tool to work with (the Panzer Corps supported by Stukas), but that takes some getting used to as well. The problem is that if you make it possible for so-so Axis gameplay to garner victory, once players master the German Army the game becomes hopelessly unbalanced.

In the hope it would make things easier (or at least more entertaining) to play and learn the Germans, one thing baked into in the ETO series’ very DNA is that the game favors the attacker. The Combat Results Table is definitely attacker-oriented and the Victory/Morale rules favor the offensive (since you only lose Morale Points for steps lost while defending).

I have heard some comment that it is always easier to defend. Mechanically that may be true, but the CRT and Victory mechanics make it nearly impossible to "defend your way to victory" in ETO. To win, you have to attack (and counterattack) and in ETO the German Army in the game is a really interesting (and fun) instrument to attack with, especially on the Russian Front in Thunder in the East.

It is also true that, to win, you have to like to attack; players who are not comfortable attacking will have a challenging time winning with as the Axis (which seems pretty reasonable to me).

Axis Setup (free deployment)

  • Barbarossa in ActionAxis Corps units can setup combined into monstrous Axis Armies; do so. Starting out with “battering rams” is very useful for those first turn attacks!
  • The “natural” setup hexes for the AGNorth HQ is Insterburg. For AGCenter, most players like Wyszkow but some like Lublin. For AGSouth, Rzeszow seems the usual choice (with Lublin, again, as an alternative). The thing to remember is, you shouldn’t need to light up all 3 of these in Attack Mode on the first turn; just activating AGNorth and AGSouth should cover everything fairly well (and save you 1 OP point). We have seen people also light up AGCenter just to put its single double-shift down on a key hex such as Brest, and that can be an interesting gambit.
  • Be sure light up AGNorth and AGSouth with Attack Modes with those 2 free OPs that come with the Blitzkrieg! card’s Sneak Attack. With properly deployment (above), those two HQ markers should kickoff turn adequately.
  • Base your deployment on your Special Movement Phase bonuses to set up brutal attacks that will fulfill your immediate objectives:

1) Deep penetrations (since their LoC on the next turn is assured per the Sneak Attack bonuses).

2) Clear cities and rails; these must be secured so your HQ markers to make useful bounds eastward as soon as possible.

3) If at all possible, cut off OLoCs and RLoCs to Soviet HQ markers and Supply City hexes that you cannot physically capture. This keeps their HQs from going into Attack Mode and usually necessitates their hasty departure. Even worse for the Soviets, their real crisis occurs when their forces are mostly Out of Supply at the beginning of your second turn (because you have cut off the RLoC lifelines to their HQs, Riga, Minsk, and Lwow on the first turn). [Insert evil laugh here]

4) Do not allow Soviet Front Line units to escape their rendezvous with death – keep the pockets closed and their Leg units “pinned” by your ZOCs so those trapped Red Army units do not escape. Grab their belt buckles to prevent their maneuverability; this makes their counterattacks far less effective.

Initial Supply

  • Don’t bother checking Axis Supply before the game starts (per 3.5) due to the special Barbarossa Scenario rule.
  • Soviet units are automatically In Communication during the first Axis Supply Step (i.e., when you check the Red Army before invading Russia); that is, no Soviet units are Isolated before the Germans roll across their previously-neutral border.

Axis Special Movement

  • Axis German Generals cardThe Axis player’s first dilemma is whether or not to use the German Generals card on the opening turn or save it for a future turn. After all, you begin the game with Blitzkrieg! card advantages, shouldn’t that be enough to kick the door down?

So, should you play the German Generals card on the first turn?

PRO: The purpose of the card is “attack insurance,” and as the first turns’ are the most numerous and key attacks to get right, not trusting your luck you might want that insurance. With the Axis Air Forces busy on the first turn, every little bit helps, right?

CON: Future you will be happy that present you didn’t use this card, its abilities subsumed into the roar and thunder that the Blitzkrieg! alone generates. By conserving this card, you enter July with that Medium size card in hand and room for more cards to potentially “combo” with it. These other Axis cards are considered later in this article, but not needing to re-draw this card in order to have it for use later in the summer is a very tempting prospect.

  • With your objectives firmly in mind and your energy focused on those map locations, your setup units built-up and positioned to strike, you must also remember that, per the Blitzkrieg! card’s Sneak Attack bonus, your Leg units are deemed not to start in an EZOC and so can “ooze-filtrate” (i.e., move directly from one EZOC into another) 1 hex on the first turn. This is often enough to surround any units where there is a hole in the Soviet Front Line deployment; this usually occurs where they are trying to preserve Front Line forces further back. Under those circumstances, ooze in with your Leg units and punish those hapless Soviet units left screening the front line hexes.
  • German Panzer CorpsLikewise, German Motorized units can ooze-filtrate even further, not needing to cease their movement until reaching their second EZOC hex that move. This means, where there are holes in the Soviet Front Line, you can push 2 hexes past them, attack units that are 3 hexes behind the border, Advance After Combat (or, better still, Breakthrough Advance a second hex) afterward, and then run like heck eastward 6 more hexes during the Regular Movement Phase. That is some serious “deep penetration” potential where you can really “reach out and crush someone.”
  • Look for any hex with only 1 Soviet step in it and, if your panzers can reach it, on this first turn it will probably profit you to overrun it. You have this unique shot to push the Soviets as hard as you can – so push hard, dammit! This is especially useful if German Infantry units can pour through and make deeper penetrations into the Soviet Union on the first turn. Rushing them forward to support their panzer comrades is priceless.

Axis Combat

  • Remember, the Blitzkrieg! card’s Sneak Attack also gives all of your first turn attacks one free White Bolt. That should generate several “free odds shifts” up and down the line. With this single Bolt, you will get a free shift 1/3 of the time in Battles where you have no Heavy units and 1/2 of the time where you do.
  • Because of the need to wipe out the Soviet Air Force (and we recommend taking them all out), you will likely have only a single Major Air unit available to assist with Close Air Support of your initial attacks. Grab one Stuka unit and place it where it will do the most good!

Airfields AttackLance McMillian: After the initial Axis attack obliterates the Soviet Air Force on the ground, the Luftwaffe has the freedom to support ground attacks with impunity. You must be mindful to re-visit those Soviet airfields once the Soviet Air units start returning to active duty (and not cowering in their Air Reserve). It is disturbing how quickly the “dead red” Air units bounce back and the loss of air superiority often coincides with the Axis advance stalling out. So, do not fixate on using your planes just for ground support; pay your dues for Soviet “don’ts” and keep putting Suppressed markers on the growing VVS!

  • When you get to retreat Soviet units where only 1 step has survived, position it where you can overrun it, if possible. You cannot kill them fast enough during this precious game turn. It is especially demoralizing to the Soviet player for you to hand over additional “late” casualties from the map to heap on top of those already cluttering up the Morale mat!

Pushing hardAdvice: Do not eschew lower-odds attacks early in the war simply because they risk losses on friendly forces; you need to suck up those casualties. Push and push hard! The Wehrmacht’s job is to kill people and break things – and you’ve got plenty of RPs to reduce pockets and sustain your momentum this summer, so keep hitting everywhere you can, as hard as you can, and as often as you can. Try to get at least one 6-1 or greater odds attack versus a Big Soviet Stack each turn so that you might Eliminate it outright (that drives the Soviet player nuts watching their lynchpin stacks go “poof”). It is the Soviets’ lines and morale that are likely to break from losses at this juncture, not the Axis’, so keep inflicting casualties on the Soviets even at peril to your own forces during these critical turns. Stop pussyfooting around and parsimoniously preparing for a Long War or you will certainly have one!

Axis Regular Movement

  • The good news is that no Soviet units exert EZOCs during your Blitzkrieg! Sneak Attack Regular Movement Phase.
  • The better news is that every hex in the Soviet unit costs only 1 Movement Point to enter, so your units can go through what is left of the Soviet Front Line like crap through a goose.
  • You ignore Soviet EZOCs and Soviet-friendly Rail Lines when the Soviets check your supply during the first Soviet turn. This mean you can advance with logistical impunity and should have a smashing second turn as well with units in communication.
  • But before you go whooshing past the Soviet Front Line, stop and mark your friendly HQs so that you know the limits of your supply. Their umbrella for both non-mobile and mobile units remains the maximum extent of your “supply leash.” Be mindful not let your units wander off into an unsupplied state, as you will need full-strength units next turn to land your second crushing blows and reduce pockets.
  • Did you clear a Rail Line to a City hex where you can relocate a German HQ marker to on the second turn (July I, ’41)? If there is any way to achieve a good forward location such as Smarhon or Daugavpils and get an HQ there on the second turn, you have done well indeed! Give yourself a cardboard Iron Cross.
  • Another aspect of being mindful about your logistics means trying to pass through vacant Soviet City hexes to scoop up control of them.
  • This is the time to cut RLoCs to Soviet HQ markers; put them under all the pressure you can muster. You must make sure your opponent is having a jolly rotten time of it when almost the entirety of their forces go Out of Supply at the beginning of your next turn. That will leave them too weak to keep counterattacking and allow you time to reduce pockets and improve your own supply situation.

German AGSouth HQ (Attack mode)Lance McMillan: Logistics drives the ground war. The TITE design and development team have written articles about it; read them:

If you do not use your HQ markers to their fullest capabilities, then you are not going to win. In the ETO series, there is a fine (and subtle) art to knowing when and where to re-position your HQs to achieve their best effect. If you get the logistics right you will discover you have already won half the battle.

Frank Chadwick: You will want to read Frank’s notes written specifically for you in this article:

The Second Turn: July I, ‘41

It being the start of a new Month, a new Season, and a new war, there are a lot of signposts pointing in different directions as you assess the second game turn. Here we offer some tips to help you navigate your way forward.

Advice for the Axis

Your Mission: Every Axis Ground unit should be In Communication from the previous Soviet turn’s check of your supply (thanks to the Blitzkrieg!card’s Sneak Attack bonuses). When your second turn rolls around, your front-line forces may have already outrun their supply umbrellas or you might discover that, after a Soviet counterattack, some of your units are at reduced strength in a hex where replacements cannot reach them; those problems are not the big issue right now. The trick for your July I turn is to reduce pockets quickly by brute attacks while simultaneously keeping your eastward momentum going – it is a balancing act where experience is your teacher.

PocketsNasssty Little Pocketessses: Lance McMillan suggests being leery of leaving encircled enemy units in your rear as your forces advance past them. Keeping a proper lid on pocketed enemy units requires at least two of your own; more if you need to negate their EZOCs projected over vital lines of communications in your rear. This, of course, means fewer units in your front line applying pressure where it can make the most difference at decisive places and times. 

It is true that isolated enemy units will eventually starve into surrender without risking an attritional attack against them, but all that time you are probably tying up a lot of strength keeping them encircled for those several turns. Per the principle of the Time Value of Units, it is usually wiser to risk a step or two to reduce pockets “the old-fashioned way” (attacking them into oblivion) just to free up your units for where you really need them now.

Where to Invest

Besides keeping your Ground units in fighting trim, where should the Axis economy invest its resources during Barbarossa? Here are some thoughts:

  • German 3rd Line Ground Units: While another Garrison unit or two will certainly be useful as the front expands over the course of the Barbarossa campaign, their acquisition is not urgent. You can certainly wait until a few turns until you need to worry about garrisoning key Soviet City hexes (e.g., Supply, Rail Hub, Major Ports and Naval Bases, etc.). You probably don’t even need those German 4-4 Corps at this juncture; keep those PPs for your main German Infantry Corps units so they stay at full strength.
  • German Bf-109F FighterThe German Bf-109F Fighter Unit: First, do not upgrade the Bf-190E unit with the F model (for 1 EP) because the 109E will be leaving play soon enough and, if you don’t have one, you will lose a 109F model instead. So don’t do that. Instead, you might consider just purchasing it outright. This is not a small investment of resources (2PP + 1 EP + 1/2 FP to raise it from Destroyed) and there is no urgency to acquire it right away, but if you are playing a Campaign Game instead of just the Barbarossa Scenario, it’s time value (i.e., full use over the long haul) makes it more attractive.
  • Hungarians: At the very least, build up the two Hungarian Ground units required to build their 6-3 Army unit and get that on the map. Don’t forget that Hungarian Motorized Corps breaks down into a couple of nice divisions: one Armor and one Cavalry, both of which have their uses chipping in on attacks to help you achieve odds or to add “heaviness” (from the Hungarian tanks) to an otherwise-infantry attack with Close Air Support (we saw that was a clever idea when both symbols on the support dice came up “Heavy”).
  • Hungarian Air: Building their Ca.135 Ground Attack Bomber unit is more problematic. Having it, it is often best used in a packet with better Vulnerable Air units (i.e., Stukas and Bf-110Es), for although the stack becomes very easy to Hit (with a two Vulnerable Air units in it), you can choose to lose the Hungarian planes rather than the German ones when applying losses. Essentially, you are looking at a lot of expense to build that Hungarian Air unit for a very small reward.
  • Romanians: Although their Divisions are always useful to add that extra bit of strength when the odds are close, building Romanian Territorial Corps as garrisons is a really great value. Especially for protecting Romania itself! While the Soviets are free to project air power from Nikolayev and sea power from Sevastopol, their air and sea invasions against Romania is a potentially big problem that you should take steps to prevent.

Axis Card Selection

Axis Army Organization cardThere are many schools of thought here. Some “best of” choices are…

  • The Return of the German Generals: If you played this card on June IV, you can select it again on July I and have it standing by. When in doubt, this is the best Axis “utility” card for making things happen on the map.
  • Army Organization: This card works very smoothly during the Barbarossa Campaign allowing an HQ marker to save a couple of countdown turns and get back into the fight that much faster. This can be unbalancing for the Soviet forces arrayed against that HQ, but it is a hefty investment as a Medium card.

Two Small Cards

There are a lot of useful Small cards in the Axis hand. During Barbarossa, we have observed the following selected:

  • OKH Reconsiders: Hey, you will get that August Panzer Corps unit now, in July! Imagine what you can do with that for an extra four turns.
  • Axis Nationalists and Separatists cardNationalists and Separatists: While the Baltic States are usually not a big problem, the Ukraine is vast and the Soviets often do not have much wherewithal to staunch a mini-flood of Ukrainian Separatist Divisions popping up. Not only are they handy for helping secure a crossing across the Dnieper River, if your regular forces manage to stack with them, they disappear and turn into 1/2 PP each (which is always useful). Although these Axis Partisan Division units work fine in practice, they work even better as a threat as a canny Soviet player must prepare as if they might pop up.
  • Panzer Blitz: This card is best played early when you can still find occasional Soviets to overrun. Eventually, however, the Soviets wise up and leave you as few overrun opportunities as possible. Still, this “overrun insurance” card works until it doesn’t work, so it could be on the table for a very long time.
  • Tank Aces: Are similar, working until they don’t work. An extra White Bolt with your Panzer Corps is nice, but this card compels you to back every tank attack with air support to ensure this card sticks around a while. That sort of “card preservation” mindset could affect your non-tank battle attacks (leaving them wanting for Close Air Support), so either this card is a short dagger or a long two-edged sword.
  • German Officers Show Initiative: It really stinks to be the Soviets when this card hits the map. During Barbarossa, it keeps German Infantry units moving forward and those on the line can “ooze-filtrate” and unhinge Soviet positions before they grow too strong. For this card in particular, like comedy, timing is everything. You will want to evolve the situation on the map where playing this card becomes as devastating as possible!
  • Axis Wehrmacht Motorization cardWehrmacht Motorization: If you haven’t played this card yet, try it. The extreme handiness of a German Motorized Corps unit cannot be overstated. They are a fantastic utility unit on offense, defense, and for keeping the flanks strong when the lines are shifting. You will find many occasions to be thankful to have them on the map (particularly as you rebuild them with PPs instead of EPs). But they are not cheap (costing 1 EP or 1 FP to convert a precious 6-4 Infantry). In addition, you can only acquire them (if dedicated to doing so) at the rate of 1 per Season. However, especially when playing a Campaign Game, starting early increased their time value as you are ensuring the greatest possible use from them (and, therefore, return on your investment).
  • Anti-Bolshevik Crusade: If you had 2 more Romanian PPs you would use them, right? If for nothing else, they could garrison your rear to keep your good units fighting on the front. Well, here they are! If you combine this with Romania Annexes (which prevents Chisinau from the effects of Scorched Earth depending on your timing, which can be useful in a Campaign Game) you would be building a yellow-counter powerhouse over time, but this is seldom an urgent consideration when the lines are rushing eastward. Ultimately, the Thunder in the East Upgrade Kit’s card for a Minor Offensive will make the Romanians a worthy dog to have in a fight and provide them enough strength to really kick the Soviets (especially when they are down).

Final Thoughts

  • Lance McMillan says, “Major River lines are great defensive barriers, but remember their defensive bonus cuts both ways. If your line is getting thin, the section holding a Major River line is usually safe to strip out of some units to shore up weak points elsewhere; however, if your opponent obtains a bridgehead over that river, you're in big trouble. Often it's best just to go around a Major River obstacle rather than assault your way across it.”