Robot Barbarossa - Board Game - title image
by Lou Coatney  *  18-Feb-2019

Robot Barbarossa

Robot Barbarossa: Russian Front 1941 is a solitaire board game about the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941 designed and developed by Lou Coatney. Note that this game is Copyrighted, not Public Domain, but is free to Print & Play under certain conditions.
(see for details ).

Against the Robot

On the night of February 13 at Ares Oslo, Tor and I were the live players against the Axis robot, hereafter "Hans." (As an Augustana College senior, Frank Chadwick wrote a short story in the literary yearbook about a young German soldier on the Russian Front, titled "Hans.")

As badly as the Russians' Medium - "historical" - arrays had collapsed in games before, I converted 3 0-factor mekhkors to 1s and *6* 0-factor armies to *2*s overall. Before we played this game, I wasn't sure Tor was enthused about RB, so I asked if he wanted to play another game or a game with another group, but he was willing to try Robot Barbarossa again. (After this game he seems to like it more and now he wants to play with us as the live Axis players again for our next game. He (too) seems to think the robot priorities and specific rules satisfactorily direct robot operations without live players feeling they are only playing themselves.)


After sorting out the Russian pieces and taking 2 out of each 3 unknown strength infantry and tank groups, I set them up by type in the historical positions. With live Russian players, we then get to peek at the tank units to see their strengths - tanks being somewhat more predictable quantums of force than infantry - but they stay face down to be computed for robot attacking odds calculations as 1, until actually attacked and officially revealed.

Tor again took the south, this time as the Russian Southwest Front commander, and I took the Western and Northern Front sectors. We initially had some difficulty not identifying with/as the Axis - we were starting to feel schizoid :) - but eventually got over that.

Game Turn 1 - June 1941

In the first (June 1941) attacks, Southwest Front aviation actually shot down the 4.Luftflotte depriving Army Group South of its close air support but also giving Tor aviation to ground-support a counterattack or harass-bomb an AGS troop concentration (possibly Disrupting one or more Axis units therein for 2 turns). Army Group South nonetheless bludgeoned its way through and out of the Lvov positions and the mekhanized korps backing it up.

And in the center, Western aviation intercepted 2.Luftflotte, knocking it out for the rest of the game-turn! 4.Army's group - 4. Army promoted to a strength of 4 by me - of units (4, 3-2, 2, and 1) having 10 attack factors attacked the Russian army in Brest, which turned out to *be* the 1-factor Russian 4th Army which had been there historically - a 1 out of 54 infantry units chance of that. :) With the river penalty, Brest Fortress, and forest bonus for the infantry army, this was a 10:3 reduced to 2:1 attack with a very risky 33% chance of a full EXchange in the absence of 2.Luftflotte. However, the Germans lucked out with a best possible DX (DE in good weather) result. And 4.Army's group moved in with the 3-2 and 2-2 pzkps Blitzkrieging on against the 14th MekhKor position, which turned out to be a 1-factor mekhkor while 4.Army turned to attack the unknown and robot-presumed 1-factor army and (1-factor I knew) mekhkor in the Russian 3rd Army's historical forested position (at H3), along with 3 korps from 9.Army's hex to the northeast - an assumed 7:3 ergo 2:1 minimum acceptable odds attack. The intent was to surround the unknown Russian army and 2 mekhkors in the Bialystok Forest (H2), to reduce them by supply-isolation and then eliminate them.

Not so! The army was a 2-factor unit for a total Russian defense factor of 4, and the attack - compulsory, now that the Russian units were revealed - became a very risky 3:2. And Hans rolled a FULL EXCHANGE :) which only 4.Army itself could cover, so he lost his single most powerful unit on the very first turn! Oh YEAH, brother. :)

I made a mistake on behalf of Hans in the north. The robot rules (which I forgot until now) say the most advanced units should attack first, but I had him attacking the Russian 11th Army position with 16.Army's group first and then in the Blitzkrieg advance/attack it ran right into the Russian army up in the 8th Army position, slowing/obstructing that group's advance. Most of the Russian units were eliminated, but (von Manstein's, historically) 56.Pzkps didn't get its chance to grab Dvinsk and a bridgehead across the Dvinsk River, although that could be risky with all the reserve echelon Russian units in that neighborhood on 22Jun41.

In our player-turn, without 4.Army there to obligate an attack on it (and on any other units in its hex), a breakout via Brest held by only one German infantry korps became possible. One of the mekhkors was a 1 and the other a 0, but the army turned out to be no less than 2-factor 16th Army (historically commanded by Rokossovsky at Moscow later). There was still an UnDisrupted Russian army on Tor's 5th Army historical position, so with my mekhkor doing a 1:5 diversionary attack against 2.Army and 7.Korps on Warsaw, we aimed our armies at Brest, and his army turned out to be a 1 for a 3:2 against the forest modified German korps ... PLUS Southwest aviation for a 2:1! (I left the 0-factor mekhkorp in the Bialystok Forest, just to obstruct 2. Army's movement east.)

And I rolled a 5/D2 which sent the korps packing ... east? ... shades of old Stalingrad's advancing retreat gimmick? ... hmm ... and 16th Army in to take possession of Brest! Hans was SCREAMING about this, so I had to slap him silly&dumb to calm him down. (Harvey said that would be OK. :) )

In the south, Tor brought up his Reserve Echelon to put together a continuous line, while keeping his units around Odessa in a strong line to fend off the Rumanians & friends for a turn or so.

In the center, I did the same preparing to defend Minsk and its flanks.

In the north, I put my two 1-factor mekhkor into Dvinsk and infantry armies in the forests behind the river on down to Riga in what I thought would be strong positions.

Game Turn 2 - July 1941

Came the second/July turn, and Hans ground on through Tor's line - who had 2 units deep in critical places, I noticed. The Rumanians made little progress in the south, thanks to Tor's delaying dispositions.

In the center the five panzerkorps had to lead the way after the loss of 4.Army, and they attacked Minsk's flanks getting all the way past to what would be Orsha (G6 - halfway across the board already, I just realized!), but too weak to take Minsk head-on or even cut it off. And although it had to go through Southwestern Front territory to do it, my miracle-of-deliverance 16th Army was able to move and fall back in good order, UnDisrupted.

In the north, my Dvina line was obliterated, and AGN's panzerkorps advanced all the way to the hex next to ungarrisoned Pskov, and then it was our turn.

Although not a robot required to follow that rule, I (very wisely, it turned out) decided to load my Kirov tank factory up on its train with the Germans only 3 hexes away from St. Petersburg, instead of taking its 2 tank unit production for that (and 3 more) turn(s) ... leaving us with getting 16 unknown replacement armies - one on each major city still in supply, which even included Minsk at that moment, and 2 from off-board - and 4 initially randomly selected but then known mekh korps: a "mere" 20 units for the turn.

(Note that supply can be traced to a unit through any hex no closer to an enemy unit than to a friendly unit or city or town, so very unusually it can be traced through an empty hex adjacent to both a friendly and enemy unit.)

We had identified early on that there were only two 2-factor mekhkors in the game - and Tor had them both ... which was probably just as well, since the Ukraine is far more open - which meant we had the Weak armored array, but there seemed to be a lot of 2-factor armies and more replacements to come, so I assumed we had the Strong infantry array to balance that.

Most of the replacement centers are in the south, so I had to bum units off Tor, and he was surprisingly generous, seeming to think he had things under control, with space if not unit power ... which, it turned out, he did. I kidded him about his "embarrassment of riches" down there. Unfortunately, units strategically moving/transferred by rail farther than their operational movement allowance have to be railroaded, and that means they are Disrupted (and thus weak) in the hex they detrain where they would then be regrouping.

For the Axis robot, army group sector lines are fairly rigid, and units are not transferred across them unless an army group has taken such losses and become so thin that it needs them to maintain a minimum line or unless there is a major 7-unit pocket of Russian units to be made. By contrast, for the Russian robot, units may be moved to anywhere needed.

Game Turn 3 - August 1941

In the third/August turn, Army Group Center was getting the 1 German infantry korps per month reinforcements, because of its losses - Tor's AGS had lost *nothing* so far.

Army Group North advanced and attacked, decisively taking Novgorod but not yet cutting off Leningrad from overland supply.

Army Group Center first annihilated the Minsk pocket, and then used tactical advances into adjacent hexes to attack Russian units alongside well-garrisoned victory city Smolensk, but avoiding 16th Army in the forest 2 hexes SE, threatening the city with isolation next turn.

In the south, robot Hans ate up some more Russian units and territory and advanced inexorably (but slowly), threatening to surround Kiev.

Come our Russian player-turn, I was - to my astonishment - able to rail the Kirov tank factory (which would also be worth a victory point to the Germans, if it were taken/destroyed) out to Siberia and with replacements was able to create a line extending down along the Volkhov river and below Lake Ilmen. And I tried to make hex B9 - Leningrad's southern suburbs - as strong as possible. Rokossovsky's 1-0 9th Mekhkor had been hanging out on the Narva River (line) intimidating Hans with its unknown status from trying that approach toward Leningrad, so I had him make a 1:4 attack on the two lead German panzerkorps, to try to Disrupt them ... which ended badly.

I fashioned a line of sorts in the Western military district, putting two armies in victory objective Smolensk.

In the south, Tor had no less than 4 armies in Kiev as well as units to at least slow the continuing Axis advance toward Dnepropetrovsk, which he had garrisoned as well.

Game Turn 4 - September 1941

Come the 4th (September) turn and last turn of guaranteed Good weather, and my AGC and AGN Germans had taken significant infantry but not panzer losses, so 3-2 40.Pzkps went to Army Group South. (AGC's panzerkorps had been having traffic jams! ... thanks to the limit of 2 pzkps attacking per hex-side.) Along with irreplaceable 4.Army there were 5 infantry korps which had been lost - one of them from AGN - while Army Group South had still incredibly lost nothing at all (but that was about to change.)

And Army Group North was clearly resolved to take Leningrad nonetheless. 3-factor 18.Army was just out of range of joining in the attack, so 2-factor 16.Army along with the two AGN panzerkorps and an infantry korps - 2 + 3-2 + 2 + 1 = 8 attack factors - and another AGN unit or two from the west would attack the Russian force right south of Leningrad, while 3-factor 18.Army and three infantry korps would attack the unknown Russian army in key hex D9 SE of Lake Ilmen.

Although Leningrad's elite - interception die roll shifted 1 to its advantage - 7th Interceptor Korps shot down! 1.Luftflotte, the northern group got lucky and nonetheless annihilated my Leningrad covering force outright, leaving just 1 strength-unknown army to defend the city against the following Blitzkrieg attack on the city itself. My unknown army turned out to be a 0! giving Leningrad a total defense factor of only 2, so it was a 4:1 reduced to a 3:1 because of the Neva River.

And Leningrad fell, although with the worst possible result of a full EXchange for the Germans and the loss of the 2-factor 56.Pzkps.

As to 18.Army's attack, it began and the Germans (and I) discovered my army to be a 2, modified to 3 for the forest, making it 2:1 instead of 3:1 with a 33% chance for a full EXchange ... which was rolled ... leaving Hans with the dilemma of losing 3-factor 18.Army or 3 infantry korps, and his line was already thin. Since Leningrad had already been taken, he logically chose to lose 18.Army and keep the korps for the high priority of front coverage.

On the Western Front, the Germans surrounded and attacked Smolensk, taking it. A couple of the then Blitzkrieging German panzerkorps attacked on up the Minsk-Moscow highway and took Vyazma. However, with 7 Russian units able to be pocketed in and around Kiev, Hans formed a line down to J8 SW of Bryansk, while Army Group South broke across the Dnepr and moved up behind Kiev all the way to K7, completing the pocket which extended all the way up to Bialystok pocket survivor 16th Army in I6!

With it our turn and getting less replacements I tried to form a line in the north. The 2 panzerkorps which had necessarily tactically advanced into Vyazma after Blitzkrieg were worth 4 unmodified defense factors together and were a successfully tempting target. So, I threw no less than *8* infantry armies at them - assuming their average would at least be 1 - plus both Katyusha rocket detachments for support. When my all unknown/replacement armies were revealed, I had only one 2, four 1s, and 3 0s! for 6:4=3:2 odds raised by the Katyushas to 3:1. Hoping for a best roll and Defender Eliminated, I instead got a FULL EXCHANGE requiring my surviving two 1-factor infantry armies to come out into open un-forest-modifying Vyazma.

As well, 16th Army was trying to break out of its new pocket, and Tor sent up a korps and an army to help for a 2:1 attack supported by his air unit which had somehow shot down 4.Luftflotte yet again ... and I rolled another full EXchange against another panzerkorps. It was better to have the two units than one, so I regretfully sacrificed 16th Army.

Game Turn 5 - October 1941

Tor rolled for the weather, and it went with the 67% chance for MUD in October. Army Group North made little headway trying to clear its eastern mapboard edge hexes and trying to come down the Leningrad-Novgorod-Moscow road. Army Group Center was dispersed but attacked and annihilated my EXchange-surviving two 1-factor armies in Vyazma, and then Blitzkrieged and eliminated the surviving 0-factor armies in G10/Mozhaisk along with both of my Katyusha detachments, thus arriving on Moscow's western side.

In the south, the Axis got into the Crimea, but they had finally taken some exchange losses and they had to protect the Crimea's isthmus in strength from the growing Russian strength in the south, and Sevastopol was well-garrisoned.


Real time had marched on, and we had played the 5 turns - with some interruptions - in about 3 hours. Hard frost perfect weather was next, but AGC's elite 2.Luftflotte had to be withdrawn, the Russians had become so strong everywhere that Moscow would not be taken, and the best the Germans could do in the south was taking Dnepropetrovsk or Sevastopol but not both, and Voronezh let alone Rostov was out of the question. Tor wasn't even bothering to evacuate the tank factory located in Stalino (instead of Kharkov, it turned out).

The Germans had lost 2 of their 3 strongest of a total of 8 armies, 4 of their 11 panzerkorps and 8 or so infantry corps, and they were feeling the stretch of keeping a strong line, and the Siberians would be arriving in December SNOW.

The Axis had taken Leningrad for 3 victory points, and Smolensk, Kiev, and probably Dnepropetrovsk for a total of 6. I had increased the Axis victory requirement up from 7 to 8, but that was looking stacked against the Axis. We then examined/revealed the strengths of the Russian infantry and armor arrays. The armor array was Weak as we had early on discovered, but so was the infantry which I had thought was Strong! ... which raised the victory requirement 1 each to an even more impossible 10!

On the other hand, we had talked about "surprising" the Axis robot with power groups of concentrated known 2-factor units, since by the rules the robot has to assume all unknown Russian units are 1s. That didn't work out, because for most of the game both of us were just trying to hold the line or counterattack with whatever we had on hand, known or otherwise.

Tor and I discussed this, and he thought some of the 2-factor infantry units should be reduced back to 0s. However, right now the overall average for both branches is an exact 1.0. We also talked about giving either side's robot a shift in the victory requirement or even a shift in all combat odds.

What we hadn't realized is how unstatistically often the German Luftflotten got shot down and knocked out of the game for 2 full turns, even though there is only a 17% chance of Russian front aviation units doing that. And those German close air support bonuses make all the difference. So I think confining Russian aerial victories to interceptions ... knocking out the Luftflotten only for the rest of a turn - a 33% chance total - while keeping possibility of actually shooting down the Russian air units for 2 turns at 33% is a better balancing revision.

As I said, Tor wants to try the game again with the Russians as the robot, so we'll see how that goes.

I really like RB. The (historical) unpredictability of the Russian units makes playing it an entirely different and exciting game experience.