Recently, I came across another interesting looking small format wargame from High Flying Dice Games called Long Hard Road: The Battle of Dubno, June 23-27, 1941. The game covers the first major tank battle of Operation Barbarossa during World War II in Western Ukraine. What really caught my eye about the game was that there is only one other game on the subject and I thought that odd as it is one of the largest tank battles in history. I reached out to the designer Paul Rohrbaugh and he was more than willing to discuss the game.
Grant: What is the historical background for your new game Long Hard Road?
Paul: The game covers the first large tank battle of the Barbarossa Campaign in Western Ukraine, the Battle of Dubno which was fought on June 23-27, 1941. About 3,000 tanks from the Red Army Kiev Special Military District clashed with about 800 German tanks of Heeresgruppe South.
Grant: Why do we need another game covering the East Front? What new angle did you try to take in this game?
Paul: This is only the second game published on the Battle of Dubno that I’m aware of, and I started research and design work on the game at least 12 years ago (before any similar work was done by the other publisher’s game). I have always been attracted to portraying in game form topics that have received little to no treatment in that format. The Battle of Dubno is significant as all of the elements that figured in Operation Barbarossa’s failure were there; from the broad and expanding front the Germans faced in their invasion, the huge numbers of troops, tanks and weapons the Soviets were able to put into the field and that Hitler and the OKW had dismissed as outlandish, and the over estimation of their own abilities coupled with the gross underestimations of those by the Soviets.
Grant: What did you feel was most important to model from the initial armored clashes on the East Front of World War II?
Paul: WWII was the first conflict in which mechanized forces were predominant, and this became very apparent just how predominant this form of warfare was on the Eastern Front. Mobility, command control and the successful integration of all combat arms (infantry whether “leg” or mechanized, armor, artillery, air) were key as well as the speed at which commanders could implement their decisions, as well as react to those of their opponents, in determining any battle’s outcome.
Grant: What was your reasoning for the title of the game? What did you want this title to convey to the players?
Paul: In my mind, the title directly references the fact that this was the first battle in a long list of battles in a very long war, with lessons for both sides to learn. The idea that an invasion of Russia by the Germans was thought to be an easy road was immediately shattered once the battles started and the Germans began to see that the Soviets were not going to lay down and would fight to the end.
Grant: What sources did you consult on the battle? What is one source you would recommend for a one volume read on the battle?
Paul: Here are the titles listed in the game’s bibliography:
Craig, Luther W. H. Barbarossa Unleashed: The German Blitzkrieg Through Central Russia to the Gates of Moscow. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 2013.
Glantz, David. Operation Barbarossa: Hitler’s Invasion of Russia, 1941. Stroud: History Press, 2011.
Kamenir, Victor J. The Bloody Triangle: The Defeat of Soviet Armor in the Ukraine, June 1941. Minneapolis, MN: Zenith Press, 2008.
Kirchubel, Robert. Operation Barbarossa 1941: Army Group South. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004.
Konstantine, Pleshakov. Stalin’s Folly: The Tragic First Ten Days of World War II on the Eastern Front. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 2005.
Miranda, Joseph. Counterattack in the Ukraine: Dubno, 1941. World at War (August, September 2013). Pages 6-22.
Weapons and Warfare. Armored Forces of Barbarossa Part I. Retrieved November 2019 from: https://weaponsandwarfare.com/2019/11/19/armored-forces-of-barbarossa-i/
Weapons and Warfare. Armored Forces of Barbarossa Part II. Retrieved November 2019 from: https://weaponsandwarfare.com/2019/11/19/armored-forces-of-barbarossa-ii/
Wieczynski, Joseph L. [editor]. Operation Barbarossa: The German Attack on the Soviet Union, June 22, 1941. Salt Lake City: C. Schlacks, 1993
I recommend Konstantine’s book very much on this battle, with Kamenir’s a close second.
Grant: What is the scale of the game?
Paul: Units are mostly regiments with a few battalions (assault gun, heavy tanks, recon). Each turn represents 8 hours of time and a hex is 1.25 miles across.
Grant: What is the anatomy of the counters?
Paul: Infantry units have a NATO icon, while vehicle units have silhouettes of their predominant vehicle type. Historical (divisional for the Germans, Corps for the Soviet) formations are shown with color stripes along the tops of the units (Independent units do not have a formation color stripe). Along the bottom of each unit are three factors; the left-most is a unit’s armor factor (AF), the middle factor is its infantry factor (IF) and the right most is its movement factor (MF).
Grant: What units are involved in the battle from what Groups and Armies? What are the special units?
Paul: German formations are the 9th, 11th, 13th, 14th and 16th Panzer Divisions, as well as the 57th, 25th, 1st SS and 9th Viking SS Motorized Infantry Divisions. Soviet formations are the 8th, 15th, 19th and 22nd Mechanized Corps. The Germans had assault gun battalions and some SS units that were shared among the various divisions, and the Soviets used their leg infantry and cavalry divisions pretty much interchangeably among the Corps (the term “shared” is being rather generous, as the crisis filled nature of the battle for the Soviets actually led to these units being ordered about by pretty much nearly every higher-level command that could reach them).
Grant: What different types of armors unit from each side are featured?
Paul: For the Germans there are Panzer III and IV, Stug. III assault guns and Sdkfz. 222 armored cars. For the Soviets there are T-26, BT-5/7, KV-1, T-34 and T-35 tanks and BA-3 armored cars. There were of course many other types and variants of AFVs present here for both sides, but as I mentioned above the units portray only the most common/predominant types.
Grant: What things do you have to focus on differently with a game that models armies combat?
Paul: Combat among the different arms, mostly among armor and infantry, as well as supporting air and artillery need to be portrayed. However, I’m very much for keeping play interactive and easy to learn/teach. On a game of this size I also wanted to keep the game playable in an afternoon. Not only does keeping play streamlined and doable in a manageable amount of time help in finding opponents but also helps in solo play and replayability.
Grant: The game uses Chit-Pull to activate units. Does each formation have only one chit? How can the number of chits be modified?
Paul: The German player has activation chits/markers for each formation, which means they primarily activate once per turn. The Soviet player has activation markers that determine a number of units that activate regardless of formation, and does allow for Soviet units to be activated more than once in a turn (for the Soviet player formation is largely an issue for stacking). The German player can activate units more than once in a turn, regardless of formation, via random event.
Grant: What is the general Sequence of Play?
Paul: First there is a “Prep Phase” when the German player determines the number of air support missions that are available (day turns only) and both players determine how many formation activation markers (FAM) will be used that turn. The FAM are placed into an opaque container and drawn randomly to determine who activates and with what formation (German) or how many units (Soviet) during the Operations Phase. Activated units can move, attack or attempt to rally from the effects of being disrupted. After all FAM are drawn then any units that did not activate via an FAM can be moved to move or attack (not both), with limitations. Players take turns activating their un-activated units until there are all have activated or both players declare “pass”. The End Phase rounds out the turn with all Disrupted markers being removed, supply status of all unit determined, and DR checks made to see if reduced units recover to full strength. Any Victory Points earned or lost by the players are then recorded and play, if it isn’t the last turn, continues to the next turn.
Grant: How are air assets determined? How do these air assets then get allocated to different functions?
Paul: Air Support missions are primarily used by the German player as the Soviet player only gets any of these via Random Event. The German player determines how many Air Support missions are received by a DR made during the Prep Phase of each day turn. Air Support can be used to attack enemy units to disrupt, or if already disrupted reduce them. Air Support can also be used for rear area interdiction. This adversely affects the number of Soviet artillery support that can be obtained, as well as introducing additional FAM to the opaque container that can be drawn. Since the Soviet player only gets to draw for 2 (night) or 3 (day) FAM, having additional FAM in the opaque container, that will likely activate fewer units, interdiction can introduce a very problematic and even chaotic element into the Soviet player’s ability to fight. The German Air Support missions can be a very powerful asset in the game if used wisely and well, as they were historically.
Grant: What actions can be taken by a formation once activated?
Paul: Units can move, attack, attempt to rally when activated. Armor and mechanized units can also engage in move/fight (think over-run) activations due to their higher movement factors if stacked together when activated. These stacks of units are often the “prime movers” for a player, and disrupting/interdicting them is often the focus of defensive activations by the opponent. Deciding when to form stack, and what assets/activations to be used to thwart their attacks are common and often difficult decisions players make throughout the game.
Grant: What changes during night turns?
Paul: The Soviet player receives fewer Formation Activation Markers and the German player receives no Air Support Missions. The night turns can be an advantage for the Soviets as they can move about more freely and make better attacks but they have fewer activations.
Grant: How does each sides artillery units differ?
Paul: Both players rolls a die to determine how many artillery support missions are received when any of their FAM are drawn. The number of Soviet Artillery Support strikes are adversely affected by the number of German Air Support dedicated to interdiction missions. Like air support, Artillery Support can be used to disrupt and/or reduce enemy units setting them up for attacks by friendly ground unit attacks.
Grant: How does combat work in the design?
Paul: The game does not use a Combat Results table. Un-disrupted activated units attack an opposing unit in an adjacent (conventional attack) or same (overrun attack) hex using their AF or IF. If the DR is less than or equal to the attacking unit’s factor the target unit is disrupted; if already disrupted it is reduced and if already reduced it is eliminated. An attacking DR that is greater than the attacking unit’s AF/IF is ineffective and the target unit is unscathed. The combat DR is modified by terrain, whether there are other units adjacent and if there are different types of units present in the attacking units hex and also attacking the same target unit (combined arms).
Grant: How does Opportunity Fire work? How should each side utilize this action?
Paul: Opportunity Fire occurs when an opposing unit moves from one hex adjacent to an undisrupted friendly unit(s) to another adjacent hex. This does not require any activations (free shots if you will) and can be a very powerful defensive gambit. Units hit in defensive fire have their movement halted and are disrupted, leaving them vulnerable and in close proximity to enemy units when they activate.
Grant: How are Random Events activated?
Paul: A Random Event check is triggered when the Random Event Marker is drawn in Chit-Pull.
Grant: What different events are there?
Paul: Random Events include the appearance of some (few) Soviet Air Support, additional activations for a number of German units determined by a DR, Soviet tank breakdowns, Additional Soviet Activations, Command Confusion by the German High Command, and perhaps No Event. What do you like best about the inclusion of events?–These are another design device for portraying the history without scripted rules, as well as an excellent device for introducing an element that increases re-playability.
Grant: What Variant rules are included?
Paul: Variant rules include variable/contingent German reinforcements (that cost Victory Points if introduced into the game), Soviet Armor Deficiencies (there were a lot of rolling scrap yard candidates on the roster to make things look better to Comrade Stalin), Road Marching, Concentric Attacks and Combined Arms to name a few.
Grant: What determines victory?
Paul: Players win the game by earning more Victory Points (VP) than their opponent by the end of the game. VP are earned for eliminating enemy units, capturing significant territorial objectives (mostly towns, rail lines and crossroads), keeping Stalin happy by conducting a minimal number of attacks each turn (failure to do so by the Soviet player means a loss of VP) and for the German, not entering contingent reinforcements here as they are badly needed elsewhere.
Grant: How have you worked to include the various doctrine into the play of each side?
Paul: The FAM captures that well, as well as rules such as Stalin’s Fury and some of the Random Events.
Grant: What are you most pleased about with the design?
Paul: How easy it is to learn/teach, its high level of player interaction, that it plays very well solo as well as with an opponent, and how well it conveys the history. I am very proud to have it as the newest entry into the Blood and Steel Series of titles.
Thank you for this interview! It is greatly appreciated!
Thanks for your great answers to our questions Paul and for another interesting looking treatment of a little gamed battle from the Eastern Front of World War II.
If you are interested in Long Hard Road: The Battle of Dubno, June 23-27, 1941 you can order a copy for $20.95 from the High Flying Dice Games website at the following link: http://www.hfdgames.com/lhr.html
Great interview, as always. KUDOS to Paul, for bringing in another forgotten battle (and there are many). The combat system sounds like a boxing match where no one wins, but when there are tanks involved, cut and dry victory isn’t always assured… probably a lot of push and shove. It also sounds, with the chit-pull system, there might be A LOT of wierd troop turns and mishaps. This might enhance the “fog of war” atmosphere, never quite knowing WHO might have the advantage. I sense that the game might be reasonably balanced, with neither side being able to count on a bit of salvation in bad times. Are you going to review this game? Sure would love to hear your feelings…
For interested readers, Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front (1941-1942) by Robert Forczyk contains a lot of detailed descriptions and interesting insights – it even briefly describes this battle.
I would have expected the Germans to have the more flexible activations, while the Soviets would be more prescribed – kind of the reverse of what seems to have been designed. I may not fully appreciate the whole, but I’d like to better understand the thinking behind that design choice.
Also, presumably the VPs are set-up to encourage the Soviet counter-attacks that burned-up their formations.