VUCA Simulations is a newer German company that came on the scene in 2019 with their first game called Crossing the Line: Aachen 1944. Since that game, they have changed their name and are lining up some really great looking operational level wargames on the East Front and the Pacific Theater. Their newest upcoming game is called Across the Bug River: Volodymyr-Volynskyi 1941 and is designed by Krzysztof Biernacki. We reached out to Krzysztof and he was more than willing to talk about his design.
Grant: What is your upcoming game Across the Bug River: Volodymyr-Volynskyi 1941 about? What interested you in doing this game?
Krzysztof: I am mainly interested in WWII, especially the Eastern Front, and since there are not many games of this scale on this subject, I decided to make a game that I would like to play myself. Across the Bug River is about the first days of fighting during Operation Barbarossa on a very narrow section of the Army South sector.
Grant: What system does the game use?
Krzysztof: Across the Bug River uses the system from the game Crossing the Line: Aachen 1944. However, due to a different time scale in both games, some changes to the rules proved necessary. Thus, some modifications have been made to, for example, the rules about supplies, which allow the formations to maintain their combat capability for longer. New rules have also appeared in relation to the crossing of the Bug River. Other changes are cosmetic in nature and, in my view, serve to reflect the struggle on the battlefield more realistically.
Grant: Where is the Volodymyr-Volynskyi area located in the grander scheme of the Operation Barbarossa front?
Krzysztof: Volodymyr-Volynskyi is located in the present territories of western Ukraine, north of Lviv, in the operating sector of the South Army.
Grant: What is the history of this area of the Western Ukraine and what resources did you use to get the parameters of the map correct?
Krzysztof: The area in which the game is played out belonged to Poland until As a result of German and Soviet aggression established by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Polish territory was torn into two parts. The area west of the Bug River was under German occupation and the area east of the Bug River was incorporated into the Soviet Union. So when preparing the game map I relied on Polish cartographic maps from the 1930’s. As the areas west of the Bug River returned to Poland after the war, in this part of the board I have used the Polish names. The areas to the east of the Bug River remained part of the Soviet Union, hence the names are Russian (mostly Russified Polish names).
Grant: What historical sources did you consult to construct the OOB?
Krzysztof: When establishing the OOB, I used the following books:
Jacek Domański, Barbarossa 1941 Vol.II – Bitwa pancerna na Zachodniej Ukrainie
Victor Kamenir – The Bloody Triangle
But also from various online sources and websites such as:
Танковый фронт 1939-1945
World War II Armed Forces
Grant: What different divisions and units are included on both sides?
Krzysztof: Both sides have infantry and armored divisions. The Red Army has unique formations which are AT Artillery Brigade. Such formations were formed in small numbers just before the start of the war.
Grant: What was your greatest challenge in the design and what did you have difficulty getting right?
Krzysztof: The main problem with designing board wargames is the lack of fog of war. The players have knowledge that the commanders of the time did not have and have a very good understanding of the entire situation throughout the game, which allows them to play fights much more effectively. Also the situation in the neighboring sectors not covered by the game area influenced the fact that such and not other decisions were made. All this means that it is not easy to design a game that would simulate specific events and would not allow players to play the battle in a way that would ever be conducted.
Grant: What is the basic anatomy of the counters?
Krzysztof: Combat units have strength, effectiveness, movement allowance and tank points or AT points listed on the counters. A very important parameter here is the concept of effectiveness, which determines the effectiveness of the unit in combat and other activities.
Grant: What area does the map cover?
Krzysztof: The map covers the area from Vladimir-Volynskyi to Torchyn in west Ukraine. Hexes are 2.2km which makes the game area around 65x100km.
Grant: How are units activated during play?
Krzysztof: During the game, players determine which side has the initiative at the moment and can activate the formation of their choice, if it still has the option. Units from an activated formation can perform various actions such as move, combat, refit, or prepared defense.
Grant: How does combat work? What are the different types of attack actions available?
Krzysztof: The outcome of the fight is influenced by several basic parameters such as unit strength, effectiveness, and tank points or AT points. The HQ itself and the Attack Support Points parameter also affect the result of the fight.
Fights are divided into three different types including hasty, regular and prepared attacks. Performing a hasty attack costs the least action points, but lacks the support of other units and HQ and is typically used to gain a quick advantage or control a specific hex. A prepared attack costs the most action points and provides the best support for HQ and other units and will be used in certain instances to almost guarantee a certain result.
Below is shown the Combat Action Sequence which is taken directly from the rulebook and clearly shows the different steps involved.
Grant: What are the Combat Multiplier chits and how are they used? Why did you feel this was necessary?
Krzysztof: Combat chits determine the coefficient depending on the effectiveness of the unit by which the strength is multiplied. This solution makes the outcome of the fight more difficult to predict and gives the weaker units a chance to succeed.
Grant: What is the Counterattack Order? What basis did this rule have in history?
Krzysztof: The Soviets often carried out poorly prepared counterattacks – with insufficient force, poor reconnaissance, and poor command. All this translates into the fact that the Soviet units are generally weaker in the game. A sensible player would not waste his strength on carrying out attacks that would weaken his strength even more, hence the introduction of the Counterattack order rules, which force the player to carry out actions that the then Soviet commanders were forced to perform.
Grant: What scenarios does the game have? What is the playing time of each?
Krzysztof: The game comes with two small scenarios, each can be played in around 6 hours and one campaign which can be played in 14-15 hours. These time estimates are for players that are familiar with the rules and system and first plays of the game can take a bit longer.
Grant: What are you most pleased with about the design? What does it do really well?
Krzysztof: I am pleased that the game allows you to achieve a historical course of events and shows some of the abilities and tactics of each side in the battle.
Grant: What other projects are you working on?
Krzysztof: At the moment I am working on another game based on the same system, which I hope to further develop with some small changes towards a more realistic representation of the battlefield. The game will be about the battles in the Pavlohrad region in 1943, when the 2nd SS Panzer Corps, as part of an operation to regain Kharkov, hit the Soviet bulge near Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhia.
Thank you for your time in answering our questions Krzysztof. I think that the game has many novel mechanics and should create a very interesting vehicle to explore the history of this part of the great Barbarossa Campaign.
While the game is not released as of yet, you can check out the game page on the VUCA Simulations website at the following link: https://vucasims.com/products/across-the-bug-river-volodymyr-volynskyi-1941