ETO Series Barbarossa II

Updated: Dec 22, 2021

A Reexamination of the Barbarossa Historical Setup


By the ETO Development Team


Previously, we came across a post in the Thunder in the East forums on Boardgame Geek, which inspired this article. Enthusiast David Shubert remarked during a discussion of the historical setup for the Barbarossa scenario, “Historically the Russians used the historical setup….”


Well, they did, and they didn’t, and it is entirely a matter of interpretation. Before explaining what that means, allow us to put the original Barbarossa historical setup in perspective and conclude by offering you the latest in-develop version of this popular scenario.


A Last-Minute Gift


First, some important background. The set of scenario historical setup documents for Thunder in the East were a Kickstarter campaign bonus. They were not included in the game box because they were merely created as a thank you to project backers, composed an afterthought. They were not playtested and balanced out; we did that for the standard “free deployment” setup, which we recommend playing.


The Thunder in the East historical scenario setups are as advertised: a free Kickstarter add-on following the game’s development. We quickly put them together for our backers as a late expression of our gratitude.


The Decision to “Pack” the Soviet Armies


While creating these historical scenarios, deep the dusty archives of research (which designer Frank Chadwick negotiates like an Indiana Jones figure with an unerring sense of direction), we quickly found ourselves in a pickle. Unfortunately for us, the Soviet Stavka didn’t neatly concentrate their Armies in clearly identifiable hexes for us to say, “Oh, yeah. That one goes right there in hex 7649.” No, that would be easy!


Instead, the official Soviet records of their June 21, ’41 western frontier military deployments showed us each fronter Army’s constituent Corps and Divisions widely dispersed over multiple hexes (as illustrated in this article). To conform to the initial release of TITE and keep things simple for the players, it was up to us to interpret where each Army unit’s “center of gravity” might be and commence with the entirety of that unit in that “historical” (i.e., guesstimated center of gravity) hex. Thus, after packing these widely dispersed forces together into tidy Soviet 8-4 Army units, we later discovered our own unanticipated “error by interpretation.” Our decisions placed these Soviet setup Armies created an artificial imbalance in the historical first turn of the game.

These maps show the spread of Soviet Divisions and Brigades and the concentration of opposing German forces. Use the slider feature to move them left and right.


Little did we know back then that players would eschew the game’s playtested free deployment setup. Instead, they would rush toward the unplaytested “historical” setup (which proved demonstrably imbalanced due to our honest interpreting of initial unit placements to conform to the game back then). Ouch! Now, the development team currently has a long To-Do list completing the entire ETO series. However, we have interrupted it briefly to figure out how to make Kickstarter bonus historical setups (particularly for the Barbarossa scenario) do real justice to the game-as-history because so many players are using it instead of the setup instructions in the rules!


Bringing us to this article.


The Decision to “Unpack” the Soviet Armies


After the usual design process loop of assessment, proposals, feedback, and analysis (repeat as needed), we finally dialed in a solution that is very in keeping with ETO’s design philosophy for the lowest-complexity possible and the maximum player fun. In conjunction with the small Thunder in the East second edition evolutions from playtesting, we are altering the