RACE TO BERLIN
is a 2 Player historical style wargame from LEONARDO Games. Designed by Krzysztof Dytczak, it is for players aged 14 year olds plus who are interested in WWII strategies. Playing time is around 2½ - 3½ hours so dedication and concentration is a necessity.
There are two booklets that come with this game; the Rules book and a booklet of historical background. To be able to play the game there is no need to read the historical booklet, but doing so will give you a better insight into the scenarios and action you are about to embark on. Like the Rules booklet, the Historical booklet is written in both Polish and English, and similarly it is presented not intwo separate sections but side by side, Polish in the left margin and English in the right margin. Personally, as I am not trying to learn Polish, I would have preferred an separate set of English rules but that's just personal preference and doesn't affect the playing, only the reading (there are minor grammar discrepancies with the translation from Polish to English, but nothing that causes anything problematic for the game or historically. Both booklets are also in Axis grey and black with only the illustrated examples having any colour.
The Game Components are a heavy folded map board depicting the areas West, East and South of Berlin, plus a section for Berlin itself. The remainder of the pieces are heavy card counters or wooden blocks, Blue for the Eastern Allies (UK etc) and Red for the Western Allies (Russia) plus there are tokens for the German Army which are grey counters with either Red or Blue headers - the Red face the East and the Blue the West. Finally there are Special long Red and Blue Counters for use during combat, Fortification tokens (Khaki coloured), Red and Blue wooden boundary markers and four ordinary d6 dice. The map is also mainly in shades of grey and black to ensure that the game is taken seriously, it is not an entertaining game, it is a strategic challenge between two players and three sides - Berlin and the German forces are uniquely controlled by the game.
Race to Berlin game portrays the last months of World War II in Europe. In the West, after the landing in Normandy and forcing German troops to withdraw from France, the armies of the Western Allies stand over the borders of the Reich, being ready to get across Rhine. In the East, mighty Red Army preparing itself to final offensive, which goal is the capital of Nazi Germany, Berlin. Both Allies are set for the race to ultimate victory.
Players take role of the commanders of the Soviet and Allied armies competing for prize winners: the capital of the Third Reich. Additionally, they command German armies, standing in front of their ally (player directing the Red Army commands German troops on the Western Front and player, who controls the Western Allies commands German troops on the Eastern Front), whose task is to delay their troops on its way to Berlin. In addition, the players has to seize the strategically important regions of Germany, which later will be administered by occupying troops.
Result of this race creates post-war spheres of influence by the winners of the Second World War, which influence the balance of power during the Cold War.
- A map showing areas of Western and Central Europe, where the last battles of World War II took place in 1945.
- Front line markers (2×25 pieces), to show the Western and Soviet front lines, which shifted during the operations.
- Logistics blocks (2×8 pieces), which form the basis of players’ military maneuvers on the board.
- Action cubes (2×20 pieces), to mark the number of actions made by a logistics block.
- Military unit tokens (40 pieces) with historical markings of armies (Germany, Western Allies) or fronts (Red Army). In the game there are three forces: the Western Allies, the Soviets and the Germans. German units have a current strength, shown by their current orientation. A German unit’s current strength is the number on the side facing west (for Western Front German units) or east (for Eastern Front German units). As a German unit takes losses, its block is rotated to show its new status. The West and the Soviets were allied in the war, but compete against each other as players in the game. Germany has no ally, and is divided into the Western Front and the Eastern Front.
- Special action tokens (16 pieces), for use during combat.
- Fortification tokens (16 pieces) in 3 types: improved positions, regular fortifications, and major fortifications. These represent important defensive lines, e.g. the Siegfried Line (Westwall), Pomeranian Wall, etc.
- Victory point tokens (2×4 pieces) for areas of crucial importance for military operations (e.g. Essen, Breslau, etc.).
All game elements are limited by the physical amount provided.
There are no additional scenarios or variations on setup from the illustration on the back page. Each game begins the same and the object for each player is also always the same - get to Berlin first and occupy it.There are a few minor errors on the board, for instance on the Wesr (Red) side fields 6 and 7 have no units assigned to them which means there can be no contiguous supply from field 1. Fields 2,3 4 and 5 are contiguous but without 6 & 7 fields 8 and 11 are left separated from the mainline and from each other (except diagonally).
To do this you have to battle your way through the German troops opposing you and this is where the large wooden logistics counters come into play. Each player has a set of same numbered logistics counters - in the rules booklet these counters look neat with their black numbers legible but fading into the wood, but unfortunately in reality the stickers are large white squares with the black numbers on them and although they are easy to see during play they are not in common with the remainder of the components or the darkness of the period. Logistics blocks may only be placed in controlled areas and cannot be alone in an area, there must be at least one friendly unit in the area. Placing these blocks is done alternatively by the players and are positioned facing the owning player, the value of the piece isn't known to both players until it is used when it is laid face up for all to see. The positioning of these logistic counters is vital to your chances of success for they can influence areas they are adjacent to as well as the ones they are in. The value of the logistic cube (logistic counters are also called logistic cubes) is the number of times it can be used, thus a 3 point logistic cube can be used 3 times in a game turn and will give 3 points of strength each time, so you can understand why their placing is so important to your strategy.
Combat is the strength of the attacking unit plus the positive difference between the result of rolling two dice against the strength of the defending unit and the positive difference etc. That is to say the strength of the unit or units involved plus the player rolls two dice, subtracts the lower from the higher number and adds the difference (ie a roll of a 2 and a 5 would give a positive difference of +3, whereas a roll of 2 and 2 would give no bonus to add on). This is just a different way of using dice as a random factor and neither adds to nor detracts from the game play.
RACE to BERLIN is quite typical of therecent style of board wargames coming out of Poland and the Czech Republic. It is, as my friends north of the English border would say, a dour game, much like war itself. There is nothing pretty or appealing about it and after your first game you are not champing at the bit to play again. This is because, although it is a truistic example of warfare in 1945, it is a truistic example of warfare in 1945, grey and black and depressing. The game mechanics work well and the idea of each player being faced with their own German adversary force rather than facing off against each other is intriguing, but because the game is repetitive and takes so long in the playing it isn't really exciting enough to get the adrenaline flowing. The Allied forces are really just two sides competing to be the first to reach and hold Berlin against any remaining German opposition. There is a sense of achievement and satisfaction for the winning side but also a sense of exhaustion and relief for both players. It is almost inevitable that one of the players and not Germany will win, at least we have yet to see anything that could even closely resemble a German victory, but that may just be bad luck or bad play on our part.
I think it is a brave game for a company like Leonardo (known for Mare Balticum and Magnum Sal) to publish but it is too long and without enough options to compete with most recognised tabletop board wargame's publishers. I do have a sneaky suspicion that if it could be played with miniatures it would at least have a visual appeal. The logistic cube idea is well thought through but after a game, possibly two, I think most players have made up their minds on how to position them depending which side they play - our suggestion is that each pair of players play at least twice, so that each of them has the opportunity to play from the West and from the Eastern prospective.
I am not sure that this game can compete with GMT Games for example for the wargames market and neither am I convinced that, in this day of Call of Duty and Tom Clancy computerised wargames, there is enough of a dynamic interest here to get most 14 year olds to turn their backs on their PS4 or XBox ONE controllers. Overall it is a solid, heavy (in thought not in components or rules) wargame that leads up to the fall of Berlin.