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GrogHeads Reviews World at War: Operation Garbo

World at War: Operation Garbo, Published by Lock ‘n Load Publishing

Review by Michael Eckenfels, 8 August 2014

 

INTRODUCTION

Given the theatres that a hypothetical World War III conventional war could have been fought over, the World at War series has done a nice job thus far with putting far-flung locales from decades ago onto many gaming tables across the world. This one, Operation Garbo, is something of a surprise. Personally, I would have thought a North Cape World at War would make more sense, with Russian marines fighting Norwegian and NATO troops, so when you see a game that touts Sweden vs. the USSR, you might raise an eyebrow.

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Nevertheless, this latest publication in the successful World at War series from Lock ‘n Load, takes wargamers to a place that is rarely visited, and that’s something that makes it very intriguing from the get go.

In order to play Operation Garbo, you must own Blood and Bridges. This game is not a stand-alone game, but  an expansion. All the rules from Blood and Bridges applies to this expansion, as well as a few extra rules added to the rulebook for this game (see below).

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COMPONENTS

I did discuss the components of this game along with Blood and Bridges’ components from an earlier first impressions article, so I may once again repeat myself somewhat here. Bear with me.

  • Box. Operation Garbo comes in a box that is slightly smaller than Blood and Bridges, which annoys me somewhat, but only because I am rather OCD when it comes to how my games are stored. You may or may not feel the same way about your games, but I suspect there’s a few of you reading this who do. Regardless, the artwork (done throughout Operation Garbo by Marc von Martial) is pleasing.
  • Rulebook. This rulebook isn’t nearly as nice as the one in Blood and Bridges. While the front cover is in full color, the rest of the rules are in black and white. The quality of the interior paper is low compared to the magazine-like quality of the rulebook for Blood and Bridges. While a tad disappointing, one should be able to tell the difference between the Swedish and the Soviet units, so having this represented in the rulebook in color is not that big of a deal. The rules are well-organized (as usual) and there’s only a page and a half of them before they get into the six included scenarios, so little is added to the Blood and Bridges game except generic Leaders (which add their leadership to attack rolls for one platoon, and their platoon uses their morale – but Leaders can die if their platoon suffers a loss or is eliminated), and special defense (for the STRV-103, which can conceal itself and reroll one defensive die). There are also additional rules for mounted firepower (the PBV-302, if transporting an Infantry Platoon, increases its HE Firepower by 1 die), and a rule regarding Formation Activation where each side MUST activate; there is no passing like you can do in Blood and Bridges.
  • The Maps. There are two 11” x 17” mounted boards, one representing northern Sweden, the other representing central Sweden. While described as ‘mounted,’ they’re not nearly as thick as the ones in Blood and Bridges, but are certainly thicker and hardier than paper sheets. Oddly, my copy of Operation Garbo has two copies of each so I actually have four. I don’t think this was intentional as the box states “two 11” x 17” maps,” not “four,” so it might have been a packing error.  I cannot complain about getting extra components!  As for the maps themselves, the art is pretty much the same as Blood and Bridges. However, there are more hills and trees, which makes this a map that’s going to cause more close-in brawls than long-range skirmishes.
  • Two Player Aid charts. One for each player, though the game has a relatively high solitaire suitability. The handouts are of good quality in both presentation (full color, well-organized) and durability (good stock, easy to manipulate – it’s not just paper so it won’t blow away easily). They’re not as nice as the charts in Blood and Bridges, but they’re still much better than just paper sheets.
  • Game Counters. There are 176 counters, all 5/8” in size. They’re of normal counter thickness and decent enough to handle and move around. As with Blood and Bridges, the artwork is strong. The font is very retro-80s, but that makes it a bit hard to tell the difference between the 3s and the 5s. Regardless, I like it all very much. There’s nice detail in the vehicles and the Soviet HIND helicopters. One thing that bears mentioning – the Soviet vehicles face left now, as opposed to right in Blood and Bridges. The Swedish vehicles face opposite, to the right of their counters, except their air units (one AJ37 and one BO-105), which face the same way as the Soviets (very odd). I like these facings much more than the ones in Blood and Bridges.

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GAMEPLAY

I discussed the gameplay of Blood and Bridges extensively in that review. Refer there for a much more in-depth discussion.

The game centers on platoon-sized tactics. Several platoons fall under a formation (the number of platoons depends, but is usually around a half dozen or more, and each platoon is represented by one unit counter). There are also end turn and chaos counters added to the chit mix. Each turn, players alternate pulling a chit, and if that formation is drawn, it activates (it has to activate in this game, whereas in Blood and Bridges the player had the choice to pass). When activated, units can move, fire (sometimes both if their unit type allows them to), or change altitude (in the case of helicopter units). The other side gets to sit and watch the activating side move, but must do so closely, because opportunity fire chances can happen, making movement no sure thing.

In the Blood and Bridges map, with lots of open spaces, many scenarios could devolve into a slaughterfest that would make a meat packing plant blush with embarrassment. In Operation Garbo, the wanton destruction isn’t as heavy due to the terrain. Good players, as always, will use what they can to help their units survive and give them the advantage over others.

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Combat is lethal in this game system. I talked about that a bit in the other review. Here, with the terrain getting in the way, units tend to exchange fire in much closer quarters. Also, the maps are smaller than in Blood and Bridges, so there’s less room to maneuver around regardless. Players can be hesitant to move from one treeline to another, until they can’t stand it anymore and charge each other. While brutal battles happened in Blood and Bridges, they happen too here in Operation Garbo. The Swedes have some major firepower with their S-tanks (the S-tanks have 4 AP of firepower dice with a 5 or higher to hit and 3 armor dice with a 5 or higher save roll), and their Centurions. The Soviets get to employ T-72s (same AP values as the S-tanks), T-55s, and BMP-1s, among others. They represent the 76th Airborne Division as well as Soviet Marines, and employ plenty of firepower to make life interesting for the territorially-violated Swedes. But the Swedes can just as easily give the Soviets hell, too.

As I enjoy the Blood and Bridges game, I also enjoy  this expansion. It feels like a tightly-packed microcosm of World War III with desperate gambles taking over common sense on the battlefield (I speak only from my generalship abilities, of course).

 

SCENARIOS

There are six scenarios total, and they seem to have a bit more balance to them when compared with some of the overpowering lack of balance in scenarios from Blood and Bridges, but there are still some disadvantages present.

Scenario 1, for instance, called ‘The Hammer of Thor,’ isn’t too far from the truth. The Soviets only employ one tank company (T-55s no less) along with six other AFV platoons and a couple of Sagger units. The Swedes, on the other hand, have four Centurion platoons and several other AFVs on hand. Of course, a Swedish commander can easily fall prey to a good Soviet commander, but the Soviets are at a disadvantage here, I have found. The Swedes are tasked with the burden of offense, needing to retake a town captured by the above Soviet forces, and this usually isn’t difficult.

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The scenarios vary in size but do not feel that big compared to Blood and Bridges due to the smaller maps. Occasionally there are just as many counters on the board, though, which makes for a target rich environment. Overall, I enjoyed these scenarios, with the fourth one (‘Into the Valley Of Death’) my favorite, especially as the Soviets, since they have lots of T-72 platoons to work with in that one.

 

OVERALL

Operation Garbo is a fine addition to the World at War series, and a surprising one to boot. I wouldn’t have expected a Swedish-Soviet conflict to be interesting, but Lock ‘n Load managed to make it so. With smaller maps and thicker terrain, unit movement is much more linear and difficult to manage effectively, and lots of scenarios devolve (as they should) into enjoyable slugfests full of bad Russian and Swedish accents. However, there is no mention of drinking Merlot in this rulebook, nor brännvin or vodka, for that matter. One should not need alcohol to make themselves a better commander, and this publication would never recommend that of course, but experimentation in future home-based games is called for, I think.

If you’re a fan of World at War at all, Operation Garbo (and Blood and Bridges) should be in your library. If you’ve not played any of them, start out with either Blood and Bridges or Eisenbach Gap – which I understand is an excellent game as well, although I do not own it to offer my own opinion of it.


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One Response to GrogHeads Reviews World at War: Operation Garbo

  1. Mark D. says:

    Nice review Michael. I love this series, particularly Blood & Bridges. I wrote a review of B&B a while back (http://theboardgaminglife.com/2011/05/16/world-at-war-blood-and-bridges-review/), if you’re interested. I also put a link to your article on Grognard.com (http://www.grognard.com). I’m glad to see the series continue and appreciate your recommendation, because I wouldn’t have thought a Soviet-Swedish conflict game would be all that interesting either! Thanks!

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