Tag Archives: Soviet Union

Bulletin of the Soviet 50th Army (USEAAR, #22)

This post is part of an after-action report of Unconditional Surrender! (Salvatore Vasta, GMT Games) and therefore entirely fictitious.
Comrades of the Soviet Fatherland!
Under the direction of our generalissimo Stalin, we have waited in the Pripet marshes until the fascists made their dastardly move into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. While our comrades-in-arms have stopped their attack, we have come out of the bog and struck against their flanks. The 2nd Shock Army has conducted a preparatory attack for us which has given us the maneuvering space to annihilate a Hungarian formation tasked with guarding their supply lines. As our front in the south holds firm, we will encircle and annihilate the German Army Group Ukraine before the summer is over. From then on, our battle-cry will be: To Berlin!

You can see the current state of affairs in the game in the Twitter thread:

What Was Decolonization? (Decolonization, #1)

Some years ago, I was just about to finish my undergrad studies in history. I had taken an advanced class on decolonization and was writing my B.A. thesis on the decolonization crisis in Angola. As I was already quite keen on board games back then, I was wondering – was there any board game about decolonization? So, as the 21st century goes, I typed „decolonization board game“ into a search engine. What I found was not exactly an entire board game – just a single card of that title from Twilight Struggle (Ananda Gupta/Jason Matthews, GMT Games), a game of whose existence I had been heretofore only vaguely aware. Twilight Struggle fascinated me. I’d never seen a game which went so deep and meaningful into history. Also, it was about the Cold War, my main research interest. And so an idea ripened within me. Two years later, I began working on my M.A. thesis on the Cold War in board games.
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Yalta, Potsdam, and the New World Order (End of World War II, #1)

World War II ended 75 years ago. 1945 was thus a massive watershed year in history. The biggest war that had ever been fought came to a close, and a new world order was forged. I’ll explore the end of World War II in a three-part miniseries. As war is an instrument of politics to achieve a better peace, I’ll kick the series off with this post on the conferences at which the great powers discussed the winning of the war against the Axis as well as the peace and the new world order which would follow. Several such conferences were held from 1943 on, but this post will only focus on the last two – the Yalta Conference in February 1945, three months before the end of the fighting in Europe, and the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, two months after the end of the fighting. 1945 was the end of World War II, but was it also the beginning of the Cold War? We’ll look into that question as well. As usual, board games will feature! Continue reading

Commissar Order (USEAAR, #17)

This post is part of a mostly fictitious after-action report of Unconditional Surrender! (Salvatore Vasta, GMT Games) . The document in question, however, is authentic. The Commissar Order detailing the execution of Soviet prisoners of war was given to the Wehrmacht in preparation for the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. The translation from the German original is mine. The emphases in the original (underlined) have been preserved.

Guidelines for the Treatment of Political Commissars

In the struggle against Bolshevism, it is not to be expected that the enemy conforms to the principles of humanity or international law. Especially the political commissars of all kinds as the real agents of resistance are to be expected to treat our prisoners hatefully, cruelly, and inhumanely. Continue reading

Diary entry of Erzsébet Trócsanyi (USEAAR, #14)

 

This post is part of an after-action report of Unconditional Surrender! (Salvatore Vasta, GMT Games) and therefore entirely fictitious.

Budapest, April 10, 1941

The minister has met with the ambassador of Germany again. Once more, the ambassador has encouraged the minister to make the full claims to regain the parts of Greater Hungary which are under Romanian administration since the end of the Great War. The ambassador assures us that Germany will back Hungary against the Soviets and the likely Romanian puppet regime they will install once they have taken Constanţa. Of course, the minister has noted that Germany has supported the Romanians and Latvians with some old tanks and the Estonians and Lithuanians with nothing but empty words. „None of those“, said the ambassador, „had a direct connection to mainland Germany“. He does have a point. If Germany wants to fight, they certainly can, especially as France is defeated and Italy on the ropes. Continue reading

Letter by Valdis Bumbulis to his mother Inese Bumbulis (#USEAAR, #5)

This post is part of an after-action report of Unconditional Surrender! (Salvatore Vasta, GMT Games) and therefore entirely fictitious.

Letter written in a POW camp in Daugavpils, delivered by a fellow soldier from the same regiment as Valdis Bumbulis who was discharged from the camp

Daugavpils, April 17, 1940

Dearest mother!
In all brevity: I am alive, I am as well as is to be expected under these circumstances. Everything is a bit makeshift, but we are fed regularly. Even more regularly, the politruks educate us, as we citizens of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic have much to catch up on – after all, the LSSR is only two weeks old, whereas the comrades from Russia who are my age have lived all their lives in the Soviet Union and therefore know everything about socialism and the great vozhd Stalin. Once we have learned enough, we are discharged from this educational institution to go back to our homes or join the Red Army in its mighty struggle to liberate the workers in Romania and Finland as they have liberated the Latvians. As I have been much miseducated by my bourgeois uncle, the process might take longer for me. Still, I hope to be home soon. Until then, I remain your loving son
Valdis

 

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Grin and bear it: Latvian civilians bear signs welcoming the incorporation of their country into the Soviet Union. The signs read “Long live socialist Soviet Latvia” (left sign, in Latvian) and “Long live the leader of the working people, comrade Stalin” (right sign, in Russian). The original picture was taken in Riga in 1940, but it is not known if before or after the Red Army had occupied the country.

Willy Brandt and Détente (Century of German History, #7)

I’m doing a series on German history in the 20th century on my blog this year. In intervals of 10 years, I pick a crucial event and explore it – with the help of precisely one board game. You can find the previous posts here:

Today, we go back to 1969, when Willy Brandt took office as chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, and the policy of détente across the Iron Curtain he implemented then. Here, the „German question“ of reunification merged with superpower détente into détente between West Germany and the Soviet Union as well as her allies in Eastern Europe. And when it comes to matters of détente and confrontation, our accompanying game can be no other than the famed Twilight Struggle (Ananda Gupta/Jason Matthews, GMT Games). If you are interested in Brandt’s life beyond détente, check out one of my very first blog posts on exactly that matter. Continue reading

Letter by Aivars Ozols to his sister Inese Bumbulis (USEAAR, #3)

This post is part of an after-action report of Unconditional Surrender! (Salvatore Vasta, GMT Games) and therefore entirely fictitious.

Riga, January 7, 1940

Dear Inese!
I cannot believe just two weeks ago we were celebrating Christmas – attempting to, at least. Not a single person in Latvia can be in a festive spirit when our country is at war against such an overwhelmingly more powerful foe. Of course, our boys are fighting bravely, what good is bravery if the Soviets have five soldiers for every one of ours – without even calling their troops from other parts of the country? For every offensive of theirs that we stifle, another succeeds, and so the frontline has only been moving in one direction – ever closer to Riga, and of course also to you in Ventspils. I do not mean to frighten you, but I cannot see how we would ever be able to hold out much longer.
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A New Start – and Two New Germanies (Century of German History, #4)

Welcome to the fourth installment in my series Century of German History! Every post in the series sheds light on a focal event of German history in the 20th century and illustrates this event with precisely one board game. You can find the three previous posts here, here and here.
Today, we look at the foundation of two German states in 1949. After the end of World War II, Germany was in ruins – materially and ideologically. While the Allies attempted some cooperation initially, they soon found themselves at odds and the three Western occupation zones and the Soviet occupation zone developed differently. The board game through whose lens we’re looking at these crucial times is Wir sind das Volk! (Richard Sivél/Peer Sylvester, Histogame).

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Days of Ire (Games about the Cold War, #3)

Welcome back to the third installment in my new series on board games about the Cold War! In case you missed them, you can find the first two posts here and here. Today, our game will be Days of Ire: Budapest 1956 (Katalin Nimmerfroh/Dávid Turczi/Mihály Vincze, Cloud Island). As usual, we’ll look at it in both game and academic terms.

What kind of Cold War is this game?

Days of Ire is a game about the struggle between Hungarian insurgents on the one side and the Hungarian state security forces and the Soviet army on the other in 1956. The Hungarian insurgents have various crises popping up over the game board to solve while avoiding a loss of moral or utter physical defeat. The game can be played one-versus-one, one-versus-many, and cooperative/solo.
At first glance, that does not sound a lot like the Cold War. Unlike our previous two games in the series, only one superpower is involved and there is no nuclear side to the entire affair! Well, yes. But at least the superpowers placed the 1956 Hungarian Uprising in a Cold War context (although not exclusively so on the Soviet side), and the events were linked to others outside of Hungary (like the Suez Crisis and the egging on of the insurgents by Radio Free Europe). So I’ll count Days of Ire as a Cold War game.

What’s Noteworthy About the Game?

Days of Ire is in many respects an unconventional Cold War game. That is most striking in its depicting of female agency, its visual design, and its genesis.
I have analyzed six Cold War board games for my thesis in depth (and touched upon 20 more). Days of Ire is the only one of these games to have a woman among the designers (Katalin Nimmerfroh, who also did some of the art). It is also the game in which women are depicted with the most agency: Two of the four playable characters are women. Almost half of the fighters (who can be activated by the revolutionaries) are women, and notably they grant both traditionally female (healing, food supplies) and male (fighting) bonuses. And, of course, the most striking female presence is the young woman which dominates the box cover. She, as well, combines traditionally female (long flowing hair) and male (rifle) attributes.

DoI Cover

Cover image of Days of Ire, ©Cloud Island.

Let’s talk some more about the visual design. Aside from the various styles employed for different items (the cards for the state security forces are inspired by Communist propaganda posters, for example), what is most impressive is how the visual design brings the functional and the authentificating side of the game together. That begins with the game board: Making it look like a map is a classic way to increase players’ identifications with their roles. After all, their counterparts would have often done the same – imagine the Soviet general Zhukov bent over a map, deciding where to deploy his tanks in Budapest. So, the map’s mediacy (as you are not seeing any people or buildings up close from an onlooker’s perspective) adds to the game’s immediacy (as you feel you are right in the shoes of the actual decision-maker). Days of Ire, however, goes beyond that. The game board turns your gaming table into the desk of the decision-maker: The locations are marked by old photographs which seem to be pinned to the map and connected by strings. There is even an “ashtray” on the game board, as if you as the Soviet commander or the leader of the revolutionaries are nervously chain-smoking while planning your movements. Once more, the design brings authenticity and functionality together: The ashtray doubles as a holding box for reminder chits.

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Days of Ire game board. Note the pins-and-strings to denote locations and connections, and the ashtray holding chits.

One group of people is notably absent from the visual design (compared to other Cold War games): Political leaders barely feature in the pictures. Instead, we get to see civilians and soldiers galore. That helps the players identify with these ordinary people, but it also takes the events somewhat out of their political context.
What remains is a narrative of a patriotic Hungarian uprising against Soviet, vaguely Communist foreign rule. One wonders how much that is due to the game’s unique genesis: Contrary to most other board games, Days of Ire was not conceived primarily for commercial motives or as a labor of love of the designers. It was initiated by a diplomat posted at the Hungarian embassy in Warsaw for the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the events in 2016. He acted as a historical consultant and influenced some of the design decisions – for example, to include a fully-cooperative mode, and to unify Hungarian state security forces and Soviet army into one player. After the release, the game was also submitted to the Ministry of Human Resources by the Hungarian publisher and approved as supplementary teaching material for Hungarian schools.
Among the Cold War board games, I bestow on it the title of The Most Visually Beautiful .