Awakening the Bear: Russia 1941 – 1942 (AtB) is part of the Conflict of Heroes (CoH) series. Conflict of Heroes is a squad -level wargame focusing on the Eastern Front of WWII in its current set of games. I’ve owned AtB for several months now, but have only had the chance recently to get really into it. I have to say I’m very impressed with the uniqueness of its mechanics along with the overall enjoyability of playing the game.

This write-up is the result of a recent scenario, called firefights in AtB, that I played through with my buddy Kris.

I have to admit I was slow to get into the game. In the few instances I had to try it out, the amount of time I had to dedicate to playing through was limited. In short, I never really played long enough to let the battle develop into something interesting. Also, there were some limits on my understanding of the rules especially around group orders.

AWESOME BIT #1 – COMPONENTS: Anyone who has investigated this game series is probably first stuck by the amount of praise the game components receive. They are worthy of that praise. Counters are large and detailed, maps are hefty and clear. The cards, while functional, don’t quite live up to the standards in the rest of the components, but are passable. This quality does come at a price as the larger games in the CoH series are among the more expensive squad level games pushing $80 at retail. But you do get what you pay for.

The counters in Awakening the Bear are large and thick.

Kris and I pulled out Firefight 2 The Gap after having played partially though the first firefight some months before.

MEH BIT #1 – STORY TIME: One of the things I knocked AtB about early on is at the squad level there isn’t much of a story or historical flavor to give the firefights context. There is some there, but not as much as I hoped for in such an otherwise high quality game. Maybe a separate historical book would have been nice like those seen in other games like MMP’s Market Garden games.

I’ve looked up locations on local maps, tried to get into the Eastern Front using wikipedia and Google searches. It hasn’t quite resonated with me yet in some way, but the design does seem to suggest that the firefights are based on actual historic events.

AWESOME BIT #2 – PLAYING AS INSTRUCTION: The Gap is a relatively small-scale firefight concerning an German assault on a Ukrainian town which houses a small collection of Soviet Units. While not necessarily a unique feature among game design, the firefights in AtB do an excellent job of starting easy and then building complexity level-by-level through subsequent firefights. In the case of FF#2 the use of the Action Cards is introduced.

The goal is for the Germans to capture some key locations the Soviets are holding and inflict casualties. The Soviets are a bit out numbered at first, but have the benefit of starting in cover if desired and the arrival of reinforcements a few rounds after game start.

I enjoy playing the Soviets and so I carefully placed my units including a MMG on a key hex.Kris set up his units heading down a road as dictated by the firefight. Note that some of the units in this picture were actually hidden at the beginning of the firefight.

Set up positions for The Gap

Kris made his was along the southern edge of the map. I wasn’t quite expecting this and it put some of my hidden units out of position.

A flanking move by the Germans put the Soviets out of position

AWESOME BIT #3 – SHARED ACTIVATIONS: Kris was able to traverse the landscape pretty quickly using the game’s Shared Activations rules. The rules allow squads to share movement action points together rather than individually. This comes in especially handy when grouped units engaged in firing on targets together.

The rules themselves take a bit getting used to. However, once learned allow for effective use of units and are a heck of a lot of fun to use to boot!

Kris was quickly in sight of a LOS target earning some modest points. He quickly turned his attention to the key target in the stone building where my MMG was housed. He circled around the town’s buildings and was in position for a major assault on my position.

The German assault lead to some fierce, close combat

While the Germans emptied out the stone house of opponents they couldn’t secure the house itself and the accompany control marker which would have been worth some big points this early in the scenario.

Shortly before, Soviet reinforcements arrived and mad their way to the main battle. The match ended after turn 5, with both sides badly bloodied. The Soviets barely won 9-8 in victory points. Had the Germans secured the stone house itself or spend more time viewing the LOS goal they may have won.

SUMMARY: I think both players had much more fun expected. The pace picked up quickly things to the Shared Activation rules and the battle intensified as the Germans closed in.

Awakening the Bear is a blast to play (make sure to get the most up to date rules online at Academy Games’ site). This gameplay is matched by high-quality components that make you feel like your hard-earned wargaming dollar is well spent.

Looking forward to further play! Salute!

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