Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Game review: Balkan Hell

There have been dozens of games about the Battle of the Bulge, the Battle of Gettysburg and the African Campaign -- but there's only been one Balkan Hell.

One of the more bizarre game topics ever covered in a professionally published wargame, Balkan Hell, one of two issue games in Command Magazine No. 35 (the other was Mason-Dixon) depicts a what-if campaign in 1995 IF the peace talks that ended the fighting had not taken place. For such an obscure topic the game has a very detailed order of battle for the various Balkan "armies" involved. One can only assume designer Ty Bomba had worked up an OB expecting the fighting to go on and decided to go ahead with the design anyway.

What you get is actually a pretty substantial game, with more than 300 5/8-inch counters, depicting five different armies. One one side are the Bosnian Muslim in green, Croat Bosnians in grey and Croatia in black. The other side sees the Bosnian Serbs in red and the "Yugoslavs" (really Serbs) in white.The 11-page rulebook describes a hex-and-counter wargame of low- to medium-complexity using standard attack-defense-movement factor units with regular wargame mechanics. The main twist is the turn sequence.

The Muslim/Croat side moves and then attacks, while the Serb/Yugoslav attack and then move. This provides the Croats with more offensive flexibility. However, as a further wrinkle, the Serb/Yugoslav side has a mechanized movement phase inserted between the Croat/Bosnian movement and combat phases. This allows them to reinforce points under attack and/or move mechanized units into position to join combats in the subsequent Serb/Yugo combat phase.

The one scenario is fairly open ended, as both sides are somewhat intermixed and will have opportunities to attack and defend. Victory is determined by how many victory points the Bosnia/Croat side has at game end. The game ends on turns 7, 8 or 9, depending on a die roll.Most victory points come from occupying cities and towns. Sarajevo is worth 15, other cities are worth 5 and the various towns are worth 1 point each. The Bosnians start in control of 91 VPs and need 121 or more to win. The Serbs win if the VP total is 115 or less, while a score of 116-120 is a draw.

The Bosnians can also score points for eliminating Serb artillery units, breaking the seige of Sarajevo and opening Highway 73.The Bosnian/Croat side also has a sudden death victory condition of controlling all the cities and towns in Croatia plus everything west of (Croatian President) "Tudjman's Line."Combat is resolved on the usual XTR step-loss/retreat CRT.Marring the game is a map graphics mistake that makes it hard to play. The green hatching used to depict "roadless" hexsides (which are impassible to mechanized units) is too subtle to stand out compared to the green used to depict the hill hexes (where all the roadless hexsides are, naturally). Except under very bright lights these hexsides are indistinct from normal viewing distances and players may need to use a marker to darken them.


(Yes) for Wargamers: An unusual topic, with interesting strategic problems for both sides.

(Yes) for Collectors: The only game on the topic, and likely to remain so.

(No) for Eurogamers: Way too obscure a topic to bother with for a game what is otherwise an unabashed classic hex-and-counter wargame.


  1. Wargames about recent topics make me uneasy. It does look interesting though.

  2. How long did it take you to play?

    It would be good to have this information in all your reviews.

  3. It's a full-length three-hour or so game.