There are wargames which pertain to old times, like antiquity and Julius Caesar endeavors, Middle Ages and Hundred Years War or great exploits of Napoleon Bonaparte in XIX century. For all of us these are some episodes form history books, which happened a long time ago and can be subject of interest, easily transferable to game board.

However, there are also much recent and fresh conflicts, to which many people were witnesses to or simply took part in them. I remember as a teenager, when the communism was falling in my home Poland as well as whole Eastern Europe, we started to hear about the problems in Yugoslavia. Those quickly transformed into the largest military conflict in Europe since the World War II. We were all horrified at this moment and could not believe such thing can happen in civilized world at the end of 20th century and so close! (Now we know, that even at the outset of 21st century, there are crazy enough people to start even larger wars and cause enormous amount of suffering and destruction – vide Russian attack on Ukraine).

Almost 30 years passed since the war in former Yugoslavia; we now better understand the details of this conflict. It is (probably) enough time to even create a historical wargame about it. Which brings me to today to Brotherhood & Unity, War in Bosnia and Herzegovina 1992-1995 by Tomislav Cipcic.

The game

Historical background

Winston Churchill once said – “The Balkans produce more history than they can consume.” And the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina showed just that. The war that erupted in the spring of 1992 brought bitter fighting, indiscriminate shelling of civilians and a wave of atrocities.

The war was fought by three local ethnic groups (Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats), paramilitary formations from Serbia and Krajina, Croatian armed forces, foreign Muslim volunteers, UN peacekeepers, and NATO airforce. Events such as the Siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica Massacre became iconic of the conflict, as the war became the single most important historical event in Balkans since the WW2. And still – its objective history has yet to be written.

About Game Mechanics

Brotherhood & Unity is a 2-3 player card driven wargame. The game shows all of the major events: from the siege of Sarajevo (shown in separate, detailed map), to the ferocious battles for the Posavina corridor, and desperate defense of the Bosniak enclaves. Main features are: Point-To-Point movement system, play driven by Strategy Cards, quick combat resolution (no CRT), streamlined rules and fast gameplay. Interaction between warring sides (Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats) creates an intensive and exciting gameplay experience.

The game simulates three distinct sides in the war: Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats – with no clear border separating them. That provides an interesting set of choices to players: to attack or to fortify, whom to ally with, and when to change sides. That leads to many turnarounds and pragmatical alliances with former enemies – as was historically the case.

Game uses Strategic Will point system to keep track of the victories and losses, and to determine the final score. It is affected by a number of things: capturing or losing regions, capturing or losing key spaces, eliminating or losing units, and as a result of events. One of the most important aspects of the game is capturing player’s own key regions – which were different for each side, and which reflects the different aims each side had.

An interesting trivia: The name “Brotherhood and Unity“ comes from a socialist Yugoslavia doctrine created to inspire unity between 7 nations from which Yugoslavia was created. It was also a main motto behind the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina – nicknamed „Small Yugoslavia“ due to its ethnical, cultural and religious diversity. The irony is that when B&H got engulfed in a war, there was neither brotherhood nor unity to be found… what followed was four years of bloody warfare.

Session report

Picture begin worth a thousand words, let us see an example session report which will depict main game mechanics, concepts as well as components. That was really interesting and tough play!

PS. Feel free to click any of below images to expand them in new window for more details.

The game set-up with initial forces locations. I was playing as Serbs, Kuba G as Croats and Kuba J as Bosniaks.
The game started pretty brutally for Croats; I approached Posavina Corridor, played very strong offense card (+a combat one) and despite Kuba’s G counter-combat card, I overrun the region, taking the control. What followed was slow, gradual takeover of nearby areas.
While I was slowly overcoming the dispersed defenses, the fights between Bosniaks and Croats erupted in Srednja Bosna; with the latter ones ejected from province.
Turn 1 & 2 summary: steady gains of Serbs in Eastern and Northern Bosnia, while Bosniaks and Croats are fiercely fighting for Mostar.
In second part of the game Mostar again, for periods of time, was witness to bitter Croat-Bosniak fights.
During the Turn 3 I brough the Serbia Army reinforcements, unleashing them on Srebrenica UN Safe Area; that was a gambit which almost backfired with full-blown external intervention (and me losing the game); in the end, I got the province.
The Croats strike back in Srednja Bosnia! They just got a great card and pushed against Bosniaks!
Last Croat attempts to gest Eastern Mostar; it still holds…
Situation at the end of Turn 4 and Summary: Serbs did not manage to overrun Sarajevo but got all other key provinces. The bitter infighting between Bosniaks and Croats lead to their much weaker position.

First Impressions

That was a really interesting play which – despite the result – gave us all a lot of fun. After the game we exchanged impression, comments and observations. Let us talk about them:

  • We really felt like a time travel – all three of us remember the War in Bosnia and have various memories of it. It was a special experience reenacting that conflict. Thematically 100% perfect – I would not call it great, as “Wars are not great”. But you feel immersed in this clash – that is for sure.
  • The full game – lasting Four Turns – can be played in a very reasonable time. For us it was like 3 hours with setting up the game – we were really positively surprised and definitely treat this as one of key advantages.
  • I love Compass Games components quality. Beautiful cards, nice, pre-cut counters, mounted map – it all really shines! If you have never tried product of this publisher – here is a good place to start.
  • On the balance side, it is clearly visible Croats and Bosniaks has to (also historically true) fully cooperate against Serbs onslaught. That did not happen in our game, Mostar draw too much attention for my opponents, and it ended like it ended.

Overall, the game made a pretty positive impression on us. It was thematic, quick, exciting and beautiful. We for sure will come back to this again!