Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Let's Talk about Eylau. What Are Your Thoughts?


Chalk this up as record blogging for me, but I wanted to know your opinion(s), fellow gamer, on a question I've been pondering for a few days now.

If you used to follow SOUND OFFICERS CALL during the heady blogging days of yore, you might remember I embarked on an ambitious project to game the Battle of Eylau in 10mm scale, and you might further remember that this started out as a joint project but that it turned into a planned convention game for Cold Wars 2024.  

Well - since Cold Wars 2024 is no more, and I am sitting on a pile of lead some of which is painted, most not - about 30% of the Russian infantry forces at this point are painted (11 of 33 infantry brigades:  26 line + 7 grenadier-  much less of the Cavalry), I was wondering about the future direction of the project.  Let me explain.

Along with painting the minis, building the terrain, and throwing lots of my hard earned cash out the window, the search for rules has always been prevalent in my mind for fighting this gigantic winter clash.  You'll remember it was first Blucher (Which I developed sweet bases for and completed Davout's III Corps as a test) then Volley and Bayonet, then Snappy Nappy, then Neil Thomas, then our home brewed Eagles Cheaper than Brain Cells rules, then back to get the idea.  

The rules had to be the right fit, both for a convention and to get the feel right.  I'm happy to say I finally settled on the rules I want to use - and anyone who knows me knows that this should be no surprise - but I want to use Volley and Bayonet.  

While originally I wanted a more tactical set of rules to use, I decided against a bathtubbed tactical set of rules where I am pretending units are Brigades just so we can roll dice and shoot stuff and charge and form square and things like that.  I am instead selecting a set of rules that has its lineage in solid board game design made to fight battles, and pretty big battles at that.  Look here, here, and here for some examples of Volley and Bayonet's conceptual ancestry.  I will do a separate VB post at another time on why it was selected, but suffice to say I can teach it easily to people, and I mostly know how to play it already.

The kicker for all this is that I'm going to play it at 2/3 scale for a number of reasons, foremost among them is that I only have a 6 x 4 table, and V&B have big stands (3" x 3") and sweeping movements.  I cannot test-fight big battles at full scale on my humble table.  

So, played at 2/3 scale on 2" square bases is perfect for my needs - actually for all of my megalomaniac plans for Napoleonics.  The kicker here is that my Napoleonic figures, which look outstanding IMHO, are on 30mm squares in units of 41 x single 30mm base on a 2" sabot is just not completely convincing to me that it serves as a Napoleonic Brigade (you may feel differently, and hence this blog post)

An unflocked, 4 x base Russian infantry unit sits atop a strategic hill

So with this first-world dilemma before me, painting continues and I am toiling and slaving away dipping my brush into Vallejo Deep Green (970) for the hundred-thousandth time.  One way or the other, all of my Napoleonic Russians and French will be painted.  

That being said, I had an idea.  A number of years ago, I purchased a shed-load of RISK figures from the 1998 box and planned to use them on single bases for Commands and Colors Armies.  The plan was to paint them just like miniatures (faces, shakos, muskets, packs, etc).  I like them because they actually have nice raised detail (crossbelts, pom poms, individual swords, knapsacks with overcoats etc) but overall they do have a delightful "toy soldier" look to them.  

Why not paint them monochrome and mount them on 2" white-painted squares? (Eylau was fought in a blizzard).  

One stand from a 4 x stand unit on the right, one VB 2" stand with 20 x RISK figures on the left.  I could spray paint them all green with the base sprayed white.  What do you think?

I was thinking of purchasing a deep green spray paint for the Russians and a Royal Blue for the French, mount them with gorgeous color flags on textured 2" squares.  For skirmish and Jager detachments, I could use  the Risk figures who are firing (from subsequent boxes) for skirmish detachment and Jager stands?  I could literally finish the Armies in a weekend!  

A Russian Hussar "unit" behind left and a potential RISK figure Brigade in front of them in molded plastic blue.  A 4 x stand Russian "unit" upper right.

A fierce Russian Dragoon "brigade"???  You be the judge.  Stoic Russian line infantry look on behind them.

A Russian Napoleonic "Division" with 4 x Infantry Brigades, a Light Cavalry Brigade, Artillery Battery, and Commander, based at 2/3 scale (2" squares for the INF and CAV, 1" x 2" rectangle for the ARTY) - is this convincing?  I would put labels on the bases most likely and texture them with sand prior to spray painting.

A Brigade of RISK Cavalry (left) slams into a Brigade of 3D printed Russian Hussars (Right) from the "Europe Asunder" Turner Mini range.  You can see the drawbacks and benefits of both concepts here.  The French Horse on the left would be spray painted a Royal Blue.  The Russians would be RISK figures spray painted a Dragoon Green.

A Brigade of RISK figures contacts a 10mm Old Glory Russian Infantry "Brigade" - again you can see the advantages of a RISK force vrs a single stand on the right.  But the RISK figures would simply be spray painted green...

So with that in mind I, I ask your thoughts, gentle reader.  You are not "the hive mind" as I see so often on message boards and in chats.  You are most likely a grognard.  A hardened veteran of the Grande Armee marching across Europe under the Eagle!  Or you're a hard-bitten volunteer from Wellington's Army, shattering the French columns before you, or an Austrian Grenadier, storming the Granary at Essling.  Your experience in these matters is beyond question!  So when I ask your help, I'm asking YOU, the wargamer with years of experience under your belt, not a senseless, mad hive of bustling and mindless activity, but a thoughtful veteran who has been there.

Technically if I go with using my 10mm minis on 2" sabots, I already have enough painted for all of the infantry for both sides.  Since I've rebased all of these guys, I am in no mind to rebase any 10mm Napoleonics ever again, so this basing schema has to remain.

If you are hopelessly confused - here are the questions:

  • Do you think the single infantry / cavalry stand on a 2" sabot is good enough to represent a Brigade?  See pics above.
  • Do monochrome-painted RISK figures deliver a good sense of mass?  
  • Would a single-color painted mass of figures glued to a white base be a turn-off for you in a convention game?  Even if there were close to 100 units of them on the table?
  • What is your vote?  Plop my painted minis on the sabots as-is?  Use spray painted RISK figures?  Or something different?  (NOT rebasing anything!).  

If I'm honest, I'm leaning towards using the painted minis on the 2x2 sabots and just accepting the look as they are, but I personally think it would look cool to have a huge game with RISK pieces on the table, even if they were just spray painted.

What is the next move, General?

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

The Roaring 80s!

Dave and I were able to get a solid game of Battlegroup: NORTHAG on the table recently with my 1/285 Soviets and Cold War Americans and all I can say is that the rules and the NORTHAG system did not disappoint, with the game delivering an outstanding narrative, and crazy-lethal action that only modern weapons can deliver!

tried the felt mat and it looked good with undulating hills.  Much better than the wedding cake hills esp with 6mm models

The scenario, itself a test for a convention game this fall, was based on the "First Blood" engagement from Harold Coyle's "Team Yankee" book - with a Soviet advanced force consisting of a T-72 tank company and a BMP-1 company and supporting reconnaissance and off-table artillery supporting Lieutenant Colonel Yuri Poteknov's force.  Over to the guardians of freedom and the American way of life, we have Captain Bannon and his hastily but *begrudgingly* (if you've read the book - you know) assembled "Team Yankee" - with 2 x tank platoons and an infantry platoon in M113s.  Supporting Team Yankee is a scout element in M113s, 2 x Improved TOW vehicle tracks, and a battery of 155mm howitzers delivering off-table hate at CPT Bannon's beck and call.

The NORTHAG rules and their CENTAG supplement (Northern Army Group and Central Army Group respectively) have scenarios in them for use and we used the NORTHAG escalating engagement scenario which strays from the hasty defense in the book a bit and plays out more like a meeting engagement.  That did not take away from the nail biting action delivered by the rules, but the game unfolds less like the "First Blood" battle in the book since Team Yankee's platoons are not in place from the start.

Soviet recce skulks down the hill looking for trouble

American scouts and their M113 mount

The cold war fiction fans among you will note the only reference to "Abrams" in this post is in this sentence, and for good reason.  I wanted to use the older MTOE (modified table of organization and equipment) for this battle - basically giving Team Yankee the cold war workhorse tanks - M60A3s - instead of the new M1s (this is 1983, afterall).

vanguard shows up on Turn 3 - a T72 company

American M60A3s occupy their battle positions overlooking the valley

here comes trouble!  T-72 storming the valley

scout section in the valley at the objective (star) - destroyed by a direct hit from Soviet artillery - note the burning Soviet scout tank off to the left

In typical Battlegroup style, only your scout / recce units start on the table and NATO is instantly out-scouted with the Soviets deploying their doctrinally correct scout platoon and tank platoon.  There is a cat-and-mouse game with the American cavalry scouts seizing the objective, only to be destroyed in a timely Soviet timed artillery strike on the road junction.  Not long after, T-72s from the vanguard start pouring over the ridge.  Facing them are a platoon of M60s from Team Yankee deploying from the march and charging up the hill, their massive engines belching smoke as their drivers gun the engines to get into position.  The hill top has a commanding view of the valley and it's not a comforting sight as Soviet tanks are starting to approach the hedge and the road, churning their way towards the objective.

Dave's main column is the infantry, battlegroup commander, observer for the mortar platoon, and his air defense element.  Speaking of air power, Dave gets a "gunship" and a Hind helicopter shows up, strafing the ridge with the M60s, pinning one.

Hind D gunship arrives after a lucky chit draw by Dave

Id be smiling too if an attack helo showed up!

T-72 company surges forward and reaches the road

Soviets gain the T junction objective

Hind bringing some pain to the American M60s on the hill - air defense hasnt shown up yet

pinned from a strafing attack by rockets!  I think the Hind was shot down or driven off by pintle mounted AA fire

Soviets preparing to storm the valley

Soviets storm the road after crossing the hedge.  The game changes considerably now as American tanks enter on their baseline, directly in front of the Soviet armor!

By now, the tank battle on the valley floor is NOT going NATO's way and luckily Captain Bannon, fashionably late, shows up with the remaining tanks and mech infantry from Team Yankee.  I'm now fighting from my baseline as Dave's remaining T-72s are pouring into the road exit, and the objective for the Soviets.  Bannon and company set up a textbook "kill sack" but their shooting is terrible and Ivan escapes the trap with a bunch of T-72s escaping off the table.  The tank company suffers 70% casualties with 7 tanks knocked out but it's the mech infantry who are the real heroes today as the BMP company exits almost all of their infantry fighting vehicles off table around the hill forcing me to draw 10 (!) chits and I surpass my breakpoint on turn 9.  The Soviets won handily.  

Some cool pictures of the fight follow.

Soviet tank at the objective

The BMP company arrives on turn 5 - the main column - and fans out into the attack

American armor joins the battle and tries desperately to stop the rising tide of Soviet armor

This is the scene that greets CPT Bannon as he gets onto the field!

Fighting from the US Baseline

BMPs flanking the valley - the arrival of this company will decisively turn the tide in favor of the Soviets

BMPs fanning out to climb the hill.  This is a beautiful picture and straight from the game.

gratuitous shot of an M113 in the woods - I think this was the FIST / FSO vehicle (AOO for your Brits...)

Captain Bannon directing fire but it's too little, too late!  The BMPs make it off table!  1 chit pull per BMP and 1 chit pull per accompanying infantry team!

Post Battle Analysis

To put this all in perspective for you, in World War II Battlegroup it would be unheard of to end a 750 point game in 9 turns - which gives you an idea of how lethal the equipment is, and how quickly the game can be played.  Dave and I were looking up stuff furiously, there were probably 50-60 vehicles and troop stands on the table and we still finished the game in under 4 hours.  Ken and I played the same battle the next day and it finished even faster (similar results - Soviet victory - but a bit closer and lasted 11 turns).

In the post game analysis, we felt that these rules really captured the spirit of modern warfare, at a time when computers were really just starting to make their mark on modern military staff teams, and the weapons were just vastly improved versions of their WWII cousins.  NORTHAG really hit the mark here and I'm pleased that the team is working on a WWII version of the NORTHAG bigger battle rules (infantry stands are teams) which will allow bigger WWII battles to be fought and in much quicker time.  

The second game played even faster but still found me fighting on my own baseline - a result of the scenario most likely.  Will work on that a bit.  I scored some outstanding long-TOW shots when playing with Ken, and to avenge my first game, an AH-1 cobra showed up and I rocket-strafed a bunch of T-72s!  

I also felt the 6mm was the way to go (PSC has an entire 10mm range supporting the NORTHAG rules and they're wonderful minis by the way) but the distances, ranges, and my suite of terrain all just came together perfectly here and so if you are just starting out by all means buy the 10mm kit, but if you have vast cold war micro armor collections, they will happily fight battles with the NORTHAG rules seamlessly.  

Anyways this was fun- blogging about a recent battle.  Not sure when I will again (blog that is) but plenty of gaming up on the horizon.  I am still (as I am able) painting Russians for Eylau to hopefully play with at Cold Wars 2024.  In other news, I left my previous job and moved to a new one, so new one at a new agency starting this week.  The last 5 months have been very eventful here.  I hope everyone is having a great summer and rolling 6's!

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The World War II Rules Mission Statement

Seven years ago, I attempted to write my "mission statement" for gaming and what I wanted to get out of my tabletop games, specifically Horse & Musket era games.  Doing this, I figured, would help me narrow down my scope of what I was looking for in a set of Horse and Musket rules.  Moving from set to set is costly in terms of money, time spent reading and digesting, and time during games where key mechanics are not necessarily known or "learnt." A huge selection of choices doesn't make this process any easier, either.

I have mostly abided by the tenets linked to above when shopping around for a set of rules.  While those have helped greatly for any game system set in the 18th century and 19th century, nowhere else is the issue of rules overload or uncertainty more evident than in World War II gaming, where I can potentially serve as a rifleman (5 Men in Normandy), all the way up to Winston Churchill (Axis and Allies), and literally every level of command in between, fighting in my own, happy, bloodless version of the world's biggest war.  Where to start?

Well I'm starting with organizing my own tastes and preferences for gaming.  Just like the Horse and Musket rules outlined in "Steve's Tenets of Gaming" , Im attempting to come up with my "Mission Statement" for World War II gaming, that can hopefully help me organize my tastes and figure out what the heck I'm "really" looking for in a set of rules for games set in the mid 20th century.  Is it rules overload?  Or do I just like buying rules?  Well to answer that question, I'm trying to answer what it is I'm after, anyways.  That starts (naturally) with more questions!

Basic Questions
The basic questions revolve around preferences.  Have you ever examined yours?  What's the driving factor in your rules preferences?  Your procurement?  Is it nostalgia you're after?  To narrow down a search for my "favorite" WWII rules, I'm considering what it is/was I've liked about my games over the years.  Once I answer the basic questions, I can then answer the more advanced questions.

1. What is it that makes the game fun or enjoyable?

Visual Appeal
For me, the terrain and visual appeal of the table is important, so there must be terrain and a visual aspect to the game that should look good and convincing.  Thinking of Kursk and images of German or Soviet armored formations.   It should look authentically like a World War II engagement, or at least what I perceive based on reading and research, what a WWII battle should look like.

Next is tension.  There should be tension from the rules produced where fate can hang on choices made by the players, and that fate is apparent.  It should not feel like baking a cake whereby I follow a recipe.  IE "the author wants you to do this, and you'll win almost every time".  Military planners are more akin to cooks, not pastry chefs in their application of doctrine.  In games, there should be tension - mental strain - where a player is stretched by choices, and through those choices, the fate of the battle hangs in the balance.  This is the stuff of gaming legend and stories will be told around the gaming table of those choices for years to come!

Another aspect is uncertainty.  There needs to be an element of uncertainty in the game.  I shouldn't be able to do everything I want, all the time.  Uncertainty can be folded into the game design in any way imaginable.  Some of the more popular ways to introduce uncertainty are random or blind activations through cards or chit pulls, command tests whereby a unit has not yet received its orders and will remain defensive throughout a turn, "action points" mechanisms to limit actions a player can take, activation mechanics or morale checks where a unit in some kind of emergency state cannot act or can only act in a limited way due to failing a morale check.  There are dozens more I'm sure but those stand out as great methods which introduce uncertainty in games I've played, and I'm basing these examples off of some of my favorite WWII rules I've played to-date.

The Narrative
This is a critically important feature to me.  The narrative produced by the game is important and gives me the ultimate satisfaction I'm looking for when I play.  What was the storyline of the battle that's transpired?  Was it historically plausible?  Doctrinally possible?  Here's an example - a number of years ago during the Ponyri Campaign game, a friend drove his Tiger tank too close to Russian infantry.  The Tiger was pinned by a light Soviet AT gun, the crew undoubtedly freaking out at an AT gun being so close to the tank.  

Anyways, passing a "Beyond the Call of Duty" test, following another German attempt at suppressing the Soviet infantry near the tank, the Russian infantry rose up and close assaulted the pinned Tiger, knocking it out of the fight.  Those kinds of narratives, things which speak of heroics and chance and daring-do, were not even imagined when the day broke and I was setting up the table that morning.  I'm speaking of the Battlegroup rules here, but many rules produce a great narrative with a rich storyline.

he shouldnt have driven so close to that tiger without infantry support!

The ultimate point I'm trying to make is that narrative is a huge objective of mine when I think about what I want from a game.  I want the game to be a rich story of heroism, unforseen events, frustration, confusion, and joy.  Arguably all things experienced by a Soldier at war and almost certainly part of the appeal of a rules set that offers any uncertainty.

There is a conundrum with narrative and rules, though, when you factor in scale.  More on that when we get to the advanced questions below.

2. What do I want from the game?

In light of the above questions, what games have delivered on enjoyment and have delivered what I've wanted from the start?  Well, in coalescing a "mission statement" here, I'll offer the following of what I want from a WWII Game, and aspects of my more memorable and fun wargames that I've participated in:

A visually-appealing recreation of a battle or engagement that produces an interesting narrative, historically plausible results, and is playable in an afternoon or evening.

Advanced Questions
With the knowledge from the above questions answered, I'll offer advanced questions and try to answer them to narrow things down.

1. What am I looking for in a "good" game?  

In the context of this question, "good" being the elements identified above IE what makes it fun, and what I'm looking for regarding the results.

A "good game" offers a game whereby terrain is both visually pleasing and tactically/operationally important.  The table looks like a battlefield from WWII with lots of kit, and terrain shapes the decisions made in the battle, just like in real life.  The rules provide some uncertainty and some tension, and the outcome is rarely a foregone conclusion.

2. What Rules Support a "good" game?

Ultimately, these aspects above are the most important that I'm looking for when I play a WWII wargame.  So finally to the heart of the matter - what rules sets out there come close to a "good" game strictly using my parameters above?

Battlegroup: Kursk (et al)
Iron Cross
Flames of War
Into Battle / frm Tigers at Minsk
Bolt Action
Rapid Fire / Rapid Fire Reloaded
WWII Wargaming from Neil Thomas' "Wargaming: An Introduction"
Alex's Up the Blue WWII variant for Neil Thomas' One Hour Wargames

There are clear strengths and weaknesses with all of the rules mentioned above but all of them incorporate the tenets outlined above somewhat.  The Battlegroup series, Crossfire, Iron Cross, and Into Battle probably coming the closest in terms of uncertainty combined with producing a rich narrative.  Some of that is based simply on mechanics (IE the mechanisms produce their own uncertainty and you dont necessarily need to produce it through any additional process) and some of it isn't. 

Arguably, all of the rules above produce uncertainty and their own narrative from the game, although to varying degrees and level of importance.  EG Neil Thomas' WWII rules from WAI have an interesting feature where a unit that takes a casualty tests at the beginning of its next turn to gauge suppression on the unit.  This is about all of the uncertainty and friction you'll get in those rules, except for the wild swings in die rolls throughout your engagement.  Rather - the uncertainty comes from the players.  This is a Frank Chadwick school of thought.

Rapid Fire is an interesting animal, too, whereby game play actually improves with the more "Stuff" and units you put on the table, with Battalions being worn down and forcing morale checks - otherwise - play tempo and/or friction is almost exclusively determined by the controlling player and his opponent.

So as you can see from the rules choices I've singled out (Battlegroup, Crossfire, Iron Cross, Into Battle) there are some similarities in the ones that most strongly meet my preferences - namely that units are mostly squads and that those squads are "sovereign" units, meaning that fire is adjudicated by the squad base and not by the individual figure or by the rest of the unit, and this independent unit can pretty much do as it likes within some parameters.

This is another WWII rules conundrum - fire by stand or fire by figure.  The rules above all do it a bit differently but you could easily divide them into those camps - Bolt Action, Rapid Fire, Battlegroup, and WWII WAI on one side, and Iron Cross, Crossfire, Flames of War, Into Battle on the other.

Is this a scale issue?  Or a penchant towards a particular mechanism?  There's no easy answer but I suppose it comes down to the question of - is the destination the most important aspect to you or is it the trip itself?  Would you rather roll 8 firing dice or 1 pair of firing dice if both rolls determine the future morale or status of your squad??  Is there a compromise?  It's probably more fun to roll 8 dice, and certainly it's more satisfying to roll more than less (to an extent), so I'd say I would prefer a compromise on this issue.  Somewhere between 3 and 8 are fine with me for fire.  I absolutely hate the One Hour Wargames 1D6 damage roll, much preferring Alex's mods of 3D6 replacing the pip counting of a 1D6 roll which is boring to me.

Bottom line - it seems with all of the rules choices I've mentioned, any final result will have some aspect of compromise in it. 

2. What is the appropriate scale to get what I want from the game?

A huge question (pun absolutely intended).  What level do you see yourself as when you game?  What level of command do you aspire to on the tabletop?  Erwin Rommel commanding the Army?  Robert Redford or Michael Caine's characters from "A Bridge Too Far?"  (Battalion Commanders perhaps) Gregory Peck's character from "Pork Chop Hill?" (Company Commanders) Or the NCO from "The Hurt Locker" (Literally a squad leader)  The answer makes a huge difference in the selection of games and theaters, and this post is really only focused on the tactical level although there is a plethora of games where a stand is a platoon that we havent even considered here (Blitzkrieg Commander, Fistful of TOWS, GHQ WWII MicroArmor to name a few) but might be worth its own post...

Where Do You Focus?
For my own part, my narratives tend to focus on the tactical picture, but from the perspective of the Battalion Commander to the greatest extent that I can.  While I may only have 1 company on the table, I'm not focusing in on the level of detail that the company commander is - I'm much more interested - usually from the scenario's own victory conditions - in the outcome.  I plan to integrate or incorporate higher level fire support assets that a company commander could really only dream of - so in that case - I see myself more as a Battalion Commander during my games, even if I'm solely pushing a company.  This particular company is most likely the main effort, and i've come down to join the company commander and ensure the assault goes off as planned.  To that end, "company level" rules sets are probably the best for me and my level of play, standing there as a battalion commander.

Scale really comes into focus here - and games that fire with individual soldiers become less attractive when you want that level of miniatures on the table.  Rules that get down to a level of granularity where you're throwing grenades and firing with individual SMGs and rifles probably cant finish a game in "an evening" or "an afternoon" of say perhaps 4 hours of gaming.  Games like Battlegroup fall short here as they really have a "sweet spot" in terms of execution where a platoon or 2 on the table is about the upper limit of what you want (even if "Battalion" level games are completely possible - you'd need a church basement and a weekend to play them).

This helps narrow down the search a bit.  We have a list of rules that offer a varying degree of aesthetic appeal and usefulness (terrain and kit), uncertainty, and narrative.  While each rules set shines and easily gives a fine game on its own merit, when judged against my priorities for gaming - my Mission Statement - what are we left with?

The Results?

The refined Mission Statement (AKA What I'm Looking for in a WWII set of rules)

A visually-appealing recreation of a battle or engagement that produces an uncertain and interesting narrative, historically plausible results, and is playable in an afternoon or evening.

What rules best deliver on that statement - based on my own experience?

Rules where a stand = a squad, but where the player holds roughly company to battalion command.  Where does that leave us?  Let's break down the rules here, based on the rules that more strongly align to the mission statement I identified from the list above:

Battlegroup:  BG is a very fine set of rules that produces a lovely narrative - arguably the best for storyline gaming that is out there with the use of the chit pulls, beyond the call of duty tests, and other special rules.   No game of Battlegroup is like the other.  It's one of the finest rules sets out there.  The use of individual figures for combat, however, means that Battlegroup games are best set at the Platoon scale, a nudge above skirmish gaming.  Battlegroup can handle "Battalion" level games, but you need alot of space and time to play.  You're probably not going to fight the entire Battle of Kasserine Pass with BG, instead being content to fight an engagement within one of the Divisions, Combat Commands, Battalions, Companies, and finally within a platoon from that hierarchy.  We want something a bit bigger.

Iron Cross: If I'm going solely off of these tenets, Iron Cross probably offers the most solid compromise using the Mission Statement.  Stands are squads, making me the company or battalion commander.  Command friction and uncertainty is delivered in a big way through the reaction system and the use of command token pulls where literally no game is like the other.  Stands (squads) fire independently of one another and are independent units.  It's not without its problems, but again we're looking for compromises here.  Iron Cross is a great, streamlined game that delivers on its promises.  While not as textured as say Battlegroup, we are searching for bigger battles, here, and Iron Cross scores big in the narrative, uncertainty, and the aesthetics department.

Crossfire: Probably scores as high as Iron Cross but without as much structure.  in fact I've likened Iron Cross to Crossfire but with a more structured turn sequence.  Crossfire puts you solely in the boots of the Company or Battalion commander, and most of the scenarios from the "Hit the Dirt" scenario book are at the Battalion level where you maneuver multiple companies of troops around.  Crossfire is much maligned for its armor rules and I will freely admit that playing solo with lots of armor is tough and the games dont unfold like you'd expect them to without another human being.  Admittedly Iron Cross is similar and is much more fun when played against a human being as solo I sometimes forget where I was in a sequence of action 1- enemy reaction 1 and 2 - friendly action 2...The armor rules when played solo are the only reason Crossfire scores low here but will always have a special place in my heart.  Crossfire loses ground in terms of the limited ability to put "all the toys on the table".  Frankly I'm not sure I could do that on a 6 x 4, but I'll certainly try!

Into Battle (formerly Tigers at Minsk): Norm Smith's "Into Battle" are another set of rules that are similar to Crossfire or Iron Cross in scope (squad is a stand, novel reaction mechanisms)  Norm has the action somewhat "zoomed in" on the company or even platoon level fight and the use of higher assets is much more restricted with a necessary cap on firepower due to morale breakpoints.  Norm's Into Battle rules score extremely high in the arena of narrative and storyline, with the command check for hexes, and the use of opportunity fire markers and pin markers which must be removed prior to actions being taken by a unit.  This keeps Norm's IB games moving with players engaged in all aspects of the turn, not jsut their own turn.  Norm's use of a time clock with random events also adds a delightful element of uncertainty and command friction.  My "group" here has loved every game of Into Battle that we've played.  The only drawback in terms of the mission statement is that Into Battle is meant for a small table with a small amount of units - and my penchant towards "lots of kit" means I'll happily and readily play Into Battle for small games, but for larger games (see my Weiler, 1944 game for 2021's Christmas Offensive) I'll need to go with a different rules set.

Flames of War: The 800lb gorilla in the room on this blog post!  I've played probably more games of FOW in recent years than any other WWII wargame - so what's the deal?  Why not jsut accept FOW and move on?  To be honest, I'd be fine with that.  Theyre very solo friendly, simple enough, allow for huge games to be played on whatever size table you want (smallest is 3 x 2 tables for city fight games) and they place a great emphasis on tons of kit.  FOW is probably one of the easiest of any game systems out there to plan and build scenarios for.  

FOW breaks down squads into teams, however, but places you as the Battalion or maybe even the Brigade commander.  Fireteams are almost treated like riflemen.  Make no mistake, FOW does exactly what it says and when I see a nice, historically plausible game (no Brits vrs Americans or Germans vrs Japanese here) at a convention, I'll hop in and play it.  But in terms of the mission statement, is it what I'm after?  

Where FOW falls short is the narrative aspect.  I have had many games of FOW that are similar, due in part to the low level of uncertainty and command friction, which is pretty much only bestowed by the rallying rolls, reinforcement rolls, and motivation checks after or during an assault.  Otherwise, there is a cake-baking aspect to FOW that is somewhat predictable and machine like.  While I can host a truly massive game with it, and it's probably the mechanism I'd choose to play a truly massive game with, play enough solo games of FOW and you'll find yourself a bit bored and looking for a different challenge.  Perhaps that's where I am now with it in my hobby.  Narrative and uncertainty trump the more universal aspect of the rules.  I might be a bit unfair with FOW but will absolutely keep playing it - I just wanted to explore the "where I am with what I want" aspect of my hobby here.

Anyways this post was extremely long-winded but I wanted to organize my thoughts on the matter and see where the post took me. Something as massive as WWII rules probably deserves a long blog post anyways!  I hope you enjoyed my rationale for picking some of my favorite WWII wargame rules and seeing which ones met my "mission statement" for what I'm looking for out of my rules.

So based on your experiences - what did I miss?  What tactical WWII rules deserve honorable mention?  Should I also compare Rapid Fire and Bolt Action?  I hope no one took any offense to my list here - no omission was on-purpose - these are just rules i've played the most of over the years and happen to know and enjoy the most!  If you know of a rules set that I left out let me know.  What do you think of the idea of making a mission statement for your gaming?  Could it be possible I'm overthinking it?  


Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Reconnaissance by Assault at Ulianovo: The Feedback

Diligence is defined by Webster as "a steady, earnest, and energetic effort: devoted and painstaking work and application to accomplish an undertaking."

For our 13th (!) game of the Ulianovo assault, I'm going to say that we're approaching "diligent" levels of playtesting here.  Alex and Ken played, and then Alex replayed the Ulianovo assault and I was very pleased with both the feedback received by both, and the thoughts it stimulated in Ken and Alex's wargaming brains, who continued to text into the night about tactics to solve this tactical puzzle, long after the guns fell silent on the battlefield.

  Ken and Alex's combined 80 years of wargaming experience greatly helped in ironing out some issues with the scenario and certainly gave me food for thought as we approach the final two weeks before the Russians step off onto Operation Kutuzov at the convention.

Rather than a blow-by-blow, I'll post some of the feedback for the convention game along with cool pictures.  (Also you can access the Ulianovo scenario here)

First blood to the Germans as mortar bombs rain down on Russian infantry columns

Ken tried a very Napoleonic strategy and launched 4 prongs of columns at the Germans, trading speed for protection.  While his plan was crazy, Alex tried it again and it worked!

A pivotal moment as Ken failed to pin Alex's Germans and one of his flanking companies was shot to pieces.

Include Quick Reference Sheets for the Players.  This was huge and so obvious I cant believe I missed it.  Will have QRS and the scenario printed off for all participants.

Attempt the FOLLOW ME movement order for the Soviets when moving.  Ken made a good observation that the movement orders in FOW should be used to maximum effect.  This is especially true as the Soviets have much ground to cover and then must assault.  Ken "Cross Country Dash" moved 12 inches, and when passing the FOLLOW ME motivation test, moved an extra 4 inches to 16 inches.  This turned out to be a game-changer and puts the Soviets right up in the Germans' faces!  Hence Ken's penchant for forming ad hoc columns and tearing down the table, human wave style!  While the lads were massacred the first time, their sacrifice taught the next wave how to do it right!

Keep the option open for "ReRoll Cards" - IE allow the Germans and the Soviets "mulligans" for re-rolling dice.  During Ken's game, all 4 companies were pinned and he failed to unpin them.  

If I get a bunch of inexperienced gamers at the table, or younger kids, it will be important that they can make decisions that can affect the outcome.  If it's a bunch of Ken and Alex type gamers, we can possibly forego the re-roll cards/chits.  This will have to be a last-minute decision on game-day.

Forget the Sniper?  Alex was talking about "pin-producing weapons" and game balance.  The Germans have a guaranteed pin with the mortars (assuming they hit), and a guaranteed pin with the sniper.  They also have HMGs and 9 infantry stands in the trench.  Assuming their dice are good, they could potentially pin all of the Soviet companies, especially if they make their reserve roll early-on getting the reduced platoon on the table.

Forget the variable objective?  Ken and Alex both agreed they did not want to waste their commander's mortar spotting or company commander movement on a spotting roll for the objective.  Should we just tell the Soviet player where the objective is right away and dispense with the unknown?  I wanted to keep the recce roll in there to keep the ethos of the "Red Recon" roots where this scenario comes from.

Move the Houses Up To Within 6" of the Trenchline:  This is an easy one.  I'm not going to do it.  While in FoW, the presence of the Commander adds an automatic reroll to a morale failure, watching Alex's Soviets capture the trenchline, and then plan their assault on the village it became a whole new game!  I ended up digging in my German reserve platoon right on my baseline to overwatch the command post.  I dont want the houses within easy striking distance of the trench since it presents a new tactical problem to the Soviets if they can get this far.

A pensive Alex weighing his options.  Note the 4 speedy columns moving up.  Alex tried a hybrid of Ken's plan and it worked - very, very well as it turned out!

Soviets going "over the top" at the trenchline

The first batch of Germans are annihilated in the first round of close combat!

Alex squeezes the Germans from both sides - those troops on the left are SMG troops - deadly in Close Quarters!

Another of Alex's companies gains the trenchline.  Forget those Germans in the upper left - they're going for blood!  Alex eyes the command post up.  He guesses, correctly, that it's in the center.

My reserves dig in behind the village - an unexpected turn of events!  THe remnants of the trenchline platoon are behind the center building

Soviet Turn 5, The SMG gunners move in to assault the first house, which holds some of the remnants from the 1st Platoon

Soviet Turn 6, the Soviets capture the center house and the game is an automatic Soviet victory!

unwanted dinner guests...

So there you have it!  A very clean and clear Soviet victory with some very experienced gamers.  I fought as hard as I could, trying to maximize shots and firepower and the Soviets won the scenario handily.  I think, things being even, with players making the best choices (Soviets move forward FAST to get to the trench and assault, Soviet mortars pinning the Germans, Germans shooting every conceivable weapon every turn) both sides have a reasonable chance for victory.  It's a safe bet that the Germans are going to need their reserve platoon to counter attack either by fire or by assault.  

Now it's time to think about the changes above, and sculpt some flamethrower backpack tanks for my Russians out of "green stuff" as I get ready for the convention!  Stay tuned!