Saturday, March 5, 2022

GDW First Battle System: Miniaturizing The Rules?

In this post, more from the Disgruntled Fusilier Academy of Wargame Sciences.

Photo from "Garandthumb" Youtube site.  Clearly not me.

Continuing on with the theme of late for me, is my experiment with the "First Battle" series of rules, which have turned out to be a very enjoyable and simple system to play with.  In my last post on the subject, I talked about how I was trying to find that "big battle" set of WWII or Modern rules to play on a hex grid.  Looking at games like "Command Decision" it seemed like I could reverse engineer to serve as a satisfying "hybrid" miniatures and board game type system which could handle bigger battles.  

Further research led me back to the "First Battle" series which seem to be a predecessor, at least philosophically, to Command Decision, in a number of ways (and another popular rules set on the market which we'll discuss in a later post!)

More gaming goodness

One of the facets of the First Battle system I wanted to tinker with was to make it feel less like a boardgame (but still, sort of, like a board game....) and able to accept miniatures and feel like a miniatures game.  A caveat was to still use the counter information for the elements on the table.

I took the combat results table (CRT) apart and came up with some probabilities (as Norm calls it - "the maths") for every combat scenario for the limited units available in the 1987 "Team Yankee" game. The result gave me an average of achieving an effect, any effect, on a target.  This became my "To Hit" roll.  To me, I do like a miniatures game that has a "To Hit" and "To Kill" roll for modern and even WWII engagements.  (think of the Squad Leader board game armor engagement system and that's what I am talking about).

In the Team Yankee boardgame, at close range, a target a firing system or team receives an "effect" 66% of the time, requiring a 3+.  At effective range, a target is hit 50% of the time, requiring, you guessed it, 4+.  At long range, a target is hit 34% of the time, requiring a 5+.  I like rolling high and First Battle likes rolling low so I flipped it.  This was pretty easy in determining what was needed and I used the "To Hit" roll as sort of an "entry argument" for rolling on an effects table (this is your "To Kill" roll).

Instead of changing anything from the 1987 "Team Yankee" board game, I simply looked at the probabilities on the CRT for creating a "kill" result at each ratio, then what it would take to achieve a "Damage" or "Pinned" effect.  The result is the exact same probability but expanded to a 2D6 roll.  So now, you can still achieve a "hit" but a "no effect" from your hit and it doesn't feel quite like a CRT.  I do acknowledge that the addition of a "To Hit" roll adds its own trouble to the odds of achieving a kill or a damage/pinned result, but I wanted it in there anyways, if anything to feel more like a minis game.

To do this, you'd still have to compare Gun/Missile performance with the "Defense" score or armor, but it felt a bit more like "Squad Leader" now, and less like a pure board game.  The resulting table looks a bit easier on the eyes than the old CRT we know and love.  Take a look:

So in a nutshell, if the gun-to-armor ratio is a 20 to 10, and I have successfully scored a hit, I would roll 2D6 on the "2:1" column.  If I roll 7 or higher the vehicle is killed.  If I roll a "6" the vehicle is "Damaged".  If the target were infantry, rolling a "5" or a "6" would result in a "Pinned" effect, and rolling "7" or higher on 2D6 would kill.

The "To Hit" roll is easy to calculate - if the target is half of effective range or less in hexes, it's Close (requiring a 3+ to hit).  Effective is a 4+.  Double effective range is a 5+ to hit.  Terrain does not impact the To-Hit roll but I'm glad you asked that question😁

In the basic "Team Yankee" boardgame, woods and town add a +3 to the defense value of the target.  In most cases this resulted in a column shift so that's exactly what we'll do.  Instead of adding/subtracting, terrain enables a single column shift to the left.

How Did it Play?

So this is all well and good, but how did the playtest go?  I put down the old, reliable "To the Rescue!" scenario on the table again and tried it out, but with Soviet forces approaching from the East, rather than the North.

they came on in the same old way....

This time the Soviets are approaching in an abreast line with a platoon of T-72A main battle tanks, and a platoon of mechanized infantry mounted in 3 x BMP-1s.  They're going after the last remaining elements of an Armored Cavalry Regiment's covering force consisting of 2 x M3 Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicles and 2 x Infantry teams.  On the way to the rescue are a section of 2 x M1 main battle tanks who will show up on Turn 2.

The big difference in my plan for the US forces is to start with all my troopers dismounted.  This will enable them to occupy "firing positions" (AKA go on overwatch) from the start.  The village is bristling with anti tank guided missiles now!

Turn 1

The Soviets have the initiative, and opt to let the US forces start first.  They wont move and form "Firing Positions" instead.  The Dragon is at long range and the Bradley is comfortable within range.  BOth ATGM shots miss!  

The Soviets come on moving fast.  Since both US elements on the eastern flank of the village have fired, they're automatically spotted.  They engage a Bradley in the town, first with the low velocity gun from the BMP, and then from the 125mm tank gun from the T-72.  The Bradley is hit and then killed.  To the South, the other T-72s focus on suppressing or neutralizing the infantry team who fired at their comrades.

Bradley in the north is toast while the T-72s pour coax and tank gun fire into the village houses, wiping out the fireteam to the south.  Not good!

Turn 2

The BMPs enter the village and take a Dragon right in the kisser as a BMP rounds a corner.

The Soviets with the initiative opt to go first on turn 2, capitalizing on the success of the knocked out bradley, the Soviet officer in charge orders the BMPs to close the distance, fast!  They careen across the open fields bouncing into the furrows and culverts but the distance is closed without a shot being fired from the village.  It's a "close" shot and the dragon needs a 3+.  It hits!  The shot is easily on the 5:1 chart and the BMP is sliced open by the Dragon.  The infantry team inside survives the hit and bails, running into a nearby house.

The Soviets shake off the destruction of their fighting vehicle and the infantry immediately open fire against the US team while the remaining BMP lob 73mm "Grom" shells at the houses the US occupy, resulting in the US forces being pinned.

The Soviet T-72s to the south of the creek hold their position going on "overwatch" since their commander read the scenario and knows there will be M1s approaching from the south...Remarkably, the M1s join the battle and charge in, guns blazing!  they charge up the road and turn off, trying to engage the T-72s.  Not a smart move!  The M1s are knocked out one by one before they have a chance to fire.  Was it a good move to charge them in?  Definitely not.  The M1s easily outrange the T-72 so they should have hung back but this is a playtest, anyways.

Turn 3

The Americans, watching the M1s to the south get knocked out, are on their last legs.  Their attacks against the Soviet forces have been ineffective this turn since the destruction of the BMP on Turn 2 with the dragons.

The Soviets take full advantage of the American paralysis and move in/dismount the remaining Soviet squad.  The pinned American squad will recover this turn, but alas, is knocked out by the remaining Soviet squads to the north and I call the game!


Well that was fun.  The To-Hit roll adds a bit of fun to the system and it doesn't really feel any different.  True there is another layer of rolling, but it's not hard to discern the range to the target and frankly, the uncertainty created by the To Hit roll adds a nice element of tension to the game, which was somewhat predictable beforehand.  An TOW missile from the Bradley is very likely going to kill a BMP, but what if the shot misses?  Anyways this game saw a bunch of disappointing misses from US and Soviets alike.  

Comparing the Gun/Armor values is a bit tedious but it's not too bad.  If you're at close range, you're automatically going to double a gun attack value.  So you know to do that already.  Overall I didn't see anything lacking, or "broken" from playing the game this way, which I fully intend to do more of, but with miniatures.  This game felt much more like a miniatures battle and certainly drew some comparisons to other WWII and Modern games I've played.

My next step is to make a comprehensive QRS that you can play directly off which includes the vehicle and troop values on it.  I also want to play with artillery and morale rules next.  Then integrate airpower.  This should roughly work for the WWII variants as well, which are a bit more nuanced with the terrain rules, but overall are the same.

Similarities to Another Rules Set & Future Posts

As I was dissecting the CRT for Team Yankee 1987, I noticed a big similarity to another game system - Fistful of TOWS 3, at least in terms of the "basic" Sequence of Play, the concept of the "Firing Position" or "Overwatch", and the odds of causing an effect on the target.  FFT3 needs a 4+ To Hit that is affected by range and /or troop quality so that the majority of engagements' To Hit rolls turn out to be a 3+, 4+, or 5+!  

The To-Kill roll is slightly different, but is done via a comparison of Armor to Gun Penetration results.  Instead of a single roll, the resulting difference in Gun to Armor equals the number of D6 you roll to penetrate, with each "6" killing outright, and a 4 or 5 forcing a "quality check".  The math just looks incredibly similar to the First Battle System and I want to explore those similarities in a future post.  FFT3 looks like a great candidate for hex-based, WWII big battle rules, potentially even using the First Battle scenarios from Sands of War, and Blood and Thunder.

And speaking of future posts, Im doing more work on my "Big Battle" Tricorne and Napoleonic rules to hone those and get them ready for primetime.  I've also been re-reading the Black Powder rules, and have been writing down more thoughts on low-level WWII fighting and rules I want to play.  

I plan on posting on those thoughts in the future, and my Biazza Ridge scenario for Battlegroup is almost ready to be posted and play-tested!

For some long-term posts, with current events I've rekindled an interest in post-apocalyptic gaming and have been looking at Twilight 2000 for a potential skirmish campaign.  In other fronts, and need to get my Ancients forces rebased to get them on the table, and have a mind to rebase my 10mm fantasy forces.  Stay tuned!


  1. Wow dude! So much stuff to comment on :)

    Ok ...
    Loving the comparisons here. Firstly, you peeled back the CRT, and I was thinking - this is kind of like an analogue for FFT3 - then you mentioned it LOL
    Funny, I've been seeing FB as an easier version of both CD and FFT3 - allowing for a larger campaign game (Fulda or North German Plain linked scenarios)
    I also must try the hex based Black Powder rules you sent me - I have so many scenarios.

    Also - you mentioned T2000 - so, the FB system uses a man to man version for 'Last Battle' which is set in a skirmish / T2000 universe. Also worth exploring.

    I have a Team Yankee game set up at present ...could I also try your QRS when you have it ready, complete with to hit / to kill variant :) ? (this would of course save me a pile of work)

    1. Sure thing, Darren. I need to square away a few things like the artillery rules and morale, but will send to you. I was thinking youd like what i posted today :)

      yep i purchased "last battle" already from "DriveThru RPG" :) I was looking at the "rebel minis" page today as they have a really nice range of armed civilians, contractors and post apocalyptic types. I have a 2" hex mat but would need 1" hexes for LB.

      Anyways, I will write up an artillery table, the memorable rules, and will send you the comprehensive QRS. Would love it if you could play test for me and let me know how you got on?

    2. Darren just sent you the QRS for your use :)

    3. Got it mate. All good.
      I'm thinking now about using LB for my ongoing 'Hyboria Now' games.
      There is some very nice design in Chadwick's man-to-man version. I always got the impression that the T2000 RPG had been a bit hurried (obligatory multi round bursts from a .45 LOL Dr. Garandthumb would be shocked :) ), but they seem to have taken their time on LB.

    4. great, Darren. be sure to let me know how you get on with it, especially if you use those mods.

      yes the LB combat looks good. I like the multiple hit "fireteam" stands iin LB, also. and the book is chock full if scenarios you could port to any "universe".

      I have just gotten into the Garandthumb videos and I love them. especially the Recce vids.

  2. Hi Steve, you have tackled that conversion in a very orderly manner and it all looks good and solid and has stood the first test in action.

    I did wonder about the chances of survivability of a Bradley when hit by a T72's round, though there is of course hit and kill and hit and glancing blow wrapped up in those dice rolls. This is going to look very smart in 3D.

    1. thanks, Norm, beyond the addition of a To-Hit roll, the odds and mechanics are essentially the same.

      yes! there is a chance, albeit small, of receiving a "damage" result, which is essentially a hit that doesnt kill but impacts the performance of the vehicle. its firepower is halved and it can no longer move.

      do you think there should be an additional category? part of me was thinking about the Army's characteristics of "destroyed, neutralized, and suppressed" but that would dramatically change the CRT results. I wanted to play it a bit more before tinkering.