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!  

Friday, January 13, 2023

Reconnaissance by Assault at Ulianovo: Ready for Playtesting!

I think finally have the Ulianovo scenario ready for playtesting and am providing a link for downloading here While this is written for Flames of War, this really would work for any company-level rules set.  I have another playtest game scheduled for this weekend to run it through its paces and if it can get by my "blue ribbon" panel of wargaming experts, I'm confident it will survive contact with convention-goers. 

Some notes.  If you've been keeping up with my scenario design and playtesting for this, I'm just about ready for prime time.  

I've introduced a spotting roll for the Soviets to try and locate the German CP (so they know which building to assault. ) The objective is random to one of the three buildings in the German rear area, behind the trench.  This will really have a game coming down to the wire, especially since the Soviets need to be within 8" of the objective to keep the game going if they need more time.  

This forces the Soviets to plan their attack, but also forces them to react on-the-fly to contingencies since they won't know exactly where the CP is unless they get lucky with their spotting roll.  The "spotting" aspect gives this scenario its "recce" flavor and I'm hoping the Soviets curse their officers' abilities to not be able to locate the position yet.  So many military operations throughout history have revolved around identification of enemy positions and this one is no different.  

More decisions - the Soviet officers can spot, but if they're spotting they cant do much else!  Like call for mortars to keep that nasty German platoon in the trenchline pinned down!  Super important if you want your attack to go in.  Speaking of trenchline, that offers its own interesting problems here, since your Germans are now always hit on "6" when in the trench.

For the Germans this game will come down to hard fighting and a little luck.  The machine guns need to be singing each turn, and the mortar tubes are going to be red hot.  Keeping 2 Soviet companies pinned per turn from shooting will go a long way to keeping them at bay and whittling them down.  German victory will probably rest on the arrival of the reserves to either counterattack the Soviets who manage to get past the trenchline, or be fed into the trenchline when they arrive.  The minefield, if placed in a good spot, can also help shape the battlefield for the Germans.

So many good decisions!  I feel that this is a very nuanced and fun scenario.  Good balance, and good opportunities for both sides to win. If you do read it, let me know your thoughts!  I've played it many times now, and it has delivered a fun challenge each time.

Here is the scenario in all its glory:

Reconnaissance by Assault at Ulianovo: Operation Kutuzov, 1943

It was clear by July 11th 1943 that the German offensive aimed at Kursk had shot its bolt.  The Soviets, who had been preparing a counterstroke aimed at recapturing Orel, launched Operation Kutuzov to reduce the salient in the northern sector of the lines.  The centerpiece of the assault was Lieutenant General Bagramian’s 11th Guards Army.  The German 2nd Panzer Army was caught unaware and fought desperately to stabilize its lines.  July 11th saw “small scale” assaults and heavy patrolling by the Soviets to set conditions for the titanic offensive to come.  One such spot was Ulianovo, where the Soviets attempted to eliminate the German forward presence.

July 11th, 1943.  North of Ulianovo, Russia (110 kilometers from Orel, Russia)

Legend: Black boxes are small, wooden houses.  The yellow is a ripe field.  The green splotches are forest.  The brown line is a trench line.  Trench occupants are always “Concealed” and “Gone to Ground” regardless of movement within the trench, including fire within the trench.


·        Immediate Reserves (Defender)

·        Minefield (Defender)

·        Random Objective* (Defender) German player secretly rolls a 1D3 to determine which building houses the German Command Post and places the Grenadier Company HQs stands within the building.  This is the objective the Soviets must capture.

·        Spotting* (Attacker)  Soviets may “spot” with the Battalion HQs or Company leaders to locate the German Company HQs (their objective!) .  Roll 4+ on 1D6 per spotting element.  Any Soviet Battalion command and Company Command Stands may spot in lieu of any other action (artillery observation, moving) on any turn.  They may make a spotting roll if they have Line of Sight to a building.  Pinned stands may still spot.  Spotting occurs during the movement phase.  Declare the spotting stand and the target building.  If successful, the German player must reveal what is inside the building and if it is the command post.

 *special scenario rules


The Germans place their on-table forces first.  The large infantry platoon is placed in the long trench.  The reduced infantry platoon is placed in immediate reserve.  The sniper and the mortar section are placed anywhere on the German side of the table.  The HQs/Command Post is placed secretly - roll a 1D3 for which building the CP and the Company HQs are in, along with an objective marker to mark it.

 The Soviets place all of their forces in the red deployment area on the map.

The Germans place one minefield anywhere outside the Soviet deployment area.  The Germans place a ranged-in marker anywhere on the board that is visible to troops in the trenchline.



The Soviets have the first turn.


The Soviets win if they end their turn holding the objective.  This means they must occupy the building that holds the Command Post / Company Headquarters.  The Germans win if they end turn 7 with no Soviet stands within 8” of the objective.



Elements of 1st Company, 1st Battalion, 306th Infantry Regiment, 211th Infantry Division

1 x Grenadier Company HQs (2 x SMG Stands)

1 x Grenadier Platoon (9 x Rifle/MG Stands, 2 x HMG) starts in trenchline

1x Reduced Grenadier Platoon (7 x Rifle/MG Stands, 1 x HMG) in immediate reserve

1 x Sniper

1 x Mortar Platoon (2 x tubes of 8.0cm Mortars)

Total: 35 Points (Iron Cross Book)



Forward Detachment, Elements of 26th Guards Rifle Division, 8th Guards Rifle Corps

1 x Hero Rifle Battalion HQs (1 x Rifle Stand) – May Spot

3 x Hero Rifle Companies (10 x Rifle/MG Stands, 1x HMG, 1 Flamethrower, 1 Kommissar) Rifle Command Stands May Spot.

1 x Hero SMG Company (7 x SMG Stands, 1 Kommissar)

1 x Mortar Company (3 x tubes of 82mm Mortars)

Total: 39 Points (Enemy at the Gates Book)

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Reconnaissance by Assault at Ulianovo - Getting Closer!

 Played games 8 and 9 of the Ulianovo fight, and one of them was against a real, live human being!  

For those of you just tuning in, I'm preparing a game to play at the upcoming NJCON hosted by On Military Matters and am going to host the Ulianovo fight using Flames of War with a historical scenario, itself based off the "Red Recon at Ulianovo" from the "Skirmish Campaigns" book entitled "Red Guards at Kursk."  Confused yet?

I've been playtesting the heck out of this scenario to try and perfect it with the aim to give a memorable and fun game to the participants and make it challenging but yet possible for both sides to win.   The scenario is loosely based off the "No Retreat" mission in the FoW rulebook but with a twist.  

The Soviets are 3-5 now after last night's game and game 9, which is on the table now, has been a nail biter so far..  I think I've finally got a good unit selection down for the points (a mere 40 for both sides) with the OOB looking like this:


3 x "Hero" Rifle Companies (10 stands ea., 1 Kommisar, 1 HMG, 1 Flamethrower)

1 x SMG Company (7 stands ea., 1 Kommisar, 1 Flamethrower)

1 x Battalion HQs stand (2 rifle stands)

1 x Mortar platoon (3 stands)


1 x Grenadier Company HQs

2 x Grenadier Platoons* (9 x Rifle/LMG stands eac, 2 x HMG ea)

1 x 81mm mortar section (2 stands)

1 x sniper

*1 x platoon starts in reserve and must be rolled for to arrive.  The other starts within the trenchline.

1 minefield 

I rather like smaller games in FOW because I feel like they're more intense and this sharp, bloody infantry action has been perfect so far.

After talking to Dave last night, he initially suggested giving the Soviets one or two SU-76s but I fear that would go against the "Recon in Force" or "Reconnaissance by Assault" ethos that I'm going for. (in all seriousness, read that PDF by Phil Yates - it's excellent).

Last Night's Game

It's been awhile since Dave played FoW, and he made some decisions that allowed me to get closer to the trenchlines with more stuff than I had before.  Last night I did not know which of the houses his Command Post was located in (suprise surprise, I assaulted the WRONG side of the battlefield so ended up farther than 8" from the objective and technically losing the game but oh well).

Dave setting up the Germans - my Soviets are in position!

Custom built trenchline!!!
I was able to Pin Dave's platoon in the trenchline and pretty much keep them pinned for most of the game so Dave's Grenadiers were shooting with practically 1D6 per stand most of the game.  Also my shooting was uncanny and I was rolling a bunch of "6s" which is highly unusual for me.

4 x companies assaulting!  Note the right where one is going over the top!

Soviets going into the assault

Sbackground - Sneaking the SMG company around all this carnage.  "Dont mind us, comrades!"

meanwhile from the Soviet left, plenty of shooting from "the woodpile" with this company failing to unpin for most of the game.

Long story short, I eventually made it into the trenches and gobbled up BOTH of Dave's Grenadier platoons (SMGs are really, really nasty in shooting and close combat in FOW) but the NO RETREAT victory conditions mean that by end turn 6 i needed to be 8" away from the objective (which I had no idea where it was being in one of three buildings)  While keeping it secret is cool, it's not easy to guess and as the Soviet commander you have enough to worry about so I have a cool idea - I'm going to institute a "spotting roll" to try and spot the German CP each turn.  You wont know where your objective is, initially, but each turn it'll get easier to spot it.  Think like Turn 1 roll a "6", Turn 2 roll a "5,6" etc.  Only command stands can spot.

I was a bit rusty so I relearned, reset, and had a go this morning.  That game, still in progress, has been a huge nail biter with lots of drama and reversals of fortune so far.  (and, if i do say so myself, really good pictures :)

Germans awaiting the Soviet onslaught

Which doesnt take long to appear.  Look at that mass of humanity!

Soviet assault moving out - same strategy as before - all companies online and assaulting abreast

The Center company is making better progress than last night and the Germans will be kept busy fending off assaults on their left and center each turn starting on turn 4!

Multiple Soviet attacks are beaten back but they keep coming.  It's brutal!

The Soviet right company keeps the HMGs attention

While the center company (checkerboard styled formation) goes for broke!

The German reserve platoon is fed into the trenchline now, instead of counter attacking they're dealing with a penetration of the trench!

The Soviets attack and push back a German platoon, beating it in close combat!  Note the guys who are out of the trench!

These guys would go on to beat back 3 x direct assaults against them to hold onto the their part of the trench.  Brutal!!!

Germans counterattack and are beaten back

One the other side, the reserve platoon counter attacks and is also beaten back.  These Russians in the trench are tough!

More bad news, there's a pre registered target marker under one of these guys for the Soviet mortars!

So I've left off at the top of turn 6 now with the Soviets closing in on the German CP.  Haven't finish this game (#9!) yet but will keep everyone posted.  I think this is going to be a really fun game for the convention.  Right now I need to label the stands that have special characteristics (Soviet Company Command stands, German platoon integrity - thinking blue and red dot stickers) and then there's the matter of the flame throwers - which I'm thinking of using "green stuff" and sculpting some.  I've always wanted to try that so stay tuned!  Should be fun.

Also - I'm going to put a PDF of the Ulianovo FOW scenario together so stay tuned!  More solid Eastern Front action to come!

PS If you're reading this and you're going to that convention, stop by.  I'll be the guy who looks like he's never GM'd a game before at a con!

Saturday, January 7, 2023

The Christmas Offensive - BATTLE OF PRINCETON, 1777

This year's "Christmas Offensive" was the Battle of Princeton, another of my favorite AWI battles, and full of all of the drama and excitement you'd expect of "the ten crucial days" of the American Revolution.  For the Christmas Offensive in past years, we've played the Battle of the Bulge, Germantown, Aspern Essling, the Arab Israeli Wars, the and the Eastern Front but this year we'd go back to the AWI!

I was able to game this battle while ago and have just been able to finally blog about it so here we go!  It's apt that the first blog post of the year covers a battle actually fought in January!  Rules in use were the LittleWars TV "Live Free or Die" AWI rules (my favorite so far for AWI fighting).

We all love a good snow battle!  Parts of LTC Mawhood's BDE at one of the British exit points and the bridge over the Stony Creek, astride the Trenton/Princeton Road

Ken commanded the British as LTC Mawhood and Alex commanded the Americans as General Washington with me commanding the left wing as General Mercer.  Despite my best efforts to get General Mercer killed as in the real battle, he stymied every attempt!

Cadwalader's BDE - the Philadelphia Associators, Philadelphia and Delaware Militia emerging from the woodline along a logging trail

His Excellency - General Washington!

Arguably one of the best American units on the table-  the Marylanders with General Mercer deployed to challenge the British in front of the Clark Farm and Quaker Meeting House - I feel cold just looking at this table!

The game was played and finished over 2 consecutive sessions and that was with much chatting and snacking, as well as a toast to General Washington (with Madeira naturally).

Alex sends me an artillery battery - our first question for the game - we are assuming Brigades are color coded by-label and must remain together.  Or put another way, can you use an order with units from different brigades - IE they have different-colored labels. Since Alex, overall American commander "assigned" the artillery to my side, we allowed this and the artillery remained with me for the battle.

Philadelphia Brigade creeps closer to the British hill.  Note the rifle-armed skirmishers in the center at the Clark Farm, skirmishing with the British line.

Combined Grenadiers and Lights.  

Ken decided to push these upstart riflemen out of the farm, only to roll a snake-eyes for his charge movement!  (they'd only move 2") The fence stopped the men cold and they suffered as a result!  Mawhood pulls them back.

Mawhood directing the Grenadiers and Lights with the Royal Artillery behind him

The generals are feeling out the rules and have had, so far, generally conservative movements.  The scenario is not kind to the British, who must score more casualties than they receive, and maintain a road exit.  Ken early-on abandons the road to Princeton, instead favoring the stronger position on the road to Trenton near Stony Creek.

Turn 5 sees the arrival of more troops, this time Pennsylvanians disguised as Virginian Continentals from 1779!  These are the Pennsylvania "Dutch" (that's for you, Grenzer John) and more Pennsylvania Continentals

Mercer advances with the Marylanders to contest the left!

I made a bad decision on the left and instead of practical movement with the Pennsylvanians who have just arrived, I opt for speed and send the PA men forward in column, instead of changing to line (and as a result losing an entire turn of movement).  It's a fool's errand because Ken/Mawhood has cavalry nearby and the British Dragoons charge the troops in Column!  Another question we had - is there a melee penalty for troops being charged when they are in column?  

Meanwhile a firefight breaks out in the center.  One cotton ball is indicative of hasty fire, and these troops can then move.  2 would mean "volley" fire and thus no movement.  The casualties are Demoralization Markers.

Ken charges along the road against the Pennsylvanians into what will go down in history as one of the most infamous wargaming charges ever to occur on the wargaming table....

The Rifles and the Marylanders maneuver to force more casualties on the British

And it seems to be working!

the Dragoons plow into the front of the column!  Since there was no guidance on melee'ing a column that I could find, we used the skirmisher -3D6 penalty.  That seemed fair.  The Pennsylvania "Dutch" are left with 1D6 for their troubles...The British will fight with 9D6.

General Washington moving the Philadelphia Brigade up to block the Princeton exit and secure the hill!

The Dragoons suffer a single DMZ from the closing hasty fire but that's not the most exciting part of this story...

Ken rolled 9 dice and did not hit the Pennsylvanians in column!  No hits!  The PA Germans rolled a dice on their single hit and won the melee!  They win some DMZs for their trouble but stood their ground in column!  "Eh Amos, Vat iz daht gerausch up zere?"  

The Dragoons fall back 12" and the column suffers its DMZs.

This was really a turning point in the battle.  The British began to fall back slowly to consolidate their line as the Philadelphia Brigade tightens the noose around the hill.  Ken and Alex are facing off line for line now, which is risky for the Americans.  A unit General Washington is attached to takes a hit, but the General is Ok!

Mercer's Brigade advances across the line to push the British back slowly.  Combined firing will take a toll on the 17th Foot, who they've been challenging all morning so far.  Mawhood has been charmed throughout this battle.

Alex has moved all of his flanking troops and the Philadelphians up to the hill to contest, along with the New England Continentals.  A nasty, stand up fight will develop here.

note the Christmas Tree in the background!  

During the firefight on the British right flank, Mawhood is hit!  Luckily for him, he rolls a light wound and loses 1 single star on or about Turn 8.  

Mawhood curses his aide for trying to dress his wound in the thick of the fighting and points to the D6.  "It's just a fleshwound!"

Mercer, who still is not dead, advances the Marylanders forward!

The proud lads of the embattled 17th Foot stand their ground in the snow!

meanwhile the fight on the hill is heating up.  Ken will muster up enough CPs to launch a charge eventually to go for broke and force enough casualties to tie or win the game.  This led us to another question - when you have multiple units (firing is by bases, remember) that can offer supporting fire how does that work?  Is it simply counting the bases then somehow tracking them for later (they cant fire in the fire phase).

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvanians are hanging out at the Quaker Meeting House, undoubtedly holding out for the Church's "Chicken and Dumpling Supper," or at least a slice of ShooFly Pie.

Ken charges with his Category 1 unit the converged Grenadiers and Lights!  They would force the Massachusetts Soldiers back!

Firing up and down the line!  The unit General Washington is located with is hit!  Alex must roll!

We cant watch!  No "1s" rolled...whew!

Another massive volley hits Mawhood again!  He loses another star but is OK too!  Man that guy is tough!

Final Thoughts

At the end of Turn 10, we counted casualties and the Americans won the battle 5 to 4 stands.  The British held the Trenton Road exit and were only 1 stand behind.  One more and they would have tied up the game.  I broke out a bottle of Madeira and we toasted to a year of great gaming, the Continental Army, and General Washington!  I've never finished a wargame with a toast but that was fun!  So what did we learn?

The sequence of play in LFOD is tidy and the game play is smooth as well.  You're constantly focused on where you need to make key decisions.  Assaults are bloody, and costly both in terms of leader attention and also stands.  Expect to take casualties even if you win in a melee.  

Princeton gives a unique challenge.  As the British player, you have a small cadre of tough units.  As the Americans, you have a big, motley assortment of some shoeless units with varying degrees of quality ranging from 2 (regulars) to 4 (rabble in arms - militia).  The victory conditions for the British are tough - you must inflict better than you get.  I feel as if the British need to create a hornet's nest for the Americans and strike at the weakest units as they close in.  That's much easier said than done, of course but your quality is such that you'll likely push units back in melee (unless you roll 9D6 and dont score any hits)  The Americans need to be aggressive, but not so aggressive that they rush in and take horrendous casualties from messing with the wrong regiment!

So all in all, LFOD scores high with this gamer and I'll play it again.  In fact they're probably now my favorite AWI rules and I will happily play them again.  Having already played my Hubbardton Scenario and now having run through Princeton once or twice, I'm ready for a bigger challenge like 1st Saratoga or even Germantown.  In fact the only complaint from the team were they'd perhaps change their approach after understanding the rules a bit better but on the whole I think Ken and Alex enjoyed the game and that was my primary objective here!  So that's a big mission accomplished in my book.