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?  



  1. Steve,

    Very interesting, and we could probably all stand to take a step back every now and again for this sort of 'reality check.' I think we see eye-to-eye on a lot of this and, like you, my 'sweet spot' is also in the battalion commander range. It's interesting in that I'd always considered myself the company commander, but after reading your description, I'm more inclined to your viewpoint that really it's the BC, just focusing in on one company's efforts.

    Unlike you, I have found my set of rules (don't worry, I shan't proselytize again, though they do everything you're asking!), but a word of caution: it still doesn't keep me from playing other rules, or going out and buying new sets of rules! ;)

    And you're probably more disciplined than I am, from the echelon standpoint. While I love my company-level fights, quite frequently I get a hair for squad-, platoon-, and even brigade-level fights, which also keeps me hopping around, trying new sets...

    To that end, you'll laugh, but I've been looking for a more simplified, straightforward set of rules to play with my boys, and I've been reading up on Axis and Allies Miniatures. If I pretend one stand is a company, I think they just might work!

    I look forward to watching you work the problem and seeing what pops out the other side.


    1. Hey Jack - thanks for commenting and all very valid and good points. To be honest, this past year has been a pretty big eye opener for me that there is no "go to" set for me, just simply rules that I like and feel like playing when the opportunity arises (IE playing a huge Stalingrad Rapid Fire game at a convention - a perfectly good setting where I have all day and a massive table to play on). I guess what I'm saying is I'm keeping all the rules in the toolbox for when I need em, but I'm looking to expand on a rules set that I can play more of to become "Familiar" enough with like you and 5Core and to where I can play tons of solo games and not get too bored. (which I envy you very much, by the way). I know FOW pretty well now, but it bores me to no end playing it solo. Anyways, I'd love to know more about your 5Core CC innovations - IE what changes did you make to them - or did you play "Straight from the box?"

      I would never turn down a good skirmish game, platoon level fight, or an operational level game either for that matter. I think my sweet spot though is at the company/battalion level and that seems to be where the majority of my rules investments have gone into.

      No laughing here I've played tons of Axis and Allies Miniatures on the hex mat. They're alot of fun and a good entry point for junior wargamers. This is the one with the cards that have the unit stats, right? I have a blog post on those somewhere.

    2. Steve,

      "Hey Jack - thanks for commenting and all very valid and good points."
      My pleasure; you know I'm always interested in talking about wargaming/rules.

      "To be honest, this past year has been a pretty big eye opener for me that there is no "go to" set for me, just simply rules that I like and feel like playing when the opportunity arises..."
      I know exactly how you feel, it hits me, too, and when you see me run off and play three or four games of Ambush Alley, No End in Sight, I Ain't Been Shot Mum, Chain of Command, etc..., that's exactly what happened, just got a fever for the flavor ;)

      "I guess what I'm saying is I'm keeping all the rules in the toolbox for when I need em, but I'm looking to expand on a rules set that I can play more of to become "Familiar" enough with like you and 5Core and to where I can play tons of solo games and not get too bored."
      I'm with ya. From my perspective, the key to solo gaming is 1) don't listen to the nonsense about 'playing both sides equally.' I'm not saying cheat, I'm just saying, pick a side and make it about the characters, who gets whacked, who turns out to be a hero, who turns out to be a goat. 2) the rules have to be quick and simple; quick so you can play lots of games, because you can't have a story without lots of things happening, and simple so you're brain (controlling both sides) doesn't get too taxed and you're not wasting time looking things up. And 3) it's gotta have friction (which you've already touched on) and a way to 'surprise yourself.' So if you're serious about soloing, you have to go buy Platoon Forward, which is a tremendous solo aid, and you HAVE to get away from IGO-UGO, even if it's just using the Bolt Action dice-method to mix things up (which works really well actually, in my opinion).

      "Anyways, I'd love to know more about your 5Core CC innovations - IE what changes did you make to them - or did you play "Straight from the box?""
      Definitely not straight from the box (it's a long story), but I've got something I've already typed up to help folks out, be back with it in a little bit.

      "I would never turn down a good skirmish game, platoon level fight, or an operational level game either for that matter. I think my sweet spot though is at the company/battalion level and that seems to be where the majority of my rules investments have gone into."
      Certainly, I keep coming back to that as well.

      "No laughing here I've played tons of Axis and Allies Miniatures on the hex mat. They're alot of fun and a good entry point for junior wargamers. This is the one with the cards that have the unit stats, right? I have a blog post on those somewhere."
      No kidding? I'll have to do a search for it.


    3. On 5Core Company Command Part I:

      I frequently run into people that have bought the rules, read them, read my batreps, and go "how the heck did you do that with these?" Part of the problem is that there are like 15 different versions of 5Core products floating around now (I get asked all the time, "which version are you playing?" and I'm not really sure how to answer, the first one I guess as I really didn't pay attention to anything that came after), and part of the problem is there is a lot of detail/chrome/flavor in there, which I think causes some folks to miss the central tenets of the rules, and the rules could probably be a bit more clear in their explanations of things... Mr. Sorensen, the author of the 5Core stable of rules (amongst others) is quite brilliant but, in my opinion, occasionally... gets a little too bogged down? He is very much a detail-guy and loves added 'chrome,' like "roll a D6 and if the unit hasn't taken casualties today and you roll a 5 they are in high spirits and get a one-time bonus move of 3" that doesn't draw reaction fire." For my part, I tend to ignore all that type of stuff and just work with the bare bones of the gaming mechanisms, and play fast and loose, salt-and peppering to taste while I'm playing, rather than looking things up in the book and becoming frustrated when I can't remember all the special rules, circumstances, and exceptions. I can afford to do this as I play almost all of these games solo ;)

      In any case, I think the rules have a great core but people get put off because 1) they are different to most other sets out there (the activation system itself takes a bit to get used to and rationalize, and I HATED it when I first began playing them), and 2) the way the rules are written can be a bit confusing with all the 'chrome' Ivan has added in there. I think people start focusing on the detail and miss the bare bones; if I may, here I'll throw out a sort of 'get started with 5Core guide' that has helped some folks jump into the rules and enjoy them, and I hope it helps you, too. As always, I'm happy to help and glad to answer any questions you may have, so let's get started! The basics are this:

    4. Part 2:

      Pick a side and roll a D6.
      -If you roll a 1, everyone can move without drawing react fire, but then every enemy that saw it gets to move without drawing react fire too, and then it's the enemy's turn. Roll a D6, rinse and repeat.
      -If you roll a 6, everybody that can shoot gets to shoot, then every enemy that can shoot gets to shoot, then it's the enemy's turn.
      -If you roll a 2-5, count the number of your units and divide by three, that's how many units you can activate to move and shoot/shoot and move. Enemy units that can see you can react, but then they don't get to activate during their turn. Now it's the enemy's turn, roll a D6 and carry out. If they roll a 2-5, any of your units that didn't activate during your turn can react during the enemy's turn.

      Shooting is simple: you have the two kinds of dice (Shock and Kill; I roll black dice for Shock and red dice for Kill), and you roll them at the same time, looking for 1s and 6s.
      -1 Shock: The unit is pinned, it cannot move but can fire or rally when activated, can't react, -1 in close combat
      -6 Shock: The unit is suppressed, it cannot move or shoot, only rally when activated, can't react, -2 in close combat.
      -1 Kill: The unit is taking casualties and panicking ("Men Down!"), cannot move, shoot, rally, or react (can only be rallied by another friendly unit moving into base contact with it), -3 in close combat.
      -6 Kill: The unit is knocked out of the fight.

      Rallying requires you to roll a D6 to see what happened; 2-5 is successful, 1s and 6s are bad news, carry them out just as you would being shot at, with the exception being that suppressed units that roll another 6 actually fall back 6 inches and stay suppressed.

      Close combat is a D6 vs D6 roll with modifiers for troop quality and morale state (described above).

      The overall commander (on each side) in 5CCC gets a 'free' activation each turn, which is very useful for rallying troops, and provides a bonus to troops in close combat. I've also used additional command stands similarly, as a sort of 'bonus,' in order to help model qualitative differences between opposing forces on the tabletop.

      The vehicle rules are seamless because they use the exact same mechanisms as the infantry rules, they just move a bit farther, which keeps the game simple and quick. To keep it simple, play as above, but I can tell what I've added to make it more enjoyable for me: vehicles hit on a '1' on a Kill dice are immobilized, and I roll 1D6 to see if the crew stays or bales (usually I say they need a 1 or 6 to stay, 2-5 bale), and for tank on tank games, if you shoot at a tank and miss, the target gets a free return shot (doesn't count as an activation/reaction).

      The biggest issue you're going to face is trying to decide how many Shock and Kill dice to roll when shooting, i.e., how to modify up and down based on the type of firing unit and the tactical situation, how to modify for different armor-piercing capability vs different levels of armor. First, here's my overall view: don't get bogged down in silly details!

    5. Part 3:

      You're a company commander, not a squad, vehicle, or gun team leader, either the firing unit has the capability to render the target combat ineffective or it doesn't (and thus warrants Kill Dice), and/or the firing unit has the capability to affect the target's combat capability (to pin it down or suppress it) or it doesn't (and thus warrants Shock Dice). The book will tell you that rifle squads shoot with 1 Kill dice and 1 Shock dice at infantry targets in the open and with 1 Shock dice at infantry targets in cover. But I mess with (adjust) that all the time, based on my own perceptions and biases. They're at point-blank range? Add a Kill dice. They're veterans? Add a Shock dice. They caught the enemy completely unaware, out in the open? Add a Kill and a Shock dice. There are three enemy squads all bunched up? Add another Kill and two more Shock dice. Same goes for MGs, mortars, field guns, tanks firing on infantry, etc... If a tank firing on enemy infantry in cover doesn't have friendly infantry nearby, I typically mark the firing tank down in shooting dice as I figure they might have a hard time acquiring the enemy infantry. Hell, sometimes I make units make a spotting test in order to engage! Roll 1D6, if it's a hard spot they need a 1 or 6, if it's an easy spot they need a 2-5 (hopefully you've picked up on everything in 5Core being about 1s and 6s).

      For example, we could say that an M8 Armored Car firing its 37mm main gun at the frontal armor of a Tiger I at point-blank range cannot knock out the target, so warrants 0 Kill dice, but could adversely impact the Tiger's crew, so warrants 1 Shock dice, maybe even a second Shock dice if we're feeling charitable due to the shooting occurring at point-blank range, the quick-firing capability of the armored car, and let's say they've got a cool, veteran crew that knows it's survival rests on not panicking and delivering fast, accurate fire on the Tiger's vision blocks, for example.

      Some folks look at this aspect as very limiting, and they spend countless hours poring through the rule book to determine what the author directs regarding the specific situation, and to each his own. I, however, do not feel similarly constrained, and part of what I love about the rules is that I can do whatever I want within the framework of these basic mechanisms, they're apparently impossible to break.

      The only thing I'm not happy with in these rules is they don't work particularly well for pure armor vs armor fights; I have a solution for that as well, but that's a topic for another day.

      Well, hopefully you find that helpful, even if it's only helpful enough to realize the rules aren't for you. But I absolutely love them and they give me a great bit of fun, super dramatic. They never let you do everything you want to do, but you can always do something, so every turn is full of making (and living with) your numerous tactical decisions. You really get the glory of winning and the agony of defeat, and you'll constantly be questioning yourself about what the 'right move' was in any of a half-dozen certain, important situations each game. It's funny, in the batreps, sometimes the characters have momentous ups and/or downs along the way, and some of it is due to me 'letting the character show through,' but some of it just my poor decision-making, or a bold plan that didn't quite work out the way I'd hoped, and the poor character just has to live with it ;)

      Hope that helps.


    6. Sorry man, should have sent you an email ;)


    7. No problem Jack this is great! Thank you for laying all this out. I have 5CCC but the rules always just ended up confusing the hell out of me. I'll be Copying and pasting into a word doc! I will try a game of 5Core. I want my games to be more like your games lol. In fact the storylines from your games are outstanding and that's the kind of thing I'm after.

    8. That is a very helpful summary of how you made 5CCC work for you. I did wonder a bit reading the reports!

    9. My pleasure, Martin, happy to help. There's more, but that's a good primer.


  2. Steve, a very interesting post (and a ton of work for you to organise - thanks). Thanks also for the rules mention. I have just started making similar notes for horse & musket.

    But as for WWII, the mission statement that you end up pretty much fits with what I am after.

    I tend to want between one and two companies on the table, with support. The infantry will be rifle sections and fight as an integral section. WWII has the potential for being complicated, so these days I am looking for a simpler model and I think a good measure of that is that if a 2 company game can be played to conclusion in 2 hours to 3 hours tops, then the complexity level is probably about right.

    I want to trust that the gun / armour relationships are broadly realistic and am happy when there there is some command and control chaos.

    By nature, I do tend to see narrative in every game and I am happy for the dice, even the bad rolls to help tell that story.

    I also like a system to be solo friendly because 3/4 of my gaming is done that way.

    One thing I don’t like is the codex style publications, with supplements ‘needed’ to play the theatre or year that you want. In an internet world, that sort of rule support can easily be made available on line.

    Since I don’t want to move up and down the command chain (from skirmish to big battle) I don’t feel the need for a variety of rules ….. though I do have a varied collection, but that is something that I wish I can bring greater focus to and get the rule collection thinned down a bit.

    Does the community need all of those rules …. Yes for the diverse interests we have, but as individuals, we probably need fewer than we presently own :-).

    1. Spot on, Norm and I came to that same conclusion just today in fact :). The game you've described above fits my style and aims perfectly. Now to find the rules that deliver that exact game you just mentioned :)
      When you pick the mission statement apart you start to find that the rules you have selected kind of "sort" themselves out naturally.
      You should go for a mission statement of sorts to narrow your scope of rules. This exercise brought alot of clarity to a crowded bookshelf.

  3. A useful checklist to consider with rules. It is interesting under the fun/enjoyability section how visual appeal and narrative are listed, as this is how we relate to the models and figures we push around on our tabletops. I suspect we feel most comfortable with rules that help meet this aspect of games. A most interesting post - thanks.

    1. I'm glad you found it useful, Peter. This happens to me from time to time when I stare at the volumes of rules on my bookshelf and don't want to play any of them. I have often overlooked visual appeal or aesthetics as self-evident but it's an important part of why I game and with this post I really wanted to get down to the nitty gritty and answer what it is I've been chasing after on the table for all these years.

  4. If you like company level combat, I'd also take a look at Fireball Forward. Essentially a more structured version of Crossfire. Some of the stuff is just silly chrome (like variable range bands. I recall don't see the point) but there is a solid game in there and the infantry movement mechanism is genius.

    1. Thanks Martin. I completely forgot about Fireball Forward. IIRC, it reminded me alot of squad leader, too. I've only ever played 1 game of FF but I enjoyed it very much.

  5. A very interesting post Steve and to read what you are after and how you have gone about it. For me I've found the sweet spot rules wise is BKCII, with a few house tweaks. It gives me combined arms action (very important), feels historically 'right' when I play the game and I can go from a few Companies per side on a small table, up to a few Battalions per side on a 6' x 4' table, with little if any alteration to the rules. Also everything is in one book, so no need for supplements etc. It has taken me some time to get here but I'm happy with what I've got and no longer feel the need to look at the next new shiny offering!

    1. Hey Steve thanks for commenting and you nailed it when you said you are happy with what you've got. The ultimate goal of all of this is to get more games on the table. BKC was always remarkably portable if I remember correctly. When I was in the Army we played alot of BKC games on my dining room table using micro armor and a tan cloth and the games were always a blast. (This was BKC I with the green book cover!). I played many BKC games and then Cold War Commander games!

  6. Superb analysis Steve, and it has really opened my eyes to some of the truths we accept and go with in certain rules, and, perhaps more obliquely, what we are actually looking for in the game.
    This analysis has been truly helpful, as I was looking at a set of rules for my young nephew to play. Now, I had been plumping for crossfire, but he likes tanks - so I was at a loss to find something straight forward, while crunchy enough. I was looking at Airfix Battles but... - I did take a long look at Hammer of Democracy. I know you don't have it on the list, but it tends to tick a lot of the boxes you have outlined there, on my first reading. Great stuff in this post. Thank you.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, Darren. I think it's important to know what you're looking to get out of your game to really understand what kind of rules you want to play. The mission statement is broad enough to accept any kind of rules, but helps narrow things down a bit. I've never actually played Squad Hammer or Hammer of Democracy and ought to give them a shot!

      Don't forget the "Battle" rules...Mr Grant's tank rules are still some of the best as far as I'm concerned :)

  7. Interesting post mate - for me, Battlegroup is the closest balance of the variables and we have had great games at Plt level with 28mm and multiple Companies in 15mm. My only gripe is the lack of smoke rules, and if thats the only fault we can find then its pretty good! So with the exception of the odd game of Bolt Action with my son, these are our go-to exclusive WW2 rules (which makes it easier on the brain!).

    All that being said, I do have fond memories of Crossfire and if there was a new edition that fixes the various foibles I would definitely give it a try!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Paul. I think it was your posts that initially got me started with battlegroup in the first place! Yep they're pretty outstanding although we don't play it enough to get through a bigger game in 4 hours or less. I wish they'd make a 2nd edition of Crossfire! I've been following Steven Thomas' work on revamping the armor rules and they look VERY promising!

  8. Hey Steve, I think that points worth mentioning are that Flames of War v4 still has lots of sticky little rules that are meant to enhance flavor, but add a lot of complexity and bog the game play down. I'd argue that generally they aren't worth the cost unless one has lots of time to pore through the rule book or you are playing repeatedly with the same forces and really get to know the rules for them.

    Battlegroup series, is more of the same - arguably, they are at the same level as Neil Thomas' "Wargaming an Introduction" WWII rules, but with loads and loads of additional rules, so again one is burdened with plenty of rule book time.

    Overall, I prefer to go "up" one level of abstraction and play at the "One-Hour Wargames" level of a unit is a platoon. It allows the diverse weapon fiddlyness of teams to be smoothed out, and the larger size of the unit means one doesn't have to worry about one single tank/squad and its problems, as there are 3-4 other ones.

    Finally, I think that going up a level - like in Up the Blue! - it is easier to present the most realistic decision challenges and events in the easiest way as one gets to be at and stay at the Company commander level, instead of switching back and forth from company to platoon to team / tank / gun commander, which I find bogs everything down, aka Flames of War and Battlegroup. They'll never be able to get around trying to force players to play multiple roles in the name of "flavor", but you can't simultaneously play a skirmish and a unit-based game, it just doesn't work. This was why so many GW games failed on the table, altho they did it with a lot of flair and they made money in the hobby business which is hard to do!

    My 5 cents! Alex

    1. Thanks for your .05 Alex. Always welcome here. Yes I agree with you in terms of "overhead" and the rules. As we discussed earlier via email, I'm looking back at my games, specifically the large and fun games that delivered the scope and sweeping vista and crucial decisions of a huge battle and for what it's worth I just want to get to the business of playing big and fun games.