Great Battles of World War II Introduction

Great Battles of World War II is a ruleset by Bruce McFarlane where each stand represents a company so a player will generally command a 1-2 regiments (each 2-4 battalions). Scale varies by scenario 150-200 yards per inch and 15-240 minutes per turn. With 8-10 turns per ‘day’, many scenarios allow for 2 or more days to be played in the same game session (with nighttime redeployment etc., replacements).

Since miniatures merely represent units (not a certain number of troops or vehicles per figure or model), any scale could be used but because of stand sizes, smaller scales like 6-10mm might work better. even 2-3mm. You could test the game out without miniatures by just cutting out green cardboard shapes in the recommended sizes (each type is shaped differently). You can buy the first volume, Canadians in Europe, as a PDF from the author (cover pictured at the top of this post).

It is important note that though the first volume features just battles that the Canadians fought in, fans of the rule system immediately started adding scenarios for other theaters and national forces. And indeed the next 2 volumes of the series had no Canadians…


Or volume 2, Drop Zone (its cover is show immediately above) on various Airborne Operations including a What If invasion of Malta.

invasion40_1Invasion ’40 (pictured above) is volume 3 covering the German attack of the Lowlands & France in 1940. Each volume focuses on a particular subject with history and game scenarios. I have not played any of these yet.

Each of the above three e-volumes (PDF) contain the identical rules (about 24 pages) that come in the printed volumes 1 & 2. Each volume runs about 76-84 pages (including the rules).

Any source of printed copies?

Noble Knight has a discount on the printed volume 1, listed under Canadian Wargamers Group

Can one buy just the Rules only, without scenarios or historical background?

Yes, the PDF version of the “rules only” is less expensive. And as a “test” of the rules, you could find a scenario here or another web page; click on the “gb” label at the bottom of this page for more of my Great Battles of WWII fan pages). The rules-only option is at the bottom of the web page below each of the 3 PDF volumes.

Other scenarios are available or can be made up yourself! Even though McFarlane never published volumes on other topics besides the 3 linked, other GB fans have made up scenarios as diverse as Pegasus Bridge and Mtzensk in Russia. I am working on a Pacific scenario—the multi-day campaign where the Japanese troops attacked the Australians at Milne Bay in New Guinea. It is a particularly significant battle in that it was the first that the victorious Japanese were stopped and thrown back—could have gone a different way. And I am also working on a Sea & Land scenario for Narvik, Norway (GB for the land and General Quarters 3 for sea).

There’s a fairly inactive Yahoo group. Maybe it should be mentioned that while the rules were published by Canadian Wargamers Club, and its first book of scenarios featured WWII battles in which Canadians were involved, the later edition of Drop Zone and France ’40 obviously feature a variety of nationalities and do not include the Canadian forces at all. One of the weaknesses of the ruleset is that it does not tell the scenario-designers how to calculate Activation Points (that allow a battalion or regiment to advance on the enemy). I am working on a system to do this!

 The Yahoo page is supposed to also cover McFarlane’s Division Commander rules (also available from the author as a PDF). Division Commander is a battalion per stand and I have no experience with it.

The Yahoo group has some great photos of a painted terrain for Agira (probably have to join the group to see the photos. It is similar to the style of another Bruce here. This Bruce Weigle made a GBoWWII variant in 2012-2013 (or possibly better described as a new game). I have not heard if he has tested it yet however a German wargame group has. They played Termoli from the 1st volume. Their terrain is like Bruce’s and spectacular.  I made a pair of free eBooks on Bruce’s lavish terrain approach and my own more-flexible system

I like GBoWWII’s smaller scenarios like Agira and over time maybe I will find ways to play the larger scenarios (and it will help as I find more players in my new location).

There are several things I  really like about the GB approach:

  1. After playing a variety of WWII miniatures games since 1970 (Tractics, CO!, Tank!, 1944, and Command Decision (4 versions) I think that GBoWWII is the most realistic especially for the effort put into the game. Each of the other games have their pro’s & con’s (and Command Decision is very good).
  2. Reserves mean something. They can appear along your baseline or very close to your front line although too close to the enemy and you risk suffering casualties.
  3. How units that are given a day’s rest increase their chances of replacing eliminated stands.
  4. Supply level and length of the supply affect this too).
  5. The unique Forming Up Point and C Ops provide a realistic view of how advances and supplies are tied to roads and represent the non-combat logistical considerations nicely without complication.
  6. The multi-day approach seems to model actual battles’ descriptions more closely than the typical “short” (2-5 hour) actions that platoon-level games seem focus on.
  7. The battles covering multiple days is more like a “campaign game” of linked short scenarios. Many wargamers want to play a campaign but few get around to it. Too often the second game session of a campaign never happens. With GBoWWII, one can play several days in one game session!

Weaknesses of the system is that the rule book was not clear in many points and so I have made a turn-sequence based chart, version #5 (click here). That helps clarify the order of the turn and terminology. The biggest pitfall that I have seen is that groups of gamers (like ours) is to be put off by the inconsistent terminology of the rulebook.But even if they get into the game, the next pitfall to avoid is the normal gamer gravitates towards making games that often are too big (multiple divisions per side). While it can be done, be careful to not put some of the players on a “boring front” while the “pointy end of the spear” takes more time to resolve. So the front with the bored players is a turn off. I have so much fun with smaller scenarios that I am not going back to larger scenarios for some time. If I had enough experienced players again, then the secret to bigger games is to assign a major unit with enough freedom of action for each player.

You will find play aids, scenarios and commentary by clicking on the Category at left for Great Battles of WWII. For the latest on this ruleset, do bookmark this page for the future though. Thanks for stopping by!

2 thoughts on “Great Battles of World War II Introduction

  1. Hi guys!
    I seem to be missing something, I cannot see the links to any of the 3 volumes nor the rules alone! It is the rules I am interested in as I play Eastern Front.


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