WWII rules

Category: “Good”. Since You Asked…

Hardly a day goes by when a new member on a Facebook group asks, “What’s a good WWII ruleset?” And so without his giving any more parameters than “good”, some of us will respond with just a name... often also without any guidance as to why we like it and how it is “better”. There are usually a number of assumptions that the questioner makes and so do those with the answers. And those assumptions can make a big difference.

So rather than write repetitive paeans to my favorite rule sets on Facebook, I have placed this blog post here to direct you to longer blog posts about various rule sets and what I like about them for a given unit size and unit size per player level.

So here’s a chart to summarize my recommendations first:


Click to download the above chart WWII-Rules-BillOwen’sRecommendations.pdf with links to find out more about the rules. For each recommendation in the chart, there are two links, to the publisher and a forum, Yahoo and/or Facebook Group.

Figure Scale

A word about figure scale.  It is my preference to use 1:72/20mm for skirmish level and no larger. Larger 28mm figures can have a more personality that works well in a Skirmish game where one figure represents one soldier and may be personalized. Perry Miniatures are beautiful with various headgear. But what scared me off of Perry is what would be my mediocre paint job on such exquisite castings. I feared they would like Greek Statues “improved” by tasteless Romans using brooms as brushes! Then there was the cost of the vehicles: yikes!

While one could use smaller figures 10-18mm for skirmish, using 6mm strikes me as a near-impossibility especially if you have fat fingers. However, I still might just try 6mm because that’s what I have so much terrain and vehicles for; maybe I will have a new view then. One could sit throughout the game played on a kitchen table.

Update: August 25, 2019

I switched from 20mm to 15mm for skirmish games and we are about to try our second game of Chain of Command in this scale. CoC seems like a good game and I still haven’t tried Battlegroup yet.

The look of weapon range works better with small figures than when using larger figures.  For platoon-per-stand or larger unit sizes, tiny scales 2-6mm can look more accurate than an HO scale tank that misses at 15″—just 90 feet away. at figure scale. Just my preference again.

If I had to start over with one scale for all, and the choices of models were as wide-ranging and detail quality as accurate as GHQ, 10-15mm might be the best overall. The figures you already have may lend themselves to any rule set’s approach. Or you can make them work.

If you are starting out collecting troops, consider “sabots”, that’s where steel-based individual figures and vehicles can be used for skirmish “as is” or adhere to a larger magnetic stand to give the feel for a unit, from platoon to a battalion. To represent squads or platoons or larger units, 6mm (or even 3mm) works fine.

My Preferred Rules by Unit Size

Most rule set names are linked to my blog pages where there is more discussion of why & how I like them. At left are categories you can click on for other pages related to a given rule set.

Note that I do not use the usual descriptive phrase “Company Level” or some such because it appears most people use that to describe what sized unit the player commands but that does not say whether each stand is one figure, half-squad or squad, see? So I prefer to hyphenate exactly what each playing piece represents, for example: one-platoon-per-stand.

  • For Skirmish, one-figure-per-soldier, I did a lot of research and initially settled on Nuts! from Two Hour Wargames. Nuts! has some unique mechanics that could take getting used to. Partly because the level may be more like what I want, for now, I am gravitating to either Chain of Command or…
  • “Squad-per-stand” can be bit of a hybrid regarding basing. Many people base individually like skirmish but use sabots (larger stands magnetic or recessed) to move a squad or sections of a squad. Battlegroup is the contender I really like but I have not played it yet. This ruleset could use 6mm troops since individual basing is not required or even desirable for such a small scale. So to be fair, this is a cautious recommendation.
  • For Battalion level or  platoon-per-stand I prefer Command Decision: Test of Battle which is the fourth edition of the rule set. It’s a great game that has excellent mechanics, like simultaneous order placement and fire phases that keeps the game moving. At this scale varying types of weapons are found because mostly each platoon is made up of a given weapon (Shermans) or SMG troops for example. This is a big advantage for variety and diversity that the larger unit sizes that follow lose. Then a personnel company is less diverse being just infantry although with tanks most companies tended to be armed with the same weapon type. The only disadvantage to this level is that a battle being represented is typically four to six hours (and the playing time often matches that). To represent multi-day battles a “campaign” is needed and multiple game days too (or a very long day). Grandiose gamers tend to want to fight bigger battles and with CD:TOB this can get unwieldy if a player handles more than a battalion (though an experienced player might be able to handle a regiment). Instead, I think of bigger battles as the reason for the following rule sets.
  • The Regiment level or company-per-stand rule set I like a lot is Great Battles of World War II. While it originally came out just with Canadian scenarios, later supplements moved on to airborne operations and France ’40. Fans like me have constructed other scenarios which you can find linked in my blog. The rules are not complicated and because they move along quickly enough, you can play a small scenario like Agira for several days of that battle. Once you get to this scale, other considerations come into play that are missing in smaller unit rules: line of communications, supply, resting units, replacements, reserves, attaching units, and a concept called activation—which summarizes historical limits like preparation, staff work and surprise. The game system is not as elegant as Command Decision but I keep coming back to GB because of the bigger picture of logistics and how a battle is part of a larger campaign. Too often in Skirmish games, one (or both) sides are virtually eliminated and you check the turn count and realize we supposedly “simulated” five minutes of battle! In GBoWWII, you are aware that the battle could last for days and so you don’t burn out your troops. Otherwise with typical shoot-em up style games, you could win a particular skirmish and lose the war(game) the next simulated day! (To be fair to Battlegroup, its Battle Rating mechanic is much better in that most games will have an actual end rather than the players run out of time with an inconclusive game where 90% of both sides are wiped out.)
  • Division level or Battalion-per-stand rule sets are a bit up in the air for me so click here, for more of my opinion on the current and coming options. I am intrigued by Bob Mackenzie’s WWII version of BBB—which has the merit of being free! I like his using models (6mm vehicles) as strength points. It also has a scale for Regiment-per-stand. Click above for more about Bloody Big Battles of WWII which I have not been able to get into it yet; may be too much detail for me. So I am also eager to see what Frank Chadwick comes up with, working titles like Breakthrough: Road to Victory. His designs are often “elegant” and accurate. Admittedly this level is a bit like a boardgame with miniatures for counters. But the obvious advantage is that when a rule set matches your ideal mix of realism & playability, you won’t have to learn a new boardgame rule set for each battle! Plus using miniatures and terrain is more visually appealing than a two-dimensional boardgame map and counters.

Update August 25, 2019: my spies tell me that Frank Chadwick’s Breakthrough may be out soon. Yes, we have heard that before but I think it could be right this time. Watch this space.

Note that most links to my preferred rules will take you to a blog page for more info. If it’s not on that particular page, click on the category for that set of rules at left and it’s in one of those!

One reader of this blog asked for my view of the strong points of rule systems I had at least looked at or tried but passed on. At this point it will be easier for me to remember why we stopped me from playing it (at all or more) than what was good. In some cases what was good was a new rule mechanic (in 1970s or 1980s!) that has long since become common. Being first with that, the ruleset had appeal but that wasn’t enough to keep us going when something better came along.

So here is the section of those I considered but didn’t ultimately click with me

  • Skirmish/individual soldier per stand. Decades ago (1970-1974) we used to play lots of Tractics but got disenchanted with that. The armor rules were very detailed but other aspects didn’t work so well. It did not have needed op fire or enough morale limitations I have not heard that anyone redeveloped that. I also developed a game called C.O. (Company Officer) which essentially was an attempted evolution of Tractics. It did not catch on with the local gamers. I have been in communication with Mike Reese, the co-author of Tractics and he says that he likes of Arc of Fire ($20; that link is to Brigade Games catalog listing). I have not seen the rules or have any opinion but respect Mike’s. If you want a runner-up to Nuts!, I’d suggest looking at Chain of Command. I had originally assumed I would try Men Under Fire because I really like Frank Chadwick’s games. But this time it didn’t hit all the hot buttons and does not have the “support” from forum or supplements that the other rule sets do.
  • Squad-per-stand We converted a S&T/Dunnigan boardgame Tank! Because of Simultaneous Movement, there was never a dull moment and how it requires the platoons’ components to move together as unit one could play big games with micro armor. The infantry were on squad bases but frankly I think either the game did not really favor the use of infantry, or we set up tables that were too devoid of terrain plus we were just still too oriented to tank battles. This was the first game where we headed towards representing larger battles and not just single figures or single tanks moving in random fashions—armor ballet as I called it. Nuts! Big Battles is another contender in this category.: 1 stand of 3 – 5 figures equals 1 Squad; 1 model equals 2 Vehicles.
  • Platoon-per-stand so next there was either PanzerBlitz or Arnold Hendricks’ 1944 published in The Courier. The latter was a big change from seeing a tank model as representative of multiple actual vehicles. It had partial hidden movement—no maps but PSM’s Platoon Substitute Markers that could be a few troops or a lot. I think it was the first to use Opportunit Fire.  I mention PzBz because I think we considered making it into a miniature game but I don’t think we did more than a limited test of that. While ground-breaking for its time PzBz (and its predecessor)  seemed flawed in how it worked. Command Decision got and has kept my attention through all its 4 editions. In the midst of that I got to play in a what I thought was a platoon-per-stand game of Piquet (as I look now to paste the link, the WWII variant appears to be called Field of Battle and is company-per-stand). I could not get into its manner of play—pulling cards and moving a few forces. It seemed like one is chopping up time in slices that it is hard to relate to. Spearhead is a worthy competitor; I know some gamers that swear by it. In my one game, I felt that some of the “target priority” concepts could be gamey—but maybe I was the gamey one! It’s worth giving another try.
  • Company-per-stand While I do not have a copy yet, it is worth mentioning Rommel that may have some excellent features. I just can’t truly compare yet. My initial impression was a strong reaction against using squares. Though hexes would be more acceptable to me (and usable in the game). One could easily draw up a “brick wall” that is identical to a hex grid. I posted a series of You Tubes of a great looking Rommel refight of D-Day & D+1 but it is a telling fact that they upscaled (or bath-tubbed in some gamer’s parlance) Rommel’s normal company stands to be battalions instead. We gamers really tend toward bigger games than our favorite ruleset can handle and so that’s why it’s worth considering a ruleset designed for that.
  • Battalion-per-stand GBoWWII’s author, Bruce McFarlane came up with Division Commander but I have no playing experience with it. I was part of his initial proofing of the new ruleset. But I was concerned that the ruleset wasn’t as developed as I wanted. I have since been disappointed that Bruce has not remained involved in the Yahoo group about the two rule systems (GBoWWII & DivCmdr) so to me, a lack of support.

    Here is an example of Nuts! fan’s idea of how one could use different measurement units for troops smaller than 28mm (which should use inches in his estimation). One can guess that an inch = 10′ (approx.) based on the 6″ grenade range. But what’s interesting is that Ian’s 10-20mm scale soldiers have different centimeter equivalents based on what looks “right” for the figure scale.

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