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 mention a name… often also without any guidance as to why or how we like it. Yet, there are usually a number of assumptions that the questioner makes and so do the answerers. And those assumptions can make a big difference.

Incidentally, the photo is of a Command Decision scenario using my friend, Mark’s beautiful 6mm miniatures and terrain.

So rather than write repetitive paeans to my favorite rule sets, 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.

Figure Scale

First a word about figure scale.  It is my preference to use 1:72/20mm for skirmish level and no larger. Larger figures can have a bit more personality that works well in a game where one figure represents one soldier. And those like Perry Miniatures’ 28mm are beautiful with various headgear. But what scared me off is 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.

The look of weapon range works will 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″ (90′ at figure scale). Just a 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 a certain rule set’s approach.

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.

My Preferred Rules by Unit Size

Most rule set names are linked to the pages where there is more discussion of why & how. 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, decades ago 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. I have not heard that anyone redeveloped that. More recently, I did a lot of research and settled on Nuts! from Two Hour Wargames. If you wanted a runner-up, 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 two rule sets do.
  • For 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. But first, an honorable mention: Spearhead is a worthy competitor; I know some gamers that swear by it. I just felt that some of the “target priority” concepts could be gamey—but maybe I was the gamey one!
  • The 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 size 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 this one 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 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 you could win this particular skirmish and lose the war(game)! 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.
  • 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! But I am also eager to see what Frank Chadwick comes up with. It is worth mentioning that GBoWWII’s author came up with Division Commander but I have no experience with it. 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 miniatures and terrain is usually more appealing than a two-dimensional boardgame map and counters.

Note that each link to my preferred rules will take you to a blog page where the rules’ publisher is linked. If it’s not on that particular page, click on the category for that set of rules at left and it’s on one of those!

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