Bigger Is Better

I saw an impressive 27′ long table (that looks like it might 1 or 1.2 meters wide or 40×48″) that a Simon Ford made for Battlegroup (rule set described below), below:

27'tableForBattlegroupSimonFord

WOW!

This reminded me of other huge games we’ve played.

For example on a 5×25′ table that Bob Bledsaw, Mark Whitehead and I made for a Command Decision game in 2005. It was a scenario that I had designed for our 2003 WYWAE tour (Wargame Your Way Across Europe) but with all the fun we had with other games and visiting various sites in Italy, France and the low countries, we never got to setting up that particular scenario. Certainly the game would not have been as long on the tour coach (which was a 12′ table as I remember it). A breakthrough scenario involving Free French forces, there were only two things I remember of note: Bob leading a procession of tanks in Jeep, and a dismounted recon stand seeking to spy out an area (as usual this was a hidden movement game) which they decided where full of Tiger I tanks! As it turns out they were Panzer IVs but c’est la guerre. We were rolling for mis-identification and with each turn that passed they were eventually figured out their initial error.

We also played a “campaign game” on three tables back in about 1971 with Tractics using roughly a 10×10″ square playing area. Those tables were separate rather than together. Otherwise how do you literally reach the middle of the board?

Then for Mtzensk, we managed a single 8×8′ table that would be virtually impossible to reach the middle of but managed it by having a “bite” out of the opposite corners that were in area unlikely to be fought over. The bites were made by offsetting two 4×8′ pieces of styrofoam—so the most one needed to reach was 6′. This was for Great Battles of WWII.


Battlegroup-WWII-RulebookCoverWEB1000wide

Battlegroup

I have been interested in Battlegroup wargame rules (available from The Plastic Soldier Company Ltd.) as it seems to be a relatively simple game with quite a few items that make it quite challenging. This appeals to me over a “treadhead” sort of game where each 30-second turn takes 20  minutes to adjudicate.

The game being at a 1 figure=1 soldier scale appears to be expandable from a skirmish game up to perhaps a battalion or so per side but that would appear to require many players per side. I think that most people tend to mount their troops in the FOW style, like squads of 2 section stands: like 5 rifleman on one stand and a Bren or LMG section on the other. But it appears that you could use single figures but it might be faster to move them if you have some magnet sabots that several figures could adhere to. Could then remove casualties or consolidate.

The core system rule book (£20) comes in numerous languages and are “generic” insofar as the stats provided are few. So special rules for a given side, front or year of WWII come in supplements. So for my 1:72 British & Germans for France ’40 would get the Battlegroup Blitzkrieg supplement, about £25 hardbound (also includes Poland ’39).

cover_front_BGBlitz.jpg
From the description on line: “The next supplement for the ‘Battlegroup’ World War II gaming rules covering the invasion of Poland in 1939 and France in 1940.
Designed to be played in 20mm and 15mm, this latest book contains army lists, vehicle data and special rules for the first two years of the war, including France’s command chaos, the Luftwaffe’s aerial superiority and the swift German Panzermarsch!
Nine new army lists for the early war fighting. The Polish and German armies for 1939 and German Panzer and Infantry Divisions to fight French Light Mechanized Divisions, Armoured Divisions and Infantry Divisions, the British Expeditionary Force and Belgian army in 1940
Nine historical scenarios from Poland to Belgium and France. All in a lavish 184 page, hardback book. Heavily illustrated with inspiring miniature photographs, historical photographs and artwork.”

Rule book & supplements

I just have the Battlegroup rule book so far so I can’t really say anything about the supplements. They also include the following subjects: Barbarossa, Fall of the Reich, Kursk, Market Garden (including Beyond the Beaches), Overlord, Torch, Tobruk, Wacht am Rhein and the latest on Hungary 1945 called Spring Awakening. The full catalog of Battlegroup items is found at Plastic Soldier Company’s site under the listing Battlegroup Kursk (but is not limited to that campaign). The cards they offer are just for convenience; it’s the same data as in the supplement. The original edition was the rulebook with the Kursk Campaign and so that’s why PSC still calls its section that.

Instead of just having Opportunity Fire for nonmoving stands, one must order either Ambush Fire or a novel concept called Reserve Movement… to allow your troops to respond with a move in the middle of the enemy’s turn. With all the potential options, it turns what first appears to be a simple IGOUGO game into a potentially more simultaneous sort of game.

Simultaneous movement

Going back about 40 years, the IGOUGO game was the norm with Avalon Hill and the few miniatures rule sets like Tractics which had a slightly modifed IMIYMEIMT system that produced ridiculous results. So when S&T came out with Simultaneous Movement, that was the new Wargamer Standard of Nth Degree Realism. And a lot of work too. But perhaps it seemed realistic—life is simultaneous isn’t it? But the biggest improvement in the Tractics flaw was Opportunity Fire so enemy vehicles couldn’t just drive to your flank and fire at it—while you sit there motionless. While Tractics may have been the gold standard of Tank/Anti-Tank hit location and effective armor strength, its handling of Infantry and Morale seemed deficient.

Anyway, back to “simo-moves”. Command Decision had a form of orders and simultaneous movement but in its latest edition (#4 or ToB), they dropped the simo-movement. One had to win the “roll-off” to move first. But one did have orders placed. Perhaps it’s just rationalization but I finally decided that life is not simultaneous as it is oriented to action and reaction. This insight led me to Nuts! which is IGOUGO in part but also oriented to allowing the enemy to react.

So Nuts! attempts to break the IGOUGO mold in a different way. But it uses so many unfamiliar concepts that I have had hard time getting into it. So for me, for now, Nuts! and Battlegroup are contending for the prize of my attention.

A brake on blundering ahead until all is gone?

The other thing that makes the game very interesting is a way to have one’s morale dwindling (called Battle Rating) and once it’s gone, zeroes out, your side has to withdraw, you lost and the game’s over. While that sounds drastic it does dispense with the “arguing who won” phase so common to wargames. Leading to some games where both sides have been nearly or truly wiped out! Aside from how ahistorical or at least rare to have either side fight to the end, it reduces the chance that the game will enter that point and importantly being too long to finish before exhaustion or stern calls from your Supreme Commander.

Battle Ratings

While it might sound that this Battle Rating might make the game sort of a drag when you see that you’re approaching the zero point, in practice it apparently may not work that way. First of all you don’t know how close the enemy is to their “breakpoint” and neither does he know yours! So you could still win a game you “should” have lost. Life is like that. And it makes players more careful about throwing away the troops. This tendency of gamers has always bothered me, or at least since having played Role Playing Games, where Good People Are Hard To Find, even if they are NPCs. The other obvious benefit of the declining Battle Ratings is that it’s probably more exciting!

I have played some games where my blunders caused my troops to depart the table in good order—at the time, I had to say “I can’t blame them”! So I agree with having the rule set work in a micro and macro morale sort of way.

Here’s how my friend described it. It may make more sense since he’s played the game a lot and I haven’t even once:

“The basic organization is the platoon. We used to play FOW so all our models are based accordingly and it works. For example a German squad is a 5-man stand and a 3-man LMG stand. A vehicle is a vehicle and the standard AFV platoon is 3 vehicles.
Artillery (mortars 80mm up and the heavy stuff) are off board.

Veterans as you guys can handle a platoon and some hardware without any problem.

Yep, the rules are very flexible. We’ve played skirmish in 28mm and company sized games in 15mm.

The core of the system is the Battle Rating that every force has. Every loss and you have to blindly take a chit with a number on it. Once your Battle Rating reaches zero you lost.

Nailbiting till the end as you don’t know what the other one has

No fancy rules, no übersoldiers. But the proper use of combined arms is rewarded

Indeed, we think it is very elegant. And surprisingly there are many times twists in the game that it goes back and forth. Never have I seen games where one side lost with more than ten point out of 45. It’s almost 2 or 3 point or even one. Which makes it worthwhile for every player till the end.

Morale is easy. When it goes wrong you’re pinned. To get unpinned you need an order for that. So it’ll cost you. And when you give that order you have to take a chit. Nothing for nothing.

I’ll be glad to answer any questions you have. But in the end the proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

While I don’t think that most Battlegroup gamers play with hidden movement, I’m curious to see if that feature would add anything. Aside from having a judge, then it’s better to keep the rules simpler when using hidden movement. And I’ve wanted to try a Double Blind games… but probably much smaller than my typical wargamer tendency of Bigger Is Better.

Having started with a 6×10′ sand table in 1970 with inch measurements and HO scale troops, then with micro-armor and “Hinch” measurements (which for me was 2/3″ for when rule set calls for inches and so a 4×6′ table served for a 6×9′ scenario using inches) a 5×7′ (including a 6″ shelf all around for “stuff” and “divisional camps”, so 4×6′ playing surface) for decades, then dabbling with a 72×108 centimeter dining-room table (29×43″), you can see I am working my way down after starting at the top. And at my early 60s age group prefer to remain seated rather than being a “bug on a pond” and suffering from back strain, from reaching and stretching.

UPDATE: November 1, 2018:

Now that I have a spare moment more often again (I have 3 jobs) I have been looking at the game rules and even more so, like what I see. There are several subtle aspects that keep the player from being too capable of ordering troops to and fro with limited orders but also fire plans can be frustrated by losing the view of the enemy through every-turn spotting roll—perhaps dust or intervening shell blasts cut your Line of Sight.

One thing that I was skeptical about was the rules allowing you  to keep ordering squads to keep firing until a target is wiped out. On suitably crowded table (with terrain), there may be only so many of your troops in LOS anyway, with orders and the certainty of a Automatic Victory is not at all assured. The reason this came up is how I carried Command Decision concepts with me to assume that one must choose all units fires at a given target and then if it was destroyed, the remaining unfired units’ shots are just wasted. That’s not how it works in Battlegroup though. One unit’s shot(s) is/are done all the way through from spot, fire, target save for cover, and morale. Then the next unit. Third unit, etc. If a unit is stationary, it has two shots and must nominate both shots before rolling for either. The shots can both be on one target, or one each on two targets.

Rule Variant

One could try a rule variant of requiring all fire (from several units) on one target to be nominated first (like CD). But there are some ways that this could complicate processing and really be too little ROI, realism return on effort investment. Besides I’d rather play games RAW, rules as written, these days. Then no rules chaos whether visiting Henk’s club in Belgium, Arturo’s in Italy etc.


 

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