Wednesday, 30 June 2021

You Can't beat the Dice!!


It's something all wargamers have said at one time or another - "it was all going so well but the dice deserted me". A chap who bought the Seelow Heights book when it first came out, got together with an old friend to try a couple of the games - it did not go well for him! Check out his report - you have to feel for the guy - unbelievable luck!

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He was playing German and here is his initial set up - good dispositions, the Soviets will have their hands full was my first thought - how wrong can you be!


The spectacularly ineffective King Tiger is about to be over-run. A lesson for us all!!



Saturday, 16 January 2021

The Seelow Heights A Wargamer's Guide: A Few Thoughts


The genesis of this book goes back to 2013, when I put on a multi-player demo game covering a section of the Seelow Heights at the Partizan II wargames show in Newark. The game itself was a great success, with the Soviets finally overpowering the German defenders late in the day. For some reason, interest in this operation stayed with me and finally resulted in the writing of this wargamer's guide. Now it is out there, I thought that a few notes on its design and the scenarios might be of interest to those of you that have been kind enough to purchase it and to those who may in the future.

Although Rapid Fire has been used by our group ever since they first came out, followers of this blog will know that I am developing a set of rules of my own: "Road to Berlin". These are card driven and very different to RF, but have played well in testing so far and everyone seems to enjoy them. However I decided to express the Orders of Battle in RF terms as these are our "go to" set and I couldn't see any reason not to. That said, the scenarios lend themselves very well to many other regimental level (and above) sets such as Blitzkrieg Commander, Korps Commander and Command Decision to name but three; all that is needed are a few tweaks to fit in with the specifics of your chosen rule set.

First of all, the Special Rules. To give any operation an appropriate "feel", you need special rules to reflect those little details that make an operation unique. I also wanted to amend/expand some of the existing rules to (in my view) better reflect the troops and weapons concerned. So I thought I would take each one in turn and briefly explain the thinking behind it.

German 88mm/L56. Upgraded to a Class 1 gun. The Tiger in RF seems little more than an up-armoured Panzer IV - same gun class and slower. Better armour true, but not the terror weapon many allied soldiers saw it as. For the flak gun it can be left as a Class 2 weapon in the hands of  Luftwaffe crews inexperienced in engaging ground targets, but Class 1 otherwise.

T34/85. Armour downgraded to C (I believe this has now been done by Colin and Richard in RFR) and enhanced range removed. Soviet optics were notably inferior to those used by the Germans and it seems unreasonable to allow it to outrange the Panzer IV and enjoy range parity with Tigers I and II or Panthers.

Soviet Heavies. These are powerful bits of kit but suffered from low ammo storage and slow rates of fire. Seemed reasonable to limit their ammo to 4 or 5 shots per game.

Panzerfausts. Of all the additional/special rules, this is the one that seems to have resonated with readers the most. By only allowing one Panzerfaust per company, even late war Germans get one shot and are then essentially defenceless against armour. My amendment is easy to use, requires no record keeping and makes German infantry a much more serious proposition where enemy armour is concerned.

Troop Quality. In Rapid Fire, this tends to be reflected simply in a modest uplift or downshift in firing and morale. Making militia units more vulnerable to fire by adding to the firer's effects dice seemed an appropriately simple way of addressing the issue. The main element however was how to represent the greater tactical finesse of German panzer units without affecting playability. The way I chose to do it is above all simple; every time a German vehicle is hit, roll a d6: on a 1-3, you apply the effects as normal, on a 4-5, reduce them by 1 level (eg: knocked out becomes heavy damage) and on a 6, ignore the effects altogether. Because RFR reloaded has changed  the way attacks on armoured vehicles are conducted, this is modified to a -1 on the effects dice at short and medium ranges only. 

So what is the thinking behind this? Well throughout my reading on this operation, one thing came up again and again: the ability of quite small numbers of German tanks and assault guns to inflict serious damage on much larger formations of Soviet armour. What I wanted to do was to give the Germans a built in "tactical advantage" that would allow them a kind of "get out of jail free" card in the form of reducing the effect of Soviet fire on them. It doesn't confer invulnerablity, just a kind of saving throw to reflect their greater tactical agility and awareness. 

Combined with the "hit and run" rule, which allows some German vehicles in certain circumstances to move and/or fire during the Soviet move in addition to their own, German panzer and panzerjager units have more hitting power and survivabilty.

German Kampfgruppen. This rule simply allows the German player to organise his infantry units in a more mission based way, rather than me laying down the internal organisation of each battalion. So, for example a battalion with 30 figures in it can be organised into company groups of varying sizes and composition according to what the player hopes to achieve, with support weapons attached (or not) as he sees fit. Again a simple enough idea that reflects German tactical flexibility without additional complexity.

Field Defences. Being in hard cover, whilst helpful, doesn't offer that much protection in Rapid Fire (although RFR does attempt to address the horrible vulnerability of infantry). This rule makes it harder to kill German infantry in prepared defensive positions (rather that just hard cover) and obliges attacking Soviets to get stuck in, rather than stand off and simply shoot them out.

Panzerjager Platoons. Although this variant only appears in the final scenario, it has wider applications in late war games. Essentially special platoons, heavily armed with A/T weapons are more willing to and effective at tackling enemy armour. It could be used for example with the A/T companies in many Volksgrenadier regiments, which are armed with Panzerschrecks or the Fallschirmjager platoons that shot up the leading elements of the Irish Guards during the breakout from Joe's Bridge at the start of Market Garden.

Forwards. This is probably the rule that would and should be used most in the Seelow Heights scenarios. Simply put, the attacking Soviet infantry can exchange speed for vulnerability by adding the score of 1 average die to their normal 6" movement but at the cost of  surrendering the ability to fire and the Germans getting firing bonuses against them. In the scenarios I have tried to apply time pressure to the Soviets in achieving their victory conditions. This reflects Zhukov's obsession with breaking through quickly and getting to Berlin first, regardless of casualties. This rule can increase the rate of advance of the Soviet infantry by some 50-60%, but if caught in heavy fire, it can prove expensive. It is a useful tactical option, but one to be used carefully.

Soviet Artillery. This was an attempt to reflect the advantages and shortcomings of the inflexible but massive bombardments that were a feature of the Eastern Front. In many of the scenarios, the Soviets cannot control their artillery through observers, rather they must pre-plan their fire before the game starts, sometimes with a secondary bombardment well into the game. This is obviously inflexible. To reflect the power of these bombardments, the Soviets can "double up" their firepower, whereby if 2 artillery units (typically battalions) target the same area, German units under the template can be suppressed, removing their ability to move and, more importantly, to fire. Properly planned this can suppress the German defenders at the critical point, but timing is everything.

The principle behind all of these amendments was first and foremost simplicity; it was also an attempt to reflect in a generalised and wargame-able way, some of the features of the Seelow Heights operation on the table.

One gentleman that bought the book (Hi Darren) played out one of the scenarios and it looked like a great game. One of his local rules seems to be to use bases representing entire companies with around 3 figures on them and tracking casualties using small dice in a hole on the base itself. This is an excellent idea. At a stroke you can double or treble the playing resources you have in terms of infantry figures. One of the main problems I wrestled with during the writing of the book was the sheer scale of the operation. Many of the games do feature a couple of Soviet infantry regiments (admittedly pared down), this would make it much easier to manage with a smaller collection, although I do offer some suggestions on "bathtubbing" or scaling down the games if you need to. Check out the game, it is an interesting read:

Warfare in the Age of Cynics and Amateurs: The Seelow Heights - More Rapid Fire Reloaded

Hopefully this brief overview has given an insight into some of the special rules and the thinking behind them. If you have any comments or questions, I would be delighted to hear from you.


Monday, 21 December 2020

Last Post of the Year

 

Well what a strange and difficult year this has been. Other than the lack of shows and wargaming opportunities, the hobby seems to have continued with some vigour. I suppose unlike many team sports, we can all bury ourselves away in various projects, waiting for the day we can get it all back on the table and enjoying it again. Obviously the Seelow Heights book has taken up a lot of my time, but I haven't been idle on other fronts, with more AWI and Napoleonic units added, which I will post on next year. I have also been busy with new terrain features, again more anon.

All Seelow Heights orders received to date have been posted, will get any others off after the holidays.  Once again, many thanks to everyone that has bought a copy. Simon's Soldiers in Australia will be carrying the book "Down Under"; the first consignment is on its way. Dave Ryan at Caliver Books will also be stocking it.

Another thing I am hoping to do early next year is to post a series of notes on the Seelow Heights book, outlining some of the thinking behind the various scenarios and special rules.

Well, that is it for 2020. Let's hope for better in the coming year. Take care and best wishes.

Steve 

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Arrived at Last.


Well they did arrive more or less on time - 200 shiny new copies. Will get the pre-orders off in the next day or two. If anyone would like a copy, please let me know. See the previous post for details of how to order.

Nations In Arms: The Seelow Heights: Preview Copies. (steve-nationsinarms.blogspot.com)



For those readers Down Under, Simon (of Simon's Soldiers), will be stocking the book and able to send it to you far more cheaply and easily than I can. I will hopefully be getting them off to him shortly. Thanks to those who have supported this little venture by buying the book; I hope you enjoy it.


Friday, 11 December 2020

Well What A Surprise!!

 

The printer's assured me I would have the 200 copies on Thursday, which slipped to Friday (no problem). It now appears that due to Christmas or Covid or Brexit, or possibly a combination of all 3, they will now arrive on Tuesday afternoon. Sorry about that. For those of you who have pre-ordered it shouldn't matter as sending by 1st Class signed for seems to get them through to people (in the UK at least) in a couple of days, so you should have them well before Christmas - another hostage to fortune? Let's hope not. 

Should you wish to pre-order, I will get it in the post within 1 day of the books arriving.

Thank you to all those of you that have bought a copy - it is much appreciated. I will post again once the books have arrived.

Best wishes

Steve

Monday, 7 December 2020

The Seelow Heights: Preview Copies.


Well here it is (at last!) It has been a long haul, but worth it, now it is finally done. Never having used this particular printer before, I ordered 20 pre-production copies just in case. I needn't have worried, they have done a good job. I have now ordered another 200, which should be here by Friday 10 December. This means that I can get them out in time for Christmas (a few people have asked). If you would like a copy delivered by Santa, I can take advanced orders now; that way, I can write up the envelopes and, as soon as they arrive, pop them in the post. Otherwise, I will post again when the reinforcements arrive.


Cost is £18.50 + £4.00 1st Class (Signed For) Postage and Packing for inland customers. Payment can be made via PAYPAL to my email address:

                                      steveshann@blueyonder.co.uk

I am hopeful that I will soon have a distributor for customers "Down Under", which will save on the horrendous postage costs involved!!

To anyone who buys a copy, thank you for your support and I hope you enjoy it. 


Wednesday, 25 November 2020

The Seelow Heights: A Sample Page


Here is a sample page from the forthcoming book. Hopefully it gives a clearer idea of the format and general look of the thing. I must admit that the experts I got in to help with the technical stuff have really come up trumps and I am very pleased with the finished article. For the eagle-eyed among you, the captions are still the Latin "blanks" as this page was produced before the actual captions were inserted, although this has now (just) been done.

This is scenario number 10: "Breakthrough at Diedersdorf" and is my favourite. It is one of the two "large" games in the book and represents the fighting on the penultimate day as the Soviet 8th Guards and 1st Guards Tank Armies try and force the pace along Reichstrasse 1 - the most direct route to Berlin.

This last weekend has been taken up with proof reading; my wife, who is both meticulous with detail and an expert at pointing out my faults, has spotted a few little inconsistencies of style and one or two grammatical bloopers. I will give it one final read through and then I think I have done all I can. Hopefully we should be off to the printers in a couple of weeks. If all goes well, Santa should have time to deliver! It has been a long haul, but nearly there now and I must admit, it does look nice. Will post again when the book is available.