Thursday 6 December 2018

The Road to Berlin: Command and Control and Troop Quality

These two factors more than any others, led me to write these rules. Much as I enjoyed Rapid Fire - and I did, neither of these considerations bear heavily on them. Basically I wanted a card-driven set of rules that would allow me to reflect and vary the levels of command and control ability of the two forces and where troop quality would not just be a question of +1 for elite and -1 for militia. They also had to be both playable and fun.

Firstly, command and control. This is reflected at several different levels. At the top of the list is the card deck itself. Its composition is right at the heart of the game. Better armies, that is to say armies that are better led, not necessarily composed of better troops, will have a better deck. This comes out in such things as more command and control cards, fewer lull cards and so on. Secondly is the overall army rating; this reflects the quality of the staff work as well as the experience of the higher commanders. At the start of each phase, both sides throw a d6 to see who gains the initiative - this can be very important at certain stages of the battle. To this roll is added a modifier - anything from 0 to +5. So for example on the Eastern Front in 1941, the German force might have a modified rating of anything from +3 to +5, whereas the Soviet rating is likely to be at best +1. This ensures that the Germans will win the initiative on the majority of occasions. The initiative can be used or given/forced on the enemy should you choose to do so. When a Lull card is drawn,  this command initiative test is repeated: if the phasing side wins, then the only damage is a wasted card. If it loses, then the other side immediately draws an additional card from its own deck and acts on it. Again, if one side has a higher command rating than the enemy, then this will increase its chances of winning on its own Lull card and avoiding further problems, or winning on an enemy Lull card and drawing an additional, free card of its own. See the Lull card definition in my earlier post.

Each unit (usually battalion sized) also has a command rating: good, average or poor. When a unit wishes to move, the better the rating, the more "actions" they are likely to get. It varies between 0 and 3, with 2 being fairly average. An action allows the unit to move the "base move" of its particular type, for example infantry move 4" per action, whilst most tracked vehicles move 8". The better led a unit, the more movement it usually gets. There are a few modifiers, but leadership quality is the main driver here.

Armies are also allotted command groups as part of their unit structures. All will have brigade/ regimental and battalion HQ groups. Armies that are more de-centralised, such as the Germans, British and Americans will also have 2 figure company command groups. These are very useful as they can spot for integral artillery and mortars, making these assets much more flexible. The Soviets only get command groups at battalion level and above, so their options for directing supporting fire are much more limited, neatly reflecting their more centralised and generally less flexible approach. It also makes it more likely that Soviet guns and mortars will need to use direct (line of sight) fire.

Secondly, troop quality. I wanted to have a system that was fairly flexible. Rather than troops just being good, bad or indifferent, I wanted to be able to represent troops with varying characteristics, such as reluctant veterans or enthusiastic new boys. I therefore decided to give each troop type three different factors. These are:

Training: Troops are either green, trained, experienced or veteran. This is normally used when they are being fired at - green troops being easier to hit than troops that are better trained and more experienced in battle.

Motivation. Troops are rated as being either reluctant, confident or determined. This manifests itself when asking units to recover from suppression or to do something above and beyond the call of duty. Reluctant troops for example are less effective in close assault.

Morale. All troop types have a morale rating, usually between 6 (appalling) and 10 (excellent). Very rarely a rating of 11 can be given to reflect fanaticism.

This allows a wide range of options. For example, the Hitler Jugend in Normandy would be Experienced/Determined/11 - although most of the soldiers had not previously seen action, they had a leadership cadre of veterans and were well and thoroughly trained, hence the experienced, rather than trained rating. The same unit in the Ardennes six months later would be rated as Experienced/ Confident/9. A late war British infantry unit might be rated as Experienced or even Veteran, but with a reluctant motivation rating, making them a little "sticky" in combat. The permutations are, if not endless, then at least quite wide. In action you might find that many of the cobbled together late war German units will do a job for you if you put them in a good defensive position, but will struggle to deliver a strong, co-ordinated attack across open ground.

All in all this has worked well. We have found that superior troops can and do defeat equal numbers of poorer types, even when they are in good defensive positions. Troops with a "reluctant" motivation level really struggle to remove suppression, resulting in slow and uncoordinated attacks.

Anyway, there we have it. Hopefully this brief overview has explained one or two things about how the rules work and the thinking behind them. Next up will be movement.

Monday 19 November 2018

FBB Flak Regiment (2)

Following on from the earlier post on the FBB Flak Regiment, this is a light company, comprising two sdkfz10s with armoured cabs, mounting 20mm guns. The vehicles were die cast EBAY acquisitions, crewed mainly with AB figures.

The brigade as a whole is really taking shape now. The first (armoured) battalion is completed - post to follow on the crewed up hanomags. I also have all the figures done for the second battalion, along with its transport (mainly schwimmwagens), but I still need to paint the 40 or so crew(!) Still need to add a heavy flak battery (88 and tow plus another 20mm).

Thursday 18 October 2018

The Road to Berlin

In November 2017, I posted an after action report on a set of WWII rules that I was working on. After a bit of play testing, I am confident enough that they will work to post again with a little more information on both the rules and what lay behind them. Tentatively (and a little unimaginatively), I have given them the working title of "The Road to Berlin".

For over 20 years, ever since they came out in fact, the group that I game with have used Rapid Fire and on the whole, really enjoyed them. As with anything else that has become a little too familiar, one or two of us started to wonder if there was another way of doing WWII. For all sorts of reasons, Rapid Fire weren't really doing it for me any more. I think the main things were the lack of any real command and control element and the minimal impact that troop quality had in the games we were playing. A 1941 Soviet army with KVs and T34s would find life fairly easy against a German force equipped with PzIIIs; in other words it was all about kit, rather than quality. I had also become quite interested in card-driven games such as Piquet. I therefore decided to see if I could come up with anything that would work on the table.

Being as technically challenged as it is possible to be, I was fortunate to stumble across a website that provides ready made templates. Seemingly based on a Wild West theme, it was surprisingly easy, even by my standards, to adapt it to my needs (I used one of the cards that allow the importation of a photo).

For those of you not familiar with this type of card driven game, I will try to give a brief overview of how it works. Rather than the more traditional IGO/UGO game, where each turn has the same sequence of events, which are played out, in order, until a decision is reached, card driven games unfold differently. Typically each side will dice to see who wins the initiative, which can, if you choose, be passed to your opponent. This die roll is modified by the "army" command rating, anything from +1 to +5.  Let us say that side A wins by a modified score of three and decides to take the initiative. It then draws three cards, one after another and acts on them according to what the cards permit: movement, "re-loading", command and control etc. That done, the other side may then do the same, act on the next three cards in its own deck, which are, of course, likely to be different. This introduces a whole new level of command uncertainty into the game as you can never be sure which cards will be drawn next. At first glance this may seem a little random and for players new to such a game, the temptation to act on every card, just because you can, is strong. The important point is that you need to decide what your priorities are and then use the cards when they appear to achieve your objectives. Co-ordination is of course a little more difficult as you cannot guarantee that the cards will turn up as and when you need them. Firing is open to all units at any time, even when your opponent has the initiative, but having fired, units are marked as "unloaded" and are not able to fire again until the appropriate firepower card is drawn. As being able to fire is usually a good idea, players do not tend to blast away at every target that presents itself, but must learn to manage their fire wisely, usually in conjunction with the drawing of a new firepower card. It should be noted that it is possible to have short periods of sustained fire when an already loaded unit draws the appropriate firepower card, as it can fire, re-load, and if it wishes, fire again. Under the right circumstances, this can be devastating, but does carry the risk of leaving the unit unable to fire again, until another card comes along. Decisions, decisions!!

One of the main changes that I have made during play testing is to introduce a little interactivity to the game. After the first playtest with our club "rules cruncher" Andy Lawson, he suggested that it might be good to be able to act, to a limited degree, outside the strict sequence of the drawing of the cards. Three cards: Command and Control, Tactical Advantage and Superior Firepower have been modified to allow this. It is still early days and it will need to be tested in a few games to see how it goes, but in principle I think that it could add to the interest and enjoyment.

Anyway, that is the basic idea. Below are the various cards that appear in the game and a short explanation of  what they are used for. The number in brackets refers to the number of that particular card  usually to be found in an army deck.

AIR POWER. (0-3) Any air assets that the umpire has allotted for the game may appear when this card is drawn. Their affects are determined immediately following any defensive anti-aircraft fire.

BARRAGE. (0-3) This card tends to be used for any "special" situations relating to supporting off-table artillery, such as harassing fire, pre-planned stonks, naval artillery and so on.  

CLOSE ASSAULT. (3)  Troops within a defined distance may close assault. This is a decisive, but potentially risky and expensive manoeuvre and is fought to a conclusion. It can involve infantry, armour or both.

COMBINED MOVEMENT. (0-3)  This card allows armies with highly integrated armour/infantry to move both troop types simultaneously. This is clearly a considerable advantage when trying to co-ordinate your actions. Applies mainly to German armoured formations, but later war Allied units can also use this card. It can also be used in conjunction with the infantry and vehicle movement cards where the level of cooperation was less marked. For example an early British Normandy force, where infantry/tank co-operation was quite poor, would use 3 infantry and 3 vehicle move cards in its deck. As the level of co-operation improved, this might change to 1 combined card and 2 each of the infantry and vehicle cards. If it improved further still, then the mix could be 2 combined cards and 1 each of the infantry and vehicle cards.

COMMAND AND CONTROL. (1-4) The higher the level of command and control ability, the more of these cards an army will have. When drawn, a d6 is thrown, providing that number of command chits. These allow a range of additional actions to be performed from removing unit suppressions, replacing lost command groups to modifying/overriding other negative factors. These are subject to chance, based on unit quality. A useful card.

COMMAND FAILURE.  (0-2) This card is usually found in decks belonging to armies lacking in command experience. When drawn it immediately ends the initiative phase and any remaining cards are returned to the deck unused. This is a real stinker as it can seriously impede your ability to act, depending on when it is drawn: if you are lucky it the last card to be played that initiative round and is therefore no more than a wasted card.

ENGINEER TASKS.  (0-3)   As the name suggests, this card is used when there is a significant engineering presence in the game, rather than just the odd platoon of assault engineers. Engineering units move and act on this card, rather than the normal movement cards.

INDIRECT FIREPOWER. (0-3) All indirect fire weapons, whether on table or in more general support off table are affected by this card. On table elements treat this as a "re-load" card and may use it to fire as and when they choose, as per the rules concerning all other on table units. Off table artillery/mortars are assumed to be in general support and must use this card immediately, or lose it.

INFANTRY FIREPOWER. (3-4) All infantry units are considered "re-loaded" when this card is drawn. Most armies get three of these; reasonably well equipped Germans (the vast majority) get four, to take into account the high rate of fire of the MG34/42. The quality of the fire is determined by a unit's more general armament - number of mgs/rifles etc and levels of training (Volksturm do not fire as well as Panzer Grenadiers for example).

INFANTRY MOVEMENT. (3)  All infantry units may, if they wish, attempt to move on this card.

LULL.  (0-6)  This is one of the key cards in the game and represents, in effect the standing around, doing nothing that is such a feature of combat. It is in effect, a wasted card. The less experienced and able the command and control elements of the army are, the more of these cards they will have. For example a 1941 German force may only have one, or perhaps even none at all; its Soviet opponent may have half a dozen. As a result, fewer of the German cards will be wasted, allowing them to do more things in the same amount of time. Not only that, but every time a Lull card is drawn, both sides roll their respective command dice. If the player with the initiative loses, the non phasing player may step in and pinch the initiative, turning and playing an additional, free card of his own. This can result in the better led army winning a number of additional cards, thereby cycling through his own deck more quickly and bringing a game turn to an end before the other player has managed to use up all of his own cards. This can be very important as the weaker command deck is rarely completed, resulting in the loss of potentially important opportunities to act.

MOVE ONE COMMAND. (0-2)  A "command" in this game is a company sized group: roughly 12-15 infantry or 2-4 vehicles. One such group may be activated on this card.

SPECIAL EVENT. (0-2)  As the name suggests, any special factors such as weather or any particular feature that is peculiar to any individual scenario is triggered on this card. Only used occasionally.

SUPERIOR FIREPOWER. (0-2) When this card appears, the player concerned rolls a d6 and receives a number of "superior firepower" chits equal to the score achieved. These are then used at the player's discretion to enhance the firepower on a single firing element - adding +1 to their chance of hitting. A useful but not decisive bonus.

TACTICAL ADVANTAGE. (0-2)  As with the Command and Control and Superior Firepower cards, a d6 is thrown, awarding that number of Tactical Advantage chits. These allow the user to attempt additional actions such as close assault, taking cover from incoming fire and bonus (out of sequence) movement.

VEHICLE FIREPOWER. (3)  All vehicles are considered "re-loaded" when this card appears.

VEHICLE MOVEMENT. (3)  All vehicles may, if they wish, attempt to move on this card.

WILD CARD.  (0-2)  This is a very useful card, usually only available to the best-led armies. When drawn, a player can re-name it as ANY card that he may feel he needs and apply it to any ONE company sized Command Group.

So, there we are. This is probably the longest post I have ever attempted!! Hopefully it gives a reasonable idea of how the rules work and some of the thinking behind them. Over the next few weeks or so, I will do a number of posts on the nuts and bolts of the rules to explain things in a bit more detail. At the end of the day, it is just an attempt to deliver what most of us want: an engaging and hopefully enjoyable game. I look forward to your comments.

Wednesday 3 October 2018

A Couple of Random Vignettes

When I am painting a unit, either for myself (as in this case), or for a customer, I often try to do two or three extra figures. It isn't much more effort, and it allows me to do a few non combat pieces to "dress the table" or raise some extra cash to buy myself a bit more lead to add to the pile. With these vignettes, it is quite nice to do something a little extra with the basing - add a little knoll or tree or wall for example. The first is simply a couple of Napoleonic Russian officers taking advantage of the available shade, whilst talking tactics. The second was just a couple of command figures that I had left over from my Hessian jager company, a recent addition to my slowly growing AWI collection.

As I have mentioned before, I think these little pieces can really add to a table and help set the scene. Anyway, I thought I would just do a quick post to show them off.

Have also been quite busy recently on my WWII Germans, finally making some progress on all those vehicle crews I have been putting off for so long. Will post some of the results when ready. The Fuhrer Begleit project is still chugging along - have just ordered a load of passenger figures for the 2/Pz Gren Regt - mounted mainly in Schwimmwagens!

Monday 24 September 2018

AWI American Artillery

I don't expect artillery to feature too prominently in my AWI games but I quite like this little galloper and irregular looking crew, including the female helper at the back. The gun is, I think, from the Hinchcliffe range and the crew are a bit of a mix.

Progress has slowed somewhat due to work and a digression into WWII and terrain. I must learn to focus!

Wednesday 29 August 2018

Hessian Jagers

At last a few figures for the Crown Forces - a company of the famous and redoubtable, Hessian Jagers. These are treated as regular skirmishers and would be rated very highly in most rules. They are armed with the slower firing, but effective rifle, with which they were very proficient. The figures are from the extensive Perry range. They are unfortunately a little outnumbered at the moment by their American adversaries, but am fighting shy of starting on my first British infantry regiment - the 71st Highlanders - all 48 of them!!


Wednesday 15 August 2018

Militia Skirmishers

These chaps represent a "company" of militia skirmishers that will do for either side (always handy). The figures are Fife and Drum from Crann Tara Miniatures and very nice they are too. They are noticeably slimmer than Perry/Foundry figures and probably wouldn't mix that well in the same units, but they offer a nice range of poses and paint up well. In Sharp Practice, these are the lowest type of skirmishers, only receiving the very handy skirmish bonus if firing from effective or long range and from cover - they feel uneasy being too close to the enemy apparently! Other irregular skirmishers also need to fire from effective/long range but need not be skulking in cover, whilst regular skirmishers get the bonus under any circumstances, being well trained and led. A nice, but simple mechanism, as one would expect from TFL. Really looking forward to trying these rules out, but still a fair bit of painting and terrain to do first. Hopefully by Christmas. 

More to come over the next few weeks. Keep checking back. All comments/suggestions welcome.

Sunday 5 August 2018

2nd Maryland Continentals

This is my first American Continental regiment; three groups or "companies" of 12 figures each. When I get around to modifying Sharp Practice for larger games, I am going to have most units in multiples of 12 figures; typically infantry battalions will be between 2 and 5 groups (24-60 figures). Each company represents about 80 men, so this particular unit has a combat strength of around 240 - a reasonably strong unit by the standard of the times.

The unit is made up entirely of Perry Miniatures metal figures and is clothed in a fairly standard manner, with the addition of a few hunting shirt and militia figures in less formal dress just to break it up a bit. I think American units for this period look better with a definite "theme" - blue faced red, grey faced yellow or whatever, with some variation in small clothes, headgear and so on, with the odd figure standing out a bit more, like the guy in shirtsleeves and waistcoat. I have just bought a box of American Perry plastics and am going to play around with those and see if they add to the occasion or not. The flag is a Mark Allen hand painted confection - a luxury I can't usually afford, but I just love hand painted flags!

I am really into my AWI at the moment, so am going to crack on whilst I am in the mood. More fencing on the way (!!), which I won't bore you with further and a load more American militia, plus some skirmishers and artillery....and Loyalist militia and jagers and... well, you get the idea. I am hoping that I can keep up the momentum until there is enough for a game. I reckon playing unadulterated Sharp Practice, I can get a nice looking game with another 100-120 figures, so on the horizon if not imminent. Ultimately, I would like to be able to play with 250-300 figures a side; whether the rules can be made to stretch that far remains to be seen. 

Tuesday 31 July 2018

More AWI Fencing

Here are the first 12 all finished off. It was a bit of an effort, but once you get into the habit of doing a little and often, it isn't too bad. I think I will need another 20 or so at least, so a way to go yet.

Here are another four made up, textured and undercoated. These are also 8" lengths.

These are part of a batch of 8 shorter (6") lengths I am on with at the moment. I thought having sections of differing lengths might be an idea when it comes to laying out the table - will probably try some 12" sections as well, if warping isn't a problem.

Anyway, this concludes my ramblings on this particular subject - not the most exciting, but hopefully it has been of some use or interest.