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!