Thursday, 27 October 2022

Company Megatest - Fireball Forward!


 

Seen the ads for this set for ages in MW&BG so had to give it a try. It also has a Stalingrad scenarion pack which might be interesting for the PhD. Oh and Little Wars TV has just done a head to head between Fireball Forward and Crossfire - see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3tvgM3_-UE

Presentation

I got the 110pp PDF, which has about 56 pages of rules, optional rules and design notes (!), 26pp of scenarios (13 scenarios), an index (!), 8pp QRS and 11pp of stats - so a pretty full package for $25. Rules are pretty well laid out, line drawing not photos, lots of short examples. My only niggle is that there is a short of quick intro to the whole rules at the start and actions at each phase, but further rules for the actions are later on, so I was always diving backwards and forwards. The RQS also seems to miss some key elements (even if simple) like Morale.

Artillery Stonks from both sides causing a lot of issues!

Set-Up

I used the Choctaw Warrior scenario as the base for my game, beefing the allies up to a Coy+, and giving the Germans some extra MGs and tanks. Germans attacking from the top of the table.

How It Played


The lead P.IV got taken out by the Cromwell as it reached the wood, but the second P.IV managed to take out both of the Cromwells and settled down to providing fire support. A to-and-fro battle for the wood on the L lasted almost the whole 7 turns, with close assaults by both sides but the British ended up in possession. A German attempt to flank L of it was caught by an arty stonk and never progressed. On the R flank platoons traded shots for most of the game, the Germans only belatedly trying to push across the gaps between the hedgelines once their IG started providing support. Unfortunately their Pl Cmd bought it, one section faltered, and one was already Broken so the remaining section to make contact couldn't really achieve much. 

The centre was far more touch and go. An early British stonk caught the Germans forming up, but then a couple of German stonks, and the fire support from the P.IV started to weaken the British line enough (crucially breaking the UC Bren teams that had been brought up to support) and in the final moves the Germans tried to push across the open ground. They'd did their best to suppress any fire, but in the end only the Zug Cmdr reached the hedgeline - to be faced by only the British Pl Cmdr left defending it! And that was the end of Turn 7 so we'll never know which of them won!

In terms of losses the British only had 2 elements KO'd, compared to the German's 5. Both sides lost one Pl Comd. In terms of holding the line the British succeeded, holding both flanks quite securely, and with enough Broken troops to put into the fray if the German commander won his melee!


The fight for the wood

Rules Impression


Unlike some of the rules I've tried recently which have been pretty vanilla Fireball Forward has a lot of novel mechanics and ideas, all of which work, but which possibly aren't as elegant as they could be. So I'll actually step through the key mechanics.


Activation

FF uses a standard deck of cards, shuffled, with Germans activating on black cards and British on red. You draw cards until the colour changes, and the person who's colour it is must then decide order of activation for that many units, so you can't change if things go wrong on the first activation. At first I found drawing then replacing the colour change card a bit odd, but in the end I found it gave a nice Bolt Action type mix of long and shorts spurts of action but without special dice or drawing chits. I used to be really keen on the 1 card = 1 specific unit model to get the extra friction, but certainly for mech games I think its reasonable to let the commander choose the order so as to try and bring off integrated attacks. Having thought more about the card deck approach the more I think I might use it on my next CWO game, with a few further tweaks to introduce some morale orientated friction.

There are also "initiative chips" (1 or 2 per game, but some multiple use) which give you extra activations. Nice.

C2

Good units can take actions automatically, basically one or all of Spot (leaders), Rally, Fire, Move, in any order. Broken units have to take a Rally test first (3+ if by a 3+ leader, otherwise 6+). Any suppression is removed automatically - which really limited the effects of suppression, see below. When the platoons lost their leaders then the 6+ really meant that Broken units were out of the action and the Platoon ceased to work as a cohesive unit, which seemed reasonable (although FF does use extreme terms, Broken is really just "Shocked" and Rout - when a freshly Broken units falls back - is really just Pull Back).

Spotting

You need a basic spotting check (5+) to spot hidden units (default state at start) before you can fire on them. Auto within 3". No DMs.

Movement

Movement distances are as-the-crow-flies. As long as your route doesn't move beyond this radius you can take any route to your destination (although subject to Opportunity Fire).  Terrain is dealt with by allowing a maximum of 2 "zone" crossings in a move, such as two hedges, or a part of a wood divided into 3 or 4 zones. This does bring a nice fluidity to the movement and gets away from the false precision of a 8" or 12" move. Might be tempted to use it, plus maybe some variable element to still increase uncertainty.

Firing

This is where FF fails I think. When you fire you roll at least 3 dice (4 for MGs/Guns) these being your normal damage dice (typically needing 4+/5+ to hit), one or more "hit dice" (needing an invariable 6 to hit) and a range dice (which can be a single D20, or D4+D8 or other weird combinations). MGs and guns roll another D6 for ammo/stoppages. With bigger guns and HMG you could be rolling 7 dice or so, a mix of D6 and other types, the D6 in three different colours! Just looking that up each time and then finding where the dice are on the table just really gets in the way of the flow (although if its just basic rifle fire then you tend to just hold the 3 dice needed in your hand the whole time). The range dice is there both to give variability in range (your range is range dice+ a basic range for the weapon), and to give a short range effect (+1 if range < just the range dice). There are some very basic DMs.

For each hit you take a morale check, typically 4+ for separated unit, 3+ for leader or unit adjacent to leader. Lose 1 check and you are "broken" and pull back to cover and out of LOS of enemy, upto 12", two losses and you're dead. I found the pull-back very unnatural - from what I've read the pullback is more likely to be a Pl level thing, sections just going to ground if they are being hit and pinned. With an element now 12" behind you the Pl Comd then has to decide whether to spend a turn moving back to help them rally on a 3+, or leave them trying for a 6+, again in contrast to what I usually read of the Pl Comd and Sgt running along the line to motivate people.

Any hit means you are suppressed, so no opportunity fire, but you automatically lose suppression when activated - so if you try to suppress with one Platoon from the front and then charge with another Platoon on their activation the target is only suppressed if the opposition hasn't had an activation between them to recover suppression.

Opportunity fire works in the same way, but doesn't cause suppression which seems odd - surely its normal effect is to get a moving unit to dive for cover. It also wasn't clear to me if a unit could do Opportunity Fire and normal activation, or even multiple opportunity fires.

Anti-tank fire is a bit simple. D6 plus a range dice, hitting again on around 4+/5+. The tables give the "penetration" points and the defender rolls D6 per armour point - but saves are then a complicated none for 1s, 1 for 2s-5s and 2 for 6s. Anything not saved means KO, and a morale test if equalled.


Close Assaults

Close assaults are relatively simple, Morale check to commit, then pair off, D6 each and a couple of DMs. In practice I found that if a Platoon charged forward you'd be lucky to get 50% of the Platoon actually committing (looking for 3+ for 3 units, 4+ for the winger), which again doesn't quite seem right, more likely all or nothing as otherwise you get one section stranded - but guess that happened, just not as often as in the game? Loser takes morale checks equal to the delta in modified die rolls.


Indirect Fire

Each side gets a number of missions, no discrimination between mortars and guns. FO needs a Morale Check to call in, if successful then roll on a 2D6 table for the result, 6-10 on target, lower is bad news (delays, deviation), higher is good news (double impact etc). Very basic.


There are extra rules for things like Grazing Fire/Beaten Zones,  Snipers, Mines, Air Support, fanatical Soviets, jungle and even small boats and horses but I didn't play any of them.


ENDEX

Conclusion


So some different ideas which is good, but some work, some don't. Trying to "house rule" it to fix is probably too big an ask as the direct fire system is just too clumsy for my liking. No issue with the multiple morale check principal though. In reality I think I'll just steal the bits I think I can work with. Overall I guess 7/10.


Tuesday, 27 September 2022

Company Megatest -- FiveCore Company Command

 


Had a so-so relationship with the Skirmish version of FiveCore so let's see if I get on any better with the Company version, although I'm a bit wary of a system that uses almost identical mechanics for Skirmish, Company and Brigade level combats.

Presentation

Single 62 page PDF from Wargames Vault - $7.99. No hunting through multiple supplements like the Skirmish version, all in one place and pretty well laid out. Very simple 1pp QRS.

Set-Up

Like a lot of the Nordic Weasel products there's a complete scenario and even campaign generator in the back of the rules so I used that to generate the 3' x 3' terrain and force objectives. Company Group on either side, Germans defending the village against a simple attack.



How It Played

The Cromwell advancing down the road got ambushed by the German AT gun and by a Panzerfaust in the woods and had to pull back, shaken but not out. The German MG in the house on the S of the table effectively pinned the southern British platoon at the wood line. The Cromwell put a few rounds into the house to take him out, but an artillery stonk on the German hedgeline missed, and the Cromwell was finally taken by the AT gun. In the centre the British pushed through the woods, whilst the Germans swung down from the fields N into the woods. A couple of firefights and assaults saw the Brits as victors, although a lone German squad managed to keep the reserve platoon pinned back. The Germans tried to push forward again in the S, a Panzer coming up the road getting hit by the last Cromwell. The German infantry were luck with the Brits rolling a Scurry round as they legged in across the field. They made it to the hedgeline and into close assault for no loss, forcing one section to withdraw. The British on the N side were making their own flanking action rather than taking the village head on, but both sides were at 7 squads, 1 above the morale threshold and we were on turn 10 (no idea how you're meant to do it in 5!). Then the Brits rolled an order change and higher command obviously felt they were too spent to take the village and ordered them to go firm around the village and woods. All over and even honours.

ENDEX


Rules Impression/Overall

Way better than last time. Yes it's very abstracted but it moves along quickly, is internally consistent and works and all the extra bits generate a good narrative. Perhaps not the ruleset I'd play for a more analytical game (been reading too much Jim Storr) but for a fun game it's probably hard to beat.

Perhaps the mechanic is less suited to Skirmish where you (well I) really do want something a bit more gritty, and having abstracted it may well be that it works OK at Bde level as long as the terms for results are changed - will have to see in a couple of years when I get round to the Bde test. I could see it as an interesting alternative to the Megablitz/Division Commander type portable wargame rules.

Probably 8/10, even 9/10 on its own terms (somewhat better than the 5-6/10 last time!).




Wednesday, 31 August 2022

Company Megatest - Panzer Grenadier Deluxe

 


Time to get David Brown's Panzer Grenadier Deluxe on the table. I've always thought his General de Brigade a solid set of rules, and I'm keen to try O Group, so be interesting to see what this older set is like.

Presentation

242pp hardback book with lots of model pictures and historic photos. 4pp QRS at the back, a 1pp play aid and 1pp or markers/templates. Pretty logical layout but pretty chatty and possibly broken up into too many chapters.

Set-Up

Same as for the Crossfire test. Germans Coy+ deployed ahead of and behind the river and bridge (top of photo above), and British with 2 Coy+ advancing from the bottom.


Finally clearing the R field

How It Played

The Cromwells did a bit better this time, not only taking out the PIV on the ridge line but also chasing the Pak back from the fiver, and then taking out the second PIV, all for one damaged but not KO'd Cromwell. With the ridge clear B Coy made better time down the L flank, but 1 Coy caught it badly both in trying to get to the field in front of the bridge, and to the one between the wood and the stream, but both positions were eventually taken by 1 Pl and 2 Pl of  A Coy were fairly spent.. Both sides made repeated attempts to bring in fire support, the Germans nicely catching 1 Pl as they consolidated on the LH field. As the Brits went firm just before the river they finally managed to bring the fire support in, and winning the firefight on both flank. Finally the river was crossed with key German units suppressed or forced back and it was game over.

The dismounted Carrier Platoon moves through the marsh

Rules Impression

I really liked these. The C&C mechanic was just about right, variable CP but you only spend them on the "harder" stuff. The different levels of "morale" test rather than specific damage also worked nicely, and it gave a good "company" feel as you weren't too concerned about whether units had taken x% losses, but more just were they in the fight. Likewise fire was at the # of "section equivalents" level. Fire support worked well too, although all the gunners were shooting accurately - luck of the dice. The "Battlegroup" breakpoint test for ENDEX was also nice, and a 75% first threshold meant a relatively early finish on a bad dice roll. The whole thing just hung together well.


Crossing the river

Conclusion

A few minor things I might tweak but otherwise a nice set of rules and probably better than any of the Modern ones I played. If they are still scoring high by the end of the test then I'll certainly do a Modern version. Overall 8/10, maybe even 9/10.

The Final Assault

Basing

In playing Crossfire something just didn't seem right, and PG confirmed it - my basing was hideous. In an attempt to be "flexible" and save cost I'd sabot mounted my 1p soldiers into 3 or 4 figure sabots to represent each section - but they took up way too much space. So before I do the next game I'm rebasing them (but leaving enough on 1p pieces for Pl sized games) with 3-4 figures per 4cm x 3cm rounded oblong base. Looks way better.




Tuesday, 23 August 2022

Valkyrx - Intelligent Wargames Tables

 



I've had a couple of chances now to go down to www.valkyrx.com in Birmingham to see their evolving Intelligent Wargames Table based wargames centre. They are busy beta-testing the Fantasy version at the moment (single models) but on the last visit I got the chance to play with the Alpha version of the Napoleonic Big Battles game (10mm, 1:15, ~ Bde per 15cm base)

I'm doing a full write-up for The Nugget which I'll post here later but in brief:

  • Each base has an NFC chip
  • Each ~2m hex table is split into ~ 127 15cm hex tiles
  • Each hex tile has an NFC sensor to read the chip, and a set of LEDs
  • Players just move their units (IGO-UGO, 2 mins max per turn - the aim is to work in "real-time")(lights highlight illegal moves)
  • The computer then does everything else, using the lights to show who is attacking who, and what the combat results are
  • A tablet PC lets you drill down to individual units to see strength and losses (to the man) and ammo states (to the round!)
Here's a video of the system in action.



And a few more photos showing the guts of the system:


Legal move

Illegal move


The NFC Sensors under the table cloth

The hex tile/NFC sensor array


Our Napoleonic test game, my double envelopment underway (note: terrain can be added)



More on all this later.





Wednesday, 27 July 2022

Prepping NATO Division Commander

 


When I bought NATO Division Commander in March I had a HUGE box of counters to sort through. There were effectively two copies of the game, but luckily most of one set was unpunched, but I needed to a) find all the punched counters from set 1 and get the counters from set 2 sorted so I could start playing. Well that job is finally done! Set 1 can now be prepped for sale on eBay (and hopefully recoup some of the price I paid), and Set 2 is already being laid out ready for the first proper scenario. 

Note the large black box of counters I had to sort!

I played the introductory Attack on Fitzlar scenario but that was a bit toy. I've also produced a ~6 page QRS that has all the tables and rules on it. I'm certainly not playing CBRN, Commanders or Ammo in my first game, I might even miss out the CPs (but will do the CSPs), so we'll see how it goes. I'm also doing modern "1 page orders" schematic sheets for each side so as to try and play the game/tactics "properly". 

Just look at how all the "status" counters (grey and orange) outnumber all the combat counters!

A few things I really like about what I've seen far are:

  • HQs have a real purpose, and vulnerability. There's even Tac, Alt and Main (where I spent my 20s!)
  • CSPs nicely abstract Fires and Combat Support, and there are also specific EW rules
  • Units have modes which reflect their combat stance
  • Units have up to 6 levels of damage - a far cry from the old counter-flip
  • It's a differential CRT, not a ratio one
  • It actually has ISR - it can be played with two maps (hence two copies of EVERY counter!), but even with one map you are forced to gather intel in order to target units with fires.

If it works tolerably well I plan to update it to 2020+ and start to add in some of the more modern tech and see if I can change it into MDO Division Commander!
 

Friday, 22 July 2022

Philip Sabin's "Simulating War" Wargames

 

As part of my PhD I've finally read Philip Sabin's Simulating War, and more to the point played all the games in it. Sabin's book was one of the first professional wargame books I bought 5 or 10 years ago, and it opened my eyes a bit to this world of "professional" wargaming.

All the games are ones he uses on the courses he teaches (or taught), so they are designed to be played in 60-90 minutes, have a maximum of about 20 counters and no more than 3-4 pages of rules. All the assets are in the book and also available for download at https://groups.io/g/SimulatingWar/files. I set up most of them in Powerpoint as it was the quickest and easiest way to play them. Here's some pics and some quick thoughts on them.

2nd Punic War


This is meant to be played multi-player and heavy on the diplomacy - and it does feel like a cut-down version of Diplomacy - and probably no bad thing at that! In solo play it was all over in 2 turns when the Carthaginians managed to get a toe-hold in Southern Italy.

Rome Invicta


A more operational level game of the Roman Civil War. Sabin has the concept of nested games, where he gets students to play a strategic, operational and tactical game on each theme so they can better understand how a war works at different levels. Think I only played a couple of turns of this as was OK but nothing special.

Big Week


A game of WW2 strategic bombing. The Allies have to get their bombers to the target and home again whilst protecting them from the German fighters. A really nice little game. A clever innovation were the "Pollard" markers, dots on the four sides of a two sided counter which gave 8 strength states (or in this case endurance/turns left).


Hell's Gate



This is a nice operational simulation of the battle of the Korsun Pocket on the Eastern Front. The ration based CRT meant you were always looking for big points densities, although as the CRT was one sides you could attack at 3:2 as no loss, and hit on 6+. I tried to cut the German supply lines with a quick drive from the East, but as the German's shrink their perimeter it becomes almost impossible to keep their lines cut. A nice touch was the chioce to make a combat limited or all-out, the greater risking some own loss. The limit per hexside and the dense target rule did something to alleviate over-stacking. The ratio CRT and hex & counter model still means it feels like you could be fighting any period though. In the end the German's held on an got a reasonable victory. Certainly worth replaying a few times to try and find an optimal strategy - but a bit of an attrition-fest.

Fire and Movement


Ever since I had the honour of playing this on-line with Philip Sabin himself umpiring I thought I really ought to get it set up on Hexon with some 6mm figures, so this was my chance. It worked incredibly well, and like the other "small-grid" games I played at VCOW showed just what a good game you can get in a small space. All the rules are finely balanced, so there are continuous choices to be made, and fire hitting two hexes, as well as all units in a hex really dissuades you from bunching! The Brits only managed to geta couple of units to the baseline, so a German win I think. Definitely a permanent option for my portable wargame set-up, and I've done a 1pp QRS to help play it - but most rules are learnt pretty fast.

Block Busting


This is the "urban" version of Fire and Movement, same basic rules but with added LOS and cover for the buildings. Fire into open hexes is DEADLY though, which makes crossing the street a real problem. In the end I found that the Brits just had to wait for the German luck with the dice to run out one turn, leaving all the Brits unpinned, they could then pin all/most of the Germans and get a platoon across, and hopefully roll up a flank before the Brits lost the initiative with their own poor dice rolling. Don't think its as good a game as Fire and Movement.

Angels One Five


This is Philip's game of tactical fighter combat, with the British trying to intercept German bombers this time. Each counter is just a flight (I think). The rules are quite complex, with multiple flight levels, gaining and losing speed as you dive and climb, controls on turns etc. After 3 moves I decided it would be a lot more fun just to play Wings of War, and I think you'd learn as much.


Kartenspiel


Tucked at the back of Simulating War in an Appendix is this little card/dice game. Each stack is a Napoleonic Corps, and as the force commander you allocate your cards to each Corp as you wish each turn, but in secret. For the turn you face each Corps of against it's opposite number, picture cards counting as cavalry and then each roll a dice under you "hand" score (Cav=2, Inf=1 basically) to see if you inflict any damage. There are some extra rules around cavalry charges, and like Hells Gate you have the option of a defensive/low risk strategy or an aggressive/high risk one. A great little game and I've scanned the relevant pages into my phone so if I've a deck of cards on hand I can always play it with someone.



Thursday, 21 July 2022

Storm Over Arnhem AAR

 

STARTEX

Storm Over Arnhem was one of the first games I bought when I started the PhD - its area based layout just seemed spot-on for urban to me. When I set Christmas in Hell up at COW someone immediately said it reminded them of Storm over Arnhem, and everyone seems to view the game fondly. Having played it I can see why - and the heritage is certainly clear in Christmas in Hell- several mechanics are the same, but CiH adds the rubble and solo mode - of which more later.

Mid-game

The game played pretty well and quickly, about 3 hrs I think for a first run. mechanics were soon picked up, but as ever point density ruled, with a 10+3 unit limit per area there were some quite big numbers. Firing was based on attacker - defender scores and difference taken as retreats or losses. Best/worse AV/DV were used, plus +1 for supporting units.  Close combat was D6+AV > 6, so both very similar to CiH. Arty was nice and simple.

In the end the Brits put up a stiff resistance and still held most of the VP areas at the end.

ENDEX9

My big issue with the game was that apart from the map I had no feeling of being in Arnhem or even a town. If you'd replaced the map with a nice green field network it would have felt and worked exactly the same. I think there were two main reasons for this:

  • First, it drops you straight into the action late in the day - so there is no sense of the initial landings, the fight through the town to the bridge, and the fighting on the bridge - so most of the real signature events of Arnhem weren't there. When I first saw the board I thought that was where my para's would land and then I'd have some sort of break-in battle, but no, they are mainly for German reinforcements. I think to get a sense of "Arnhem" you probably need to play a larger scale game (must find one to test - suggestions?), or extend those outer zones to include those other parts of the battle.
  • Second the rules pay no attention to the urban what so ever - its doesn't matter if you're on a building square or a park square everything is the same. This is where I think CiH really shines - the rubble really gives you the sense of a town falling to bits as you fight through it, and where I think CiH v1.5 shines even further with different protective values for each area and tanks being limited as to where they can go.
So nice to see the heritage and a few bits I might re-steal (arty for instance), but otherwise I think that my CiH v1.5 is a better evolution of the model for an urban game.