Tuesday, May 23, 2023

More on TacWWII - revised slightly

I plan to use some house rules in the Prague Summer TacWWII game. Some of them are a subset of ones I've been using for some time, others are attempts to include things that I've liked in other sets of rules. 

A couple of new rules for recce elements:

At the start of the Order Transmission Phase a recce unit that has located enemy one or more enemy units may elect to communicate with its parent headquarters subject to a successful Tac roll. The recce unit may move this turn but may not fire. A headquarters unit may reroll a failed Tac roll (for any purpose) for each subordinate recce unit that successfully communicated with it. 

If a recce unit subordinate to a battalion headquarters has located one or more enemy units, all units in that battalion are assumed to have succeeded in their location Tac rolls.

Hopefully those changes will encourage the proper use of recce units.

Recce and HQ units in cars or light trucks are treated like motorcyclists in terms of never having to declare mounted/dismounted. They are spotted or shot at as vehicles if in Bold Attack or March, otherwise as infantry.

Changed all references from Default/DT to Confused/CON for consistency with Arc of Fire as I play a lot of the latter and get Confused myself!

Optional rule to allow units in Defence or Prepared Defence to get an extra +1 if defending hard cover.

"Ridgeline" is now an alternative to "Rise" in the terrain types. I prefer linear representations of line-of-sight-blocking terrain to one contour hills.

Where it's desirable to include a model to represent only one or two real-world vehicles (eg the Czechoslovak railcar) the weapon may only fire in Fire Phase C.


I may use a communication net diagram for each side rather than the simple Company-Battalion-Brigade-Division track.

Artillery requests must specify the duration of the fire mission. I've added rules to specify how fire missions may be terminated early.







Friday, May 19, 2023

The Prague Summer - about rules

This is a long one and to some extent it's about getting my thoughts organised on the matter. Feel free to skip the text and just look at the pictures if that's what does it for you.

How does one come to prefer a particular set of rules? Whilst out walking the dog this morning my thoughts turned to TacWWII. Why am I going back to it after having abandoned it in favour of Blitzkrieg Commander years ago? I think part of the story lies in my reasons for flirting with BKC back then. BKC had three things going for it. 

I like the idea of building headquarters units as little dioramas, which BKC supports but which doesn't entirely suit TacWWII as written.

The second appeal of BKC was that it was substantially similar to Cold War Commander, the game that got my Cold War collection onto the wargaming table for the first time in years. It made sense to use common basing standards and common mechanisms for both my WW2 and Cold War collections.

Thirdly, I do think the BKC/CWC command and control mechanisms are fun. Having recently played a comparative game of A Fistful of TOWs, I was struck by the relative lack of interesting command and control challenges. Without the uncertainty of CWC's command dice rolls the game seemed very flat.

Ah, the joys of the ill-timed command blunder!

So why would I go back to TacWWII? In many ways it's an old-fashioned set of rules. It uses simultaneous movement and written orders and it's completely lacking in the full-colour, glossy-photos-on-every-page approach that seems de rigueur today.

The answer, it seems to me, is related to why I prefer Basic Impetus over DBA. Both of these rules sets use element bases representing indeterminate numbers of ancient warriors. Both would have you field armies of maybe a dozen elements (exactly a dozen in DBA's case), and both emphasise speed of play and simple rules.

DBA focusses totally on the outcome of a combat between two groups of men. The fighting may continue for some time without a decisive result, one side may somewhat gain the other hand and push its opponents back, or the fight may be decisive with one or other of the units wiped out (or more likely routed). DBA does this on the basis of a single pair of opposed die rolls. That's great in terms of moving the game along quickly and allowing the players to concentrate on their roles as army commanders but it's just a bit... vanilla.

When I discovered Basic Impetus I was immediately struck by the fact that melées were now exciting. You could envisage the swaying back and forth of momentum as both sides got inexorably closer to the point where one of them would collapse and flee the field. Yes it was slower that DBA but DBA's speed now seemed to come at the cost of an unengaging narrative experience.

This speaks to why I'm proposing to use TacWWII instead of, say A Fistful of TOWs or Spearhead. Having tried both of those, I find them unengaging. I struggle to get excited about playing either game and I think it's because the units feel like anonymous playing pieces with no connection to what the troops are actually doing below the level of the battalion.

TacWWII's mode system (every company is in a distinct tactical mode at any given time) allows me to better envisage what the troops are doing. The Volkssturm Kompanie in Prepared Defence mode in the ruins of Oderbruch are well-hidden, having scouted out the lines of sight and stockpiled additional Panzerfausts. Across the Hitlerstrasse, while the Soviet tank company in Bold Attack is perhaps being too aggressive, the dismounted tank riders in Deliberate Attack mode are more cautious. Each platoon, we can infer, has one section moving at any one time with the other two laying down covering fire.

So does BKC suffer from this blandness? To a degree, yes but there but I think it's another issue with BKC that's pushing me back to TacWWII. I'm not convinced by the tactical decisions BKC is asking me to take.

Let's say I have a battalion of six Panzer-IV lining the edge of a forest somewhere in Lower Silesia and a wave of T-34s is advancing towards me. It's my turn to shoot and immediately the sense of immersion in events takes a hit whilst I ponder the maths of the situation. To knock out a T-34 will take five unsaved hits and my Panzers are rolling four dice per gun. Should I fire two Panzers at any given T-34? Three? Am I better off just trying to suppress as many enemy tanks as I can? These are valid tactical questions in the context of the game but what do they represent in terms of real world decisions?

Another set of decisions in BKC that I struggle with from this point of view is around giving orders. There are lots of decisions to make within the game turn. I may want to use a particular HQ to order the tanks to advance and to call down some fire from more distant supporting guns. Do I try to combine both in a single order that'll have a lower chance or success or do I make sure I get the tanks moving first? Having got the tanks moving, do I risk giving them another move order or do I pass on to the supporting guns and give up on moving the tanks again? Again, these are valid tactical decisions in the game but they don't seem to me to map well onto the tactical decisions required of a real-world commander.

A final element of BKC that I'm slightly uncomfortable with is the core combat mechanic. Hits are added to a unit during a turn and they may suppress the unit. Only if these hits reach a certain level is the unit destroyed. If it's not, the hits disappear at the end of the turn. Now you can just accept this ("It's how the rules work; don't sweat about what it means") or you can justify it to yourself in terms of units ability to fight being destroyed if the stress of action meets some hard-to-define crisis level. I certainly have argued that but not with real conviction.

One thing I want from a wargame is an emerging narrative of events occurring on the field of battle. BKC and TacWWII both do this but in my view TacWWII does a better job of allowing me to command a brigade whilst showing me what's actually happening to the units below battalion level. That it does this in a way that neither bogs down in detail nor involves complex on-the-fly statistical analysis hits a sweet spot for me.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

More on the Prague Summer

I suspect even the most observant among you won't have noticed that the previous post on plans for Joy of Six carried both the "Cold War Commander" and "TacWW2" labels. This was because we plan to try running the same scenario side-by side with both sets of rules.

Back in 2018, we did something vaguely similar when we ran three scenarios, identical except for the fact that that they were set, respectively in 1959, 1973, and 1989. This let us see how CWC handled forces varying from the super-heavy Conquerors and T-10s of the 1950s, through the rise of missiles in the 70s, to the smart technology and composite armour of the late Cold War.

This time the plan is to see how two different sets of rules handle similar scenarios. With a 1948 early Cold War setting we should be entirely OK using WW2 rules on one table and "moderns" rules on the other. 

I plan on running on one section of the table using the old but characterful TacWWII rules while Neil and Andy run similar forces with Cold War Commander. I anticipate the rest of the group will play 1985-era CWC over the usual excellent terrain (pretty much entirely provided by Richard Phillips's) on most of the usual big table. 

A good piece of news is that I've spoken to Chris Pringle and he plans to make the TacWWII rules available in pdf form. I'll let you know the details when I have them.

Steve J, commenting on a previous post here suggested that we might use Blitzkrieg Commander rather than CWC. This would certainly work but I'll leave that decision up to Neil and Andy.  We may see some T-54s and MiG-15s so using the post-WW2 set may be more straightforward.

This game is also a chance to use some fun aircraft. Early as I am in learning the ins and outs of my new 3D printer, I've managed to produce this rather crude but, I think, usable Me262 (or Avia S-92 Turbina as the Czechs call it).

I also have an ancient white metal casting of an Me109 that I acquired in a bag of assorted bits from Wargames Emporium. This is a great opportunity to paint it up as a Czech S-199.

Since I printed the Me262 I've got a little more confident with the slicer programme I'm using and I've managed to print off this MiG-15 to provide air support for the Soviets though I really ought to check the in service date before committing to using it! Still needs a bit of cleaning up.

Also 3D printed is this apartment building, which I think will pass for somewhere in Czechoslovakia. Basing to be done - I'm going to try to match Richard Phillips's usual standard.

Keep looking out for future posts on this!

Friday, May 12, 2023

The Joy of Six plan - The Prague Summer

As some of you will know, I usually attend Joy of Six in Sheffield as part of the Cold War Commanders group. This group's usual focus is fighting huge battles set during various fictional "Third World Wars". We tend to use (of course) the Cold War Commander rules.

In recent years I've come to the conclusion that I really don't enjoy those big battles. I find them ponderous with turns taking so long to resolve that there's insufficient back and forth of manoeuvre and counter-manoeuvre over the course of a gaming session.

Having said that, I'm quite happy with the rules for smaller games and I'm keen that we continue to show them off at their best for potential players. This means making sure that at Joy of Six we have a small, fast-moving game with the possibility that punters can sit in for a while and see a reasonable number of game turns.

This year, in addition to the group's usual mid-1980s fare, we'll be running some fast-moving participation action in what I'm guessing will be a unique setting. 

Our starting point is the February 1948 coup d'etat that saw pro-Soviet Communists take over the Czechoslovak government. In our fictional reality the coup failed and later that year the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia.

The 1948 Czechoslovak Army is made up of troops trained and equipped by the British and others trained and equipped by the Soviets. In addition, the Škoda and Avia factories were equipped to continue manufacturing Nazi-era German tanks and aircraft. This is an opportunity to use some interesting kit. 

I've already re-painted some spare SdKfz 251/1 halftracks in the colours of the Czechoslovak army, for whom they have the designation OPp 3t N. 

These will carry a mix of my Soviet and British infantry and support weapons - I'm not going to produce stuff especially for the game, except where I have suitable models lying around that can be repurposed.

I've started keeping a few soft-skins and/or APCs unbased so I can add them to generic HQ bases as particular games require. Below we can see an unbased OPp 3t N added to an open space on a base that otherwise has just command figures and a Jeep. A bit of Blutac will keep the vehicle in place for the course of the game.

Neil McCusker and Andy Taylor are on-board with this plan and it looks like we'll have a quite a bit more narrative to share by the time the event comes around. I'll add some more details here as time passes.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Having a clear-out

In an effort to make some space in the games room, I'm selling off some books. Not looking to make a profit, just to ship things out, hopefully to where they'll be helpful to people. Message me by commenting below if you're interested.

First on the list is this hardback book from Histoire et Collections:

If you're familiar with Eric Micheletti's work for Raids magazine you'll know what to expect; lots of excellent photographs of French special forces in action, descriptions of equipment and organisation, and accounts of operations from search and rescue in the Pyrenees to counter-insurgency in Comoros. Hardback, 160 A4 pages, excellent condition.

I'm asking for £6.00 and postage should be about £3.00 (if I'm not seeing you at some gaming event in the next few months).

Next on the list is the Greenhill Armoured Fighting Vehicles Data Book, by Ian Hogg. 

A pretty comprehensive cataloguing of armoured vehicles giving a brief description followed by armament, armour, crew weight dimensions engine details, road-speed and power:weight ratio for each vehicle. A great starting point if you're building you own rules for mechanised warfare!

I'd like £5.00 for this and again postage, if needed, should be about £3.00. Hardback, 368 pages 250x190mm, excellent condition.

The Blitzkrieg Campaigns - Germany's 'Lightning War' Strategy in Action by John Delaney is an overview of the the invasions of Poland, France, and the Low Countries, and of Operation Barbarossa. There's a good introductory account of the campaigns with some decent maps, and loads of black and white photographs. 

£3.00 will buy this one, £2.00 postage and packing if required. Hardback, 176 pages 280x230mm. Good condition - slight fading to spine of dust jacket and Bargain Books price tag on front. 

And finally for now, World War II in Photographs by David Boyle is a massive beast. 600 roughly A4-sized pages, it gives a descriptions of events but it's mainly useful for the thousands of black and white photographs covering both the Europeans and Pacific Theatres.

£5.00 will buy it, again with a postage and packing rate of £3.00 if necessary. It's in good condition - just a very slight rip to the corner of dust jacket.

That'll do for now. More when I get pictures taken. Terrain and figures may follow later.