Saturday, April 13, 2024

Stary Boleslav - the rules reviewed

I thought it might be interesting to review the Stary Boleslav game in the context of how the TacWWII rules performed. 

For those of you new here, the idea is that following a failed coup d'etat by Czechoslovak Communist Party members in February 1948, Soviet forces have invaded to establish a friendly regime in Prague.

Stavka (or whatever its post-Great-Patriotic-War equivalent is called) has determined that the Czechoslovak city of Stary Boleslav must be captured as soon as possible. Two Red Army infantry divisions are in  positions east of the city and Stavka decides that some inter-unit rivalry will spur the troops on to greater exertions. Whichever divisional commander captures the city will be rewarded; whoever does not can expect to see his career significantly hampered. That chemical weapons facility in Uzbekistan needs a guard commander!

Each division forms a Forward Detachment consisting of two motor rifle battalions, two tank battalions, and a heavy self-propelled gun regiment. To support this the Soviet players were able to purchase reinforcements. To simulate other demands on available resources, I had the two Soviet teams competing to choose their reinforcements from a limited list.

The Czechoslovak forces guarding the two highways to Stary Boleslav take the form of a single large, mixed brigade - four infantry battalions and two small tank battalions, again with the option to choose reinforcements.

Before the game I wanted to pay some attention to the political situation in Czechoslovakia between the attempted coup in February and the invasion the following summer. I did this by creating three tables that represented the Czechs' actions in three areas: the activities of Czechoslovakia's intelligence services, efforts to purge communist sympathisers from the armed forces, and seeking help from the Western Allies. 

I rolled three dice to get scores of 1, 3 and 5 and asked the Czechoslovak players to allocate them between the three areas of activity without sight of the table and just knowing that "high is good, low is bad". The results they got in the end are shown in turquoise in the table.

The deployment of Czechoslovak battalions at full strength simplified the administration burden on the day. Bonus! Dicing for morale saw the Czechoslovak 9th Infantry Battalion deploy with Poor Morale but despite this they seem to have fought well on the day. Finally I think the slightly increased probability of fighter cover helped. Certainly Stuart and Ned's Cossack cavalry didn't enjoy the ministrations of low-flying Spitfires!

Understanding the Rules

I think in general the rules mechanisms were picked up pretty quickly. Having “Who can fire in each Fire Phase, A though E” charts on the wall helped considerably.

Where people did struggle, I felt, was in understanding the process of sending and receiving orders and artillery requests. I paused the game at one point to try to explain this better and I think this helped. A revised example of how this works is something I'll add to my next revision of the rules.

Speaking of which, in my "version 1.5" I proposed a change in terminology to bring TacWWII in line with the later Arc of Fire set that’s familiar to many of my regular players. This was to replace “Default Mode” with “Confused Mode”. As several of the players were referring to copies of the original version of the rules, this was potentially confusing. Also “Engineers have to be confused to do engineering tasks" got a few funny looks! 

Given that the effect of "Default Mode" in TacWWII is not identical to "Confused Mode" in AoF, I'm inclined to revert to the original.

Artillery Support 

Given that we had plenty of time for the game I wanted to experiment with a set of rules to capture the peculiarities of Soviet artillery doctrine. This involved them plotting a limited number of pre-registered targets:

  • Six on the first table
  • An additional three on any table(s) if they purchased the pre-game aerial reconaissance option, and
  • An additional one on any table on which they deployed a Spetsnaz unit.
Having selected the targets, each Soviet team could design up to 18 fire missions. Each of these specified the target, calibre of weapons firing, ammunition type, number of tubes firing, duration, and schedule. The 'schedule' entry for each mission could be a number (e.g. 2 means "arrive on game turn 2") or it could be "X" meaning "do this when I request this specific mission".

This approach seemed to work well in capturing the limitations of Soviet doctrine. Certainly by the end of the game, the southern Soviet team were reporting they could see the advantage of including the heavy self-propelled gun regiment in the base force - it gave them significant anti-infantry firepower where they needed it at the time rather than where they thought they might need it later.

The southern team also did a good job of plotting their fire. Two woods targeted in the early game turns proved to contain Czechoslovak defenders.

One further thing that came up in play and that I think probably warrants inclusion in my version 1.6 is that I'm assuming a battalion HQ requesting brigade-level guns will be able to send a request directly to the guns, without having to go through Brigade HQ. I'm not sure if this was the rule-writers' original intent but the alternative is, to my way of thinking, too damned slow.

The northern Forward Detachment's SU Regiment has
a company forced to retire (white marker)

Targeting Headquarters

There was some concern that it was too easy to target battalion headquarters elements given that knocking one out would cause:

  • degradation of the battalion’s Tac score, and
  • a Battalion Morale Test for loss of a company.

My proposed solution prior to the game was that you need to pass a Tac roll to preferentially target HQs but if you fail you can fire at a nearby non-HQ element instead. This was felt to be not strong enough. 

At the same time some late-war German tank battalions are so weak that the battalion HQ is a significant proportion of their available firepower and they shouldn’t be immune to incoming fire. I propose to tweak the rule to something like:

“A battalion headquarters element can only be targeted by direct fire if the firing element makes a successful Tac roll. If the Tac roll is failed, the element doesn’t fire at all in the current Fire Phase - it is deemed to have spent the time unsuccessfully trying to identify the right target within the enemy formation.”

Obviously if your headquarters ends up under an artillery or airstrike template that's just too bad.

Unit Data

It's been usual in published TacWWII scenarios to "stat up" units as, for example, Panzer IV D, Medium Tracked, AC 1, Short 75mm gun. This means the players refer to the generic weapon categories on the Direct Fire Table.

As many of my players have played Cold War Commander before, I decided to provide full "stat lines" for each unit type:

This seemed to work OK and I think I'll stick with the approach in future games if time allows.

Tactical Cards

Finally I created some cards that enabled commanders to make occasional one-off special actions. I'll list them in a future post as this one's getting a bit long.

Overall I'm pleased with how the game went considering all but one of the players were new to the rules. Several of them expressed a desire to play TacWWII again, which I call a win!


Tales from Shed HQ said...

Excellent Mr C very helpful 👍 I'm pretty sure we were transmitting orders from Batt HQ to Brigade HQ then on to the artillery. Therefore adding another turn 👍

pancerni said...

Interesting post, always a treat to see rules or scenarios "under the hood " so to speak.

Counterpane said...

Cheers, Richard. I suspect we won't get a clear view from either of the authors as to what their original intention was.

Counterpane said...

Thanks Pancerni. I like to see how other people have done these things so I figured others would too.