May 30, 2016 by brennon
Welcome back, Beasts of War, to our continuing article series on the “Battlegroup” World War II miniatures game, presented by Ironfist Publishing and Plastic Soldier Company. My name is James Johnson (@Oriskany), and together with Piers Brand (@piers), I hope these articles inspire you to give the Battlegroup system a serious look.
In Part One of our series we reviewed Battlegroup’s basics, and Part Two looked at the fundamentals of fire and movement. Yet these are just the basics, it’s time to get stuck in to some of the more detailed options that Battlegroup has to offer, like close combat, morale, airstrikes and anti-aircraft fire, and special unit abilities.
One of the deadliest tactics available to infantry in just about any wargame is close assault, and Battlegroup is no exception. Your men fix bayonets, load their SMGs, prime their grenades, and go in for the kill. There’s just one problem. This tactic can be deadlier to you than it is to your opponent … if you’re not careful.
Infantry units that get a “Close Assault” order can execute such an assault against an enemy unit within five inches. The usual required “observation” check is waived since there’s no missing the enemy trooper when he’s in your foxhole. Attacking squads also get a bonus d6 for their grenades, but both sides get Rate of Fire bonuses for SMGs.
However, the enemy gets the same simultaneous attacks against you, which sometimes leads to bloodbaths where both sides effectively annihilate each other. Thus, pin the enemy down with mortars or other HE weapons first, so they don’t get that reciprocal attack. This is just another way that Battlegroup rewards tactics over brute force.
Infantry can also make close assaults against vehicles, even the mightiest of tanks. However, this can also be very dangerous. With a successful attack, infantry can assault vehicles with mines, grenades, or Molotov cocktails, getting a strength “6” attack against enemy side or rear armour. Just be ready to take some casualties, however.
Fortunately, later in the war infantry get dedicated antitank weapons like the British PIAT, the American bazooka, and the German panzerschreck and panzerfaust. Of course, infantry don’t need to use dangerous Close Assault rules to employ these weapons. Given the range of these tools, however, they still have to get dangerously close.
Morale is an incredibly important element to any fighting force, almost as unpredictable as it is vital. In Battlegroup, morale is played out on two levels. First, individual units check morale when they take incoming fire. Second, the battlegroup’s morale as a whole is tracked through the use of the “Battle Rating” counters described in Part One.
When a unit takes a hit, it might have to roll on the Morale Table to see if it is pinned. The results will differ for infantry, vehicles, and artillery crews, reflecting how officers and NCOs can keep their men together in different situations. Also, units can be rated as Inexperienced, Regular, Veteran, or Elite, which also affects the results.
Units that are pinned can be rallied. During the Rally Phase at the end of the turn, you can remove the “pinned” status from 1d6 units, at the cost of taking a Battle Rating counter. If you roll high on that d6 and draw a “cheap” Battle Rating counter, you can keep your force together relatively well. Then again, if you don’t …
This is just another way that Battlegroup elegantly represents how units sometimes stay together in combat, and sometimes fall apart. After all, it’s easy to be brave when moving little plastic men around a gaming table, but in reality units of actual soldiers will rarely “fight to the last man” or hurl themselves in a hopeless assault.
The Battle Rating counter system (described in Part One) adds yet another dimension to this quixotic nature of combat morale. Depending on the counters you draw, your battlegroup might “stand tall” and deliver a defence worthy of a Victoria Cross, or crumble with humbling alacrity. Yet it never feels too random, chaotic, or luck-driven.
When most gamers think of airpower on a tabletop, they tend to envision fighter-bombers screaming out of the sky, cutting loose with cannon, bombs, and antitank rockets. Battlegroup, however, also remembers to include options for the less-glorious (but perhaps more vital) roles of aerial reconnaissance and aerial artillery spotting.
I once read an account of a German officer in Normandy, who confessed that his men were always anxious when American or British fighter-bombers would streak overhead. But they were positively terrified when the humble L4 spotter plane would fly over, knowing that the buzzing little “Piper Cub” heralded DAYS of withering artillery fire.
In fact, more direct applications of airpower isn’t something a Battlegroup player can typically count on. Usually, air strikes only appear on the table through the draw of special Battle Rating counters. This is because as a platoon, company, or even battalion commander, assigning air assets is frankly a little “above your pay grade.”
When a full-blown air strike does come, however, it can be a sight to behold. Once an “Air Strike” counter is drawn, the player has to roll a 5+ per turn to activate it, unless he has a Forward Air Controller (FAC) in his battlegroup. The plane get a full “Open Fire” order on its selected target, unleashing two fire actions with its listed weapons.
Of course, the enemy doesn’t have to just sit there and take it, especially if the player had the foresight to include some air defence units in his battlegroup. Qualified weapons (dedicated anti-aircraft guns, small arms, and pintle-mounted MGs) can fire at the plane using “Area Fire” rules, spraying in front of the plane and hoping to get lucky.
Whereas Area Fire usually causes the target to be “pinned” (tough to imagine with an aircraft), such hits against the aircraft instead get a damage roll, with one point of damage inflicted for each success. If a plane runs out of hits, it is shot down and crashes, and the owning player has to draw two Battle Rating counters instead of the usual one.
Modern war is a complex business, with dimensions that far surpass the business of just pointing guns at the “bad guys.” Battlegroup offers the player as much (or as little) of these additional facets as desired, including functions like mine clearance, demolition of obstacles, vehicle repair, bridge laying, or even remote control vehicles.
Units capable of these special tasks are usually annotated in the unit description. For instance, mine-clearing units have the ability to roll dice against known enemy minefields once they get within 5” of the minefield marker. Demolition units can lay charges against bunkers, bridges, or even wrecked vehicles, and blow them out of the way.
Other units can repair vehicles that have been immobilized or even destroyed in combat. Remember, a “destroyed” tank doesn’t usually blow up in a flaming mushroom cloud despite what we see in the movies. Other units can tow said vehicles for repair, or even lay bridges across small streams, canals or marshes.
Still other vehicles, such as humble trucks or even horse-drawn wagons, can perform a “Rearm” order for combat units, and replenish their ammunition supply. Yes, ammunition is tracked for the heavier weapons in the game, and even a mighty Tiger can find itself helpless until the dutiful “Opel Blitz” truck rolls up with a fresh supply of shells.
Come back next week for the last part in this series, where we discuss some scenarios in Battlegroup, and the amazing range of campaign supplements that have been published for this game. You need at least one of these supplements to play Battlegroup, remember, so check out our article to see which one interests you the most!
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"...the enemy gets the same simultaneous attacks against you, which sometimes leads to bloodbaths where both sides effectively annihilate each other"
"When a full-blown air strike does come, however, it can be a sight to behold..."