May 23, 2016 by crew
Good day, Beasts of War! @oriskany here, welcoming you to another instalment in our article series about what has got to be one of the most underrated historical wargames on the market today. I refer, of course, to the epic masterpiece that is Battlegroup, presented by Ironfist Publishing and Plastic Soldier Company.
For those just joining us, please take a moment to review Part One of our series (presented in collaboration with Piers Brand, BoW @piers), where we introduce the game and review its fundamentals. For now, however, it’s time to hit the gas and thumb off that safety … as we look at some of Battlegroup’s rules on fire and movement.
Movement in Battlegroup is deceptively simple. Units of different classes (infantry, cavalry, towed guns, and man-handled gun) have rates of movement in inches, one rate for on a road, a lower rate for off-road. There are even rates for bicycles. Don’t laugh, many early-war armies made great use of bicycles in light infantry or recce units.
Each type of vehicle has its own movement rate, based on its historical speed. The differences between road and off-road movement are typically much higher for wheeled vehicles than for tracked vehicles, but each vehicle type is individually listed so players can see how these actually vehicles moved in combat without a lot of memorization.
Battlegroup also has elegant rules for moving through “difficult terrain” or over obstacles. Usually, you just roll a d6 and take that many inches off the movement rate. This ensures that not all hedgerows are equally thick or dangerous, and you won’t really know until the driver hits the gas and actually tries to plough throw it.
So-called “dangerous” terrain is worse, it leaves vehicles with only d6 inches LEFT to their movement. In either case, however, vehicles are never completely stalled, and they don’t lose their shot if they were given a “move and fire” order. Similar rules, by the way, are also employed when a vehicle tries moving in reverse gear.
Finally, it’s time to pull some triggers. In actual combat, however, it’s never that simple. Small arms fire, high-explosive fire, armour-piercing fire, indirect fire from howitzers and mortars … all affect armoured, soft-skinned, infantry, building, and area targets differently.
Fortunately, Battlegroup presents a system that retains the nuance of different kinds of fire against different kinds of targets, all without overloading the player with complexity. The player simply has to choose what kind of fire he’s ordering a given unit to apply against a certain target. These choices are briefly outlined below.
“Area Fire” is the first option for firing on an enemy unit in Battlegroup. Put most simply, this is when you spray a target area with as many bullets and shells as possible, trying to pin down an enemy unit. Casualties can be inflicted, but usually the idea is to suppress the enemy so that other friendly units can safely move.
Area fire can be undertaken with small arms, machine guns, or high-explosive shells. Players find a “Rate of Fire” (what type of weapons are firing and how many), and consult a chart, cross-referencing the range and the type of target. High explosive rounds from artillery and mortars use a similar system (see below).
If this Area Fire check is successful, the target unit gets to roll a cover save. The probability of this save depends on the type of target and the type of cover it has (if any). Obviously, infantry in the open are more prone to being pinned than dug-in tanks. If this save is failed, the unit is “Pinned” and gets no actions until the pin is removed.
Keeping the enemy pinned is all well and good, but when it’s time to actually inflict some casualties, “Aimed Fire” is usually the preferred option. The rules are slightly different for small arms, high explosive shells, and armour-piercing shells, but Battlegroup’s design keeps the complexity down while retaining tactical option and realism.
Small arms, machine guns, auto cannon, and flamethrowers again use the “Rate of Fire” measurement described above, and have different difficultly numbers they have to beat at different ranges in order to hit infantry, deployed guns, or soft-skinned vehicles. These targets get a save, but for every hit that is not saved, a casualty occurs.
Aimed Fire using high explosive shells is usually delivered by assault guns or tanks using some of their high explosive (as opposed to armour-piercing) ammunition. You only get one roll to hit, and it’s usually not easy. If you score that hit, however, the potential damage against infantry, deployed guns, or soft-skinned vehicles can be a horrible glory.
Aimed Fire using armour-piercing shells is widely considered (well, considered by me, anyway) to be the apex a Battlegroup game. Tanks fire supersonic bolts of metal at other tanks, enough said. Of course antitank guns and even infantry rockets get into the mix, but in end it’s about killing that steel beast before he does the same to you.
This kind of fire makes similar observation and to-hit rolls. If a hit is scored, however, the effects are handled differently. Each type of gun has a penetration value at various ranges, which is cross-referenced against the target’s front, side, or rear armour. A target number to penetrate the armour is revealed, to be beaten on 2d6.
In World War II, death could be a supremely impersonal affair, delivered from dozens of miles away by a man armed with just a map, a protractor, and a radio. This is indirect fire, one of the deadliest killers on the battlefield. Many World War II games have indirect fire, but in my opinion Battlegroup comes much closer to “getting it right.”
First of all, as a lowly captain, major, or (at most) lieutenant-colonel, you don’t usually command the artillery. You REQUEST it. The likelihood of whether you’ll get it on a given turn depends on your communications check, spotting team, and especially on your engagement’s command priority in the regiment or division’s larger context of battle.
Battlegroup also has you drop a spotting round, just like a real artillery mission. Depending on where that round lands, you can commit to the full “splash” fire mission or abort, especially if that spotting round drifted closer to your men than the enemy. Blind targets can be hit behind buildings or on reverse slopes, just like in actual combat.
Once an artillery mission starts landing for real, it effects targets starting at the epicentre of the strike and working its way outward. These shells “have no friends,” so be careful of friendly fire. Infantry, deployed guns, soft-skinned vehicles, and open-topped AFVs beware, but enclosed tanks can usually weather these storms with little trouble.
There’s even an illustrated on-line tutorial for artillery fire mission rules in Battlegroup, which you can find HERE. In this walkthrough, Piers takes the player step-by-step through the process, using game table photos, displaying dice rolls, and referencing pages and rules in the Battlegroup rulebook. Even I can get it right!
Of course, there are plenty of other ways for you to ruin your opponent’s day on the battlefield … airstrikes, anti-aircraft fire, mines, and so on. We’ll cover some more in the articles to come, but if you really want the details, head over to the Iron Fist Publishing or Plastic Soldier Company sites and see what’s on offer.
That’s it for now, Beasts of War. Please drop your comments, questions, and suggestions below, and keep the conversation going on this tremendous game.
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"There are even rates for bicycles. Don’t laugh, many early-war armies made great use of bicycles in light infantry or recce units..."
"Keeping the enemy pinned is all well and good, but when it’s time to actually inflict some casualties, “Aimed Fire” is usually the preferred option..."