Fighting the Nazis on every Front (but mainly in Normandy)
I don’t play Nazis, or at least I try to avoid it. Every wargame club has its members who glorify the Nazis, and who field SS units and King Tigers at a drop of a hat. I’ve not one of them. Give me a Sherman Firefly and I’ll try to show these guys what “total war” is all about!
In the Edinburgh club WW2 is consistently popular. Some game it in 20mm, others in 15mm, while a few use 1/200 or 1/300 scale kit. 15mm used to be the most popular club scale, but in recent years 28mm has taken over, largely thanks to skirmish level rules such as Chain of Command and Bolt Action.
For my part I’ve gamed the war in all four scales in my time, but like the rest of my lead collection (and me come to think of it) my tanks have grown larger over the years. First of all I abandoned 1/300 scale and 15mm. For a few years I stuck with 20mm, and branched out on 1/200 scale (10-12mm), as I liked the look of the models. These also went by the wayside though, and today I came the war pretty much exclusively in 28mm. That isn’t to say I won’t use other peoples’ toys in different scales – but my own kit is now almost exclusively 28mm, apart from a few 1/200 Western Desert armies I’m reluctant to part with.
In my time I’ve also gamed most theatres of this global conflict, from the hedgerows of Normandy to the steppes of Russia, the barren deserts of Libya to the verdant islands of the South Pacific. Nowadays though, thanks to my own penchant for these two particular campaigns of the war and the make-up of my collection, I tend to restrict my fighting to either Normandy (1944). However, for the moment I still have my 12mm (1/200 scale) Western Desert stuff, but it rarely gets an outing these days.
As for rules I’ve gone through many many sets in my time. The first of these was a badly photocopied set by Donald Featherstone, which I played on a small sand table. I then gravitated to the legendary Battle – Practical Wargaming set by Charles Grant (senior), published in 1972. I still have my battered copy, and this was what I really cut my wargaming teeth on as a teenager. Charles Senior’s book used a lot of Roco Minitanks 1:87 scale kit, to fill in the gaps in what was then a limited range of 1:76 (or 20mm) vehicles sold by Airfix. Today of course, you can get pretty much anything you want, in any scale you need, but back then this was cutting edge stuff!
Since then I’ve tried many other sets. For a few years I used Command Decision for 1/300 tanks, before they became too over-complicated when their 3rd Edition came out. Rapid Fire, but I always found them a bit simplistic for my tastes. For a long time my favourite was Battlegroup Panzer Grenadier, written by my pal Dave Brown, whose Napoleonic rules I admire so much. They’re company level, and lend themselves well to these medium sized scales. I really like them, and still play them from time to time, even though my own lead collection doesn’t have suitable based figures for them.
The scale in Battlegroup Panzer Grenadier is the same as Crossfire – a base of three infantry represents a squad, while one AFV represents three or four vehicles. Most of the time we play with a reinforced company or two for a regular club night game. The rules are accompanied by scenario bookscovering North-West Europe (1940-45), the Russian Front (1939-45), and the Mediterranean (1940-45). Dave Brown also runs a website which provides updates and a few scenarios.
One of the big things with them is spotting. Most of the time you start with an empty battlefield, with most of the defenders hidden. You have to try to probe and spot as you advance, and half the time you find something you won’t like lurking in the hedgerows. The combat system is very slick, with everything involving the roll of two D6. You really need a “7” or more before modifiers to hit anything, so that keeps things moving quickly. After a few games you pretty much know all the relevant factors, so you rarely need to look up the playsheets, let alone the main rules.
The opportunity fire rules are pretty effective and realistic, but use the same firing system, as does artillery and even air strikes. I know I sound a bit like an advertiser, which in a way I am, but check them out for yourself. You can buy them from Dave Ryan at Caliver Books.
Anyway, as I was saying, I sold off my 20mm kit, and now – apart from the 12mm stuff, I’m left with 28mm figures and kit. That means platoon or company level skirmish games. While I sort of prefer a higher level of command, I liked the figures and vehicles for this – and there’s so much good stuff on the market these days. When I first got into it the options were much more limited – for tank support my British in Normandy had 1/50 scale diecast Corgi Shermans and a 1/48 scale plastic Firefly – a Tamiya kit. Now we’re spoilt for choice. The argument still rages though – to use “correct” 1/56 scale models with your 28mm figures, or larger but more proportionately pleasing 1/50 scale ones. I’ve got both – and don’t really care!
Anyway, back to skirmish rules. First I tried Disposable Heroes. These were good in their day, but very clunky, and things like tanks were layered on until games evolved into near-constant rules-checking exercises. These rules also had their problems – such as only half of a squad can fire, despite being in range, as they’re presence is a sort of abstracted average. I simply couldn’t get my head around that. Next along was Bolt Action, which are still firm favourites in the Edinburgh club, despite their obvious shortfalls. They’re very simplistic, and things like ranges are crazy – a field howitzer couldn’t even fire across the width of a tabletop, despite having a range of several miles! Still, they give a good fun game in a Warhammer-esque kind of way, if that’s what you’re looking for.
Far better in my view is Chain of Command. These were like a breath of fresh air. The basic system was simple but elegant, and encouraged real tactics. Ranges were sensible, as were the chances of hitting someone, and the command and control system is the best I’ve seen for a while. They’ve also re-introduced the fun level into Second World War games- probably the first set to give such an enjoyable gaming experience since Battle! They’re my rules of choice nowadays.
Chain of Command (or CoC) uses a platoon as its basic unit of play, but you can string these together to make a larger company-level game (naturally this system is called Big CoC). Games usually begin with a patrol phase, where both sides move markers around the tabletop, which are then used to locate “jump off points”. This is where your infantry squads and support weapons deploy. Having a “jump off point” overrun by the enemy isn’t recommended, as it really limits your ability to feed troops onto the tabletop. The patrol phase only takes a few minutes, but it cuts out a lot of time making approach moves onto the battlefield. This means you spend your time fighting rather than marching.
The order system uses dice to determine whether you can activate your squads, support teams or leaders. Its a very simple, elegant and smart system, and it means you have to think what you’re doing before your troops appear. Movement and firing rules are very straightforward, with firing done by rolling lots of dice (just like in Bolt Action). The difference though, is in CoC the results are believable, with units more likely to be suppressed than wiped out to a man.
Saying that, melees are still pretty bloody, and maintaining the fighting spirit of your men in the face of casualties and the accumulation of shock markers is an important part of the game. These rules sort of encourage you to use realistic tactics. In Bolt Action you charge around like a mob – here you’d get mown down if you tried that. Instead, you operate in fire teams, and realistic tactics are encouraged rather than ignored. All in all CoC is something of a winner, and by far the best WW2 skirmish set of rules out there.