In scenario 2 - ‘The Bigger They Come’, from the original OST Pocket Battles module, the opening background description tells of how Desobry’s men are preparing their defences, when they hear engines. This introduction concludes with the words “Moments later the first barrels poked through the mist. Tigers!”
And so the scene is set and from the outset we get a sense of drama, which this tactical WWII boardgame system is good at delivering.
This post is just a run through of some of the mechanics of the system and the things making OST my ‘go to’ favourite at the moment.
For the rest of this post, please use the ‘read more’ tab.
Old School Tactical is designed by Shayne Logan and published by Flying Pig. The game is scaled at the tactical level, with hexes equalling 50 yards and individual counters representing single vehicles, single weapon teams and infantry sections.
To date, the system has three core modules, East Front ‘41 - ‘42, West Front ‘44 - ‘45 and the latest being Pacific. In addition, there are four substantial expansion modules that run off these core products (west front has 2 of them). On the production horizon is a core module for the Commonwealth forces, with scenarios based around Italy.
Each game, whether core or expansion has a large 30” x 41” mounted playing board (east front has two). These are beautifully done and their size is both a strength and a weakness. To address the call from some games with a smaller playing space, Flying Pig have developed two ‘Pocket Battles’ modules, which use small paper maps.
The first Pocket module is on the table today and it covers a series of four actions between German 26th Volksgrenadier Division / 2nd Panzer Division and Team Desobry of U.S. 10th Armored Division, around the town of Noville, significant because it blocked the way to Bastogne!
The second Pocket module, just released, has 6 scenarios that focus on the ‘Phantom Division’ (9th Armored) in actions from December ‘44 onwards. The order-of-battle includes some big hitters such as Pershings and JagdTigers for anyone wanting guns with plenty of thump!
The system is interactive, but plays solitaire quite easily. The main game engine runs off activation impulses. At the start of a turn, each side rolls for the number of impulses that they can use. Then a roll is made to see who goes first.
In essence, player 1 pays 1 impulse point and does something with one counter, such as move, fire, rally etc. Then the other player spends 1 impulse point and does likewise. Play then reverts back to player 1, who spends another impulse point to act and so on, usually until both sides have spent their impulse allowance.
It is of course slightly more nuanced than that, but to fully describe it would simply become a case of re-iterating rules, so I will just leave that description in broad brush strokes terms.
In a turn, a unit can be activated multiple times, but may only ever take 2 Restrictive type Actions. These cover moving, assaulting an enemy hex or firing, though a unit can never move more than once in a turn. On top of these restricted actions, it can attempt to rally or look for better cover within their own hex and can do so as often as that player’s impulse point allowance allows.
And that is the basic engine. There are are couple of earlier posts listed in the Resource Section below that show some of the rule processes in action.
There are two other big things that in my view significantly help this design. Firstly, it is not a simplistic game, but the processes are simple and straight forward, made even easier by the fact that tanks share the same system processes as the infantry, so a player will easily move across into those scenarios that have armour. Thankfully the artillery section is likewise easy, explained in just a few paragraphs.
Secondly, combat is run off a pair of tables that are differential based and this brings a lot of individualism to the system. One table covers anti personnel fire and the other anti tank fire. It is a fresh and elegant approach that really helps straddle nicely the point at which game meets simulation.
Anyway, let’s have a look at what else is going on by looking at a game in action. In the first scenario, Team Desobry were defending in front of Noville. In this second scenario, the team have been pushed back into Noville proper, the last town baring the way to Bastogne and are awaiting the German assault.
The Americans set up on a single 11” a 17½” map. The victory conditions essentially mean that they have to hold on to the stone buildings (below photo) and inflict casualties on the attackers.
The maps are really attractive. This one has the same detail on both sides, this side is winterised and the other side of the map is styled for summer.
The hexes are large and the vehicle counters are well illustrated ⅞’’ beauties. All the information on the unit counter is also held on a small unit card that the player can use and for vehicles, these cards include the To Hit and Penetration tables for their gun type, so really the whole game plays off just a few of these unit cards and a single quick reference sheet. If you know the system, the rules stay in the box.
There are a small deck of ‘Luck’ cards in the game and these just add a bit of nuance in those scenarios that allow them.
Today, the Germans drew the ‘Friendly Fire’ card, which forces the other player to spend an impulse point and then fire at one of their own units, with the Germans choosing the firer and the target. It just adds a nice variable and is especially relevant because in this scenario, there is a mist that drops visibility down to 5 hexes.
I choose to have a Sherman 75 fire upon a Sherman 76. I could have legitimately done it the other way around, but to stop any silliness, I decided that the firing unit should have to shoot to it’s front (i.e. in the direction of the enemy) and since the range was 4 hexes, this played rather nicely into the narrative of the target being close to that distance in which it would be lost to the mist (5 hexes). Anyway, it fired, hit, but did no damage and nice piece of story telling was created.
For their part, the Americans draw a ‘Leading From The Front’ card, which allows them to deploy an extra Sergeant into their opening order-of-battle and so Sgt Mathis takes up a dangerous position in the front line.
During turn 1, the Americans use most of their impulses to try and create extra cover in the hexes of troops in key positions. The way this works is to spend the impulse, roll a die and on a 5 or 6, place a cover marker on the designated hex. You can only have 1 cover marker in a hex, but it adds 1 to the defence and represents the occupants hunting for a better position within their locality. They get lucky today and manage over the course of the turn to increase the cover of 5 frontline hexes (above photo - the brown counters are cover markers).
The position of their forward elements together with a couple of shots from them as Opportunity Fire, force the Germans to hug the terrain as they advance, which costs them more in movement points. Two German sections blatantly advancing up the open road take casualty results and they are simply flipped over to their weaker side and any leader with them must test to see if they have also been hit. For the rest of the turn, the Germans are understandably more cautious.
One of the engaging things about these games is advancing and having to look on a hex by hex basis to see whether you are suddenly exposed to fire, while for the defender, they constantly need to check that their fields of fire maintain defence integrity and that if a unit is knocked out, there are other things in place to still protect that sector or avenue of approach.
In turn 2, one of the Tiger’s uses it’s big 88 to fire on infantry in a wooden building. When using High Explosive, tanks do not have to make a ‘to hit’ roll, they just attack on the Infantry Fire Table with their HE factor. They may then make a secondary attack with their machine guns. In this instance they record a casualty against the target and the infantry unit there flips to it’s weaker side.
The use of guns in this way gives a right feel, with effects being in keeping with the weapon, the target and the time frame of the attack. The building’s occupants are forced to move out when they next get activated and this does feel like how an attack from an unchallenged Tiger tank against a weak building would play out.
The other Tiger (top of the map) has got itself into a bit of trouble. It moves along the road, around a bend and straight into the sights of a Sherman 76, with its leader, Sgt. Carlson ready to direct fire. The Sherman has parked up in woods for a bit of protection and has also managed to get itself a ‘Cover’ counter, gaining another +1 for defence.
The range is around 250 yards (5 hexes) and so the Sherman’s 76mm gun with it’s anti tank factor of 10 at that range can potentially do some harm to the Tiger, which has a front armour value of 10, which gives a difference of zero on the differential based gun armour table.
This is just a little example of how this tank duel goes in the opening moments;
The Sherman pays an impulse point and fires, but misses.
The Tiger (above photo) has already moved and fired this turn, so has used up its allowance of two restricted actions and is marked 'used', but it can’t take the risk of just taking more enemy fire, so decides to make an ‘Intensive Fire’ shot.
This allows one more shot in addition to the restricted actions taken, but it adds penalties to the shot and worse, automatically has the firer marked as ‘Shaken’. The Tiger tank fires, misses and is marked Shaken (it’s fire and movement is now halved) Ouch - that desperate gamble failed.
The Sherman has only fired once so far this turn, so can fire again for its second restricted action. It gets a +1 To Hit bonus for having just fired on the target (acquisition) and this time hits it.
To check for the result we go to the differential table for anti tank fire. 10 attack factors for the Sherman 76mm Vs 10 defence for the Tiger front armour is zero. Minus 1 column because a hedge between them degrades the shot (now at -1 on differential) and a plus 1 to the dice for the firer having a leader (Carlson). The result causes the Tiger to take a ‘Shaken’ test, which it does and fails, but since it is already Shaken, it becomes ‘Broken’ instead. A shaken plus a shaken equals a Broken (Broken means no movement or fire).
The Sherman has used its two allowances for fire, but could choose to Intensive Fire to get one more shot off .... but decides not to so as to avoid going Shaken itself and is happy that the Tiger is pre-occupied by currently being broken.
The Tiger is in a pretty vulnerable condition. The turn ends and at the start of the next turn, there is a free Rally Phase, so any unit with a Shaken or Broken marker on gets a chance to freely rally that marker off. The Tiger tries to lose that Broken status, fails, but the attempt itself to lose a Broken marker is always enough to reduce the Broken status down to a Shaken status.
That is a really interesting part of the system. Also of significance is that a unit does not need a leader present to rally, but will gain a positive rally modifier if a leader is nearby within its command range - I like that.
Next in the sequence of play, both sides roll for their new allocation of Impulse Points. In this particular scenario, each side gets to roll 3 x D6, so a side can end up with anything between 3 and 18 points. The Germans get 5 (Oh No! they cry), but there is some solace in that the Americans only get 8 points anyway.
There are a number of things going on across the board that the players could spend their points on, but the gun duel between the two tanks is a priority for both players and this must be where those precious few Impulse Points must be spent first.
The Germans win the Activation roll for the turn, so go first. They decide that the Shaken status on their Tiger is such a liability when firing that they must spent a precious point on trying to rally it off first. They fail! (This tank has been rolling an unbelievable number of 4’s and less - on another day, it would likely prove more fearsome!).
The Sherman spends a point to fire and rolls a double six, which is a critical hit, this allows their differential value to move up one column. They still only manage score a Shaken test, which the Tiger passes (if it had failed, it would have gone back to being broken).
The Tiger tries a second time to rally and again fails. The Germans only have 3 Impulse Points left. The pressure is on.
The Sherman fires, hits and gets a Damage result so the Tiger must test for damage on the Damage Table. On the Damage Table there is a ⅓ chance of the damage being so minor that it is deemed not to have a game effect ... and that is what happens in this instance.
At this point another moment of crisis erupts on the lower part of the map as American Engineers with a Bazooka (hex i7) are threatening the second Tiger and both players attention get drawn to this, with the the associated spending of Impulse Points and both players aware that their Impulse Points for the turn are almost exhausted.
It is this sort of interaction between need, allowed actions, Impulse Point availability and the tactical nuance of the situation that draws the players in to a very engaging game, where everything seems to matter.
As the turn ends, both Tigers are still on the table, but two turns of attention being so focused on the tank action against a background of limited Impulse Points, means that the German infantry have been ignored and are not making the headway needed to be able to win this scenario. They need to get their skates on. It just feels like there is never a dull moment in the game.
Turn 5 just becomes a disaster for the Germans. The ongoing duel between the Tiger and the Sherman 76 comes to an end. The Americans win the initiative for the turn, so get off the first shot, they score a hit and get a damage result against the Tiger, the vehicle takes a damage test which results in the crew abandoning the vehicle. In game terms this is permanent and the Tiger is treated as a wreck.
I like that the system in this instant shows the Tiger being frontally engaged by a Sherman (76mm) at close range and is actually put out of action by a ‘damage’ shot and the psychological effects of that, rather than a straight knock out shot.
I have looked at a few gun / armour stats across the system and it seems to handle the probabilities of putting an enemy out of action quite nicely in those situations where there is a fairly tight crossover between gun penetration capability and armour strength.
To Salvage the flank, the little German Hetzer (above in G3) moves up into the position occupied by the abandoned Tiger, but a second shot from the Sherman 76 gets a damage result and smashes the Hetzer’s gun, so that as they say is the end of that!
The second Tiger is still trading shots to its front with the bazooka team 150 yards away. The bazooka can only really cause shaken or broken checks, or with a very high die roll, a damage test and again I like the way the Tiger feels relatively safe ...... but not fully safe, so there is a little bit of emotional trepidation each time the bazooka fires or each time that the tank fails to deal with the bazooka team with their return fire.
At the bottom of the map, two German infantry sections with Lieutenant Meulling come under sustained fire from Engineers with a BAR in a building. The Americans fire twice, the first time they get a casualty result on an already flipped infantry unit and so it is removed, causing the German leader to also test for survival.
He fails and so is also removed as a casualty. Their second fire scores a tremendous 12 on the dice and nothing is going to survive that, the whole remaining section is removed from play. In just moments, this German flank has also collapsed. This situation may have been totally reversed had the Germans fired first and been successful.
By now it is obvious to the German side that they do not have the strength to continue the engagement without further significant loss and certainly not within the time frame of the scenario requirements. Adding up the victory points so far (3 German infantry section, 1 leader and 1 Tiger lost) would give the American side a ‘Big, Huge Victory’! And so the game is called.
That was not so potentially one sided as it might seem. Rolling low in the game is bad and the Tiger at the top of the map just couldn’t stop rolling 4 or lower, just one of those quirky things that happens now and then, both Tigers on another day could have made earlier inroads to the town and put the American armour under threat.
Twice the Americans rolled double 6 and that is generally a winning shot. So in our game Lady Luck played her part and you could re-run the scenario and get a differently developing game. Perhaps the Americans might not have found cover positions so quickly, perhaps the Tigers could have done their stuff with first round fire and cleared the enemy enough for the German infantry to lurch forward without needing so much to rely on terrain protection and so cover more ground to get to those brick structure victory point buildings.
Once reaching the stone buildings, a different kind of firefight combined with assaults will occur, so the game will take on a different aspect. There is a lot in this system to engage the player.
[Edit - The next day I re-ran the scenario to see whether the Germans could get near to the objective stone buildings - they did. As a slight change in tactics, I used the ‘rolling cover’ rule that allows an infantry unit to move with a tank, gaining cover from the tank. That didn’t help too much as the Tigers came to a halt for a couple of turns while they engaged with targets and that just drew fire back to the accompanying infantry.
The Tiger still missed the Sherman 76 a couple of times, but the third shot found its mark! The American screening units were soon overwhelmed, allowing the Germans to push on towards the stone buildings. The complication of buildings and close terrain closing down fields of fire caused an interesting game of cat and mouse to develop as the Germans encroached on the American final positions.
In the end, the Germans managed to take 4 of the stone building hexes, but their own losses were so big, that they handed the American player another big victory.
In any case, a very different game, highlighting the versatility and replayability of these scenario situations].
In the Airborne expansion, the lovely 30” x 41” map is based on Sainte-Mére-Église and there is a ‘Big Drop’ scenario in which the Dakotas are flying over the board for ‘the drop’. I can’t remember where I saw it, but one gamer has photographed the opening of his scenario with each Dakota raised up off the map by being placed on a small dice - it looked superb and very atmospheric, setting the scene for the para drop.
It is this easy visual translation of graphics from the board to the imagination that helps the feel of the game.
With a large range of scenarios to choose from and with the system well and truly under my belt, I see one of the strengths of this game and expansion being that it can give that illusive mid-week game from any of the smaller scenarios.
Like last year, this system should again be forming a backbone of play throughout the year and keeping the number of plays for tactical gaming high without needing ongoing investment in rule reading.
A post covering a small Staingrad AAR LINK
OST handling of T-34 Vs Tiger I