Sunday 6 July 2014

Free WWII hex based Rules

At last I am ready to round out those recent posts covering WWII tactical games on a pinboard sized gaming area using hexes and my own home brew rules. After much reworking, the rules are in good shape for sharing. They included quick play sheets and examples of play. The current army lists are based around east front 1943 - 44 and six scenarios are included.

The rules have been posted to my Dropbox account (thank you Dropbox).
This post presents my design notes, lifted from the rules, plus of course a link to the rules themselves. Please click 'read more' to get the rest of this post.
At last, these rules fully make the transition to our small board. Please download them and have a look at the ideas presented there. I hope it is immediately obvious how much work has gone into them and if the support is there, I am happy to work on supporting modules and also to bring other rules to this format (My ACW armies are presently on the painting table).

Below, I have reproduced a straight lift of the design notes from the Into Battle - WWII Tactical rule set, followed by links for video support and a PDF download for the rules.

DESIGN NOTES for Into Battle, WWII tactical gaming on hexes.
Though this system has travelled a somewhat convoluted journey, superficially at least, but in this edition it returns to many of its original concepts. It started life to allow a compact game (3' x 4') to be played using 4" Kallistra (UK) tiles and 10mm figures (Pendraken). 

The photograph below is typical of a game played under the original rules. Subsequently the rules were substantially slimmed down and the command system changed (similar to todays method). The Format was later adopted for an open board (i.e. not gridded), then a boardgame with a square grid and then a hexed version of that game and even an area movement game was attempted. Finally, in order to specifically create a really small board of around 3' x 2', it morphed into what the reader has before them now, with a scale change and restricted movement to make that work.

The most notable difference between this and the first edition (besides a name change) is that we are now playing on half the playing space (around 2' x 3') though that can be expanded slightly without rule modification. The game scales have changed as movement and weapon ranges have been adjusted to meet the new format. Command and control is handled differently, though it remains abstract in nature and some of the rules developed with the various formats have remained to make (I hope) this edition interesting and fun to play.

The 4" hex has been retained, which gives a good compromise between giving enough space to hold both terrain and units while keeping the number of hex locations (48) viable. The intended battlefield size is 8 hexes wide by 6 deep (see below photograph), though an easy workable boost using Kallistra tiles would be to go 10 hexes wide by 7 hexes deep and one of the scenarios in the game uses such a table.

There are plenty of good reasons to using a grid system with figures and going small. My own motivation being due to persistent back-ache. Bending over tables or leaning into them is no longer practical. The hex takes care of all measurements and facings. Units can be plonked down in a hex, rather than being exactly placed with millimetre precision and I like the way than an area is so clearly defined .... that is a woods hex, that hex is a town, everything in there gets cover, everything in there is hit by artillery etc. Anyway, it is not for me to argue the case for hexes. Miniature gamers will either like them or not, but I guess if you have read this far, then you are at least interested in them.

There are some basic themes to the rules that have always been important. Firstly I have never liked the idea of fighting down to the last unit, especially against the certainty of a set number of turns. Hence the morale rules kick in once, due to casualties, the morale rating of a force drops to zero. Units test individually and if they fail, they fall back. Each time one of these tests are called for, forces can be prised out of precious key locations and a defence can literally start to crumble, rewarding the attacker with new opportunity to drive forward or if the attacker takes too many casualties, the attack can wither away to nothing as their forward units are forced to break contact by fall back results and they may not be strong enough to regain forward momentum.

The ‘clock’ stops the certainty of when the game will end and it is something borrowed from an old home set of rules that I did many years ago which covered the battle of Quatre Bras with 2mm figures (Irregular Miniatures) played out on a battlefield measuring just 18" x 18". It had combat results that said things like ‘retreat for 20 minutes and then form up and await new orders’ and the game clock was the only way to administer that kind of system. It also allows events such as reinforcements to be set against a timetable that is loose in nature.
The relationship between gun and armour has always interested me, especially as to how complicated they are when translated into the narrow range of results that wargame systems often give. It can be tempting just to use gun penetration tables and calculate armour thickness with slope taken into account, but gun penetration stats are usually given based on a shot coming in from directly ahead, so what about the variables that have shots coming in from other angles? and what of the differing qualities in steel or the quality of crews or the design that makes one vehicle more likely to catch fire or break down than another? It is this area of uncertainty that I feel gives dice and ‘design for effect’ or abstraction a meaningful place in tactical systems, so that results are less mathematical and more narrative based.

The anti-tank rules have changed their processes three times during the life of the rules. The original system worked well for a medium gun attacking medium armour etc, but once the system stretched to encompass a wider variety of kit, things felt a little clunky and base measurements of say how a T34/76 or T34/85 weighed up frontally against a Tiger I tank just did not give credible results. The system was changed to give an abstract solution, as I wanted to stay away from the hard data type charts.

Most recently, the system came into question again when some things that shouldn't happen did - such as a German 37mm A/T gun being able to harm a T-34 frontally rather too easily for the games narrative to feel right. Solutions to 'fix' that then tended to warp some of the results that involved the 'heavies'. I ended up re-visiting all of my vehicle data and opening up the mathematical range of gun / armour strengths that I had imposed on myself, while making all attacks on a dice roll of 11 or 12 fail (on 2D6). Flank / rear armour values (that had previously been abstracted out) were also introduced. The base hit number was then reduced from 8 to 7, making results a little tighter. However, although there was a better defined correlation between gun and armour, this was skewed by the pyramid effect of using 2D6. Finally I changed to a D10 and had a result of 10 as always being a failed attack, regardless of attacker advantage and moving the base hit number to 6. Overall, this combined with the wider range of gun / armour values used, provides a smoother result across a wider range of weapon platforms.

Part of the problem is that we are dealing with equipment that in some cases can strike out and hit fairly easily at 2000 metres, with high first time hit capability, but we are squeezing our game into a space mostly representing 300 to 700 metres and as gamers, we still want to be able to see the differences between various tanks demonstrated and when opponents are out-gunned, for this to be reflected. Though something of a cartoon world, we can still strive to get a game that feels right and is full of narrative.

I am presently reading Tiger by Thomas Anderson, published by Osprey Publishing. This has an interesting section that describes on the one hand how this fortress of a tank could take punishment, but on the other hand, the multiple blows against the tank, could leave the crews deeply anxious and their nerves on edge, while bits of the tank became damaged and degraded some of its capability. Even the Russian anti-tank rifle could be effective as knocking off the retention clips for the visor block or damaging hinges etc. There are accounts of visor blocks being knocked back into the fighting compartment and glowing red hot, fumes or fires inside the tank choking the crew or parts of the drive system failing, while externally, the tank was observed to be still able to plod on and function - how we get this sort of thing into our wargames with the usual and clinical hit / miss / kill type results is a good argument for putting abstract processes into the game to get 'feel'. The 'stun' result in this system is in part a reflection of all those things.

Other aspects of tactical combat give opportunity for narrative to be brought into the games such as showing how turreted vehicles held a tactical advantage over self propelled guns, how the elite Tiger crews actually made such a difference in performance (with Tiger II crews not being as good as the earlier Tiger I veterans) and how sometimes tanks had to get up close and amongst the enemy to get point blank or track shots. Likewise, the dangers of unsupported tanks getting involved with enemy infantry needs to be properly demonstrated so that mixed arm scenarios work properly.

It has been fascinating to read Panther Vs Sherman, one of the Osprey Publishing 'Duel' titles, which set aside my rather simplistic view that the Panther spec outclassed the Sherman spec and therefore would simply be better in most engagements, fitting the often said notion that it would take 3 - 5 Shermans to knock out 1 big cat. The book delves into the many problems associated with the Panther, from mechanical reliability, to poor crew quality to just basic tactical mishandling. It is a real lesson in how the wargamer needs to approach the whole thing of tank capability with a wider appreciation and a more open mind as to the 'other' factors that go beyond gun penetration tables.

Machine guns and anti-tank guns were very carefully sited and their role, that includes ambush laying and crossfires, led me to want them to be effective and different from other troops during opportunity fire, hence they have some capability of retaining their fire after opportunity firing. Likewise, anti-tank guns can claim cover even when in an open hex on the assumption that they are picking the very best bits of terrain, making use of undulations, sparse cover and camouflage, together with the low profile nature of their weapon.

The effects of artillery can be devastating and their effectiveness is quite indiscriminate as to whether they harm elite or green troops, it can tear apart the most experienced of formations. However, it is important to prevent domination or give the player an unrealistic ‘on call’ capability. The rules make artillery an effective but fickle weapon and mortars can run out of ammunition. There is sense of tension when dealing with artillery accuracy and whether the other player will be able to take control of where the shot will fall and tension as to the degree of damage, bringing either a sigh of relief or groan of despair.

The revised command rules allow a player to automatically put some troops into command. This reflects that there will be a focal point in the battle that is getting the main command attention. Elsewhere, there is every chance that other troops will get their orders but not a certainty and so the 'all seeing player' has their command and control capability slightly restrained in this game. It is for the players to decide what is critical - should the anti tank guns be guaranteed to fire on the left or should the pinned units on the right have a more certain chance to recover before facing possible removal from play?

The close assault rules have changed so that now neither side can claim cover. This means that both side will score hits on 5 and 6, better reflecting the ferocious and brutal nature of close combat with highly motivated troops and the presence of automatic weapons and grenades. The benefits of cover have been abstracted out by giving defenders in cover an extra D6 and those in fortifications an extra 2D6.

The Random Events Table is just there to bring a little chaos and variety into the game without excessive rules overhead. They replace the random event cards that were drawn every 30 game minutes that were a feature of the original rules. The table makes it easier for downloaders to use the rules (rather than putting cards together) and is more solitaire friendly.

The optional rules that cover additional traits of the Tiger I and the SU 152 bring a bit of character to the game and as much as anything else, are intended to encourage the player to do similar optional rules for other vehicles that interest them.

The included scenarios serve as an introduction to the system and use just a small selection of the available order of battle in the army lists, so that new players have a chance to work through them without having to own a wide variety of kit. They have all been frequently play tested and the first two do a reasonable job of explaining the system and the rest do give a good game, highlighting how much action can be had out of a small playing area.

Overall I am pleased that the rule set manages to cover so much while retaining straightforward mechanics. The army lists cover the middle war years on the eastern front and I will add to them over time, to broaden the time frame and nationalities. The system is pretty stable, so the reader can modify the rules as they see fit.

Thank you for taking the time to read these rules. I hope that you like them enough to give them a go. © Norm Smith 2014.

The Rules can be downloaded from;

My Dropbox account

Please post your feedback, getting the rules package in its current state has been a substantial undertaking.