Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Taking Blitzkrieg Commander IV for a spin


I come to version IV (published by Pendraken Miniatures) without any prior experience of the system, so I thought it was worthwhile just plonking some kit down on the table and playing through some of the procedures, just to get a feel of things and to help embed the rules in my mind.

Book front



Initial impressions of simply opening the book are good. It is well laid out and nicely illustrated and the one volume has the rules, scenarios and army lists, no other purchases are necessary, so Bravo! for that.


I am just doing a small slice of action, from what we can presume is from a bigger battle, so this example is being played out on a pin board, with Pendraken 10mm figures. As a first outing for a taster, it is unlikely to capture all of the nuances, but this post is intended for those who perhaps are likewise exploring for the first time or who are thinking of buying and need to jump off the fence.


Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.




‘Just plonking some kit down’ isn’t in fact quite true, I am taking the T-70 action that I posted on recently (link in the footer), which itself fell out a scenario from the boardgame Platoon Commander Kursk, published by Flying Pig. The advantage of this is that the board game has platoon level units, so we have ourselves a ready made sub-scenario that happened because it was a plausible moment in the game.


Above, the map used to illustrate the earlier boardgame post

Conversion - I am not worrying about list points here, this is just an exercise. The Germans will have a single HQ because they have a battle group with a single purpose. The Russians will get two HQ’s, one for some infantry defending a wood, because they are on table as part of the main force and another HQ for a company of T-70’s that have just arrived on the German flank to make a counter-attack, so it seemed right that they should have their own HQ. The Russian forces are further differentiated by the infantry in the woods being ‘Rigid’, while the counter-attacking force is ‘Normal’. The Germans unsurprisingly have the better rating of ‘Flexible’.

Since this is a learning game, I am not including any of the finer elements such as sniper, artillery or aircraft.

Background - (I would encourage the reader to check out the earlier T-70 post as it sets this particular scene in a narrative format). German forces (2 x Pz III long gunned 50’s, 2 x Sd 251 half tracks and 2 x Heer infantry platoons are in the process of attacking a woods containing Russian infantry (x2) and a machine gun position. Out of the blue, they suddenly find a Russian T-70 company (3 platoons) falling onto on their left flank, conducting a counter-attack. The T-70 company themselves become surprised as they come under attack from a previously concealed StuG III platoon, acting as flank guard to the German assault on the woods.

Even though all units are present on the table at start, I will run it so that in the opening turn, the Panzer III forces is unaware of the concealed T-70’s, which in turn are unaware of the concealed StuG III.

A StuG III platoon is concealed as a flank guard.
The Sd kfz 222 armoured car is the German HQ unit.

Play - the following is just a series of snapshot comments that highlight various aspects of the rules and the basic mechanics. I have read the rules once and then browsed them. So for this game, I will simply go through the sequence of play and reference the rules along the way and the system will therefore reveal itself as I plod ever onwards.

Turn 1.
Scheduled Phase - the opening phase deals with off-table support (artillery and air strikes), neither of which I am using, so we can move merrily on.

Initiative Phase - A term that can mean different things in different systems, but here it is an important pre-order phase in which those things that are close enough to an enemy unit to be influenced by their presence, can act and perform ONE action without relying upon orders from above, they are in effect using their own initiative for their immediate situation. Individual units can perform a Fire, Move (incl Close Assault) or Deploy action as required, but it must made in respect of the nearest enemy unit and it must be within the Tactical Doctrine Range of the unit, which relates to the Rigid, Normal and Flexible states that the formations have been given. I really like that idea as it gives a slight edge to those forces with the better training / experience etc, without being too much.

Of importance here is the influence being the nearest enemy unit. I took that absolutely literally (rightly I think), so later, when the T-70’s fire on the Panzer III’s in their flank, I did not allow the Panzer III’s to turn and face that threat in THIS phase, because they had a nearer enemy unit (in the woods), which is the trigger for initiative and that infantry unit of itself, would not provided the grounds for the Panzer III’s to turn away from them and face another threat that was further away, even though it was the secondary distant threat that could actually do them harm. I’m pretty sure that is a correct and strict application of the rules and since I like rules that take control away from players, I am good with that.

Command Phase - in this Phase there is an attempt for headquarters to directly order units under their influence. Headquarters are rated and dice are rolled against that rating to see whether the headquarters can actually give orders.  If the roll is successful, then all units in that Order Group can take an action and on completion, the HQ can immediately try and issue more orders and so it goes until such times as that roll fails, which of course may actually happen on the very first attempt and if so, nothing in that group will take an action during the rest of that Phase.

There are modifiers to the Command roll, but the two prime ones are that an action taken earlier in the Initiative Phase gives a -1 penalty to this roll and each successive attempt to issue orders again in this Phase also suffers a -1 penalty (accumulative on each attempt), so it becomes progressively harder to keep issuing order within this single phase by the same headquarters.

This brings a very dynamic nature to play, nothing is certain, again wresting total control from the player (good). It also strengthens the significance / importance of the earlier Initiative Phase, which within limitations, will guarantee an Action.

The T-70 platoons with their command unit lay in wait

When I did use Actions in this scenario, it was generally for firing and I found that the process became second nature very quickly. One of the great strengths of the system is that the fire process is shared across the system with all types of fire and assaults, making for quick learning, easy play and a happy outcome of there being an absence of ‘exception’ rules, which can be the bane of tactical systems. It is just as easy to use tanks here in a first game as it is infantry.

As a quick example of the firing process, taking one Panzer III unit firing at the infantry in the woods, the tank has a firepower against soft targets of 2, so 2 D6 are rolled in attack. This was modified by +1 D6 for firing at less than half range and by another +1 D6 because the tank is close enough to the soft target that their machine guns would also be used. This gives a total of 4 attack dice. The target is in woods, offering some cover, so 5’s and 6’s are needed to hit.  Some units have a defensive roll (SAVES) that will then allow a chance to roll any hits away ..... but infantry platoons do not get saves.

Units can absorb a given number of hits before they are removed from play. The Russian infantry here can absorb 6 hits. I discovered early that when a unit absorbed hits and a suppression, but not enough to knock them out, that the hits and suppressions currently carried by the active player were removed in the active player's End Phase, so if you have not knocked out a target by the end of its turn through enough hits, it essentially gets a clean slate as those hits suffered are removed.

Now, I note in the downloadable optional rules at Pendraken that instead have it that you can play that hits carry over into the next turn, so there is a chance to accumulate hits until a knock-out is reached. I can see good reason to that, as after my first turn, I started to use 'ganging up' tactics to better ensure a knock-out during the turn and that did not feel realistic, though I was getting rubbish command rolls, so the number of fires were generally low in my turns anyway ... so who knows! :-).

I recall that this area of the rules has always been a bit controversial in the past in BCK II and perhaps any readers with a firm view one way or the other of which gives the better game, could comment below.

By firing in the Initiative Phase, come the Command Phase, units can either assault previously weakened units or put in extra fire, hoping to get to the unit destruction level and by time I got to this stage in the turn, I was getting a better appreciation of the significance of the Initiative Phase.

End Phase
As already mentioned, hits and suppression markers are removed and so is smoke.

The German assault against the woods

The game - On the opening turn, during the Initiative Phase, the German attack on the woods put hits on each Russian base and a suppression on one, which was a good start, but then in the Command Phase, they failed their first test for orders (rolled 10) and so they could not follow up that success.

The Russian infantry return fire caused heavy casualties amongst the German infantry, removing one of the platoons from play and hitting / suppressing the other. The T-70’s were able to break from concealment and fire into the flank of the outer Panzer III platoon in their Initiative Phase. With a total of 12 D6, expectations were high, but they just got three hits (4 hits needed to knock out a Panzer III) ...... worse, they also failed their first orders roll in the Command Phase, so could not do anything further that turn. Of course, since the T-70’s didn’t fire in the Command Phase, the concealed StuG III also lost the chance to make an Opportunity Attack against them, so the twists in the system give a ton of interest.

So far in the game, both sides had failed their initial orders roll and had they not done so, either side could have capitalised on further firing, which may have altered the course of the game. But these naughty dice continued to tease, the Russians in the wood now failed their first orders roll in the Command Phase, giving the German infantry a chance to regain momentum.

German assault, unaware of the T-70 threat to their
left flank. They were lucky that the T-70s rolled so badly.

On Turn 3, things went in the German favour. The StuG III fired on the T-70’s and the Panzer III’s turned to face them, while at the woods, the German infantry platoon, with fire support from two half tracks, managed to clear and enter the lower part of the woods.

Combined fire from the two Panzer III’s and the StuG knocked out two T-70 platoons, it was only their failure to secure another fire order that saved the third T-70 platoon from the same fate and they were able to pull back out of the line of fire and escape.

The whole thing had proven to be a minor distraction for the German attack against the woods, which would now continue.

Conclusions.
That seemed to flow well and felt right from a story perspective. Coming to the system new, might be a good thing, since I don’t have to unlearn anything from a previous version. I used the rules as written and did not have any problem doing that, everything seemed adequately explained (veterans may find a glaring fault in some part of my rule application, but all I can say is that it felt okay to me as I was doing it).

Having had a brief dabble, I can readily appreciate why this system is so popular. My own game seemed to unfold in quite a believable way and despite being an unbalanced situation that favoured the German side, I was left feeling that both sides were engaged in play and that the Russians did have a chance to upset the German assault ..... they just needed happier dice :-)

This system delivers an uncertainty as to what will happen next and the rules give a ton of replay value for what I think is a fairly small investment in learning time. I am certainly pleased that I bought this set and look forward to getting a better level of familiarity with it.

Good show Pendraken and to the team (especially Mark) who have put a ton of their own time into this.

Resources.
A recent replay, narrative based, of the boardgame scenario that inspired this post. LINK

My sister web space called ‘COMMANDERS’ is more ‘snippet’ based than here and updated more regularly LINK.

27 comments:

  1. Great post, Norm. As a veteran of BKC I and II ive been wondering about v IV. Seems like the core concepts are still intact. I loved BKC for all the reasons you mentioned. In fact the reason i dont play it anymore is because i got burned out on it!

    Regarding the disappearing hits, we played it both ways and i liked retaining the hits, although i always felt that the disappearing hits made the game much more exciting and less predictable. It became easy, especially for high quality defending units to wipe out poorer quality units in a single turn. But the games ended much quicker. Just my 2 cents. There are advantages to playing the game both ways.

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    1. Thanks Steve, I hope to do more with the system, so this notion of whether hits should stay or go is bound to get more thought.

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  2. Great to read your positive review of the rules Norm and really glad that you enjoyed the game.

    I may have misunderstood the opening Turn bit, where it seems Russians took off their hits and suppression at the end the German players turn. If so, the hits and suppression should have come off at the end of th Russian players Turn. Hope that makes sense?

    As you know, I'm a fan of hits staying one, for reasons outlined on my Blog and to which you have alluded to here.

    Great to see your 10mm minis in action again and a nice little scenario too boot.

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  3. Thanks Steve, I had made that mistake and have amended the text so that it does not mislead the unsuspecting :-)

    I need to make some 10mm command bases now, I just used armoured cars and a Russian truck in the above run through, but something posh! might be a nice touch.

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  4. Even though WW2 isn’t my thing, I really enjoyed this post Norm. Who knows, it might even inspire me to grab some panzers someday.........

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    1. Thanks Mike, I was struck by how few miniatures would be needed for a good game.

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  5. Great run through of the core aspects Norm and the minis look lovely.

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  6. Thanks, I have this order of battle in 1/72, but the 10mm look just right for the level of play. I even managed to survive contact without the crutch of hexes! but the thought of 1 hex equalling 10cm did cross my mind :-)

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  7. You’re right. Sooo many games have an initiative phase and they almost all mean something different. Lol.
    This is a nicely written and thorough review of the rules. They sound really interesting.
    Now how do we go about getting some of those happier dice I wonder. 😀

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    1. Thanks Stew, I have accumulated a lot of dice, of all different varieties and sizes, even blank ones, the only consistency is that they do however all dislike me :-)

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    2. That made me laugh.
      I’ve gotten rid of dice who were under performers. Shows them whose boss. 😀

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    3. Stew, what happens to me is as soon as I get rid of the under-performers, a new cohort decides to take their place.

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  8. Excellent battle report

    https://www.10mm-wargaming.com/

    Take care

    Andy

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  9. Thanks Andy, 10mm goodness :-)

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  10. Not only are you an excellent war gamer and fine blogger but a technical wizard thank you 😀

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    1. Matt / Jonathan, I was having a similar problem for ages, I found a small convoluted work around, but since a recent iOS update, even that didn't work. I spent quite a bit of time with Google before finding this and now having found the solution, it almost seems a bit daft that something so simple can deal with such a significant frustration. :-)

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    2. I have not experienced this “feature” since I always sign into Google but glad your solution has hoped so many. In case my icon and ability to comment goes missing, you have provided a solution to file away.

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  11. Your 10mm figs look smart, Norm! I always enjoy your battle report treatments and especially when the same scenario is fought using different rules. Not sure how I like the notion of damage being removed at the end of a turn if a unit is not destroyed. I need to ponder that one...

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  12. Thanks Jonathan, from the Pendraken Forum, it is clear that opinion is divided on the subject, though there seems to be a favouring of retaining hits. Someone posted that they allowed partial recovery, with Veteran, Regular and Conscript losing 3, 2 and 1 Hit respectively.

    Another does similar but never allows a unit to recover the 1st hit, that always stays with the unit.

    So as you say, much to ponder. For myself, I think the 'clean slate' is too generous.

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    1. Norm - clean slate always bothered my regular wargaming buddy DG so i was keen to see what differences there were if any... for me, what I need to understand in rules is the "narrative" that you mentioned... what are they simulating by allowing a unit to lose all the hits/suppressions at the end of the turn?? Does a tea lady come round with an urn of tea and tray of cakes?? :o)) I like the other idea of partial recovery, I also like the idea of no recovery....

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    2. Yes, i think I am increasingly disposed to using the optional rules. I am surprised on something so significant as this, that the optional rules did not appear at the rear of the rule-set. There are two blank pages there for notes (does anyone ever use such things?, well obviously they will now that I have doubted it :-) ), that could have been used, rather than readers hunting them down at the Pendraken Forum.

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  13. Nice review and good to see it up against your previous post. It sounds like it should be tough for the Soviets but with a chance if they're a bit lucky, sounds like this rule set will deliver, from the outside I can't see the clean slate each go being a good idea to be honest!
    Best Iain

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  14. Thanks Ian, it is surprising that though everyone I am hearing from who seem to have a handle on the rules, plays with accumulated hits, rather than a clean slate, yet v4 chose to show no accumulation as the basic rule and did not include the optional alternative of an accumulated hits rule with the set itself.

    I wish i had recorded each of my dice rolls and then I could retrospectively apply both methods, just to see if even in my small game, one method or the other made a difference.

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  15. This has been very useful. I wargame only solo and usually avoid forums so I had no idea that there was an option to retain hits in BC. I could never get my head round the disappearing hits idea so this discussion has been most helpful.

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  16. Kevin, I enjoy the Pendraken Forum as it is one of the few forums that give a lot of space to the smaller scales.

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