A surprise, to me at least, last week Victrix Games announced that they had stock of a new rule set by Peter Heath, published by Anschluss Publishing called The War on the Ground, which is a 1:1 scale system for WWII that will typically see between a company and a battalion, together with supports, artillery and air support, fighting it out over the Normandy.
Victrix are just getting into WWII plastics at the 12mm scale and in my latest routine newsletter e-mail I get from them, came news of these new rules for £16. My order went in and a week later they arrived.
So this post is just offering some early observations of the rules and in the way that I often do, I will use a small AAR with an exploded first turn to examine the sequence of play and system in a bit of depth.
Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.
This is just a reminder that I am not a review site. I just write about things that I like and that I have paid for. So my posts tend to be upbeat and not necessarily critically objective, however, I always hope that my comments are a fair reflection of content for those trying to make buying decisions.
In fact, Anschluss Publishing have put three tutorial videos up on their website, so readers wanting to know more can have a closer look for themselves. I used these to make my buying decision. The link is in the Resource Section below.
The War on the Ground is a soft back, 64 page, perfect bound, A4 sized ruleset, with a single double sided full colour play aid.
The book holds the core rules to the system, gives some scenarios and includes the vehicle and unit stats needed to play those scenarios. It is the intention that follow on scenario books will be published and that these will have the benefit of not being rule set or scale specific, but they will continue to add the unit stats that accord with this system. Judging by the scenarios in this rulebook, I can see those follow on books being popular.
One of the things that made me want to read the rules and get the game to the table so quickly is simply the presentation style. There is something of the old school feel about this that dials straight in to my nostalgic soft spot. The text is nice and large, reminding me of Flower of Chivalry by the Canadian Wargames Group, the approach to systems reminds me of Armour & Infantry 1925-50 by Wargames Research Group and the approach to presentation and content style reminds me of the superb Frank Chadwick’s Volley and Bayonet rules and all of this is in a smart, up to date production - what’s not to like!
There is of course also a memory of my early wargaming years when in the 80’s, Anschluss were publishing the series of booklets in the ‘Great Battles of History Refought’ series, so Peter Heath has been doing this sort of thing for a long time and it looks like Anschluss are back, up and running.
Ground scale is 1mm to the metre, so 10 / 12mm tanks engaging at 500 - 750 metres look fine to the eye and games are do-able on the family dining table. Vehicles are represented at one to one and an infantry section is a single base.
So an infantry platoon will typically be three sections and a HQ section and three of these will form the company. Depending on nationality, heavy weapons sections / platoons will hang off or around this or the parent battalion organisation. A company will typically be nine infantry bases with three platoon HQ bases and a company HQ. A tank squadron will be four or five vehicles. Off table artillery are in batteries of 8 guns or 4 guns.
Spotting is an essential ingredient to play and once spotted, sighting is maintained until it is lost i.e. a unit moves out of sight. If unit A spots, then when nearby friendly unit B also tests for spotting they get a positive modifier if they are on the same radio net as Unit A and so it goes.
This ‘discovering’ of the enemy can also form part of the pre-game, where a side can spend 5 game turns sending their reconnaissance forward to explore enemy positions and enemy units provoked into fire will become easier to spot. This is a nice feature as it helps keep reconnaissance type true to role. At the end of the 5 turns, that reconnaissance asset simply comes off the table.
Anti-tank fire will (if spotted) attempt ‘to hit’ and then if hitting, will roll on a penetration chart, which is a list of results based on a D20 and the difference between gun fire strength at a given range and the target armour. This is actually nicely nuanced. Obviously you are looking for a knock out, but failing that you can cause damage and regardless of that, once you get as far as the penetration table - even a ‘no effect’ is in fact an effect, because you can always get a ‘Dispersed’ result, which for armour, basically means that the tank has closed down (hatches) and for the rest of the turn will suffer a fire penalty.
|Stats for the Panther|
It is this sort of thing, along with things such as track or optics damage that keep things entertaining when you have the likes of Panther V Sherman uneven type engagements. It also allows the stories of individual bases being able to tell their story, even though you, the player may be removed by several command levels.
For anti-personnel fire, units can combine their firepower to put larger volumes down and this likewise runs off a chart using a D20 and we get results such as Dispersed, Scattered and Shattered, each with their own definition of what a unit should do. For example dispersed troops will seek immediate cover and get reduced fire and movement. That status is removed at the end of the turn.
Shattered is reflecting heavy casualties and the penalties remain with the unit until the end of the game. Too many shattered units in a formation and effectiveness tests (read Morale / Training) that fall out of that are unlikely to go well!
Failing a Unit Effectiveness Test can cause units to falter, become unnerved, become shaken or rout and there are triggers when these tests should be taken.
Aircraft are included and you can use air reconnaissance over the battlefield and ground attack missions, the latter has an interesting mechanic of ‘estimating’ the distance to the target and the strafing / bombing run is based off that.
There are 5 detailed scenarios, the first is the smallest, using a 1.5 metre by 1 metre table and being the ideal introductory scenario, another is set on a 1.2 metre by 1.4 metre table, while the bigger scenarios are running off a default 6’ x 4’ space.
I really like the scenarios, they are an interesting read in their own right, which makes me feel that the planned scenario books will be worth a look.
Just taking one of these scenarios, Operation Mitten - 27th June 1944, we get a page and a half of background, then a list of forces, then notes (like special rules) and then victory conditions. The text rounds off with a summary of sources. For this scenario eight books are listed. I am aware that the author has an extensive book collection and that clearly feeds into the confidence that these scenarios seem to have. Finally we get a full page schematic map to translate to the tabletop and these are nicely done, very clear and very ‘wargamery’ - nice.
While I am sounding typically upbeat about this system, my initial learning curve to the rules did have some bumps, as these things do, but I will go into that in the conclusions.
As usual, my post is getting very wordy :-) so on with some action. I have set up a sample simple game to help me assimilate the systems, so for starters, it is a pure infantry / armour action, without any other elements and has intentionally been kept small.
I am not giving a full AAR, but will do my usual exploded look at the opening turn to examine the sequence of play and some of the inter-relationships of the system, that should give a good feel of the basic game engine.
Above - this is the table at start. Note after taking this photo, I moved a couple of German sections and the anti-tank gun forward slightly, so they were behind the next hedge line on the other side of the road.
It is late August 1944 in France.
Table space - this would fit into a 3’ x 3’, I am using a 4’ x 3’ and there is spare unused table all around.
Forces - The Germans are defending a small hamlet (la Ferme). They have a platoon of infantry, supported by an MG42, a Panther tank and a PaK 40 anti-tank gun. The infantry platoon is a single organisation, the MMG, tank and A/T gun are independents. They are positioned in the hamlet and to the fields and hedgerow to either side. They have an Effectiveness Rating of 4, this means that they are average troop quality. The Panther has been given a rating of 3, which is a better quality.
|American right flank - 'B' Company with armour|
The Americans are attacking. They will be player 1 in the game. They have two infantry platoons, A and B. Platoon A has a light machine gun supporting it. In addition they have a platoon of Shermans.
|American left flank - 'A' Company|
I took a rough points count of the troops involved and the Germans have 69 points, while the Americans have 169 points.
Orders - The Germans simply have defend in place orders (hold). They have been given contingency orders to fall back onto the orchard if they are overwhelmed.
The Americans orders are to take the hamlet and secure it (advance and hold). Company 'A' will frontally assault. Company 'B' will move up on the right to sweep around and make a flanking attack into the town. The Shermans will be situated between the two infantry platoons, move to within 300 metres (30cm) of the hamlet, stop and give supporting fire to the infantry assault.
|The German Panther in Henri's Field.|
So here we are at last!
The sequence of play.
Joint Initial Actions - We will ignore this phase as it covers the regulation of aircraft and artillery, which we are not using.
Turn Action Phase (6 routines);
Player 1 (American) moves - Reducing movement to 50% of allowance is one of the critical decision points of the system. It allows the unit to both fire and move and it also feeds into the various penalties. So here, we will have the infantry make at best speed since they are out of view of the German side and the Shermans can half move, so that they can still fire.
Player 2 (German) fires - they can fire anything of theirs that did not previously move more than 50% in their last movement phase. The Panther and the anti-tank gun have lines of sight to the Shermans, so they will attempt to shoot. First, they must ‘spot’ the target. The range is 360mm, cross referenced with the target size (2) at a target in the open, gives a base ‘to hit’ of 2+ on a D10 (roll a D10 and get equal or better than the base value). There is however a modifier of -1 to the base score for the target moving, so the base hit is now 1+, an automatic spot since the die roll cannot fail.
With two targets spotted, the shooters must test for ‘to hit’ on the Direct Fire Table. The Panther’s gun is 75mm and over 55 calibre (it is the superb 75/70), firing at up to 500 metres, it has a basic ‘to hit’ of 7+ (on a D20). The modifiers are +1 for a rate of fire bonus, so they need 8+ on the D20 and they roll 17, getting the hit.
The Panther’s fire value at this range is 15 and the front armour of a Sherman is 7, so that difference gives the Panther a +8 advantage. We go to the Penetration Table and roll a D20 on the 8 column. We roll 20 (high is best) and get a Knock-Out!
For the record, a roll of 6+ would have been enough for a knock-out in these circumstances and even lower could inflict damage. Regardless, once you are rolling on this table you will in any case get at least a ‘Disperse’ result (tanks close down).
The PaK 40 now successfully spots, fires, hits and scores an ‘Optics Damage’ on another Sherman. This means that the Sherman will suffer a +3 modifier when it fires, for the rest of the game. Another ‘optics’ result will knock the gun out of action.
The German infantry do not have any targets to fire at because they do not have a line of sight to the American infantry, due to the hedge blocking potential vision (the Americans are beyond the hedge, not yet next to it).
Player 1 (American) fires - They may fire with units who have not exceeding 50% of their movement, so the Shermans can fire. The first Sherman attempts to spot the PaK 40, which has fired, so is easier to spot, despite being in cover. The spotting is successful, so the Sherman can combine it’s main gun fire with it’s machine gun fire value, but first, we will see if another Sherman can also spot the anti-tank gun. The second test is a bit easier because a fellow on the same radio net (the first Sherman) has now already spotted.
|The anti-tank gun takes a disperse result|
The second spotting test is successful. This means that both Shermans can combine their firepower to put a lot of fire into the target area. The dice roll is quite low, but they manage a ‘Disperse’ result, which means that the target must seek cover and will have penalties on movement and fire for the rest of the turn.
The two remaining Sherman’s fire on the Panther, both spot and hit. The Sherman fire value at this range is 11, but the front armour of the Panther is 10, So the Shermans will only be rolling (with D20) on the 1 column. They need 15+ to harm and 20 to Knock-Out. The two Shermans roll 18 and 12. The 18 gives an ‘Optics damage’ result, so for the rest of the game the Panther’s fire will suffer a penalty.
I like that there is a chance of causing some harm here at under 500 metres. The Sherman will be firing more in hope and desperation, while the Panther will feel fairly safe, but not take anything for granted - good.
Player 2 (German) can move - This is an interesting part of the turn sequence for the defender because it allows for shoot and scoot type tactics. In this instance, the Germans do not want to move anything.
Player 1 (American) fires again - as before, providing the unit has not moved more than 50% of allowance, it can fire. They fire at the same targets as before, since circumstances have not changed and the previous targets therefor automatically remain spotted. The shots against the Panther become a bit easier because the Panther now counts as being acquired.
Again both Shermans hit, even the one that has damaged optics, but they fail to do harm when rolling on the Penetration Table, however, even a fail causes a Disperse result on the Panther ..... they button up and will pay a penalty while firing this turn.
|The Panther is marked to show it is dispersed and has optics damage.|
Player 2 (German) fires again - The Panther and PaK 40 fire again. The anti-tank gun selects the same target as it is now acquired. The Panther must spot for a new tank to attack, since it knocked it's last target out. It does, but both firers miss! though the Panther is dispersed and has damaged optics, which all conspired to lower shooting performance.
Joint End Action Phase;
There are no airstrikes to be done.
Unit Effectiveness tests - none are needed as the target formations did not suffer enough loss to act as triggers.
The Pak40 and Panther each lose their dispersed status
Next turn ..... and so it goes.
As our game opens up, a second Sherman is brewed and then with some collective HE and MMG fire from the Shermans, the Pak 40 is destroyed.
|The anti-tank gun is destroyed by concentrated fire.|
The trade of fire between the remaining Shermans and the Panther is not likely to bode well for the Shermans, but their fire on the Panther does get them a track hit (reduces the tanks movement by 50%), followed later by another track hit, immobilising the Panther, but the good crew stayed with the vehicle .... it was now a pill box, immobilised and with damaged optics!
|The two surviving Shermans move forwards|
leaving 3 burning hulks behind
Above - with the loss of another Sherman, the decision had to be made whether to withdraw the remaining 2 Shermans or have them press on across the field to help 'B' Company assault the hamlet from the flank and also to escape the line of fire from the immobilised Panther. Moving this way would in effect immediately negate the Panther threat. Which is what they choose to do. Their ‘Faltering’ status (due to losses) means they move towards the enemy slowly.
|'A' Company line the hedge and drive off the enemy MMG|
As for the American infantry, ‘A’ company on the left, brought the hamlet under a lot of fire, driving the ‘Shattered’ MG42 back to take refuge in the rear part of the building and also sending a ‘Shattered’ German section running back over the fields.
‘A’ Company (minus 1 section that had itself become shattered) decided the time had come to leave the hedge line and advance, cross the road and move into the field opposite.
|American 'B' Coy enter the lane and a firefight starts |
with the German section. The American section is lost.
Above - ‘B’ Company on the right got mauled as it crossed the road and started to press onto the right flank of hamlet, chasing a German infantry section back into the buildings.
|The rest of 'B' Coy press on towards the hamlet, supported|
by the Shermans
The Shermans trundled along with them to give fire support, but one of them carelessly got too close to the buildings and a panzerfaust took it out.
|A casualty to a panzerfaust!|
Amazingly the one remaining Sherman held its ground and continued to support the infantry assault.
|An escaping German section and American 'A' Coy taking |
very heavy casualties from the MMG
But here, we have the final unravelling. On the American left (above), another American section got badly shot up by the re-located MG42 and on the right, plus an American section was lost during an attempt to storm the hamlet over on the right (B Coy).
Hanging on by their fingernails and having taken many casualties themselves, the German defenders had somehow managed to repulse the attack, as the Americans, unable to carry on, began falling back.
That turned out to be a fun exercise and really, right up to the last moments, I was ready for either side to break off the engagement, so a tight game indeed, which considering it was a non-tested plonk down scenario, bodes well.
In running the rules for a test in a first game, by mid game, I was starting to find that some of the principles were becoming more second nature to play and even remembering some of the various fire strengths at different ranges. I even at times got to the point of rolling the dice first to see whether the score was good enough to even have a go at the calculations.
However, that is not to say that I found this first play an easy play. The rulebook was in my hands quite a lot for referencing and checking things up and inevitably, I got some this wrong, getting hung up a bit on as to who and when should take Effectiveness Tests, which is the morale engine of the system.
First impressions pre-play were that there are quite a few charts with modifiers and that the sequencing of some rule passages are awkwardly placed or too brief. However, the charts quickly become intuitive, the modifiers are the ones that you would want for this sort of game (i.e. the ones that matter) and the rulebook is short enough that you quickly become familiar with finding the rule you want. It does remain the case that in some places, the rules are brief enough to leave questions or doubt, something that more examples would have mostly dispelled.
The rulebook has 4 blank pages in the rear for players to write notes, something that I doubt I could ever bring the pen to do! So perhaps this space could have been better used to give some play examples. The few examples given in the book are clearly done and helpful to the text, so I think more of the same would certainly work.
I sent a couple of e-mails to the designer and he was very supportive and prompt and I am told that shortly there will be a Q&A type document going up on their webpage to help with such things.
I thought that the rate of movement over the table and the rate of loss, set a tempo that felt right for the subject. The rules force you to think in terms of formations and no doubt in a bigger game, reinforcements and fresh troops will have their proper historical significance.
I have generally found spotting in games a bit of a bind, but it works here to bring some interesting nuances to play. In today’s game, as ‘A’ company got up to the hedge line, they spotted German units faster than they were spotted themselves, so that was a nice touch as things slowly became revealed. Plus as more ‘A’ company bases successfully spotted the enemy, they were able to combine fires and force German units to pull back.
Had the Germans had better luck with their own spotting, the Americans would likely have had much less effective fire as they would be taking Dispersed and Scattered results, making it harder for them to get their attack actually moving.
Although mine was but a sample game with few unit types, I thought the gun / armour relationships worked well and I particularly liked the fact that the Shermans at these close ranges were capable of inflicting some discomfort on the Panther, which would have been the case.
The Optics and Track damage results add interest to the game and help with the overall narrative and during play, I definitely felt that I was witness to a credible unfolding story.
A strong element of the rule set are the historical scenarios and the author does a good job with these, from content to layout.
Overall I am pleased with my purchase and enjoyed my game with these rules. With Victrix now joining the smaller WWII scale and with their advertising power, a renewed interest with battalion level games and systems is likely going to be reflected in our wargaming media.
EDIT - I have been spending a lot of time with the rules and find some brevity in the actual presentation that can cause ambiguity. I have been putting down some work for the author that should help iron things out in the Q&A download that he is preparing.
Complexity - World War II tactical by its nature can be a complicated subject, but these rules concentrate on the important bits and are concise for that and written in a gamer friendly style. You are left with the impression that the author knows his subject well and is at ease with modelling the various aspects.
This is probably a medium complexity level system, initially made a bit harder for me by my entanglement with the ‘Effectiveness’ rules, but I have got there now and I think a first playing, plus the proposed Q&A sheet will make for a smoother learning curve. I would put it roughly level pegging with Pendraken’s Blitzkrieg Commander, perhaps even a tad easier, while the other new set out (O Group by David Brown) looks to be a bit more involved.
As with all these sort of games, investment in learning is rewarded by the number of scenarios and the hours of gaming sessions that can then be created, once you have the system under your belt.
Size - The ruleset is a slim, perfect bound volume and will not trouble the bookcase. The gaming space would seem to default at around 6’ x 4’, but as shown today and in two of the scenarios in the book, smaller game spaces can give good games. The game runs off a single play aid, but I think players will want to make some unit stat cards so that they do not have to be continually referenced in the rulebook.
The rules describe themselves as being suited to 10mm, 12mm and 1/144 scale. The game shown here today was with Pendraken 10mm models. I think you could move to 15mm without too much fretting (it might look like a Flames of War game), though bigger than that, the gamer may want to convert centimetres to inches or double the centimetre measure, either way, that would need a bigger table, but visually the relationship between vehicles and the aesthetics of range would look better for doing that.
The introductory scenario looks a very interesting game. The Germans have a force of one company of Infantry that already start play ‘Shattered’, plus a single Panther tank. The British have just a squadron (4 tanks) of Shermans, so not many troops at all and ideal for learning the basics.
Solitaire - The game is typical of many two player games in that it can be played solo, just do the best you can for both sides. Today’s session was a solo play.
There is a section called ‘Confusion of Battle’ which allows a player to put 20mm x 20mm chits face down on the table to conceal the identity of their force, plus for every chit placed you can place 2 dummy chits. This of course would need two players, but it is not the kind of thing that has ever stopped those of us who dabble with solo play ...... plus I dislike mechanics that leave you confused about what you have and where, which such things do - it’s only meant to confuse the enemy, not the army commander, but these things can have that effect! or perhaps that says something of my own limitations :-) So yes, fine for solo games.
Time - The introduction says a large game can be played in 2-3 hours. The scenarios have lengths ranging from 22 to 30 turns. I lost count of how many turns I played for, but it was probably half of that and of course familiarity should see play speed pick up. I was probably playing for over 3 hours, but writing notes, taking photographs and checking rules, so once learned, this game should be delivering single session big games. There is one movement and two fire phases per side per turn.
Anschluss Publishing Tutorial Videos. LINK