Friday 10 September 2021

Assault on Strassengabel - an ‘O’ Group game

'O' Group are published by Reisswitz Press and authored by David Brown. The rules cover tactical WWII at Battalion level.

Anschluss Press, who happen to have a set of WWII rules pitched at a similar level as ‘O’ Group have started to release a series of scenario books to support their rules. They describe the scenario books as being usable with other systems, so having taken one of the smaller scenarios to check out the Anschluss rules, I thought the exercise was worth re-doing, this time using the ‘O’ Group rules.

It is really the way that the game opens that interests me, as my last playing (with other rules) left me wondering how the British could ever win the scenario …. so how will ‘O’ Group handle the situation? 

In the Resource section at the foot of the post is a link to the previous article covering that first playing of this scenario with the Anschluss rules, which may interest the reader for sake of comparison.

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

The scenario book is called Forgotten Battles from France to Germany, January - April ‘45 and the point of the package is to highlight some lesser known actions, but which were hard fought, keeping interest for both sides, despite the general worsening situation for Germany at that time.

The Anschluss rules (Boots on the Ground) and ‘O’ Group are using the same ground scale and close to same time scales, but there are some differences, such as BotG uses individual anti-tank guns and vehicles, while the same are handled as ‘sections’ in ‘O’ Group.

The other big difference is that artillery allowances are generally on hand for the whole of the game in BotG, while in ‘O’ Group, fire missions are limited. This second point should matter in this scenario because the British attack is quite weak and under great pressure from the very outset and their hope rests with the generous amount of artillery fire that they get, so we might need to manage that in our conversion and hope we keep things within design balance.

In my previous game, the British advance onto the table just brought them into a wall of fire that quickly demolished the attackers and saw them off, with extreme casualties. In truth, I suppose there was nothing wrong with that, because historically, this first attack did totally collapse, but as a scenario with objectives that were not even closely reached, it still felt like a puzzle that needed cracking.

It is not particularly the best scenario to apply to ‘O’ Group, because OG rules work along a ‘process’ that is based around a battalion sized force, typically containing three infantry companies plus supports. In this scenario, we just get one infantry company per side and the defenders have a strongpoint (perhaps it is little wonder the previous attack fizzled out before it started).

Having already written about Boots on the Ground in a previous article, I don’t really want this article to default to a technical comparison between the two rule sets, so from here-on-in, we will be talking just about ‘O’ Group.

Germans defend the railway

Making it work - the size of this game is at least ⅓ smaller than a typical ‘O’ Group game, so to make some adjustments, I will be dropping the ‘start of turn’ battalion dice down from 9D6 to 4D6. These are the dice that get the game up and running and that generate available orders each turn.

Also the artillery resources which are very generous in BotG (being usable on every turn) need to be heavily trimmed for OG, so to do that, but still be OG friendly, the British will get 3 missions (max allowed) and the Germans just 1.

OG games will end if one side loses too many casualties. In our much smaller scenario, I will set this to just over one platoons worth of losses, so losses that total a little more than a ⅓ of the force will end the game.

Orders of Battle.

The British have a single infantry company of 3 platoons, each of 3 sections. They get an FOO. They also have an off table battalion HQ, which starts with 3 order points.

The Germans have a single infantry company of 3 platoons, each of 3 sections. They get an FOO, plus a MMG attached to ‘B’ platoon. There is some additional support in the form of a PaK 40 section and a 20mm Flak section, but neither have transports. They also have an off table battalion HQ, which start with 2 order points.

Setting up the table.

We are on a 4’ x 3½’ table, with Pendraken 10mm figures (a few British bases will be proxied using US bases). Terrain is set up exactly as in the previous game.

Below is the battlefield photo taken from the last game, it shows the initial set-up of the three German platoons and the point marked ‘x’, is where the British entered play, one platoon at a time. I’m showing this map first because it typically chimes with how we set up games to accord directly with a scenario and / or historical situation and as a result, the games can open up along lines pretty much pre-determined by that set up.

However the ‘O’ Group set up is quite dynamic and so today we might get some different avenues to explore.

deployment in the last game

As much as I would love to set up the German defences as shown above, to effectively give a line that the British will break themselves on, I doubt that OG is about to let me do that!

In opening play, OG has a dual system of physically placing ‘real’ units on the table and of also placing Combat Patrol Markers. CP markers (counters) are placed by the player to the parts of the table where they might want their ‘real’ troops to arrive. The markers have a sort of semi real existence, a tenuous link or potential promise to troops that may arrive at that point . 

They represent a few forward patrols testing the way ahead, they can’t go too near the enemy and at some point the player will hope to convert the CP to a deployment - it is a sort of ‘jump off’ or ‘spawning point’ if you can bear such comparison. In contrast, physically placed units, are real units already on the table and the opening procedures to the game can give each player a mix of these two deployment types.

We start with nothing on the table. The defensive line is identified for set up purpose. The Germans roll their set up dice. What they really want are some physical units on the table, especially in the important Strassengabel Strongpoint …… Oh Dear! They get 3 Combat Patrol markers. For an initial defence, these are going to be as useful as a chocolate fireguard!

There is however an important rule tucked away that caters for such situations. It allows us to convert 2 CP’s to a real unit, so that is what we shall do. We put the physical ‘2nd’ platoon in Strassengabel and the other remaining CP goes into the woods at the top right of the map, which the Germans hope will be the location that 3rd platoon can be introduced into the game.

Used as the British Company HQ .... Stars! yes I know :-)

Now we test for the British, they get 3 ‘real’ units (a lucky outcome for them) and they place them on the map, behind that top road. The scene is set and it is already a different scene than our straight scenario deployment would give us.

We will now look closely at turn 1 (don’t worry, it’s not too long), just to see how the game opens up, remembering that previously playing this under other rules, the British just walked into a wall of fire and the attack dissolved. 

Both sides roll for their orders. The British get 2 orders, plus they get to put their battalion HQ order level up one point from 3 to 4. The Germans just get 2 orders.

The British left makes an early push on the woods.

The sides roll for initiative and the British win it, allowing them to take their actions first. They first activate their ‘A’ platoon on their far left, spending 1 order and choosing to make a RAPID MOVE to occupy the woods at the top right of the map. This pushes them into contact with the German Combat Patrol marker located there, which takes the marker off the table and puts it into the German reserve.

This is a delightful touch to the system. In such an easy way, we have replicated the British flushing the Germans out of the woods, pushing them away before they could set up their defence. This is so narrative based, you read of this sort of thing all the time, yet in many of our systems using fully deployed units, we would have to play out the attack running into a wall of defensive fire and then if surviving, one or more rounds of close combat would follow, which is fine, but it will never tell the story that we have here, which is about a bit of bold manoeuvring winning the day (because the Germans had not had chance to get a physical unit deployed onto their CP).

What should they do next? They only have one order left, but ‘B’ company can see Strassengabel bristling with Germans (2nd Platoon) and know it would be foolish to walk into that head on …. So better to put a bit of artillery fire down on the strongpoint first, but this costs 2 orders. However, they can take one of the order points from their battalion HQ, sort of drawing it down into their hand for that turn, so to speak, to give them the 2 orders that they need and that is what they do.

The British FOO does the necessary, calling for Regimental Support and gets it, then tests for accuracy, which results in the slightly less effective fire of ‘harassing fire’. It doesn’t matter though, because they get enough hits and the Germans don’t ‘save’ too well and end up with 3 shock markers spread across 2nd Platoon - this suppresses the platoon, a bad result as they basically can’t fire or move forwards until they rally some of that off.

And that ends the British part of the phase. The Germans now act upon their own orders. They only have 2 orders (plus any they choose to take from their battalion HQ pool), but for now this will do. They use 1 order to attempt to rally 2nd platoon is Strassengabel. They take the full rally option, giving them 3 chances (they could have part rallied with just 1 chance so that they could still move / fire), of which they pass 2 of the rolls, so their shock value is reduced from 3 down to 1 and that is a huge benefit.

Note, while they have negated some of that artillery damage, it also the case that they had to divert their time to rallying, rather than firing ahead with their MMG at the British ‘B’ Platoon. 

They use their other order to place a Combat Patrol Marker to the right of the strongpoint behind the road, as this will be a useful place to bring another platoon into the game. In our imagination, we have to ‘see’ that those Germans chased out of the woods have now dropped down that right flank and are ‘intending / preparing’ to hold this new bit of ground.

With all orders spent, we move into an Regroup Phase, which gives some limited action potential for units that have not already received an order that turn. The British use this to good effect by advancing both ‘B’ and ‘C’ companies forward into the centre, hoping to put as much pressure on the Germans as possible and keep them on the back foot. It doesn’t work out so well in practice though, as both units roll poorly for their random movement allowance ….. but forwards is at least forwards.

Note - pushing into enemy positions limits where the enemy can place or operate CP’s. Running out of placement options might see the Germans having to increasingly resort to bringing in reserve (unused) units on their baseline.

Anyway, that opening to the game was hugely different to my last playing. When I ended the last game, I just looked at the situation and thought ‘how do the British ever hope to get some traction in this scenario - never mind win it’ and yet here we are, with OG in a fascinating, hard to predict, but believable start. 

In some respects we have moved away from the ‘strict’ boundaries of the scenario, but it was likely that straight-jacketing that was causing the ‘no-win’ situation in the previous game. Besides we are not too removed from history as the important objective Strassengabel does have its German garrison and it is suffering at the hands of the British artillery (which this time was available, accurate and effective, but it might not always be so!).

The best part for me was the flushing of the woods, it will be this sort of thing going on around Strassengabel that will frame the scenario and do the storytelling.

British 'A' Platoon flush the Germans from the woods.

It is true that the rulebook was in my hands a lot for this initial play, but I found a good level of engagement from that depth of studying and also everything I needed to know was there. The rules are well written and seem complete. The absence of  ambiguity and vagueness is noticeable.

As for the rest of the game …….. our chaos and unpredictability continues. The British manage to bring all three of their artillery missions down on Strassengabel and the results are devastating. German 2nd Platoon, other than the MMG have been removed from play and we are already close to calling this battle lost for the Germans.

A bit of a 'stonk'!

However, as we go into turn 4, the situation is that Strassengabel is defended by a lone suppressed (can’t fire or move) MMG, but their other two platoons are on the table and close enough to be able to enter Strassengabel to continue its defence. For the British, they have ‘A’ and ‘B’ companies close enough to also be able to make a grab for the strongpoint, so as we start the new turn it really matters which side gets the initiative and goes first.

It is ……. the British! Also, the Germans got two failed orders on their rolls, leaving them just 2 orders (not including their HQ pot) to manage this critical moment. 

British 'A' Platoon redirect to assault the strongpoint

The British platoon can fire on its way in, but does so without effect and the Close Combat process starts. The German MMG section interrupts proceedings and plays a ‘React Withdrawal’ order, but they fail their withdrawal roll, so will stand and fight. Their Suppressed status means they cannot opportunity fire, but the nearby 20mm Flak in the courtyard can (I am using a proxy Sd Kfz 222 armoured car - to mark where the Flak gun is) and this inflicts 2 hits. This would normally hesitate a unit, but in Close Combat, a unit that begins its CC attack can continue with the assault even if hesitated by fire.

In the ensuing Close Combat, both the German MMG and Flak 20mm are removed from play as casualties and the British platoon take control of the BUA - though they are suppressed (suffered 3 shock) after all of that effort.

I think really, the Germans have taken enough losses and the objective has been taken, that this should probably count as a game won by the British ….. However, the Germans were renown for putting in immediate counter-attacks and they have troops on hand, so they spend an order and do that.

The attack is a great success, the British being in a poor state (suppressed), were pushed back out of Strassengabel with the loss of two sections! That is quite a slap, but a great way of showing the value of the immediate counter-attack against units that have not had time to embed.

The successful German counter-attack

Although a local victory, my feeling at this moment is that German losses to date make them quite vulnerable to further attack ….. but then the Winds of Change!

A new turn, the Germans get the initiative. British ‘B’ Platoon had advanced in the centre, but with the collapse of their position at Strassengabel, they found themselves stuck between German 1st Platoon in Strassengabel and 3rd Platoon up ahead near the rail track. The two German platoons poured fire onto ‘B’ platoon, scoring so many hits, that the entire platoon was removed.

'B' platoon in the centre (with the yellow die) takes fire
from up ahead and from the strongpoint

Combined with the losses of ‘A’ Platoon, this definitely ended any British right to remain on the battlefield and the game was called.


That was quite a surprise ending as only moments earlier, it had looked like a British win when they initially took the strongpoint and it exactly this unpredictability that I enjoyed from the system, making solo play particularly entertaining.

The third party scenario book is useful to set the stage for a game, but some ‘translation’ work needs to be done to get to the starting point, but in some respects this hardly matters as the ‘O’ Group system itself wanders off script from the opening dice rolls and I think this helps in better putting you in the shoes of the opposing commanders as you face an opening dynamic situation that you must both respond to and try to control.

In some ways, the opening of the game reminded me of the rule sets put out by Peter Pig, in which between setting up and starting play, there are a set of pre-game routines that mix things up a bit, so that unit strengths, positions and even the terrain can change before play actually starts. In OG it is less obvious than that, but the effect is there and in some respects it continues into the early turns of the game via the Combat Patrol Markers, before there is full deployment.

The thing with Combat Patrol Markers is very cleverly executed. while they exist, they are quite fluid and if threatened can disappear, frustrating the owner of the marker who is trying to gain physical influence at that location. In our game, the flushing of the Germans from the woods gave great narrative and in a single moment, changed the dynamic of that part of the table.

I had thought that the limited artillery availability was going to unhinge this scenario, with just a maximum of three missions being allowed, but it was devastatingly effective against the German defenders at the strongpoint, so we saw the effect that I think the scenario writer would have wanted.

German 1st Platoon eventually make it into position.
they have the PaK 40 gun with them

There are some nice simple touches that deliver much, but cost little in terms of process or rules overhead. Amongst my favourite are the spotting rules, usually a faff in games, but quite eloquently workable here, units throw a spotting dice with their fire dice if the target is any location that ‘might’ be subject of an obstructed view. The fire will still be equally effective, it is just that the spotting dice will give an obscured / not-obscured result, which will influence the saving rolls that the target makes. The practical importance of the process is that it is always done when needed, so you don’t have to remember who spotted who once the more complex firefight situations arise. Very good.

The game is very interactive and in our game there were a few occasions when breath was held as Initiative was diced for. Another nuance of this initiative system is that the player not currently taking the actions, can in some circumstances, interrupt, play and order a ‘React Action’. This just adds greater depth and possibilities to the local tactical situation.

In terms of chaos, if we look at the British taking Strassengabel. Firstly the artillery was accurate and deadly, on another playing that might not happen. The British ‘A’ platoon captured the strongpoint, became suppressed and before they could recover, they were ‘immediately’ counter-attacked and ejected before they could rally their ‘shock’ off, on another playing that might not happen. The Germans gaining control of the strongpoint allowed them to pour additional fire into ‘B’ platoon, destroying them and likewise, in another playing that might not happen and so the players are forever being tested by the demands of all this interaction and an ever changing and fluid situation and this does seem to feel like it puts enough distance between you, the battalion commander and the platoon / section(s) that you are presently representing. i.e. wearing two hats by loosening your full control at the sharp end does work here.

Despite the number of rulebooks for various periods that we have in our collections, there always seems to be at least one more knocking at the door each year, claiming to be new / better / more realistic / more fun etc etc, but here I think there is something new. Without a lot of hard wiring it does deliver a good narrative and seems to run in an ‘operational way’ that fits my imagination of how war at this level unfolded on the battlefield, with players able to use experience to drive the direction of the game, but being forever vulnerable to the mishaps that will knock you off balance and meaning that you always have to have a respectful regard for what the other side may do.

It seems quite a ‘full’ rulebook when you first start reading it, but after even my short play here and a previous testing of the gun / armour system, the main processes were quickly under my belt  and I feel ready to do another cover to cover read to hoover up the one liners and some subtleties that I have no doubt missed. 

Anyway, needless to say, I enjoyed this gaming experience and was quite impressed with what OG did with this scenario, despite it probably being too small for the system, so this is a game that is going to be returning to my table, perhaps with a more conventional battalion setting.

Resource Section.

A posting on this same action, but using the rules ‘Boots on the Ground’ from Anschluss Press. Which are the rules that this scenario book is designed to work with. LINK

A post looking at the gun / armour system in 'O' Group. LINK

My sister webspace COMMANDERS is being re-configured to showcase various figure and boardgame systems that I am enjoying and give a flavour of where current ongoing projects are up to. Link.