Friday 21 July 2023

Defend the engine shed and a new project.

New project? Well it is a flirtation with the Rapid Fire Reloaded rules. Having had a couple of trial games with ‘Rapid Fire Reloaded’ last week, largely with blank bases, I liked it enough to do some re-basing of the infantry, gather some terrain and to build a couple of low level scenarios for the 6’x4’ table with 1/72 models.

This post is going to look at the parameters of the project, discuss the rules and look at our first face to face action with them.

If any of this interests you, please use the ‘read more’ tab. 

The Rapid Fire ruleset has been around for a couple of decades and I have the second edition (RF2) published in 2005. 

In 2020, they released a streamlined version called ‘Rapid Fire Reloaded’, putting the game, a scenario and a sample of forces into a small 16 page A5 booklet costing just £5 - it is excellent value and just a nice thing to own if your funds can stretch to it.

It is based around battalion actions and above. An infantry figure equates to 15 soldiers and 1 model tank is representing 5 vehicles.

An infantry company is comprised of four bases, each with two figures, so 8 figures are representing the company.

The interesting thing though, is that despite this designation of scale, during play, it is very easy for the player to feel like they are playing a much more tactical level game, with a tank being a tank etc.

This is likely just a visual thing, but the ‘sense’ was enhanced in the original edition, which had a hand grenade rule. Anyway, none of that matters, because I like both levels of play and the easy nature of scale slip suits me fine - as I do indeed tend to think of 1 tank as being 1 tank.

The two notable features of the ‘Reloaded’ rules are firstly the anti-tank system has morphed from the gun / armour tables based around a cross referencing of a numeric fire power with alphabetically rated armour values and is now a simple numeric difference between gun and armour values [e.g. the Tiger I’s armour is rated as 2, the gun on the T-34/85 is rated as 2. When the T34 fires at the Tiger, those two values are compared and produce a differential of zero, which plays into the ‘to hit’ modifiers].

Secondly, during fire, infantry / support weapon bases are only removed if the number of hits directed at them at least equals the number of figures on the base - remainders are lost. Since all infantry are based in pairs and support weapons have three figures, this really is a visually simple way of dealing with hits and losses. It also means that those bases with three figures on them can be quite resilient.

Since the ‘Reloaded’ volume was released, there have been three follow up booklets. The first (Reloaded Extra) has advanced rules, which brings in some of those things that are in RF2 to broaden the versatility of the rules such as air attacks and naval landings etc.

Booklets 3 and 4 are just lovely, one brings in 4 scenarios for the Canadians in Normandy 6th - 9th June 1944 (24 pages) and the other has 4 scenarios for Crete 20th May 1941 (32 pages).

These are all A5 booklets, that are just nice to own. This is not a Codex style product. All stats are up on the Rapid Fire website and all you really need is the basic ‘Reloaded’ booklet, which costs £5.

Anyway, RF Reloaded is my new project. I have a goodly amount of 1/72 (20mm) kit in the stash, but this has languished for a long time in a storage crate, waiting for kits to be made up and figures to be painted - my knock-about games with these rules gave enough enthusiasm to get some of this out.

With Mike due to visit on Friday (today, as I start writing this post, it is Tuesday), there is a bit of a panic to get some re-basing done and some new stuff painted up.

Project Parameters.

I see this as falling under the ‘Pocket Army’ concept, so respectable starter forces can easily be put together and then added to, but certainly a beginning force will come in at under 50 figures, including some supports, but tanks and anti-tank guns etc. will be extra.

Each side will have a core force of a battalion ( typically 24 infantry) with a command HQ, a couple of anti tank guns, one or two medium machine guns and a mortar or two, for a total of 39 - 46 figures.

On top of that, each side will be able to draw from a bank of vehicles. In the first instance, I think a pool of 3 tanks, 2 transports and an assault gun or two would suffice.

I have some good supplies in the stash, so over time, more can be added at a leisurely pace and I can’t really see the need to be buying anything much more - like with most projects started, I just need to build and paint what I already have!

Meet the cast of todays game. 

The Soviet infantry are AB figures in metal. These have been primed in grey for ages, just sitting there and have nearly been sold twice!  The Germans are a mix, some are Plastic Soldier Company plastics, but most are the ‘remakes’ (re-scaled) of the old Valiant 1/72 figures by Rapid Fire. The plastic figure bases suffered some damage in the latest rebasing, so some new models needed painting up for this game.

The vehicles are likewise a mix. The T-34’s are Plastic Soldier Company (3 to a box). I like these because you get both the 76mm and 85mm gun turrets. The Tiger is a fast build Italeri kit (2 to a box). The Brummbar is a pre-paint diecast, I have added mud to its tracks and finally, the SU 122 (short howitzer) is a Pegasus offering (2 per box).

I don’t base my vehicles - perhaps I should, because Rapid Fire do resin vehicles, but they have bases attached and either everything or none should be based!

The rail track / shed / rolling stock were made up a couple of years ago and that build is covered by an earlier post - the link is below in the Resource Section.

The rest of the buildings are pre-paint resins.

Todays game

I needed a new Soviet command base and considered using a tent and adding dice holders so that it could double for ‘O’ Group games, but that wouldn’t look ‘front line’ enough, so I dug around in by ‘dead twigs’ box and got something that resembled a tree stump and then as an additional prop, found a motorcycle kit from Academy, which I now have leaning against the tree, a nice bit of incidental fluff to the base.

In trying to think of a ‘gentle’ scenario that I could have a first proper game with Mike, I thought I would restrict the order-of-battle to basic forces and use the rail engine shed that I built a few years ago and have been eager to use (see that build in the Resource Section below).

I chose a 6 x 4 tabletop to restrict the battlefield and have the action concentrated at the engine shed. The mat is the city mat from Battlefront, it has grasslands on the other side.

White stars show the initial German positions, the two arrows show the main lines of Soviet advance.

In truth, this scenario evolved in my mind after playing two tactical boardgames that involved railway lines. The first was an ASL based game and the second was an Old School Tactical game played recently. 

Above The Steelworks, Colombelles, France, July 1944 published as a third party product by Lone Canuck Publishing. A lovely map, which I used a couple of times with my Old School Tactical boardgame, swapping out the British, which are not yet produced, for Russians from the East Front Module for a boardgame mash-up.

ABOVE - OST, the Trains Must Run scenario from the new Red Blitz pack. This shot is taken just after mid game, with three defending Tigers already burning!

Links to both the Steelworks and The Trains Must Run AAR posts are in the Resource section below.

The OST scenario was based upon the battles around Minsk in July 1944 and I was reminded that my own set of figure rules which include six scenarios, have one which like the OST scenario above, concerns the battles north of the city for the rail hub, so I decided that today’s game would have that setting as the back story and we are representing just one of the many local fights that broke out in defence of the local rail net.

The opening text from the scenario in my rules states

1st July 1944 - the Soviet offensive was closing on Minsk. To the north of the city, near Pleshchenitsy, 5th Panzer Division with Tiger support (Pz Abt 505) set up strong defences to protect the railway lines that would be needed to evacuate German forces. Soviet 29th Tank Corps and 3rd Guards Mechanised Corps attacked, resulting in a large tank battle. Though taking heavy tank losses, Soviet formations were already by-passing the area, taking the battle to the very outskirts of Minsk.

Taking this to Rapid Fire, I knocked together the following scenario guidelines;

German orders - Defend the engine shed.

Soviet orders - Capture and hold the engine shed. 

Victory Points - In a timed game, possession of the engine shed at the end of play is worth 6 VPs. For each enemy vehicle or infantry / weapon base removed from play, score 1 VP. Otherwise, victory goes to the side that doesn’t collapse and rout (failed morale), when the other side does. 

Special balancing rules - If the Soviets lose two T-34/85’s they will get a reinforcement of one SU 122 (howitzer). If the Germans lose their lone Tiger I, they will get a Brummbar - a good choice for a city fight!

To the table.

Well on Friday morning I was awake before six, adding the flocks and stones to the rebased infantry and printing out the briefing sheet. There was just enough time for this to dry before Mike arrived at 1.30 Phew! The deadline was met and nothing unpainted was on the table (for a change :-) ).

As I was hosting, I took the defenders (German). There was quite a lot of ground and my forces were fairly sparse, so I decided to put numbered chits down at each obvious location and to do a hidden set-up, just to give Mike a more interesting game. 

In the end that made a huge difference as the Russians gently inched forwards, whereas if my defensive points had been known, the Soviets would likely have given them a focus and overwhelmed them early on.

In the above photo, each star shows a genuine location that I chose to set up in. An infantry company went to the Engine Shed and the second company went to the factory on the left. Over on the right, I hid the Tiger I behind the smashed up tram and made a note that it faced the signals box and was positioned / sighted so that it could see down the track. Finally a MMG went into the wood line and behind them was the battalion HQ.

Above - here is where the German MMG went, amongst the tree line.

Above and here it is hidden by marker number 10. Note the marker behind the tram ….. or as we now know …. The Tiger’s ambush spot. To the extreme right is a marker by the rail wagon, but it is a dud, there is nothing there.

Mike put his main attack up the Soviet right side, with two T-34 units and two infantry companies. To the centre, just below the signal box, another tank unit and infantry company were stationed. The mortar and Maxim MMG teams were out on the left - in what would become a lonely place.

Above - the Soviet pushed through on the right flank between the gas storage tanks and ruins, ahead of them was the tram.

Above - the Soviet centre moved forward towards the signal box, with the T-34 platoon reaching the rail track and moving into the sights of the lurking Tiger. 

The Germans had been sitting tight, staying hidden and waiting the opportunity to ambush …. and here it was! The Tiger fired and missed, the T34 fired back and missed - was this an early indication of our luckless die rolling?

Above - While the Tiger had been trading shots to it’s front, look carefully into the photo (click to enlarge) and see the T34 platoon that have moved up to get a clear shot at the rear of the Tiger … although the Tiger tried to react, the fatal shell slammed into its weaker rear armour and it was destroyed.

Above - this activated the special rule that brings the Brummbar on as a German reinforcement, which entered on the German right and immediately left the T-34 at the signal box exposed. The Brummbar does not carry an anti-tank round …… but with a bit of luck, it’s HE round from its 150mm gun found its mark and did ‘this’ to the T-34.

Above - The Soviets had pretty much cleared the right flank - unopposed - a little later, this would include the loss of the German battalion HQ, caught in the open fleeing from a small wood.

Above - from this position, they had a view down the German flank to the engine shed beyond.

One of the T-34 platoons moved from the right, across to the left, to deal with that Brummbar, but wandered too close to the engine shed and the German infantry company that had been laying in wait fired with panzerfaust ….. the second T-34 was up in flames.

This loss activated the special rule that brought the Soviet SU 122 platoon onto the table. They moved up on the left, behind the factories.

Above - The Brummbar (off camera, to the right of these two factories) got lucky a second time and dealt with the SU 122 as it emerged to outflank the Brummbar. Russian armour had suffered more at the hands of the Brummbar than it had to the Tiger - an embarrassment surely to the Tiger crew!

Now that the German infantry company at the engine shed had exposed itself by firing, incoming fire started arriving from every direction. Mortar fire, infantry fire (from the signal box) and HE from the surviving T-34 platoon were all slowly eroding the defences at the engine shed.

To salvage the deteriorating situation, the second German infantry company, hidden in the factory on the German right was obliged to break cover and run towards the engine shed to help bolster the defence, for what could be a last stand.

Above - Seizing the moment, a company of Soviet infantry (nearest the camera) threw themselves at the entrance of the engine shed. In the bitter close assault, the Soviets rolled a ‘1’ and the Germans rolled a ‘6’ - need I say more! The Soviets were forced to retire -  the promising moment had passed as German 2nd Company now started to reinforce the engine shed.

Above - With the engine shed too strongly held, the Soviets contented themselves by standing off and pouring a lot of fire into the engine shed, including persistent and accurate mortar fire and continuous blasting of HE from the T34.

As the casualties grew, the Germans were forced to take their first morale test, which they passed - still the casualties grew and again a morale test was called for - this time it was the German turn to roll a ‘1’ (they also suffered a -1 for this being a subsequent morale test and a further -1 for suffering the loss of their battalion commander earlier) …… the battalion’s will to fight had evaporated and the Germans abandoned the engine shed, leaving the Soviets the victor of the field


At the end of play, we agreed that we had enjoyed the game, both for its aesthetic and the narrative based play.

Playing on a 6x4 with 1/72 was a joy to look at, but also caused moments of the mind misinterpreting the situation, so for example, something looks close enough, that you think it should be spotted automatically, rather than diced for (which it must) and a vehicle can present it’s flank and it feels like it should be vulnerable, but it is only due to fire coming from behind the tank that lower armour values come into effect and I suppose one has to remind oneself that the tank is representing 5 tanks. 

I have been going through some of the rules, Close Assault for example and comparing them with the original (heftier) rule in RF2 (2005) and it is quite impressive to see how short-cutting in ‘reloaded’ has been modelled to keep the sense of the original rule, but with a lower word count.

The only thing that keeps catching me out is that when firing anti-tank, the way the gun / armour value difference plays into the modifiers is a bit counter intuitive and it takes a while to become second nature.

So for example, if you take the armour value of a Pz IV tank it has a target class (read armour) of 3 (the lower the better). The gun value of a Sherman 17pdr Firefly is 1 (the best - so lower is always good). You look at the difference between the firer and the target, so in this case, the difference between the firer and target is 2 in the Firefly favour.

When you use the ‘To Hit’ you want a high score and the above difference is one of the modifiers that will effect the To Hit, but in the above example, while the Firefly value is 2 below the Pz IV armour value, what that difference actually does is to ADD the 2 to die roll, thereby actually increasing the chance of a hit, because high is good for the actual hit.

I’m not sure that I have explained that particularly well, but certainly in my first few games, it has been a thing.

The booklet does not come with a quick reference sheet and there isn’t one on the website. I can understand why, as gamers with FR2 could simply take the QRS and apply it and the ‘reloaded’ project might not remain commercially viable. However, throughout play, I was flipping back and forth for the various charts and modifiers, so I will make myself a play sheet for future games. 

It would be interesting to run todays scenario under the ‘O’ Group rules and see whether this basing style can service both systems.

Overall, I am enjoying by Reloaded dabble and it was double goodness to get some 1/72 to the table.

What’s next?

The game has kept my enthusiasm for the project high and I am keen to add to the forces. For the Soviet pocket army, a SMG company of 8 figures will move to paintings sticks, while the Germans will get another standard infantry company and perhaps a couple of trucks.

Resource Section.

Building the rail track and shed etc. LINK

Creating the destroyed city tram. LINK

The OST ‘The Trains Must Run’ replay. LINK

The ASL / OST mash-up …. The Steelworks. LINK

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