Thursday, 13 October 2016

Review of Battlegroup Kursk rules

In an earlier blog post about whether to get the new Bolt Action WW2 rules, I mentioned some other rules I had tried, and I considered revisiting Chain of Command (CoC). When I went to my rules shelf I noticed a rules bundle I had purchased at a B&B stall (I can’t remember where or when) and I had never untied, or looked at them, once I had got home. These were the hardback books Battlegroup Kursk (BGK), the Battlegroup Overlord supplement and an A5 softback version of the rules (all together costing me only £20 compared to a RRP of £70!). So, rather than play CoC again, I decided to give BGK a go. I have managed to play a few solo games all using Eastern front 20mm forces on a 6’x4’ table and 250 points (i.e. Squad level game).

The ‘Orders’ section of rules is straightforward; all the standard, obvious options are available and include reactive orders, allowing covering fire etc. The reactive movement (rather than the reactive fire) order is a bit strange, and I never used this in my games. The turn order is IGO-UGO and number of orders available to a player results from a single D6 roll plus the number of officers in the force, which can give widely fluctuating results. Larger games use multiple D6’s and give a more standard range of results. Some things were not clear: German infantry sections have 2 teams (rifle and LMG) and I was not sure whether this needed a single order (in which case, why have separate teams listed), or individual orders (in which case, the German player will struggle with the number of orders required)? Reading the Overlord supplement, I found a rule for separating Bren teams from their sections in the British listing, and I decided to use this for the German sections/teams in my games (I’m still not sure if this is correct). I also was not clear about man-portable heavy weapon teams (HMG, mortars etc.), because there did not appear a requirement to set them up; could they simply move and fire like normal infantry teams, or should they be considered as Very Light weapons teams and need an ‘unlimber’ phase before firing?

The ‘Movement’ section is again nice and simple, but maybe too simple? There is no deduction for infantry movement in rough/difficult terrain. OK I can live with this, but I instinctively feel that marshes, woods, hedgerows etc. would have an impact. What do you class man-portable heavy weapons as? I think lugging a heavy base-plate for a mortar would significantly slow you down. Tracked armoured vehicles can weave about with no apparent deduction; I had a T-34 move down a road in a village, take a sharp 90 degree turn, then make another 90 degree turn around the side of a house, and then another sharp turn to face the enemy, all with no speed reduction.

The ‘Direct Fire’ mechanisms are again streamlined, all basically following the same procedure: observation, hit, save/penetration. I quite liked the fact you may not necessarily see the target and therefore not fire; and also liked the differentiation between firing for effect and pinning/covering fire. Pinning is pretty much as valuable as killing targets, due to morale effects discussed later. I had no major quibbles about weapon ratings etc., except possibly the German MG34/42 is over-rated? A rule that I used frequently was when a squad was trying to close assault; if multiple casualties are inflicted, you can instead take a single loss, retreat back to cover and become pinned. The vehicle listing seems to indicate that players should record the number of rounds fired. Really? I ignored this in my games – Life is too short for such nonsense!

The ‘Indirect Fire’ section follows a similar process but does raise some issues. I liked the ‘Communications’ aspect for calling higher command support, but this does burn a players order count. The accuracy dice roll again seems a bit random, and you can cancel the fire order if the ranging round falls short. There is no ability to ‘walk-in’ the artillery in subsequent turns, and the danger zone is standardised and not related to the calibre and number of weapons firing. The biggest omission is the lack of smoke rules, which is very strange indeed!

The ‘Morale’ section can be split into two. At a unit level, a casualty or non-penetrating hit results in a simple D6 dice roll, Veteran/Elite troops can re-roll, but this seemed to me to be too simplistic. Troops that are already ‘Pinned’ and fail, rout off. If a player rolls a straight 6, then the unit has a chance to take an immediate counter-action. At the battlegroup level, each force has a numeric strength and morale effects result in the random drawing of ‘Chits’ that reduce this value. I really like the uncertainty this mechanism introduces, particularly because it can result in occasional side effects e.g. mine strike, air strike etc. Reduction of battlegroup morale to zero results in defeat. Strangely, rallying unit/units from Pinning requires the drawing of a chit to rally D6 units. It would seem that waiting for the number of Pinned units to rise before rallying would be sensible, but this is often not practical. Units that tend to be pinned are those at the focal point of your plans, so you cannot wait to get them active again, and therefore you have to rally even if only a single unit needs such treatment. I have found games to be frequently lost simply by the effects of pinning opposing units, and obliging an opponent to rally. Maybe my game play and/or tactics are at fault, and I would be interested to hear what other gamers think?

Before I discuss the non-rules aspects of the BGK publications, I will comment about the type of game they give. I like the speed of play, the mechanisms are clean and simple, and the use of chits to determine victory is good. The order system is fine but rather random when using ‘Squad’ level games. Combat is clear and does not require constant double checking in the main rules. The main weakness lie in the unit morale system (too simple) and rallying. The lack of smoke rules is bizarre! Overall, I cannot see BGK becoming my go-to WW2 rules. I will stick to CoC, which I think gives a better game, and I also still intend to try the new version of Bolt Action.
The A5 paperback rules are excellent (only £10). Regarding the hardback publications (£25-30 each), I would be very disappointed if I had purchased them at the normal price. Why do authors think they have to provide pages and pages of potted history in such publications? If a reader wants historical background then there are a wealth of sources, online or published, that can be easily accessed and  provides for all needs, in greater detail and accuracy than provided in these rule publications. They then add in a simple painting guide as well. Do they think a person buys BGK as their sole source on a period, especially ones as well documented as Kursk or Overlord? I’m sorry to say that I find this ‘fluff’ annoying, especially because it’s inclusion bulks up the book and results in increased cost for little benefit. The majority of both hardback books centre on army lists. I generally enjoy a good army list. I find they inspire me to investigate/get new units, and I like the way they constrain players to field forces that feature the common elements used historically. There are poor army lists out there, which some players can exploit to generate ‘super’ armies but, on the whole, I like an army list. The lists provided in Battle Group Kursk/Overlord are bad! Not because they are inaccurate, unhistorical, or unbalanced, but because they are extremely repetitious and tedious. For example BGK has only 4 lists: German Panzer & Infantry, Russian Tank & Infantry. This is fine, but each list repeats the information in the previous list. They share the same elements on the whole; a German infantry platoon/squad is the same in both German listings, as are the tank units, support units, recce units etc. etc. I’m sure there must be a few variations between lists, but 90%+ of each list is repeated information. The format of the army lists is again poor; each list takes a dozen sides of A4, when a better format could easily reduce this to a couple of pages! With a bit of thought and editing the authors could reduce the entire rules to the A5 rules booklet and separate, smaller, slimmer, A5 army listings. Even better would be to publish the army lists online as free pdf files! Such a decision would make BGK an attractive purchase, but in the present form I would not recommend these rules to another gamer! What is even more astounding is the authors are producing further campaign dedicated hardback books! Rather than finish on a negative note, I do like the inclusion of minor, often neglected, support elements e.g. combat medics, signallers, repair mechanics etc.

No comments:

Post a Comment