Monday, 1 May 2017

First impressions on Battlegroup Tobruk

I don’t intend to write a review of the ‘Battlegroup’ series of rules because I did this in an earlier blog post (Oct 2016), and I recommend readers to view the earlier post to get a better idea about my thoughts. Instead I want to look at the new ‘Tobruk’ (BG-T) codex which I recently purchased at the Salute show. All my previous comments about the rules and the value of these codex’s still apply; in my opinion they remain over priced, badly laid out, full of fluff etc. But does ‘Battlegroup’ transfer well to the early phase of desert warfare?

Firstly, I used my 10mm desert armies and moved up from the ‘Squad’ level game (250 points) to the ‘Platoon’ level game (650 points). This shift in game size greatly improves the game for 2 main reasons: (1) Order generation; The ‘Squad’ game generates 1D6 orders and the probability is flat-line; if you throw a 1, you are fairly scuppered for that turn, and even a 2 severely limits you. Now in the ‘Platoon’ game you throw 2D6 and the probability is a bell curve, resulting in a more reasonable number of orders generated. (2) The larger armies have higher Battlegroup Ratings (BR); now taking a chit to remove Pin markers is not so drastic. In my earlier ‘Squad’ games I found the BR for a force was frequently exhausted almost before the game got going because ‘key’ elements needed to be un-pinned. Now, unpinning is a more viable choice; the relative cost is lower and there tends to be more elements that require rallying.

My infantry forces are based for FoW and therefore operate as ‘full’ sections; In BG-T I did not split the Germans into rifle and MG squads, nor did I allow the British to separate Bren teams from the section. In the games I have played of BG-T so far I have not really tested whether this change had any significant effect because the battles have both been tank dominated affairs. Infantry comprised only a small part of the armies fielded and tended to hang back out of harm’s way. In theory I cannot see that ‘complete’ sections would be too detrimental to the game, it is not as though there is an abundance of terrain to allow fire&move infantry tactics to be employed.

Regarding the tank battles, I have no real disagreements concerning gun or armour ratings etc. What I did find was that forces tended to close to the 20”-30” range band then stop and engage in a static slogging match; the winner being the player would threw the better dice and had fewer KO’s/Pins. There appears to be no incentive to encourage the British Crusader tanks to engage in cavalry style ‘charges’ firing on the move. OK, the Crusader tank moves 9” compared to the Panzer III move of 8”, but this is negligible, but otherwise there is nothing to encourage historically accurate tactics. Also the move up to ‘Platoon’ sized games highlighted another major deficiency in the rules; there are no unit integrity rules. A Troop of 3 tanks has an Officer tank, but there are no rules compelling the Troop to act as a coherent body, individual tanks can move and operate as single entities. In ‘encounter’ type battles I usually hold roughly a 1/3rd of my force as a reserve, back from the initial frontline. Using BG-T there is nothing to prevent me holding all my Officer tanks in reserve, keeping them out of the firing line and preserving their command bonus for as long as possible. For infantry platoons it appears sensible to move the sections forward independently whilst keeping their commander safely back far away from the action. All very strange.

I also felt the treatment of desert conditions to be a bit too simplistic. Under the rules dust becomes a factor after 2D6 turns of play and simply results in a -1 spotting modifier applied across the board. I would like to have seen dust markers placed behind moving vehicles, obscuring any line of sight passing through them. This would help me in an additional way; I find I forget which vehicles moved in the previous turn, so such a marker would clearly highlight such movement. Artillery fire would also generate large dust clouds which could be easily marked and obscure subsequent spotting in latter turns. Maybe the addition of dust markers might encourage a more mobile battle?

To conclude, I’m not sure what to make of BG-T. I think the game mechanisms have a lot of positive factors going for them and moving to the ‘Platoon’ sized game is a definite improvement. On the downside, there are glaring omissions in the rules; no unit integrity, no smoke/dust, plus the fact that historical tactical traits are not catered for. I’m undecided whether these are the rules for me, certainly some substantial house rules would need to be introduced if I decide to persist with the ‘Battlegroup’ series.

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