Notes on Neil Thomas’ WWII Rules from Wargaming: an Introduction

Pre-amble (or ramble if you prefer).

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I think the WWII and ACW rules look usable (the only periods I would be likely to play). Not only do they look like a lot of fun, but there are some elegant systems that simplify some potentially complex areas. This is not a critique or condemnation; it is understood that these rules were kept simple on purpose to make them easier for new players to learn. In any set of rules that is as abbreviated as these, there are going to be implicit assumptions, or gaps if you will, that will eventually need to be resolved if one is to continue using them, if only to avoid arguments (and solo gamers have some of the worst arguments… ummm… never mind).

As to my qualification to perform this analysis (self-nominated), after Checkers, Chess, Battle Cry, Dogfight, Broadside, Risk!, Stratego, and 1863, I began playing hex-grid wargames in 1968 -- with AH’s 1914 of all choices! When AH’s Panzerblitz came out in 1971 I bought the first copy I found, and have played it and dozens of other tactical WWII wargames in the years since, including AH’s SL/ASL, Yaquinto’s Panzer, Avalanche Press’ Panzer Grenadier and MMP’s ATS series. Currently my favorites are the Academy Games Conflict of Heroes series, but admittedly I am unfamiliar with some of the more recent ones (Band of Brothers, Combat Commander, etc.).
I started miniatures gaming with ACW rules from a COGS convention and TSR’s Chainmail in 1971, then began my WWII fixation with Guidon Games’ Fast Rules and Myers and Zimmerman’s Angriff! in 1972, Gene McCoy’s rules from Wargamer’s Digest in 1973, Wargames Research Groups’ Armor and Infantry in 1975, and many others since, including GDW’s Command Decision and Arty Conliffe’s Crossfire, and many sets downloaded from the internet. So I know a little something about WWII tactical games and rules. Add in 48 years reading books on WWII, including technical details of most weapons and tactics employed, and I am not embarrassed to call myself an expert.

Observations (or re-stating the obvious)

While not explicitly stated, these rules appear to be aimed at what is commonly referred to as “skirmish level”, where not only does one model vehicle represent a single actual vehicle, but one model solder represents one actual soldier. This is not a bad thing, depending on personal preference. Truth be told, I was surprised to find myself re-basing infantry singly so I can use these rules, as for many years I have preferred games where a stand of infantry is a platoon or company, or at least a squad, and I am disposed against rules that include saving throws.

Unit sizes: A squad (infantry or cavalry) is 9 figures; armored infantry also includes an APC. A recon unit is 1 armored car or 6 figures with 2 motorcycles/jeeps/kubelwagens/kettenkrads. A heavy weapons unit is 1 mortar with crew, 1 heavy machinegun with crew, and 1 infantry anti-tank weapon with crew (sizes of crews unspecified). An anti-tank gun is 1 gun with 4 crewmen and 1 truck. A tank or assault gun represents 1 vehicle. An artillery unit is always off-board and requires an on-board unit as spotter to fire.

Hits: It takes 9 unsaved hits to eliminate an infantry/cavalry unit (1 unsaved hit per figure). It is not explicit whether individual figures fire separately or in a group roll, or whether an individual figure or a unit is targeted.
It takes 1 unsaved hit to eliminate a tank or assault gun. It does not explicitly include trucks, half-tracks, or recon vehicles as potential targets (although soft recon vehicles provide a saving throw bonus to their infantry figures). It is an obvious assumption that half-tracks and armored cars would be targeted as tanks; not so obvious for soft vehicles, so perhaps the intent is that they live or die with their unit, inseparable until the end. That works well and helps to keep the complexity down.
It is not explicitly stated how many hits it takes to eliminate an infantry anti-tank weapon team, a machinegun team, a mortar team, or an anti-tank gun crew, or even whether the AT gun’s truck can be targeted separately. It appears that each only take 1 hit to destroy, as the saving throw is a daunting 2-6 on a D6 for them all, which is 2 pips or 50% easier to save than infantry.
Artillery fire only affects infantry, never vehicles.
AFV’s close assaulted by infantry get no return fire whether they survive or not.

Morale:  Cavalry and dismounted infantry/recon that take casualties must take a morale test that may limit their options for their next turn (and their saving throws improve as morale results degrade, the best example of the elegance of these rules); transported units are immune to morale effects. However, if a unit did not take a casualty on the previous turn, or passes its’ morale check, it will happily go on attacking, even if there is only one figure left; and other units will also keep on attacking until they are destroyed, regardless of overall casualties to their side. Total casualties within a unit or overall casualties have no impact on a unit morale check.

Line of Sight:
It is mentioned that gun crews must have a line of sight to a target (including tank and assault gun crews), and artillery must have an observer unit, but no details are provided of what constitutes a valid line of sight.

Transport modes: Some units appear to always be mounted: cavalry and bicyclists. Some units can dismount and operate on foot: armored infantry, tank riders, and recon figures. Since all 12 unit types are pre-defined and invariant, you will never see infantry or weapons teams on trucks, nor horse-drawn weapons, and you will never have to figure out if bicycle infantry can get their bikes onto the truck/halftrack with them.

Armies: The mix of unit types available to select from to form a side’s army are defined by nationality and year, but the actual selection is left up to the player, up to the number prescribed by the scenario, of which there are 4. Maximum army size is 12 units, minimum is 6. Looking at the German and Soviet lists (which cover ‘42 and ‘43), the maximum of one type that can be taken is 8 infantry (with a minimum of 2). Otherwise the maximum of any unit type that can be selected is 4 (tanks) for either side. The two lists are very similar with only 2 differences. Neither side can select recon or paratrooper units, the Germans can’t take cavalry and the Soviets can’t take anti-tank guns. German armored infantry is elite and comes with a half-track; Soviet tank riders are elite, can ride tanks and can dismount directly into close combat, which no other unit type can do.
I will probably randomize unit selection at least somewhat, since I play solo. If I decide to use these rules for a campaign, I will add anti-tank guns and recon for both sides and randomize unit selection based on parent unit type.

Vehicle types:
 The type(s) of tanks and assault guns available are also restricted by nationality and year. These defaults are reasonably historical except for one: for the Soviets in ’43 the choices for improved tanks are T34/85 and KVII. As an old treadhead from way back, I will absolutely not be able to follow this rule even if I don’t change any other aspect of the rules. There was no longer a significant number (if any) KVIIs still operable by ’43, and there would not have been a significant number of T34/85s available even by the end of that year, and those were being used to train tank crews in their use, so probably did not see any action that year. I would substitute the KV-85.

Conclusions (or how I will use the rules unless someone has a better idea; feel free to make suggestions)

Casualties: As mentioned under Hits, the details of firing at a unit of infantry don’t specify whether it is individual or group fire. I assume group fire because the alternative is unthinkable to me, and would result in the light machinegunners and submachinegunners being picked off first every time. So for fire against infantry/cavalry/recon, the firer nominates a target unit, rolls all dice for the firing unit, totaling hits, and then the target unit player picks the casualties. As an option I might allow 1 out of every 2 natural 6s to be re-rolled, with another 6 allowing the firer to select 1 casualty. After all, troops are going to make every effort to salvage their best weapons if the bearers become casualties.
It would constitute too much of a re-design to track multiple hits on weapons teams and anti-tank gun crews, but there needs to be some advantage to being in cover, so they will continue to take 1 hit with their existing 83% saving throw when in cover, 66% when dismounted in the open, and 50% for an AT gun crew mounted on its’ truck (although I am fearful that may make them too vulnerable; but hey, they shouldn’t be running around in the open under fire). I will arbitrarily assign crew sizes of 3 for mortars and HMGs, 2 for infantry anti-tank weapons, although it doesn’t affect anything but the appearance.
Armored vehicles will still be destroyed with 1 unsaved hit, including armored cars and half-tracks (if a halftrack is KO’d then they just became elite foot infantry; bad luck). If troops are in a half-track or riding a tank when their transport is KO’d, they will all need to make saving rolls as if hit in cover, with survivors dismounting. To allow artillery (not mortars) a chance to take out an AFV, for medium or heavy armor 4 natural 6’s allows 1D6 to be re-rolled; against light or open-topped armor 3 natural 6’s allows 1 to be re-rolled; with another 6 constituting a KO. When close assaulted by infantry, they will return fire with 4D6 as rifles if destroyed, or 8D6 as rifles if they survive.
I don’t think I will bother with targeting soft vehicles separately, since it seems workable that they are embedded in their unit and suffer a shared fate; although I will specify that recon troops only get the cover modifier for their vehicles when dismounted.

Morale: Will be played as stated, with the addition of an army level break point by nationality and year. To add tension, it won’t be automatic, but will be on a sliding scale. When the break point is reached, an army morale check of 4+ on 1D6 must be passed or the side withdraws in defeat. For every additional unit lost over the break point, add 1 to the required morale score, but never to exceed 6. For Germans ’42 – ’43 the break point is 50% of total units lost, for Soviets ’42 - ’43 it is 60% of total units lost. When reinforcements appear, they raise the base unit count.
I will make up some kind of markers to indicate when units are in reduced morale states, which I will give names for clarity, like Pinned and Suppressed.

Line of Sight: To keep it as simple as possible, LOS is blocked by an obstacle of sufficient height on the same level as both units. If units are on different levels, LOS is blocked if the obstacle is closer to the lower unit.

Vehicle Types:
 As mentioned above, I will substitute KV-85 for the Soviet ’43 improved tank, otherwise I will play the rules as they stand; although, if I continue to use these rules for multiple games, I will probably change some of the armor and penetration ratings (treadhead, remember).

I would be happy to hear any interpretations that other gamers are using, and if Mr. Thomas would care to offer his opinion, that would be much appreciated.


Peter said...

I have not used the rules, but like you I really enjoyed the book, so I look forward to see how you go with these rules along with your modifications or interpretations. Good luck, especially as you have rebased some of your units to play them! Regards, Peter

The Ferrymen said...

Thanks, Peter.
I'm looking forward to trying them out in a few weeks.

Kaptain Kobold said...

I have only played these rules using tanks, and then with some addition of my own to increase their survivability and add some granularity to the guns and armour. However they seemed to work OK, and I'd be keen to give them a go with infantry and support weapons once I get around to buying some figures.

I would certainly run the infantry on unit bases, however, rather than individual figures, and have the base taking a number of 'hits' before it is removed. The 'hits' would also influence its basic firepower dice, with bonus dice being added at certain ranges for SMGs or LMGs. For simplicity I would have these lasting until the last hit is removed; as you say a unit would probably make sure that its best weapons were crewed until the end.

Steven Whitesell said...

John, very solid additions to a good set of rules. I especially like your force breakpoint ideas. Like kaptain kobold, i, too, use bases and dice to track hits. These rules have given me very satisfying games and are a real diamond in the rough. Your ideas would polish them up nicely.
There are some good working templates of them on the "AMW" group on yahoo with various other ideas to incorporate. Id be very interested in trying your version out.


The Ferrymen said...

Hi Kaptain,
Thanks for your observations and suggestions. Regarding bases, I plan to cheat and use single-based figures on magnetic sabots; then I can use them for stand-based or figure-based rules, but have the ability to move them as a stand either way when it's convenient.

The Ferrymen said...

Hi Steve,
Thanks for your kind words.
I glanced at the AMW group but didn't see much related to WWII, unless I just didn't dig deeply enough.

Norm said...

I prefer these rules to the ones that later appeared in his One Hour Wargames book.

The Ferrymen said...

Hi Norm,
I haven't seen the OHW rules but have heard enough about them to think they're just a little too lite for me. These rules seem lite enough for beginners but have enough flavor to be interesting.
Thanks for stopping by.