Saturday, 6 June 2015

Battalion Attack

I was rather taken with Phil Sabins 'Fire & Movement' rules in his book 'Simulating War'. They covered a WW2 British battalion attack and neatly summarised the tension between dispersion and concentration of effort, as well as the need to deploy in depth to feed fresh troops into battle. There were some abstractions which some players found a bit much (the treatment of casualties and ammunition) but lurking in there was an excellent simulation. In a subsequent conversation with John D. Salt we explored the possibilities of extending the basic mechanism into a more general purpose 'Deliberate Battalion Attack' game, able to cover the  varying organisation an equipment of a number of different countries as well as including armour support.

This actually proved very hard indeed without massively overcomplicating the original game. In the end I took a lot of inspiration from Jim Wallmans 'Stonk' and just went with very broad categorisation of weapons and effects (heavy, medium, light) rather than too much rivet counting. The original games controversial casualty mechanism was replaced with a more conventional step attrition+saving roll type system, and adding in tanks and on call artillery proved quite straightforward. The hardest area was ammo. I was very keen to retain the original games emphasis on the issue of the very limited ammo available to assaulting infantry units and I tried various forms of bean counting. In the end I went with ammo depletion rolls (so more firing meant more chance of running low of ammo).

The game kept the original scales, one hex is 150m, one element is a platoon, and as with the original,bunching up is extremely heavily penalised. Fire hits all elements in the target hex, and infantry units can engage two adjacent hexes (so a fire zone of 300m x 150m). Units are easy to pin but (very) hard to kill although they will suffer increasing losses under fire. The game was played using my 15mm WW2 stuff on Hexon terrain.

The German defenders, two rifle companies each with a weapons platoon and supported by a battery of mortars. The key position is the central wooded hill area, but the defenders are terribly bunched up here. The chaps dug in near the camera are more dispersed.

The central hill position, heavily entrenched.

The British go right flanking. Sherman tank troop, carrier platoon and the infantry companies advancing in waves. British artillery fire has suppressed the hill position (artillery hits three adjacent hexes).

One plucky British platoon braves the German mortar fire and assaults the woods. German reserves move up to intervene.

German mortars hold up the British infantry, but the carriers press on. The lone British rifle platooon has taken the hill.

The German counterattack is ineffective.

Oh dear. The German left flank has pretty much collapsed at this point as the garrison has been destroyed and its flank cover suppressed or wiped out.
The game ran through sharply enough (certainly better than some of the rather painful playtests as I tried different things out) but although some of the mechanisms worked OK (step reduction and saving throws got a big thumbs up) feedback on the ammo mechanisms was fairly negative. It still suffered a little from some of the problems with the original, namely that it is quite an unforgiving simulation - if you make tactical errors you get slaughtered without a huge amount of leeway to recover as your troops get pinned in highly unfavourable tactical situations.

That is exactly what I wanted to achieve of course, but it can mean that it isn't much fun as a game. In the short term I'll rework the ammo rules to make them more streamlined and maybe try it out on the eastern front with more of a historical scenario and see how we get on.


  1. Interesting post. It is one of the games I have wanted to try out from the book myself. I plan to play it 'as is' fiorst before I start changing it.

    If you can get it to work for the 4 major powers/ tactical types it would be great.



  2. Getting it to work for the Russians and US as well as British & Germans was what I had in mind.

    The basic game works fine for infantry, what makes the non-British nationalities interesting is the much higher allocation of battalion level support weapons (and comparatively fewer rifle platoons).

    I've run the basic game a few times with various audiences. It does require people to think quite carefully about what they are doing, which with tired people on a club night is not always feasible.

  3. Have you tried it with the Germans attacking too? The extra Mgs should make a difference- uintil they run out of ammo that is.

    If/ when I make it down to Sheffield again I'd be keen to try it.



  4. No I haven't yet, but that is what I'd like to try (along with the Russians, US etc). I need to find an appropriate historical scenario first. But yes, the Germans have a much larger integral weapons company, and their doctrine was for the infantry not to fire at all during the assault if at all possible, and let the heavy weapons shoot them in.