Saturday, 24 March 2018

Less Portable Wargame

After our previous outing with The Portable Wargame, I took on board the comments the players had made and had a go at making some revisions. I got a little carried away with this process and five versions and four playtests later realised I was in danger of re-writing the rules entirely and replacing them with a mixture of NATO Brigade Commander, NQM and Sam Mustafas Rommel!

A degree of cutting back was in order as I wanted to keep to the basic philosophy of the game. I ended up with some minor changes and some big revisions, but something which was still recognisably the Portable Wargame, although less Portable, hence its new title.

The main changes are:

1. Tightening up the turn sequence as we got really confused about which units had done what when.
2. Removing the retreat result altogether and replacing it with the 'pin' result as suggested in the rules.
3. The movement table was replaced with something which looks suspiciously like NQM.
4. The close combat system was replaced with the Sandhurst Battlegroup Wargame system, converted to opposed D6 and made a bit more heroic by plugging in a DBA type graded result system. I'll stick with it for now and see how it goes.
5. The shooting system was heavily simplified with only three classes of fire (good, OK, bad),  but three weights of fire and levels of protection (Light, medium, heavy) added. So an 88 is now considerably better than a 2pdr , and troops in bunkers only really need to worry about heavy artillery. Thank you Mr Kemp.
6. Some WW2 chrome was added (OPs, ammunition, reorg, communications, visibility) in as simple manner as possible.

It seemed simplest to play KG Fredrickson again, as it saved the players faffing around figuring out the scenario as I wangted to try the new mechnisms out. Tim and Graham took the Russians, John and Jerry the Germans

First turn. The Germans have adopted a forward defence with two companies in the front woods. I tried this in the playtests and it worked really well. Eagle eyed readers will notice that the Russians are using both my converted command bus and Zis-2 57mm AT gun. Really eagle eyed readers will spot Colonel Strelinkov and his megaphone standing by his command car.

The Russians have also got 76mm Shermans. Their first outing, from a batch of Shermans I bought at Triples some years ago, and fitting for a 1944 Guards Mechanised Brigade.

The Germans got some new toys too. Here is Colonel Fredrickson riding a  horse. They also have an Opel radio truck and a horse drawn Pak 40. Both sides have an HQ which needs to be active for them to call artillery fire, units also need to trace supply to it if they want to conduct engineer actions or reorganise (remove hits). If it is destroyed they lose 1 off their initiative dice. I've extended the artillery ranges to more realistic ones so the German 105s are now several hexes offtable. 

The Russians pushed hard on the right. The outpost took a loss and was pinned (yellow marker) but the ZOC held up the Russians.  In the centre a nice fat target of the Zis AT and a rifle company was heavily stonked by the Germans 105s (offtable).  I let the players stack two units in a hex, which seems to work OK. Greater concentration of force vs greater vulnerability.

The Mark IV company and the other forward outpost surrounded by wire and mines held the Russians back over in the distance. That chap on the motorcycle is the Russian artillery observer.,

Things are hotting up on the right flank. The German infantry are 'poor' so can only take three hits. Russian engineers (I gave them some engineers) are clearing the minefield under fire. Colonel Strelnikov  has turned up to encourage the troops.

Over in the distance, the Germans are holding out well and the Russian assault has petered out. The Pak 40 company in particular did massive execution on the Russians with direct HE fire. The surviving Russians fell back out of range and reorganised to remove their hits.

By great sleight of hand (ie two turns on a row), the outpost company managed to disengage, run back to the trenches and rally off a hit! I let pinned units retire, which seems to work rather well. They were all then pinned by Soviet 76mm artillery fire (offtable), but as they are only 76s (light) against trenches (medium), not much chance of any actual hits

Sadly in all the excitement I forgot to take a photo of the final assault on the trench system. 24 SP of Shermans and infantry against two second rate German rifle companies with three SP between them. The Colonel was killed rallying off the pin markers under fire, but the trenches gave the Germans quite a big bonus, which meant the Russians only attained a marginal success. That was enough to push the Germans out, then the tanks followed up with a breakthrough assault and wiped out the survivors.

By this point the Russians were only four hits off their exhaustion point so we deemed it unlikely they'd capture the other German positions and we called it a day.

Player feedback was very positive, although there was some discussion about the effects of artillery fire on armour and we still got confused about which units had done what. Old age I guess. I did notice that players never fired then moved, so we decided to bin the option. Units now either move or fire, and we'll see how we get on with that.

The main thing I was pleased with was that players made decisions which had some tactical verity, in particular whether to accept a pin or push on and take some losses. They also pulled units back out of range to reorganise them before putting them into the fray, so I'm glad I added that option. I'm slightly unhappy about having the pinned status, it is one more thing to keep track of, and I can't help thinking there are more elegant ways to solve this problem, but all I can think to do is copy the NQM or Horse, Foot and Guns firefight mechanisms, which are both aimed at different sorts of games.

I've made a couple of minor tweaks, but we'll play it as is for a few more games and see how we get on. It went well enough for me to starting thinking about some very obscure scenarios I've wanted to run for years with a few battalions. Too small for NBC but too big for Battlegroup.


  1. It is interesting to note where our preferences take us! I prefer to have my arty on-table, and for that reason am prepared to have their ranged fudged downwards.

    Methinks it is high time I had a couple more PW games 'per spec' to sort out my own thinking. Probably it will be in the area of a finer 'grain' respecting armour and anti-armour.

    In my view, the effect of artillery against AFVs should be fairly modest (except against open-topped vehicles), it requiring a fairly lucky direct hit or near miss to do significant damage, unless firing over open sights.

    1. Oh, we still have the gun models, I just put them on some separate hexes in the rear (along with piles of ammunition). It seemed a bit odd that a 25pdr could only shoot 5000 yards...

      Yes, quite agree re indirect fire vs AFVs, but I'm resolving this as battalion/regiment sized stonks against company sized units. It will probably cause them some inconvenience (penalties to fire as they button up etc) but a lot less chance of significant losses compared to direct fire. It is just modellign that without a lot of exceptions. I'm tempted to just say that ANY unit under a stonk suffers penalties firing out, whether the fire 'hits' them or not.

      Some rules (eg GBWW2) make units under barrages unable to do anything, which may be realistic but seems a little harsh.

  2. You're welcome Martin.

    As everypne's rules seem to be converging this year, should we call them Not Quite Rommel's Portable Megablitz?

    Regards, Chris

    1. I'm having a bit of a general rethink about the compromises I'm happy to make. I suspect the next set are going to look a lot like OP14 with big bits of NQM applied.