Battlegroup – A Rules Review

I’ve mentioned a few times during battle reports that I would review and discuss the Battlegroup rules in more detail.  Time to live up to that promise.

Battlegroup is a set of World War II miniatures rules published by Ironfist Publishing, a small independent publisher, which are available through Plastic Soldier Company in the UK.  Some of the hardback books are now out of print, but are still available as PDFs, making it easier for overseas buyers to get their hands on the rules and supplements.

The game has been designed for 15mm and 20mm miniatures, although I have read of gamers using 28mm models with changes to ground scale.

Battlegroup@Plastic Soldier Company

The books

There are now 2 ways to get the core rules for Battlegroup –

  • A PDF of just the rules
  • A new hardback book containing the rules, and “a new extra campaign is a Normandy-based location-to-location campaign system and has scenarios and army lists for the Canadian 3rd Infantry and 12th SS Panzer Divisions, including all the vehicle and gun data required to get players started.”

If you opt for the PDF rule book then you will also need to get one of the theatre books. These hardback books act as a source book for your chosen WW2 theatre and also present army lists, vehicle and weapon stats and special rules for that theatre and period of the war.

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Available theatre books

The books are gorgeous, premium quality.  Hard backed, thick glossy pages, excellent miniature photography mixed with historic photographs, and all well bound.  There’s a ton of source historical material for the battles in your chosen period of war, including maps of table set ups for scenarios based on real actions.

Personally I own;

  • the mini core rulebook,
  • Overlord – covering D-Day, the battles on the beaches, into France, the Falaise Pocket and Normandy.
  • Wacht Am Rhein – a smaller supplement that expands on Overlord and covers the German offensive in the forests of the Ardennes, the battle of the bulge, and provides new rules for winter fighting.  This book requires Overlord for the main army lists.

Army lists

Ah, the discussions (arguments?) about the use of points and balancing games.  We’ve all been there at some time.

The army lists in the theatre books do have points values, however, the lists also take into account the forces available to each country in that time and place.

One of the  things I particularly like about the Battlegroup books is that the army lists are designed to be realistic for the particular point in the war.  In the final months of the war the Germans didn’t have access to unlimited supplies of Tiger tanks and veteran troops.  Heavy tanks were very limited, forces were cobbled together with whatever was available in that area, and this comes through in the army lists and the flavour of some of the special rules.

From my own experience, I have found that using a German force has proved tough going.  There never seem to be enough orders to go round the units and keep them moving – although that may just be my bad dice rolling!

battle
Sample scenario pages

Brief overview of the turn

So how does it play?

At it’s core it’s an IGOUGO system with the added twist of reaction orders – more on these later.

At the start of each turn you roll for the number of orders available to your force – D6 plus the number of officers you have.  And the number of D6 rolled increases with the size of the game.  1D6 for platoon sized up to 4D6 for battalion size games.

This is one aspect of the vagaries of war…there is also a second mechanic used, the Battle Rating (BR) system – again, more later.

Orders please!

Each unit is issued an order, until you run out.  This means careful planning and assessment of your goals is essential as you’re unlikely to be able to issue an order to every unit.

Orders cover actions such as move and fire, fire and move, double move, double fire, infantry assault, request artillery fire, and further specialist orders.

There is also the reaction order, which allows you to assign a unit to either reserve move or ambush fire.  These orders can only be used in your opponents turn and allow you to upset their plans!

Once you’ve issued and actioned all your orders, a unit at a time, you move to the rally phase.  This allows you to unpin units that were caught under fire in your opponents previous turn.

Open fire!

Shooting is split into 2 types, area fire and aimed fire.

Area fire is designed to pin units, aimed fire is when you’re looking to destroy a target.

Pinning a unit with area fire prevents it from receiving orders in your opponents next turn.  Very useful for setting up infantry assaults.

Aimed fire requires the shooting unit to observe the target – modified by whether the target is in the open or cover, and whether it fired in the previous turn.  Can you see that sniper in the window?  Did you get a glimpse of the shot he fired earlier?

Target units also get cover saves and then a moral test depending on casualties.

Mortar and artillery fire is also covered and is generally seen as off table, and the rules go through a number of steps for calling in the artillery request, the observers spotting, whether command will give the OK for the barrage and then seeing what the results are.

What appears complex (and we haven’t used them in our games yet), is also devastating from what I can gather from the rules.  However, there’s no guarantee the order will go through, be actioned, or hit the designated target, making it a potentially costly gamble.

However, I look forward to trying the rules out in our next game.

Reaction Orders

During your orders phase you can assign reaction orders to as manly units as you wish, however, this means they wont activate on your turn but on your opponents turn.

These orders need t be used carefully or you’ll be left with limited units to move in your own turn and leave game objectives difficult to achieve.  Saying that, in our games the reaction orders have had serious impact on opposing players well laid plans.

A reaction order can be ambush fire (double firing) or a quick move (double move).  The reaction can be used at any point in your opponents turn and interrupts them to be resolved.  So an advancing enemy unit can be stopped in its tracks by your reaction order to open fire and blow it up or pin it, which ends your opponents action for that unit.  Or you could suddenly move a unit that your opponent was advancing on, making them waste their action.

Again, this is another clever element, that won’t be over-used but gives your force more flexibility on the battlefield to react to your opponents plans.

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Fantastic model photography

Battle Rating

Unit morale is covered and is linked to the amount of action and fighting a unit sees. In addition, Battlegroup introduces the Battle Rating (BR) system. Each unit has a BR value between 0 and 5 – this is not cost, but the units importance to the battlegroup.

These values are totalled at the start of the game to give your battlegroup an overall Battle Rating value.

When a unit is lost in battle you must select a random Battle Rating counter which will usually have a value on – this is deducted from your Battle Rating. This represents the attrition on your battlegroup – casualties, vehicles being abandoned and destroyed, units routing.

There are other occasions a counter is taken, and some counters also have special actions on them. Some may impact your opponent, and some may even be beneficial to you – in particular, Beyond the Call of Duty (extra order) or an air strike.

Once the value of the counters collected exceeds your Battle Rating value from the start of the game, senior command issue the order to break off and the game ends.

This random element introduces a sense of urgency to get the mission objective completed. And later in the game can drive how you issue orders as you possibly show more caution with the earlier loss of units. A clever element to the game.
And there’s more…

For those wanting to take their game to the next level of realism – we’ve not got there yet in our games – there are rules for tracking vehicle ammo.  How many AP or HE shells is that Tiger carrying?  When do I make the call for a re-supply truck.  Yes, you can now use those truck models you invested in as all important carriers of tank shells!

Other specialist roles are also covered – snipers, medics, engineers….the list goes on.  They all provide an important role.  There’s certainly been a few moments in games where we’ve wished for a unit to have some specialist backup.

Support

There’s a very healthy online presence of Battlegroup gamers and excellent support in forums.  The Facebook group for the game and the forum below are frequented by the game authors and they’re always willing to help with questions.

The Battlegroup public Facebook group has some fantastic photos to get your creativity flowing for terrain and scenarios.

Forum – Guild Wargamers

Facebook – Battlegroup Game

Conclusion

So there you have it.  A whirlwind run through of some of the main points for the Battlegroup game.  Our group is certainly enjoying the rules and the way they flow.  They’re also making for some really cinematic moments in games.

I’ve found a new interest in WW2 gaming, and a use for a German force that had been sitting in a bag for a few years after I got disillusined with Flames of War.  Of course that could also have been because of my unreasonably long losing streak!

Ironfist have plans to release further theatre books with the next one being Tobruk – covering North Africa and Crete – which is due out around April 2017.  I’ve already started looking at pulling together a Deutsches Afrika Korp force and how I could create a desert gaming board.

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