Sunday, November 11, 2012

First Impressions of Battle Group Kursk

After listening to the author of the new Battle Group Kursk (BGK) rules interviewed on Meeples and Miniatures I went ahead last week and bought a copy of the rules from War and Peace Games. From the interview it sounded as though these might be a good set of rules for the school club. I’ve been looking around for some WWII rules that might suit our club, and was thinking they might be Bolt Action, but BGK is another distinct possibility.

Here are some of my initial impressions, based on a quick read through. First up, the rulebook is a beautifully produced hardcover of 240 pages. Consequently it is not cheap, but I have no complaints about the value. The book is divided up into sections covering the rules, a decent historical overview of Kursk, army lists for the battle, scenarios, a modeling guide giving some nice tips about painting armoured vehicles and making battle boards, and rules for a large campaign or mega-battle covering the battle of Prokhorovka on 12 July 1943. There are a few typos here and there, but the text is generally clearly written, and I have found the rules to be very easy to follow. The book is very well illustrated with contemporary photos (some of which I’ve not seen before), model photos and line drawings. This immediately brings me to something I like about the rules. Although they are put out by Plastic Soldier Company, and obviously they are seeking to use them as a vehicle for selling lots of figures, the rulebook does not look like an illustrated catalogue of their stuff. Indeed, the photographs feature models from a bunch of other companies (SHQ, Foundry, Britannia etc). The modeling section also does not read like an attempt to flog their stuff. With any discussion of BGK the Elefant in the room (geddit?) is of course Flames of War, and the way that BGK does not aggressively market a particular brand of models is one of the immediate contrasts with FOW.

The rules cover 43 pages (broken up with lots of illustrations and tables), and are laid out logically and clearly with lots of examples. One of the things that appeals to me about the game is that it is designed to be scaleable from squad to battalion level, so theoretically it might be suitable for 1½ hour games after school as well as big games in the holidays. The figure scale is 1:1, and most games are played on the standard 6X4 table. The rules are designed for 15mm or 1/72 figures, with no change to ranges or movement etc. No indication is given of how long different games might take, and this is one of the questions I’m keen to have answered.

The basic turn structure is IGOYOUGO, with a nice exception. At the beginning of each player’s turn they roll for the number of Orders they are able to give that turn. For example, if playing a platoon level game I would roll 2D6 and add an additional order for each officer in my battlegroup. Each order I end up with allows me to perform one action with a single unit (eg single vehicle or infantry squad), choosing from a menu of various types of moving, firing, embarking etc actions. However, I could use any number of my available orders to issue Reaction Orders, effectively allowing my units to intervene at any point in my opponent’s turn to move or fire. So immediately a nice challenge is posed as the commander tries to work out the best balance of offensive and defensive actions in their turn. This all looks very straightforward, and will mean players stay engaged with the game during their opponent’s turn.

Combat is divided essentially into area fire or aimed fire, with rules also for infantry assaults, close assaults on tanks etc. The emphasis on area fire is particularly good, as the game rewards realistic tactics of pinning the enemy with suppressing fire (delivered by artillery, machine guns etc) to pin them and remove their initiative, rather than simply encouraging the attempt to destroy units with direct fire. The resolution of combat differs depending on the type of fire. Just to give a sense of how it works, if my tank was firing aimed fire with HE shells at an enemy infantry target, I would first roll to see whether I successfully observed the target. If so, I would roll a single D6 to determine whether I hit the target. If I do, I would then roll a number of D6s to determine damage, depending on the type of weapon. The target would then roll a cover save D6 for each of my successful damage rolls, and each one he fails to cancel would result in a casualty, which may then trigger morale effects. The rules for different types of fire follow a similar sort of process, but also have some significant differences. There are also all the rules one would expect for air attacks, engineering etc etc.

Morale in BGK is two-fold. Firstly, each unit suffers moral consequences when it takes losses, which may result in the unit breaking and running. More interesting is the Battle Rating system. Basically, any unit you add to your force costs a number of points, but also has a battle rating. The two are not necessarily related. For example, a Panzer V costs 85 points and has a Battle Rating of 3, while a German Forward Aid Post costs 20 points but has a Battle Rating of 5. At the start of the game each player adds up the total Battle Rating of their force, this number representing the point at which the overall morale of the battlegroup breaks. After certain events, such as losing a unit, a player takes a token at random marked from 1-5, and subtracts this number from their force’s Battle Rating. This looks like a great system – your opponent will know how many tokens you have taken, but not know with any precision how close your force is to breaking.

Which brings us to the army lists. The book contains 4 detailed army lists for Russian and German infantry and armoured units. These follow a points system, but are organized so that it is impossible to try to assembly an unrealistic super army, cherry picking all the strongest types of units (cough, Flames of War, cough). So for example, certain options of supporting units only become available after particular core units are bought, with the result that forces fielded in BGK will approximate the sort of unit composition that was historically the case. There appears to be a lot to like about BGK, and it may well become the WWII game to develop at school in 2013. The fact that next year is the 70th anniversary of Kursk makes this possibility even more attractive. Here is a quick summary of my initial positive and negative impressions:

Positives

• The game is set up to avoid power gaming, gamey ‘super units’ and unhistorical tactics.
• Logistics are an integral part of the game. Tanks etc will run out of ammo and need to be resupplied, which means that all those trucks become important and must be protected, especially since losing them will adversely impact on your force’s Battle Rating.
• The rulebook is clearly laid out and easy to read.
• The Battle Rating system.
• There are many little tweaks built into the game to differentiate German from Soviet tactics. For example, German infantry squads are divided into a gun group and a MG group, each requiring separate orders, while the Soviet infantry squad treats its LMG as integral to the squad as a single tactical element.
• Some people will not like the fact that the rules are focused on Kursk alone. Personally I like the level of detail that comes from this.


Negatives

• The hobby section doesn’t include any suggestions for painting figures, only vehicles, which may have been helpful for new players.
• I’m not overly bothered by this, but unit sizes in the army lists don’t always match their historical counterparts. For example, German tank platoons only contain three vehicles in BGK.

Umm, well that’s about all so far. I’m slightly dreading the possibility that I will soon feel obliged to paint a lot of 15mm models.

14 comments:

  1. A brilliant review Dux, extremely helpful and well-balanced. My copy is still on its way from PSC, but in the meantime I have been playing its predecessor Kampfgruppe Normandy.
    Have fun with the new rules, I hope it really gives FoW a run for its money.

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  2. Very nice - looking forward to having at look when we meet up this week!

    Would 6mm be an option for a lower cost buy in for the boys at the club? Quicker to paint too!

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  3. Christ that was a good review but I'm not tempted....yet!

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  4. Nice detailed review, thanks. Do the infantry have to be singly based, or can your units be represented by a base of three or so figs?

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  5. Nice review...


    The BG Forum is located here;

    www.guildwargamers.com

    ...and Im around there to answer queries most days on the Q&A thread!

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  6. Nick,

    There is no set basisng, its up to you how you do it.

    I base in singles for infantry and groups for support weapons, while Warwick bases in various sized groups for his infantry.

    We also play in 6mm and have units split on to just two bases.

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  7. Oh and any chance I can direct people to this review?

    Its a good handy one to have online for those asking about the game.

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    1. Thanks Piers for all your work on BGK - yes, please feel free to refer to the review.

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  8. Thanks for letting me read your awesome gamer porn last night :-)

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  9. One thing, Dux-- tank platoons are bought initially in threes, but there is a box below it which lists single tanks that can be added in to platoons in order to bring them up to full historical strength. Other than that, superbly done review!

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  10. Great review and thank you. I am very curious about these rules. Kursk is a very interesting battle that I have used as background for a few midwar armys. As a result I did a lot of reading about it at one point so a specific rules set is very appealling.
    Cheers

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  11. A bit late to the party, but thanks for the review. Very interesting.

    Steve

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  12. War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

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