Saturday, May 18, 2013

Game day with the Catawba Military Gaming Society

So, there is a wargaming club in the Charlotte NC area that am proud to have been a part of, some ten years back now, when my Wife and I lived in Rock Hill (in the outskirts of the greater Charlotte Area).

 We were visiting family in the area this weekend, and I got to spend the day, gaming with the Catawba Military Gaming Society (CMGS).  The game was a WW2 miniatures game set during the Kursk campaign on the eastern front.  It use, of course, the rules called Battlegroup Kursk from Iron Fist Publishing.  This was a really satisfying game. I got to play as a commander on the Russian side, in a sort of modified meeting engagement battle.  On our side, we had a company of T-34/76 tanks, and a company of truck mounted infantry.  Three of the T-34s were carrying squads of SMG armed tank riders.  Along with this, we had a T-70 tank, in a scouting mode, and also a sniper team, and assorted infantry support units (a small howitzer, a heavy machine gun, several light machine guns, etc).


Facing us was a German force, with a platoon of PzIVh tanks, and a platoon of StuG-IIIs.  Supporting this was some German infantry, again they were truck mounted, and a few support elements which included a half track towing a Pak38 5cm gun. It was a good scenario, and big thanks to Jerry Frazee for running it.

The game has an interesting feature in that each side has a total of points, derived from the units they have, called something like Battle Points (BP).  Every time a loss is sustained (either losing a terrain objective, or losing an AFV or infantry unit), the losing side draws a chit from a cup, representing a loss of points (kept secret) from the total of BP that the side started with.  Once one side hits 0 (zero) then they lose the game.  Elegant.  And it encouraged the capture of terrain objectives, which is always a good thing.


The game is a basic I-Go, You-Go type turn sequence, with basic movement rates for infantry and vehicles, depending on their movement mode (cross country or road), and each turn, when an element is activated it has a few choices.  It can go for a close assault move, or it can choose a sequence combining movement and shooting, getting two options to combine (resulting in either move-move, move-shoot, shoot-move, or shoot-shoot).  Or, you can put your unit in a watch mode - either Ambush Fire (works like overwatch does in many games) or on Reactive Move (the move version of overwatch).  Both of those, we learned in our game, are very important, and can contribute greatly to the tactical flexibility of your army.


The number of elements that you can activate each turn is determined by a dice toss.  Roll 2d6 and add to that a number representing the strength of your command structure, the result is the number of activations you can do in the turn.  A decent sized game will have you with more elements than you have command points each turn, so there will always be something you want to activate that you did not quite have time to do this turn.  This type of command structure has always appealed to me, as it leaves the player with tough choices each turn.  Certain types of command elements have special orders that they can issue, and the different nationalities have different special commands open up to them.  For instance, on the Russian side, we had an infantry commander, who could for the price of one activation point, activate all infantry units within 5" of his model, if they were going to do a forward facing full move (basically, a move-move sequence).  This was done several times by the brave heroes of the Revolution, in our game.


Shooting is done by measuring range, rolling to observe (if it is direct fire), then rolling for effect (getting hits).  The defender may or may not get a saving throw depending on the type of unit, and if it is in cover or not.  Elements that don't save are killed.  A unit that takes hits must then pass morale or become "pinned". A Pinned unit may do nothing until it is unpinned.

There are several observer units on each side of the battlefield, as well as an enumerated list of off board artillery assets.  Each side may activate an observer unit (many Germany command and recon elements can also serve as Observers, on the Russian side of the battlefield, not so many) and use it to call in off board artillery.  The method is very similar to other modern games - roll to make the request (typically a 3+ on a single d6), roll to be on target (the worse you roll at this point, the more the barrage drifts), roll for distance and direction of drift, have the barrage land.  Once it lands, it is not so very deadly, as it is irritating.  The falling barrage tends to put target units under it's template (a limited number, not all of them, typically) into a pinned status.

As mentioned, everytime a loss is suffered, a chit is pulled that deducts from your BP total.  At the end of a turn, a commander can also decide to pull a chit, in exchange for being able to unpin 1d6 units.  Very touchy decision - after all, your dice roll could always be a 1, or it could be a 6.  Do you take this "unpin" option when only one of your units is pinned (even if it is a unit that is crucial to your assault plans?) or do you wait until you have 3, 4, or 5 units pinned, so hopefully you will get your "money's" worth, by taking a BP chit, in exchange for the chance to unpin friendlies.

All in all, a very nice set of rules.  I liked it a lot.  There is just enough "Chrome" here to make it feel like WW2 (and not Space Marines, Russian Civil War, pirate skirmish, or any number of other game experiences, that a more generic ruleset could feel like).  Yes, the rules are simple.  Yes, it is all based on D6 (close assaults, for instance, involve rolling - admittedly small - buckets of dice).  But it is still, in my opinion, a good game.  And a much better, and more flexible system, than say Flames of War.

The game was played at the excellent games/comics store Parker, Banner, Kent & Wayne.  This is an excellent FLGS in the old school.  Tons of gaming stuff on hand, loads of game tables, lots of smiling staff, and regulars, hanging around ready to talk about games or gaming.  I immediately fell in love with the store.  If I still lived in the Charlotte area, I could easily see myself becoming a regular here.


I don't know the history of the ruleset, but from what I have heard through the rumor mill, this was going to be the WW2 ruleset that the Warhammer Historical rules publishing house was going to release.  Before the knuckleheads responsible decided to ashcan the whole Warhammer Historicals project.  I am glad that Battlegroup Kursk got published.  I understand there is already a book out covering the army lists and scenarios for the invasion of Fortress Europa, called something like Battlegroup Normandy.  Well, good for Iron Fist.  I hope this one goes far, it deserves to.

PS - there is a line of supporting hard plastic miniatures, from the Plastic Soldier Company, that go along with the rules (or any other 15mm WW2 game, for that matter).  These models look great, seem to be pretty easy to assemble (I am thinking of ordering some Panzer IIIs for my North Africa collection), and are priced very nice.  There are also a wide number of models in 15mm available from Zvezda, that look great (in my opinion) and are priced very nice.  I think this is a great thing, but I do hope that future rules publishers will get away from having to have the complete package (rules, miniatures, support tools, etc).  One of the things that is so nice about historical miniatures is that your set of nicely painted miniatures can be used to play many, many different games, with many, many different rules.  Having the complete package gives new players who come from the Games Workshop experience, the idea that "to play game XXX I have to buy XXX miniatures".  That is always a good attitude to squash, in my opinion!
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