Friday, October 28, 2016

WRG Armored Warfare 1950-1985 - Review

This is another review in the Once and Future Rules series, of wargame rules that are out of print, but that got a lot of play at one time (at least, in the clubs and groups I played in since the early 1980s).
 If you don’t like us, don’t accept our invitations and don’t invite us to come to see you. Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you. 
                           - Nikita Khrushchev
 One of the types of wargames that was extremely popular with one of the main groups of friends I gamed with in the 1980s was modern micro armor.  This was tactical battles, with 1:285 or 1:300 scale vehicles (ground and air, and some sea), fighting out battles either from historical conflicts that had taken place since 1945 (mostly African brush wars, and various Middle Eastern conflicts - for some reason we did not go into India/Pakistan or other conflicts).  Considering the levels of fear and hysteria that were pervasive in society at the time, it is quite strange that we did this as a hobby.  But, we did, and quite honestly the games were pretty fun.

Of the groups I played with, there were really two extremely popular rulesets that we played.  The first was the WRG published Wargames Rules for Armoured Warfare at Company and Battalion Battle Group Level 1950-1985, and the much more shortly titled Challenger from Tabletop Games.  Being detail fanatics at the time (for some reason, that generation of wargamers thought that more and more detail included in the combat model of the wargame made it somehow more realistic), we would often go for the Challenger rules, but for simpler games, I preferred the WRG rules (besides, they covered more situations, and played faster).  I may do a review of the Challenger rules later on, as a comparison.  Other rulesets we played were the extremely detailed "Engage and Destroy", and some homebrew rules.

Games would be one-off set piece battles, frequently, but once in a while one member of the group or other would devise a particularly clever scenario (usually of the extremely large variety, or of the extremely novel variety).  We would play all sorts of levels of games, with front line Soviet forces facing off against first tier NATO forces; Arab-Israeli conflicts; second and third tier European conflicts (I recall Czechoslovakia vs. Denmark) and just about anything inspired by the likes of General Sir John Hackett, Harold Coyle, or Tom Clancy.  I recall a game involving battalions of Soviet airborne troops invading Newport News Virginia, and the gangs of national guard and ROTC students from the local universities were assisted by wargamers (we actually played that scenario, it was a ton of fun).  But in the main, we had a lot of Fulda Gap style heavy metal games (heavy metal referring to lots of tanks, APCs, IFVs and the like) between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces.  On the other hand, over the decade of the 80s, a whole host of campaigns were hosted by a good friend, under the name of "Warlords" which featured WW2 and Modern equipment, mixing it up by small tribal warlords fighting in a post-WW4 wasteland.

But here I am reviewing the WRG rules.  As mentioned, these are tactical rules covering ground combat in the decades following WW2, right up to 1985.  The version I played was published in 1979, and was pretty well complete with rules for the normal ground combat (infantry, armor, and artillery) plus rules for ATGWs (anti-tank guided weapons - missiles), helicopters, air combat between fixed wing craft, combat engineering and other elements of modern warfare.

The game was played at a 1:1 scale, for vehicles.  Infantry elements would represent (as a single stand - frequently we would use a cardboard chit, or a small base with 1:285 infantry based on it) a rifle group (maybe 3,4 or 5 men), or a weapon team (an ATGW team, mortar and crew, MG or similar).  The ground scale for these rules is 1 inch for 50 meters.  Turns represent about a minute and a half of expended time (the rules spend a paragraph describing how it is 100 seconds of time, but hit probabilities are only based on a second firing 30 seconds of its ROF, because of blah blah blah).

The rules have a pretty extensive set of points values for just about everything you could imagine, and the means for pointing up vehicle platforms, based on the sensors and weapons it carries.  For instance, if you wanted to do a particular model of aircraft, and know what cannon it mounts, what missiles or bombs it carries, and what sort of weapons tracking and target identification sensors it has, you could calculate the points value for it.

Luckily, there was a great set of publications done by Tabletop Games in support of their own game (Challenger II), which also featured rules and stats for the same vehicles and units in the WRG rules.  During those days, I loved reading through the various "Digests", especially Digest #2, and #4 and 5 - 2 was the list of world equipment (from all sorts of nations, and covering all sorts of equipment), and #4 and 5 were European (NATO and Warsaw Pact) organizations in one, and other parts of the globe (Africa, Middle East, Far East) in the other.  There were also some specific books with OBs and equipment from the 1950s (a wide variety of organizations) and scenarios and OBs for the MidEast wars, and others.

Back to the WRG rules . . . As these are first and foremost rules for Armoured conflict, they have a system for rating the armor values of all fighting vehicles.  This is done by a Roman numeral ranging from the weakest vehicles getting a I on up to the strongest state-of-the-art tanks getting a X.  Note, that last category in 1979 include the rumoured Leopard 3, the UK's MBT 80, and the US's XM1 tank, which would later become known as the M1 Abrams.  In addition, the exotic special armor additions that were becoming popular (chobham plating, spaced armor, active protection systems, etc) are noted in this system by some classes also having subclasses of "s" and some with sublcasses of "S" - the former for a turret having special extra protection, and the latter of the whole hull having special extra protection.  The above named tanks were all XS armor.

The game was recommended to play on an area of roughly 60x100 inches (3000m by 5000m - to give the battlefield enough room for the weapons systems to reach out and flex their muscles).  The group I was with played on several 5x9 tables (modeled after ping pong tables, because of some historical ties to the old Gene McCoy Wargamer's Digest magazine, and all the 4x8 and ping pong table sized scenarios in them...), and also a nice hefty 6x12 table.  So we had plenty of space.
Example map from Wargamer's Digest

Rules exist for modeling the communications net, and to handle battlefield orders for the game.  Often we would not play with orders, unless a referee was present for the battle. 

Once the game started, it was composed of alternating turns.  The turn sequence was pretty clever - it had morale tests first, then registering requests for artillery and airstrikes, executing those attacks that were requested previously and successfully arrived, executing tactical actions, in order (full moves first, all other actions next), and then dealing with suppressive fire, that might affect troop posture, etc.  One thing that the rules allowed, to make up for the fact that there was no opportunity fire, was that each element that could fire, could fire its very first shot for the turn (sometimes the ROF would be higher than once per turn) at an enemy unit anywhere along it's immediate previous movement path.  All other shots had to be at the final resting place of units following their movement for the turn.

The rules have movement values for all the typical vehicle types (including things such as hovercraft).  Moves and ranges are given in meters, which convert to inches.  So, a fast tracked vehicle could travel 500 meters in a turn - that equates to 10 inches cross country.  Roads give a bonus, lots of terrain features really bog down vehicle movement. 

Dealing with the high tempo of modern combat, and the hide and seek nature of vehicles that can move at dozens of miles per hour, and have stabilization allowing them to fire on the move, means that some rules for target acquisition must apply.  It is impractical to keep all the units off table that no enemy can spot, so instead most modern rule sets have rules for acquisition - which then limits who can see a target to shoot at it, or report it to a request for air strike or artillery, etc.  These rules are no different, and are based on the target type vs the distance from the would-be spotter.  Modifiers for lots of situations and equipment, and then single d6 roll determines success.  Rules exist to cover what happens if you fail to spot (for instance) the sniper in the building, but in stead rolled well enough to acquire the building itself (the idea is you found the sniper, in general, but did not see him long enough to aim a weapon).  This allows you to fire area effect or suppressive fire at the target, but not (much deadlier) aimed fire.

Direct fire can then be applied to targets known.  This includes aimed fire and suppressive fire.  Weapons such as missiles cannot perform suppressive fire, nor can large mortars.  Small mortars can, as can most other weapons.  Rules exist covering who can fire (for instance, troops in an IFV, such as a West German Marder, are limited to two elements firing from hatches, and so on), arc of fire, and so forth.  Rules exist defining defile zones and dead zones behind a raised terrain feature (like a hill crest).  Then the method is simple - find your weapon on the hit chart, cross index it with the range, and you have a target number for your D6 roll, to hit.  Benefits of this system: if you have multiple shooters and multiple targets (like platoons or companies of tanks encountering each other, or stands of infantry fighting other stands of infantry), then rolling multiple dice at one time is a viable game-speeding tactic.

Hits are then followed up by dicing for results.  This is again based on the weapon, and range at which the hit took place.  Then a look up table determines if it is an automatic kill, or a dice chance for a kill, or no chance at all - based on target armor.  Two such look up tables exist, one for hits vs. Tanks and other vehicles; the other exists for tracking hits vs. infantry, soft vehicles, and other soft targets.

There are rules for artillery fire (including things like making a successful request for artillery support, counter battery fire, different types of fire missions (programmed, preregistered, or impromptu).  Artillery effects from hits are derived form a chart, matching weapon system vs. target type.

Extra rule sections exist covering air combat, air insertions (helicopters and paradrops), night fighting, chemical and nuclear weapons, and finally, a method for determining the victor based (mostly) on surviving tabletop elements.  Engineering and other tasks are covered.

These rules provide for a fairly fast game, at the expense of detail.  At the time, when we would play these over the Challenger rules, it seemed like we were cheating, by not taking into account the many different layers of detail covered in those rules.  But . . . a company on company (say, 10-15 tanks each) in Challenger might take as long as 2 or 3 hours to play out, especially if they have more interesting weapon systems.  In the WRG rules, maybe half an hour or hour.

I like them.  I don't know if modern gamers would find these attractive.  These days for modern warfare I would actually represent Cold War Commander, with its mechanisms for representing the problems of modern C4I, plus the more elegant mechanics of modern rules.  But, in my professional life, I research and teach about simulation systems, including combat simulation systems, and it is interesting that most modern combat simulators that operate at the individual entity level use a combat adjudication system called PH/PK - which is "percent hit and percent kill".  That is a percent chance to get a hit at various range brackets (in the WRG rules this is reduced to a d6 roll, but the same mechanism), and then a chance to score a kill, or lesser hit, based on the weapon system vs armor.   So the same methods and techniques are part of modern computer simulations.

Good rules.  Much quicker than many alternatives.  Lots of options for weapon systems, equipment, and so forth.  I don't know that in a post 1991 world that these rules still hold up, especially with more modern equipment. They don't cover modern situations like command nets being augmented by things like cell phones, and the presence of drones and UAVs on the battlefield.  But then, they were written in 1979.  For the historical conflicts between 1945 and 1990, they are probably still a very good set of rules, if you like the mechanics.  I would still play them.  And I might listen to Nena or Sting while doing it.


Dave Gamer said...

Back at that time. we used Angriff! rules for WWII micro-armor and I believe my ROTC friends used GDW's TACFORCE for modern micro-armor.

Charles Turnitsa said...

I love Angriffe! In fact it is on my list of rules to review. I recall TACFORCE, but I don't think I ever played.

Shaun Travers said...

I played these a few times in the 80s and quite liked them. Played Challenger once and did not enjoy it very much. If I was to play moderns again, I think I would use the Dunn-Kempf rules (based on the earlier WRG 1925-1950 rules).

Charles Turnitsa said...

Thanks Shaun. I like the WRG WW2 rules (what we called the 1925-1950 ruleset). I'll take a look for Dunn-Kempf.