Wargamers are like butterflies, flitting from project to project. Alas I conform to the stereotype. Earlier this year I diverted to my Great Northern War armies. I then moved on to a twin-track: my 1866 project (Austrians and Italians in 10mm) and my 18mm Napoleonics, using Lasalle 2 rules. I put my 20mm World War 2 project on ice, after some rather irksome kit building, and having lost my way on rules. Now I’ve turned back to these with a vengeance.
I have at last been getting regular games at a local (-ish) club: the Tunbridge Wells Wargames Society. At first I played Lasalle, but after a few games I wanted a bit of a change. Then my wargaming partner, Rod, said that he was building up some armies for WW2 using the Rapid Fire! Reloaded system. I had long had it in mind to run my WW2 games using a hex-based system, and even bought a games mat marked in hexes. What if I tried adapting Reloaded to hexes? And so my other projects were put to one side.
Reloaded is the latest in the Rapid Fire! system, which I have used before (I have the 2005 edition), and commented on a few times. They date from the 1990s and were revolutionary in their time, breaking out of the complexity that had dogged WW2 systems before then. They feel very old-school today though – an old-fashioned I-go U-go turn system, and a bang-you’re-dead combat system, without such ideas as suppression. They are designed for 20mm (but workable with 15mm – 28mm) models, and though there is no formal distance scale, they are broadly consistent with 40m to the inch. One model tank represents about 5 real ones, and one two-figure infantry element a normal-sized platoon. The rules are heavily “bath-tubbed” – it is played as though the scale is 1:1, which is something that I struggle with, but makes the rules seem less abstract. This approach is one way of getting a lot of large-scale kit on the table – and arguably more honest that systems like Bolt Action which pretend they are platoon-level.
But for a simplified, fast-play game RF became quite complicated. The basic rules cover 45 pages of A4, admittedly with lots of pictures. The authors (Colin Rumford and Richard Marsh) obviously decided that there was a market for a stripped-down version, and Reloaded is the result. The basic rules (without the sample forces and scenario) cover just 8 pages – though without pictures. They’ve done a pretty decent job. There is no complicated fire table, or observation table, for example. I raised my eyebrows a few times (on the treatment of auto cannon, for example), but then realised that the issue didn’t matter that much. They are bit more abstract – but that is actually a good thing at this scale – as attempts at detail look like bath tubbing. I started to become a bit more surprised at some of the detail left in – for example the extra range given to very high velocity anti-tank guns (e.g. 88s and 17pdrs).
How about converting to hexes? When ordering the mat (from Tiny Wargames – who have a very flexible service), I decided to go for hexes with 3in sides – so 6in from corner to corner, or 5in between the sides. This is pretty big as these things go. They needed to be big for 20mm models, though, especially if they are sharing the space with terrain, such as buildings. My original idea was that more than one tank would be able to occupy a hex. Smaller hexes would certainly have been possible. Larger hexes make the game more abstract – but that speeds things up.
The first thing to tackle was how the game elements occupy the hexes. I decided to have each element facing a hex-side, rather than a corner. This generally how board games for the era work, and it means that elements move forward in a nice straight line. It doesn’t work so well for earlier eras, as you can’t line units up side by side in straight lines. More than one element can occupy a hex, but I soon decided to limit the “stacking” to one large vehicle (models more than 60mm long – most mid-war tanks, Sdfz 251s and medium trucks) or one artillery piece, at least the size of medium anti-tank guns (Pak 38s or 6pdrs). I decided to limit infantry to four bases, with each element assigned to one hex-side, and no more than one per side. A small vehicle (Bren carriers, Sdkfz 250s, jeeps, etc) is the same. I might want to simplify this to suggest a maximum of one element to each hex-side, with large vehicles taking up two opposite sides, and hence preventing other large vehicles from occupation. This complexity results from using larger hexes, of course. With smaller hexes you might have just one or two elements, with vehicles unable to occupy buildings hexes.
For distances, the basic premise is that six inches converts to one hex, or five inches for the longer distances. That only gave me a small number of issues: infantry crawling (3in) which wasn’t too hard to represent (place the figure across the hex-side in the first move). Heavy tanks (9in cross-country) were a bit more of a problem, as I didn’t want to create a rather untidy half-move rule just for them, so I have let them have the normal two hexes cross country for tanks, but reduced road movement by a hex. I dithered about giving them a single-hex move cross-country, but decided that this would slow things down too much. For my 1943 setting there are only two vehicles in scope (given that Valentine tanks were largely out of it by then): Tigers and Churchills, both mainly applicable to Tunisia. I only have Tigers table-ready at the moment, and these should definitely be given the benefit of the doubt. Many rules give them normal tank speed (though they did struggle a bit with the terrain, especially in Sicily). I also needed to decide on firing arc – where I was generous, allowing fixed guns to fire through adjacent hex-sides. This is in keeping with the RF rules, which are generous too. Where the original rules divide direct HE fire in six 8in range bands to decide chances of hitting, I decided to use a D10- instead, with a maximum range of ten hexes (so that you need to throw a 10 to hit at ten hexes, etc.).
By far the biggest conversion issue was close combat, as the use of large hexes makes this much more abstract. I decided to resolve this with an exchange of fire, followed by a dice-off (following the Reloaded rules for this final stage), with the winner being left in possession of the hex and the loser being forced to retreat. This hasn’t been play-tested yet. There is a big difference in the treatment of built-up areas. RF treats each model as if an individual building. In my hex system, a building hex (which may have just one building model so as to leave enough room for a large vehicle too) is treated as an area composed of several actual buildings, without an attempt to resolve occupation in detail. It will be interesting to see how this works out in actual play.
I had a little time to think about terrain. I don’t have much that is directly usable. I experimented with scratch-building an appropriate building using cork floor tiles, of which I have a plentiful supply. You can see the result in the picture. The roof is cardboard overlaid with Noch N-gauge pantile sheet, which I happened to have in stock; I even had some plastic pantile ridge tiles – though I don’t remember where I got these from. There were some learnings, but the result is a nice robust model, which is hollow, so that I can remove the roof and place an infantry element inside. Cork tile also lends itself well to creating ruined buildings. My idea now to build several models using the same technique, in various sizes – but not ruins just yet. I also tried my hand at making some cypress trees – which I didn’t quite finish. There’s a lot more work to do before I start getting the table looking a bit more authentic. Fitting terrain into the hex grid is a further challenge.
For the rules’ first major outing, last Sunday, I devised a simple scenario, based very loosely on the Salerno beachhead, between two battalion-sized battlegroups. The Germans, attacking, had three Panzer IVs, and Panzer III flamethrower (these were used to devastating effect in the early days of the battle, before they were knocked out by the Allies). The British were supported by a single Sherman, and a 6pdr, and hadn’t had time to dig in. Both sides had a battery of field artillery. In RF terms the Germans had 200 points and the British just over 100 – about half the size of a normal attack-defence game. The game took us about three hours, even allowing for a fairly slow pace for unfamiliar rules. Casualties were heavy. Infantry vanished like snows in summer as soon as they became the focus of attention. The 6-pdr knocked out two Panzer IVs as they approached, while return fire proved ineffective. It was only destroyed by artillery late in the game. The Flammpanzer did for the Sherman in a move-and-fire manoeuvre as it came over a hill. In the end it was a race to see which side’s infantry failed their morale test for 50% casualties. This proved to be the British, though the Germans had passed two tests by this stage.
The rules produced a fast-paced game but are deeply flawed if you are looking for realistic representation of warfare. Most of the flaws are with the original RF system, and not the Reloaded one though. Some things, like move-and-fire are so much part of the core system that I won’t change them until I produce my own rules in the same space. But there are some minor tweaks to deal with things I consider to be anomalies:
- One change I made on the day was to treat static infantry as being in soft cover, for both observation and firing purposes – as crawling infantry already are. It is normal field craft for infantry to go to ground and use any limited cover.
- Vehicle machine guns are very effective (three fire dice) when static. This includes both mounted light machine guns used in Bren carriers and the Sdkfz 250/251, and hull machine guns in tanks. When dismounted a carrier platoon or only gets two fire dice. Hull machine guns were defensive weapons where the gunner had limited visibility. Turret machine guns were more effective but had limitations too. I think LMGs mounted on APCs get one die whether moving or static. Hull machine guns likewise get a single dice – and I would limit their range to the adjacent hex. A static turret machine gun gets two dice. Medium machine guns, mounted on sustained fire mounts and fully crewed, still get 4 dice.
- Not in the Reloaded rules, I would give HMGs and autocannon a limited AP capability – 6 and 5 respectively – limited to small arms range. This is in the main rules, except that heavy autocannon (37mm or 40mm) have more range.
- Light mortar: I think it is simpler and more realistic to treat these as a direct fire weapon, with a range of 6 hexes, using a D6 to determine hits.
- I also want to ease the process of indirect fire support, so that any company can call in direct fire support (mortars or infantry guns) and artillery OPs can call in direct resources too. But limit this by making all calls by a separate observer subject to the comms test. That comms test needs to be made a bit more sophisticated, but that’s a job for another day. Each weapon can only be called once, and each observer can only direct one weapon per turn. This is really a down-payment on a more sophisticated system, which I’m basing on Battlefront rules.
- I also need to cover HE fire on buildings hexes where the occupying troops haven’t been observed. The hex needs to be easy to hit, but which hex-side gets the effect needs to be randomised.
We’ll come back to these rules for another game in January. Alas I won’t have much time to add to my limited available troops on the tabletop, or terrain. But I can focus longer-term painting efforts on building a 400 point army for each side. Meanwhile I am working on ideas for my own rules in this space.