Battlegroup Kursk – thoughts and first game

Well last week I tried a new game to me – battlegroup Kursk, and so I thought I’d do a quick write up of it plus add my thoughts about the game. In a high level summary I liked it and it may be my new WW2 rules set of choice for large tactical sized games. We’ll see though after more games. I did end up buying a set of these rules though, so that gives you the idea of what I thought.

As for the others game options for this period and scale of conflict, I have played quite a few games of Iron Cross in the last year but the way that handles infantry is, well not great and leaves a lot to be desired. I like the command & control system for that, and it’s simple but tactical but the problem with infantry (they are too hard to kill compared to vehicles) spoils an over-wise fun game. It works for large convention/multi-player games of mainly vehicles but fails on infantry heavy forces. While Flame of War is not bad it’s sliding ground scale really provides an odd feel the games and one I don’t like. It’s gone out of favor in the local area as well. It has weird tactics which don’t reflect reality well which is an added negative to FoW for me. IABSM from the TFL never has taken off here with our group (we will try it again at some point). Chain of command, is one I do like but it is really smaller scale game. In many ways it’s also more complex at least initially than the others – with a single platoon vs. multiple platoons under command. That come from it’s non traditional play style though.

So back to this game. We played a small set up with just 5 platoons total (two german and three Soviet), plus some support options. It was based in the Kursk period. It was a fun and showed the game well I believe – especially as we tried a few things out at the end just to see the mechanics. This was on a 3.5 x 4 foot table. You can have up to 4 or 5+ platoons each on a 6 x 4 foot table in 15mm. Bigger games will need more space but that’s only reasonable. All the toys and terrain were provided by Jahan who was teaching me the rules. The scale is 1 to 1 for figs and vehicles – which is what I like.

As for the Battlegroup rules, they seem to play well and are not too complex. In fact about as more complex than say FoW and little more than Iron Cross over all. It’s an I go you go game with overwatch for interrupts. Each turn you roll a die and and add the leaders you have for the number of units you can move. A unit is a tank (oddly always bought in 3’s it seems), a infantry section/squad or a support unit – like a HMG or like. Rifle ranges are 30″, which in 15mm is not unreasonable for effective ranges with iron sights. The orders are mainly any combination or shot & move, go on overwatch (to either move or shoot), or some specific options for different troops. The overwatch can be triggered at any time in an opponents turn and you do a full 2 shot or 2 moves as an interrupt. There are other actions like engineers removing mines/repairing things, or commanders rallying troops out of sequence, but those are unusual as far as I see. Shooting is via aimed fire which needs you to see an opponent, then hit and they have to fail a save too kill figs. Alternatively, you can do suppressive fire which tries to pin a unit and may just causes a single infantry casualty, although that’s rare. Pinned units can’t do anything unit they are unpinned.

The rules include off board art, aircraft, vehicle repairs and ammo usage etc. The majority of the other stuff seems to be force lists which provide guidance on the usual formations that the different forces have.

Morale is based on a target ‘break number’ which you keep hidden and when bad things happen, like opponents gaining objectives or units being destroyed, you draw chits from a bad with numbers on them to see how many of those you gain.  The first person to get more break points than their force allows loses. However, as you don’t know your opponents level, so have to judge how close they are to breaking from the number of chits they have. The nice thing with this is there are some special effect/event tokens which do different things such mines and aircraft being available in these chits. That provides some randomness and unknowns in the game. Also, if pinned then you take a token to get D6 units unpinned. Overall, the game hung together well and forces the use of cover and tactical moves to cover different troops etc.

So, with that brief summary of thoughts of what I liked and noted on the game so far:

  • The two chances to shoot is deadly if you don’t move. This makes some interesting tactics, especially using the opportunity shots/moves. Squads need to do a somewhat realsitic platoon tactics to be really effective. FoW style movement will get them killed.
  • The order mechanism means for small forces of skilled troops (aka germans/later brits etc.) you should be able to move most things, unless you roll badly. Larger forces such as Soviets can have many more issues with a poor command roll.
  • The movement is quite tactical. Troops in the open are vulnerable and need some luck to survive. The same is true as the range closes as the shooting can be deadly.
  • There was a fair amount of table lookups in the game, even with that it plays ok. After a while we got the hang of the tables and the 2 page QRS covers all combat tables needed. I suspect regular playing people will memorize the values.
  • Unit stats for vehicles are complex (a little more complex than FOW) and thus a full force list is needed to play the game. Again you soon get the hang of this but the force sheets we had from the online builder could have been better for a newbie at least. But I guess they don’t want to give all the units stats away for free which I understand. We had some unit cards which helped but I can see that being a challenge in bigger games without decent prep for the game.
  • The inclusion of ammo rules & counting for tanks in a game this size are interesting. I can see that it could be too much in big games and something that I may be dropped in some cases. You count the number of shots per vehicle and of hat type of ammo etc till they run out.
  • I like the inclusion of spotting rules and the different aimed vs. suppression fire. Definitely gives a more WW2 feel to the game compared to some rules.
  • The rules have timed and predefined target art and air strike options which I really like. Again those are very reflective of WW2 tactics for most of the war and nice to see covered in such a game as this. Note, only the US army at the end of the war really had any true impromtue called art/air strike capability and even then it depend on on forces a lot.
  • The morale tokens and special effect are a nice touch. Keeps players guessing and allows an easy way to add special effects/events in the game. Would have been nice for them to have a custom one but that’s easy to add in if you want to create scenario’s.
  • To remove pin’s you take a morale token so that’s interesting that you could win a game by never really killing much – just pinning the opponent to death and getting other things, such as objectives. It would be hard to do but provides another tactical decision point in the games which is good.
  • The rules are somewhat the opposite of TFL games – in that commanders are minor figures in the game. This is much more the FoW style for commanders. They add to the number of orders you can make but really don’t provide much else. I expect a typical infantry commander will skulk at the back of a force. The soviet infantry have a special rule/command option that they can use if close to their officer. That may make them stay a little closer to the action. The only unique thing a senior leader can do is a special order try to remove the pin from any unit and then allow that unit to take an order. This requires a roll to do so and does no even need visual line of site between a commander and the unit in question. This seems a shame as more could have been made of that. The commanders don’t need to be close to their troops at all…there are bonuses/reasons for having a medic close to units under fire, but not their commander.
  • That indirect fire rules for art are a little complex but seem to reflect the inaccuracy but potential for these weapons.
  • There does not seem to be rules for the use of smoke. I may have missed them though. Although again not a big thing (and no issue for Russians who prettty much never used it) that does affect some forces such as Brits. They are easy to add though if needed.
  • The aircraft rules are also little complex and from what I see the pilots can be very precise in their aim in shooting, especially if strafing with machine guns/cannons. Interesting comparison to the artillery and it’s a game mechanic – I get it. They have to be lucky to do that but still it seems a little unrealistic – which is a shame as many other aspects seem to model reality quite well. I need more games are need to see how big an issue this really is but this does not really reflect air strikes vs. infantry especially in WW2. It’s easy to ignore aircraft at this scale though for smaller games  or use a house rule that they have to use the artillery style targeting for MG’s etc making this less precise.
  • I can see using FoW basing for a squad and keeping track of figs losses via counters/dice vs. doing the 1 to 1 fig for infantry. That may or may not be hard to do but might make movement and ground scale a little easier to deal with.

So as you can see, I see some potential minor concerns in the system but, overall it seems fairly solid. So with that on to the game…

This was a simple meeting engagement. There were 4 objective markers around a small collection of houses and the fight was to break the opponent and drive them back. I chose to use the Soviets, as they are my typical WW2 force. The first turns had my lead elements move towards the village and grab the objective closest to me. This was my first experience of the moral chits system. The Germans pulled one when I got the objective. Of course they got a mine event – which then effected me! Luckily for me I did not have any vehicles on the table so it could be ignored. It’s interesting that most events from the morale phase effect your opponent, although you can get aircraft support from it. So sometimes a bad thing which causes pulling one of those chits can turn out to your advantage!

Most of our forces started in reserve and so I just got a three units at the start of the game. These were soon re-enforced with an extra MG team and my infantry officer to add his bonus to the command rolls. Early on I kept the amour off the table. I also kept the force all on the right flank of the village One thing which became apparent quickly was that with a decent sized force the number of commands you roll can real impact what you do. This is quite like DBA etc. and an aspect of rules which I like. You have to do prioritization and decision making of what to do and when. It’s a little artificial but works, and as seen in the German side if you have a smaller force and roll fairly well it becomes less of an issue.  It seemed all through the game that the Germans with their smaller force and more commanders had much less of an issue in this area compared to my Soviets.

Talking of the Germans, they moved onwards the other side of the village and pushed an AT gun up towards the center of the village. They also took the top of a hill on the left of the village. In their next turns they got all of the remainder of their troops on the table -including 4 tanks. The village still was unoccupied though but either side and I had claimed the only objective so far.Finally, I started to roll enough for the reserves to get some of my tanks on the table. I brought on a platoon and a commander all in T-34’s. The officer in the tank would help with the command rolls – giving me another +1 but this also allowed me to match the total number of german tanks on the table. I still had another 3 tanks to come on though! Got to love the Russian numbers game.I soon moved the tanks toward the village and the corn fields on my left. I tried to suppress/pin the german infantry squad on the hill. Of course with my luck that did not happen. I missed with all 4 tanks! So much for that…

In the next German turn the infantry ran into the buildings of the village, escaping into cover and claiming an objective. They realized that sitting on top of the hill with no Soviet infantry and just tanks moving towards them was not a great idea.

The German tank platoon did come over the hill in a very bold move though. They tried to take out the T-34’s with that move and shot move. With three tanks shooting one of mine ended up pinned in the corn field and another was destroyed. That left 2 operational tanks on that flank for my Soviets.

On the other side of the table the rest of the German force also moved into their outskirks of the village. They either moved into buildings/ruins or just used them as cover. The other German tank which had another officer in it also moved up on that flank of the village. At this point there still had not been a lot of shooting on this side or in the village itself.
In my turn I did not roll well for orders so I could not really do that much. However, the key thing was for my two remaining T-34 tanks to kill the German tanks they could see. That went rather well in fact. The two German tanks which were visible on the hill were destroyed. Overall, the combat of tank vs. tank reminded me of other systems (FoW/iron cross etc.) and it’s seems pretty easy when you get the hang of it. It’s also deadly which is typical of these games. If you are in range and visible then you need some luck to survive in a tank.

With few other orders left after doing that I moved my units further into the village and moved a single tank up to support the infantry on the other flank. We started to exchange a few shots between the units in the village but not many were successful. Maybe if I had tried more suppression fire I might have had more luck.

What developed on that side of the village where I had moved my tank up was a sneaky tank duel. We did not use overwatch moves – which would have been useful but concentrated in shot & move/move & shot type actions to try to keep in cover but kill the other tank. Luck for once was with me on this and my T-34 managed to take out the german Panzer 4. First I pinned it, which stopped it shooting back at me the next turn while it unpinned. Then the following turn I managed to kill it.

With that tank destroyed, both tank based officers in the German army were dead. Now their command rolls started to be a little more important and they were just adding +1 not +3 to the command roll. But with less units as well the command decision choices I was having to make for the Soviets seemed less of an issue for the Germans.By now the rest of the Soviet reserves were on the table and I decided to try some thing out. My light mortars tried to hit the Germans in the town… not very successfully it has to be said. I quickly decided that those were not that suitable for getting infantry out of the buildings. I did fast moved a unit up into one of the buildings, which was exposed to the German MG’s. These got shot to pieces by the Germans in the opposing houses. The large number of MG’s in those German infantry squads are nasty. At very short range things get deadly and although I had ‘hard saves’ because of the building I still managed to fail a significant number of them. So that squad died in a singe turn to a fat of fire.

I also my HMG squad went down to longer range German machine gun fire. The lack of commands had left them exposed in the open so they were a fairly easy target. Here my luck came into play again though. I pulled an immobilized token event. So the last remaining German tank was stuck in an awkward place and out of the main action. It made it awkward for me to try to kill it but kept it out go play as well. So overall another good morale chit event for me.I did my first rally then and unpinned my T-34 tank in the corn and a unit in the village as well. Yes the immobilized German panzer in theory could (and maybe should) have killed it before now, but it failed – most of the time the tank was hidden from view in the corn. Yes the Germans consistently failed their spot rolls and this was not a priority for their command actions.

In the village we were having a bit of a firefight with both sides losing units. My Soviets were not great but having tank support with no German counter to it other than the AT gun which I tried hard to not have line of sight to the tanks gave me the edge. T-34’s MG’ing German infantry in the buildings was my basic tactic. This mean the Germans were pulling chits out to unpin units but not really being able to do much in return.As this was a friendly intro and coming to an end with an obvious Soviet victory we both wanted to try out the assault rules. So I decided to charge my SMG armed squad into a German squad in the next building to see how this worked. You have to test to see if they do that type of attack and I failed the test though and so my squad decided not to do such an attack…

However, the Germans in their next turn decided to counter charge. As mentioned the German force was near breaking point so we decided to see what happened. Of course the Germans did pass the test to the attack but in the end it was not great for them. A lot of destruction and death was the result for both sides as he had not pinned my troops first. So I wiped out the German attackers, but not without losses. The Germans also decided to see how an infantry close assault vs. a tank worked – with the German trying a last ditch attempt to destroy a T-34 that way. Again this did not work well for the Germans but only cost them a single casualty for the failed attempt and the attacking unit ended up pinned. Hand grenades and anti-tank mines vs a tank with MG’s – you have to have some luck to make that work.

That of course was the game, with victory to my Soviets.

So there we are. It was a quick game but a good intro at a couple of hundred points. I must say I was surprised that it ended as soon as it did, but that’s one of the interesting thing with these rules. The morale and chit system means forces don’t fight to the last man. That’s realistic really so a good thing. It makes you really have to care for troops and be aware of everything which is happening – even rallying off pins. That slowly that reduces the morale of you force.

Overall, I think you may see a few more games of this in time in this blog and I’ll definitely be playing this game again. As I mentioned I have now bought the rules so that’s a good sign as well.


About mellis1644

A painter and gamer who has no illusions about being the best painter but likes to play with decently painted toys and have fun gaming
This entry was posted in 15mm, After Action Report, Review, World War 2. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Battlegroup Kursk – thoughts and first game

  1. I’m trying out the various “squad” based games. So this is good to see.

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