Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Playtesting winter rules for Spearhead (Eastern Front WW2)

Ian and I playtested the house rules for winter combat yesterday.

We used a small scenario where a German force was holding a prepared defensive position against a number of determined but un-coordinated Russian attacks January 1942.

Russian fighters patrol the area prior to conflict

Before we start I can say that the house rules took a hammering (and rightly so) when put into practice, but the outcome has been a much better set of house rules (which was basically the point) so it proved a very useful exercise.

And it was fun as well!

Where and When?
Outside Leningrad, January 1942

The Scenario
A German battalion defends a village with a prepared position in accordance with Hitler's order to hold at all costs.  The force consists of infantry, some engineers, a 150mm gun, a 37mm ATG, an infantry gun, an 81mm mortar and a couple of HMG;'s.  Oh, and a PzVI.  The German troops were dug-in (including the tank) in a hedgehog formation giving them a defensive bonus but taking the advantage of movement away.

The Germans can only be supplied by air and the drops have to reach the Battalion HQ before they can be used.  Each drop provides the Germans with a round of heavy artillery shooting OR infantry shooting (otherwise the troops are considered 'out of supply' so the infantry shoot at a disadvantage.  So the urgent need for the Germans is to get an accurate supply drop so they can get the guns to fire.

Supply is provided by Ju52 air drops.  The first 4 turns (weather permitting) the airdrops are unmolested but from turn 5 the Russian airforce can intervene. 

Attacking them are 4 Russian battalions (one in a flank attack) with a sprinkling of BT5's, machine guns, a mortar and a 75mm field gun.  And some SMG-armed ski troops who are not affected by movement restrictions and can only be seen at 3".  The battalions are labelled A, B, C and D for convenience.

The Russians are not given any heavy artillery and would not be allowed to use it on the village anyway (to ensure warm lodgings (rather than smoking ruins) should they take the village.

They also have to move at full possible speed to get to grips with the enemy (whether they want to or not). They also have to roll individually to come on the table. 

Weather rules
We began with rolling for weather and after discussion found them too 'harsh' and biased towards the Russians.  So we decided the following would apply.  On a 1-4 the weather is fine (or at least fine enough to fly, a 6 means nothing can fly and (indeed) the visibility and movement on the ground is affected.  On a 5, the opposing sides can decide whether to fly their planes or not - with a 50% chance that the planes will not reach the objective and are lost for the battle (either hopelessly lost, crashed on take off etc.).

Winter lake 
Decisions are made at the end of a turn (when weather is rolled for) and revealed at the end of the movement phase of the following turn.  The player then rolls with a 50% chance that the aircraft is lost for the rest of the battle.

In operational games the commander will therefore have to make some tough calls. Do you risk your planes with the chance of taking out a powerful enemy concentration but risk losing them for the rest of the battle.  Or risk your supply planes making a risky drop because the troops are out of supply? 

This felt better balanced for both sides and provides a true choice of risk and reward for players.  we decided that weather be rolled for every hour for operational battles and every turn for scenarios.  You'll see the effect of this later on.

And so it begins...Turn 1
The battlefield before the battle.  The Germans are defending the village on the left

The Germans in position, ready for the onslaught.

The Germans prepared, praying for a kind supply drop that actually lands on the table.  Tante Ju did OK, dropping it just in front of the Germans forward positions (unmolested as it was).  Meanwhile, on the Soviet side only the B battalion actually came onto the field and at a very tardy rate (the variable movement rules - even with a +1 for the Russians - gave them a move of just 2"). This cheered the Germans up no end. 

The first supply drop lands right in front of the German lines.  A team is dispatched to pick them up.  
However the same variable movement rules stumped the Germans.  The scenario said that their supplies move at half normal rate and the variable movement meant it barely made any progress back to the village. The smiles soon faded when it was realised that the big guns couldn't fire until the supplies reached the HQ. 

Turn 2
The weather took a decided turn for the worst.  A sudden snow shower grounded the JU 52's so no drop this turn.  And the attempt to bring in the first supply drop twas further hampered by the snow and didn't move at all. 

The Russians C battalion turned up (also moving at a tardy 2"), the A battalion failed to turn up at all (prompting a call from HQ to get moving or get shot).  But B bttn got the order to move quick to cut off the supplies and moved their full distance.  Clearly this would not be a coordinated attack.

B Battalion speeds up a bit 
 Turn 3
The Russian A bttn failed to move again - they'd need a telephone call from Stalin himself apparently.  Undaunted B and C ploughed ahead through the terrible conditions and their movement was severely hampered (both hardly moving).  Just like the supply drop which was moving at glacial pace towards the village.

Luckily for the Germans, the snowfall was brief and the weather began to clear.

Turn 4
The Divisional Commissar turned up to have a chat with A battalion HQ and they got the message.  They came storming across the table eager to either get to grips with the invader OR avoid the firing squad.  In contrast the German supply sledge seemed to have broken as the supplies failed to move again.  To make things worse, the next supply drop drifted towards the oncoming Russians! 

Coming from the ranks came the muttered curses of "F***ing Goering!".

The supply issue was already critical and in desperation the HQ decided that if the supplies couldn't get to him, he'd have to go to the supplies.

A bttn finally comes on at full speed, trying to catch up with their sister battalions
Turn 5
The clearer weather helped everyone.  Battalions A and B had full moves and were now bearing down on the German position.  The Germans finally picked up their first supply drop and could actually feed shells into their heavy guns.  As the Russian aircraft failed to show up, the JU52 got another drop in and got it right on the button. 

As the Russians closed, the newly fed German guns opened up - and pretty much missed everything!  One supply drop wasted!  And worse news - the weather is closing in again putting the next supply drop at risk.

The Russians close and come under fire. The supply drops are the round bases.  One dropped close to the village but the other at risk of being overrun.
 Turn 6
The Russians advance en masse and now try to get their flank attack going but they seemed to be using the same radios as A battalion.  The Germans pounced on the supply drop near the village but the one that had drifted towards the Russians was moving at snail's pace towards German lines and were in danger of being overwhelmed by the advancing C battalion.

Huge waves of Russians arrive and a supply drop looks doomed.  Meanwhile the Hero tank charges in.
Worse news for the Germans.  The Russians decided to not risk their fighters in the deteriorating weather but given the critical supply situation, the Ju52 was asked to fly in another drop.  Unfortunately it crashed on take-off - the Germans would have no more supply drops!  The big guns would soon be silent.

The Russians variable moves meant that one BT5 tank leap ahead (obviously after a Hero of the Soviet Union medal).  Instead his tank was blown up by a 150mm shell fired at point blank range.  An MG unit was also lost to heavy weapon attack.  The supplies were well used this turn but would any more get to the German lines?

The shooting revealed that B Bttn was Green and A was Regular. 

And the weather changed again as the clouds cleared.  So the Russians decide to try and get their aircraft into the fight - finally!

Turn 7
As the lines converged the Russian Air Force finally made is presence felt.  A strafing run took out two dug-in infantry AND the 150mm gun.  There was much muttering from the German side and grins of glee on the Russian side. 

Now you see them......

...now you don't.  Russian fighter created a huge hole in the German front line at the best possible time (or worst if you are German).
The German indirect fire is also ineffectual and to rub salt in the many wounds the Germans suffered this turn, it appears that C Battalion is rated 'Veteran'.   Could it get any worse for the Germans?

Turn 8
Well it turns out that - for the time being - it didn't.  The Russian advance ground to a halt allowing the supply drop team to move ahead of the Red Tide. And the Russians failed to call the aircraft in (although it was suggested that given the devastation caused by the last sortie, that aircraft only attack one target per turn for scenario battles).  Having said that, the Russians failed to call in the aircraft again for the remainder of the battle...

But that was about it for the Germans.  The Russian mortars suppressed a German MG and then it was killed by an infantry gun, opening up the whole front line.  German shooting was ineffectual when they needed to get casualties on B battalion to try to force a rout.  The German tank couldn't shoot (as they had no shells due to the supply situation) and luckily were missed by the surviving Russian tank (who thanks to the aircraft and indirect fire suddenly had no targets to charge at.

And to really cheer the Germans up, the Russian flank attack turned up at just the wrong moment.

There appears to be no Germans in the middle!

Turn 9
As Battalion D now arrived on the flank, the main problem for the Russians was that as all 4 battalions converged, they started getting in each others' way and blocking each others shooting.  The flank attack seemed to combine nicely with C Battalions attack - giving the German left flank simply too many targets and by being out of supply their shooting was less effective than usual. 

Although the weather was clear, no Russian aircraft made an appearance - although the only thing holding up the Russians were other Russians.  We decided on a 4pm finish so got the hurry-up to try to force a result. 

The Germans wanted to move their tank but it remained stubbornly suppressed (or was it the Partisan mice who'd chewed through the Panzer wiring?).  No infantry could engage it in close combat so the Russians tried to manouvre their tanks to have a bash at it instead.

The flank attack arrives - perfectly coordinated purely by chance
Turn 10 until the end of the battle
With the Germans praying for bad weather to slow the Russians down and prevent any air attacks, it was instead turning into a nice day.  The Germans began to pull units back towards the village to have an Alamo-type finish while the Russians pressed on from all sides.  Russian dice rolling had been good all day and another magic roll (needing 11 to hit on 2d6 - gets 11) killed off another stand in the woods and the lone German MG in the woods had to make a run for it.

Russian close assaults also bore fruit with more outrageous dice rolls and the German left flank disappeared.  The right flank fell back on the village - so the suppressed Pz IV was on his own. 

In the desperate attempt to kill off one more German stand to trigger a morale check, a platoon of A Battalion tried to cross the frozen lake - and promptly fell through the ice and drowned! 

German right flank prepares to run for it

Lucky shots and close assaults collapse the German left flank

 The German MG running from the Russian flank attack was SMG'd to death by a detachment of ski troops leaving the Germans one stand from a morale check.  A flurry of fire saw B Battallion on the Russian side fail their morale check but a BT5 managed to get around the rear of the dug-in PzIV and send a round through the rear armour.  The kill triggered the desired morale check on the stroke of 4pm.

The lake swallows up its Russian victims

The PzIV is left isolated as the German infantry leg it back to the village and is soon to be despatched

Panzer gone, suppressed infantry units and the Russians are surrounding them.  Time to throw in the towel.

The sight of their only tank support going up in flames precipitated a massed retreat by the Germans, leaving the Russians to liberate the village and give them a warm place to sleep that night.

Casualties were much heavier on the German side (losing twice the number of stands compared to the Russians) giving Stalin even more pleasure.  The story was on the front page of Pravda the very next day.

While it looks like a one-sided fight, it must be said that luck was on the Russian side.  The variable movement really hampered the German firing and the Russian dice rolling all game was Russ-like.  The strafing run, killing the dug in MG, killing the dug-in infantry in the woods and calling on the flank attack all needed exceptional dice rolling (as did rolling for Regular and Veteran troops).  4 battalions of Green troops may have led to a very different outcome.

In addition, the supply drops were unlucky.  Two landed well away from the village and even the one dropped in front of the German lines took an age to get back.   This made German firing less effective and so gave the Russians a better opporunity.

What else is changed? 
By play testing the rules this way, we fine tuned on the fly and the results felt right.  Air attacks were now risky in every sense (as the Ju52 proved).  We decided that trucks have to stay to roads to move during winter and that only tracked and half-tracked vehicles could move on open country.  In addition, we decided that given the penalty for movement in woods and on hills that both were impassable to non-tracked vehicles and that tracked would move at half speed of the variable move on hills and were not able to enter woods unless a track / road went through a wood.

We need to firm up on the supply rules but agreed in principle that both sides must have access to a road or rail track behind or adjacent to them leading to the rear to be 'in supply'.  Players can choose to attack while out of supply at a -1 modifier.  Or they can use air drops but must (as in the scenario above) secure their supplies.

Guns less than 76mm can be manhandled but larger calibre weapons have to be towed and if by truck can only be towed along a road - we need to work out how deployment works on this basis.     


  1. Excellent write up Phil. Great game and the pictures really look the part; you feel cold looking at them! Some tweaks on the scenario and I think we have a great game for Christmas and a chance for everyone to discuss the operational aspects. The winter rules really work!

  2. Nice write up Phil
    Good to see the winter war stuff out
    I like the way you did the turn by turn report

    1. We talked about this and how to do a decent AAR. Keep notes through the battle, note any funny moments and quotes, take relevant photos, keep track of the main action / turning points. White Dwarf do turn by turn AARs which work well,