Thursday, June 18, 2015

Prairiecon 2015 Game One - Battlegroup Fall Of The Reich

A table dotted with wrecked tanks - that's my kind of game!

Summer is (sort of) here again in the Canadian prairies.  And while the temperature projections are dismal by the standards of our usual glorious weather, there are still some excellent summer traditions. One of those is PrairieCon, the annual gaming event held in Brandon, Manitoba. "Gaming event" is probably a drastic understatement - while Prairiecon is not a huge event size-wise compared to other conventions out there, it has a great reputation and history in the community.  Dallas has a much longer history with PrairieCon than I do, so he is much better at explaining the event and I will leave that to him. But as near as I can figure this is my tenth year at Prairiecon, and it continues to get better!

Commanders confer before the game - on the left side of the photo is the Russian table edge, and the German one is at the opposite end, behind the town.

The edge of Dolgelin - the train station at the upper left and and road section in the bottom right of the photo are the objectives for the Soviet attack
Soviet artillery had already hit the Germans before the battle started

The Soviet advance begins - the train station is to the right side in this photo.
Soviet advance on the left side - T-34/85s and infantry
The Fawcett Avenue Conscripts like to make a visit to Prairiecon every year to play some games and run a couple of games as well.  This year we hosted two games - a WW2 game and a Star Wars space battle game. This (obviously) is the after-action report on the WW2 game: Battlegroup Fall of the Reich.

The only early break for the Germans - this IS-2 hit a mine in the road and was knocked out!
The "Battlegroup" rules are published by Iron Fist Publishing. I will say the rules overall are pretty good, but the books themselves suffer from what I refer to as "British Rule Book Syndrome". Symptoms include beautiful production values, fantastic background information, baffling explanations of simple rules mechanics, quirky approaches to what should be simple rules mechanics (armour ratings expressed as a letter, while everything else is a number), odd decisions on content (the basic rule book does not provide an example of tank vs. tank combat resolution), painting tutorials that are so complex they are only useful for people who are already expert painters, scenarios only suitable if you have an enormous collection of figures, and Kafka-esque layout decisions that have you swearing endlessly (case in point - the stats for the tank will mention what gun it carries, but the stats for said gun are elsewhere in the book, on a big table of guns - ~@#@#@!!!!).

Soviet assault crosses the railway line - T-34/85s in the lead.
"British Rule Book Syndrome" does not render the rules themselves bad - it just makes you a little insane.  Black Powder is a good example of this. That is a bloody fantastic game, but the rule book, even though beautiful, makes me bonkers at times. I don't enjoy "Battlegroup" as much as I do "Black Powder", but "Battlegroup" is still a fine set of rules.

This King Tiger tank missed so much we decided an appropriate token was needed to shame the crew...
A 37mm Flak gun team waits for the attack - the half track is a supply vehicle, a neat feature in the Battlegroup rules.
The WW2 scenario for Prairiecon was adopted on one presented in the "Fall Of The Reich" book - "Holding Dolgelin Station".  The battle takes place during the final Soviet offensive in 1945 on the Eastern Front, the drive on Berlin.  The Germans made a desperate stand as the Soviet army groups crossed the Oder River.  Dolgelin is a village at the edge of the Seelow Heights overlooking the Oder river valley and here the King Tigers of the 502nd Battalion clashed with the Soviet spearheads looking to break through.  This is, of course, something many WW2 gamers like me enjoy - an excuse to use King Tigers :)

The Soviets approach the train station, one of the key objectives.
"Battlegroup" rules are agnostic on scale, although generally driven toward 20mm.  We used 15mm figures for the game, and it works just fine.  I have been painting a lot of individually-based 15mm infantry for skirmish gaming in this scale, but I found in playing "Battlegroup" that the figures based in groups (for games such as "Flames of War") work just fine or even better, as the players find it much easier to move the blocks of infantry around. My preference is still individual basing, but you can't argue with the people actually playing...

The Soviets have blasted the train station, and prepare to mount an assault...but...
The actual scenario from the "Fall of the Reich" book is (consistent with the British Rule Book Syndrome) a very, very large game and even though I have a sizable 15mm collection I still couldn't pull it off on as they have suggested.  No worries, though - it's still great inspiration and we just slimmed it down for Prairiecon.

The train station continues to sustain further damage, but note the dreaded "Scottish number" and the pin token - the infantry are pinned by German MG fire and the assault doesn't go in.
The German forces for my version of the game comprised a Volksgrenadier platoon, an MG42 team, a PaK40, a 37mm AA gun, a lone Marder III and a panzerschrek team.  They were bolstered by three mighty King Tiger tanks, lords of any WW2 gaming table.   Their objective was grim and simple - hold to the end, break the morale of the Soviet attack and buy more time for Berlin...Conscripts Mike and Cam took command of the Germans.

This officer shamed the motherland by fleeing the battlefield - he will be shot for cowardice as an example to others...
The onrushing force of Soviets was suitably enormous - a platoon of IS-2 tanks, a company of T-34/85 tanks, a platoon of hard-ass veteran infantrymen and a platoon of regulars, backed by a maxim MG team and battery of 152mm guns off table.  The Soviets could win two ways - capture the train station and the crossroads at the end of the village, or just break the morale of the Germans.  Conscript Dallas and a Prairiecon visitor took command of the Soviets.

The Tiger tanks are finally finding the range...and many Russian tanks pay the price. The Volksgrenadiers in the church chipped in with a couple of panzerfaust shots as too.
The premise of the scenario is that the King Tigers of the 502nd (acting as a reserve) are moving toward the front, which they still think is further east, closer to the Oder, but they are surprised to run into a Soviet spearhead just outside the town, where a hasty defence is organized.  The Soviets would start well on to the table (18" on), and the King Tigers would move on to the table one per turn.  The Germans would be under Soviet guns immediately.

The motherland avenged! The train station falls, and the IS-2s move into the village.
The Soviets started out big, hammering the Germans with artillery and suppressive fire from the 122mm guns of the IS-2s.  The Germans lost their Marder, PaK40 and panzerschrek team in short order - ouch! It looked like a walkover for the Russians. It got a little grimmer for the Germans in the next couple of turns, as the King Tigers suffered from abysmal luck on the gunnery dice, missing again and again against the Soviet tanks!  The only early success for the Germans came when they pulled a "mine strike" token, and an IS-2 was knocked out on the road.

The train station has fallen, and the IS-2s move past the objective - note the carnage on the other Soviet flank at the top of the photo
The Russians, however, got a nasty surprise when they attempted to capture the train station (which the Germans had fortified).  They blasted it with artillery from off-table and with direct fire from the IS-2s, but Mike was on fire with the saving throws, and the squad in the building refused to stay pinned down.  The Russians ultimately captured the building in a bloody close assault, but it cost Dallas an entire infantry platoon.

IS-2 blasting away at targets in the town.
Further carnage was wrought by the German MG42 team stationed in another building on the outskirts of town.  The machinegun devastated the other Russian foot platoon, while the King Tigers (for once) finally found the range, and began to knock out T-34s with ease.  The losses started piling up on the Russian side.

End of the war for this 37mm German flak team...
The Russians resorted to heavy bombardments from their off-table artillery, and these took a toll on the Germans.  Finally the pin markers and casualties started to add up for the Germans, and their battlegroup ultimately broke in the end, but not before extracting a fearful punishment on the attacking Soviets.  All in all, a very suitable ending considering the setting.

The King Tigers blast away - note that one got tagged with an "out of fuel" token; these tokens are a great feature of the Battlegroup rules
Overall I found the "Battlegroup" rules to be pretty good, if maybe not as good the the hype online makes them out to be.  There are some excellent mechanics in the game, particularly the battle rating system and the random events. There also some mechanics I ignored, like ammunition limitations in the tanks.  This is, of course, a very realistic concept but the game already calls for enough documentation and I wasn't about to bother keeping track of ammunition in 25 tanks and anti-tank guns.  The rules can be confusing at times - in particular I find the off-table support process ponderous, and the means for organizing the off-table support in the army lists is confusing and poorly organized.  Navigating the book will make you want to scream, but overall it's worth it!  And the campaign background and presentation is excellent - even if the scenarios they offer up are not ones you will be able to put on easily, they are fantastic inspiration.

Some of the other games happening at Prairiecon 2015.
Thank you to Dallas and Mike for playing, and to Conscript Cam who came down to Brandon to join our games - it is always great to see Cam! A very special thank you here to Dallas for taking nearly all of these photos and for lending his terrain to the game, particularly his incredible warmat from Barrage Miniatures, as well as excellent grass fields and trees.  And congratulations to the Prairiecon organizers for another outstanding event! I look forward to next year.


Piers said...

Cool looking game...

Its funny though cos I have the same trouble with US rulebooks, some seem like double dutch to me... two nations separated by a common language!

Just a note on scenarios and painting guides in Battlegroup books... the latest 'Blitzkrieg' book offers far more 'starter' scenarios with few having anymore than a couple of platoons and a few tanks. While writing it I wanted historical scenarios that people could play with what they had already. The painting guides in Blitzkrieg also offer a more wargame approach to painting, but I hope in an easy manner with a result no less effective on the table.

Good to see FotR getting played, still my favourite late war book.

I hope you continue to have fun with Battlegroup, despite our Britishness! ;)

Best wishes,


Greg B said...

Piers - thanks very much for stopping by the blog and sharing your comments. Those changes in approach to the Blitzkrieg book sound great. I imagine gamers as a group are very hard to please anyway - for everyone like me who might prefer starter scenarios, you will have someone else saying "hey, I want big battles!".



Dallas said...

Great report, Greg - you put on an awesome game in every way!