29 January, 2013
This interview originally appeared in The Gazebo. Warwick Kinrade is the author of BattleGroup Kursk (BGK), reviewed elsewhere in issue #3.
DMC: Can you tell us a little bit about your background as a gamer? What early wargames influenced you or even inspired you to write your own rules?
WK: Early gaming for me was World War II and Napoleonics using Airfix and Matchbox kits, mostly on the bedroom floor. They were the first games with toy soldiers we had rules and dice for, before that we rolled marbles at each other’s men. Like many back in the 70s, most of my boyhood toys were army related, like Action Man, and mostly WWII too.
As I got a bit older I bought the first Warhammer rules, and we started playing them. Collecting actual army’s developed from there, and I was pretty much a fantasy only player throughout the late 80’s. I rediscovered World War II in the mid-nineties, with the first Rapid Fire, and we played them a lot. I started really collecting seriously then, boards, terrain, models, tonnes of stuff. That led me back into the wider world of historical gaming again, back to my youth, and I started collecting for other periods too, but WW2 always remained my main passion.
I don’t think I’d call it inspiration, but it was dissatisfaction with most of the WW2 rules available (and I tried most of them), that led me to write my own. Like many people, I figured it was the only way to get the game I wanted to play.
DMC: Before Kampfgruppe Normandy I think it’s fair to say not many historical wargamers would have heard your name – can you give us an idea of how you got into writing gaming material professionally?
WK: Well of course not, if you work for GW for 15 years then that is bound to be the case. I was also a games writer, in my teens I wrote many role-playing games, boardgames and house rules for everything. In some ways I think I preferred it to actually playing. I was taken on by GW after I left university (you know, when you suddenly have to get a job), so I applied with some of my own material, got an interview, did it and got a job as a trainee. After that I worked for GW in all sorts of writing and book production related roles, on White Dwarf, for the Black Library, etc. In the end I was Forgeworld’s main writer for 10 years. I guess there something inside that just needs to get out, given free time I often start noting down ideas of new games, I have hundreds of them. Some may someday see the light of day.
DMC: Is there any aspect or mechanic that you find yourself returning to across different games? Is there a common thread running through Warwick Kinrade material?
WK: Despite writing for 15 years, I haven’t actually designed many game systems. GW doesn’t do many anymore, so the opportunities were rare, but I do have certain things which I always consider when designing a game. After 30 year’s experience my ideas of what makes for a fun tabletop miniatures game don’t change much these days.
One important element, often overlooked, is that priority has to go to a gamer’s miniatures collection. Playing games is just part of the hobby, collecting is another big one, and I what to write games that encourage collecting, and give a reason and direction to it. For example, non-combat units like ambulances or radio teams. I wanted one (not loads just one of each) in my WW2 armies, and I also want them to do something in the game too, other than just look pretty. It doesn’t have to be much, just a little something useful. I’m not interested in making stuff powerful on the tabletop which, in my experience, is usually a fairly cynical attempt to boost miniatures sales and shows no respect to the players. Believe me it happens a lot, and there is a lot of ‘sales’ pressure, especially in the corporate world. I believe in the end, if the game plays well and is fun, people will want to buy the models anyway, you won’t need to twist their arms (by twisting the game). But you need to design a game from the ground up with collecting in mind, not shoehorn it in afterwards.
Another important aspect of wargames which I’ve come to love more and more is unpredictability and ‘chaos’ (not the spiky men). Games that roll ‘buckets of dice’ are quite predictable, because the more die you roll the closer you’ll get to the predictably average result. In my opinion, rolling 1 or 2 D6 is inherently more exciting than rolling 20, because the result is so much more random. There is nothing better than needing a 6 and getting it!
DMC: Looking at BGK, it’s clear that you’ve put a lot of thought into both points systems and scenarios. There seems to be great dispute between those two camps in gaming – what’s your take on the debate?
WK: My take is that both are valuable and valid. I do both. For years I was a purist, no points, only historical scenarios, I wanted a backstory and unbalanced but ‘correct’ forces, but I think this was because the points systems were overly simplistic and in striving for balance made the games dull. BGK points system exists to facilitate quick, evening gaming (because that’s what many players can do – including me), and the game doesn’t balance solely on points. More important is the Battle Rating system which works alongside it, it this system on which the game really balances. I also think the introduction of better, more historical-based and characterful army lists helps a lot to improve points-based games. You can have it both ways!
DMC: If all new sets of rules fulfil a need, what will BattleGroup Kursk (BGK) provide that other rules do not?
WK: A tenser, more dramatic and ultimately more fun game, which retains a good feel for the theatre or period! Subjective opinion I know, but I really think it provides a better feel for WW2 battles, and the character of the fighting in that theatre (here Kursk), than generic rules which provide effectively the same battles put with different model tanks. Of course, you can play like that, but I strive to give the games a characterful edge, a feel for the theatre and period, so battles in 1943 at Kursk feel different to those say, during the invasion of Germany in 1945. Not just the equipment has moved on, but the tactics, and the strategic situation too, I like to get a little of that influence into the army lists too. Subtle changes sometimes result in a very different feel and approach by players. It gentle encouragement though, not brow-beating.
DMC: Can you give us an example of how the German and Russian forces work differently?
WK: Well, the Germans are the all-rounders, a forgiving army to play, they don’t really lack for anything. Their infantry is good to very good, there artillery likewise, their tanks are good to superb, they have descent air support. All the elements are in place, and with good command and control they are a formidable outfit. Really, they were the easy part to deal with. It won’t be so in the 1945 supplement.
The Russians were the headache - now to make the Russian army fight more like a Russian army with its very different tactical doctrines? Obviously their equipment is cheaper, and their infantry is generally poor (but again very cheap). They have a lot of artillery, but it is inflexible, lots of guns, but can you get them in the right place at the right time. But it is command and control that they suffer most. Finding the balance took a while, but I think we cracked it.
Historically the Germans achieved about an 8-1 tank kill ratio at Kursk, and lost! But I don’t think you can write that game, who wants to lose that badly every game. But you can write a game were a 2-1 or 3-1 is the norm, it feels right, and yet the Russians can still win despite those heavy losses.
DMC: How do you handle the challenge of maintaining historical accuracy and playability at the same time?
WK: Basically, playability is always the priority, without it you have nothing. All the accuracy in the world doesn’t make for a better game. When designing you can take a few licences sometimes, as long as it improves the game play and retains the right feel. So, if a vehicle doesn’t have exactly the right move distance it won’t matter too much, as long as it still feels fast or slow.
That said, I try to get things right, and do a lot of reading and research. I’ve read everything I could get my hands on about Kursk. Most of it isn’t much use in games design, but it all feeds in on one level or another. Mostly, I want the tanks to have the right guns and armour.
DMC: I’ve described as ‘striking gold’ situations where rules reward historical tactics with success – do you have any good examples of this from playtests of BGK?
WK: Many. Too many to list. I’d like to think the entire reason for creating the game was to get closer to this, and I think we have succeeded (but that’s probably for others to judge). The number of reckless Russian T-34 charges that have had the German players cursing and sweating, only for a single Tiger to reap havoc and save what looked like a lost cause, or for a swirling melee to come out in the German favour, I’ve lost count of. Such asymmetry in a game is a tough one to balance; most games don’t even try and fudge it instead.
The game is inherently unpredictable, but it does encourage ‘realistic’ play. Note ‘encourages’, it doesn’t dictate it, I hate that, games and army lists with only one plan, based on what units you take, rather than how you fight with what you have.
DMC: I understand that you’re planning on doing Normandy ’44 and the Fall of the Reich ’45 next. What plans do you have for 2014 and beyond?
WK: Vague. The whole war (and beyond it too) are up for grabs. Obviously North Africa looms large, and there are many early war gamers I’d love to get something out there for. Blitzkrieg 39-40 isn’t my personal bag, but it will be high on the list. Best not to get too far ahead of yourself though, I try to stay focussed on the project in hand, pour all my efforts into that. I can say we won’t be dealing with the niche theatres and conflicts before we’ve covered the big ones. So there will be no Battlegroup ‘Norway’ or Battlegroup ‘Greece’, before I have covered early, mid and late war on the east and west fronts, North Africa and the Pacific. That’s a lot of work already. Spreading beyond WW2 is also on the cards, eventually.
DMC: Will these theatre-level books have the rules in them? How do you deal with comments about obliging people to buy the Kursk book to play with entirely different armies?
WK: The rules won’t be in every book, only the lists, scenarios, special rules etc. In effect, when you buy Battle Group Kursk you are buying the core rulebook and the Eastern Front 1943 supplement in one volume (which is not bad for £30). Soon(ish) (but don’t hold me too it), I’ll look at getting a smaller core rulebook available. But for now it’s Kursk, and I choose it because, as far as I’m concerned, the appeal of WWII wargaming is playing battles with the tanks (at its heart). So where else to start but at the largest tank battle ever?
23 January, 2013
The Plastic Soldier Company (in association with Iron Fist Publishing) has released a new games system for re-creating battles around Kursk in 1943 on the Eastern Front. They are written by veteran games designer Warwick Kinrade.
The book – well over 200 pages of colour – is split up into five broad sections:
- 50 pages of rules with an example of a turn, and then detailed sections on movement, combat, artillery, morale and some special rules.
- 25 pages of well-researched historical background (including information on the orders of battle and an in-depth timeline).
- Four detailed army lists including German panzer and infantry divisions facing Russian tank corps and rifle divisions, with full rules for all their equipment.
- There follows 10 pages or so of generic scenarios and then a short seven-part campaign, ‘The Inglorious 12th July’, set during the savage tank battles at Prokhorovka.
- A well-balanced modelling and painting guide – The tutorial shows three stages of painting… Basic, Gaming and ‘Master’ so while useful for novices, there’s plenty for more experienced gamers too.
First off, we get some guiding principles from the author: on style of play (friendly cooperation), measuring distances and line of sight. A few more pointers on what you’ll need to play are include (this one is solely for the novices) along with a very nice view of a battlefield. I think this is the first ‘wow’ moment in the rulebook: most wargamers would travel quite a way to play on a board like that, and tips on how to make such terrain are promised for later.
Then we start to get some idea of the structure of the game: army lists, points and battle rating (a factor which will be very important later), a discussion of infantry basing (single or multiple are fine, so long as individual casualties can be recorded), and a brief note on game size (minimum, maximum and typical points for games from platoon to battalion along with the recommended table size for each.
I’m going to give a brief summary of the main parts of the rules along with a bit of analysis of the most important aspects. Pinning and morale play pivotal roles in the game. Supply and communications are also important considerations.
Command and Control
Each turn a commander can issue a certain number of orders (from 1D6 for a squad-level game to 4D6 for a battalion-level game, modified by the number of officers in play). A unit can take one action a turn, a list of orders is available, from straight-forward options like moving and firing, moving at double-rate and so on; to more specialised ones, like resupplying or requesting artillery fire.
Units can also be given a reaction order, which allows them to move or fire during a future turn in response to an opponent’s action.
Movement is fairly simple; infantry move 5” whether off-road or on one, only reducing this when crossing dangerous terrain (like barbed wire or minefields). Other units move further on the road, but most will lose D6” if they cross any obstacle or enter terrain.
Weapons have a maximum range, varying from 30” for infantry units with rifles to 70” for long-barrelled guns. All fire is made with D6s, and generally speaking a ‘6’ is an effective hit, a ‘1’ an outright miss and anything else a pin.
There are two main choices in the type of fire along with a few special rules:
• Area Fire (for infantry and high explosive shells) – good for pinning the enemy without causing any casualties; it’s even possible at short ranges for a large amount of infantry fire to pin an armoured vehicle. Depending on the amount of cover the unit is in, it might not be pinned.
• Aimed Fire – represents the unit spotting the target and actually hitting them for effect; an observation roll must be made (easier to spot vehicles than infantry, and easier to spot units in the open and firing than those obscured) before rolling to hit. After that the target unit can roll for its cover and then makes a morale test if it’s taken any damage.
• There are rules to differentiate high explosive and armour piercing rounds (weapons have a penetration value and armour a rating – there’s a simple chart for cross-referencing). One old-school curiosity is the necessity to specify what ammunition load each of your tanks has at the start of the game; every time your fire you choose what type of round is being used – once you run out you have to be resupplied from a supply truck.
• There are some further specialised rules for infantry falling back under attack, close assault and even anti-tank grenades. I really like the rules for these, rather than shoe-horn the normal shooting rules into this unique situation, there is a D6 table to determine the effectiveness of the attack.
Artillery fire is a little bit more complicated in terms of mechanics, but I think how to treat the big guns is always a problematic aspect of wargaming rules. Because artillery is such a big part of the second world war (causing a majority of ground combat fatalities and wounds), balancing dominance with power is a tough ask.
Scheduled artillery arrive on a specified turn and location with no roll, but otherwise artillery from the ‘Additional Fire Support’ section of the list (representing army-level assets behind the lines) then a priority check must be made. If the roll fails, then HQ has refused your request; if the assets are directly under your battle group’s command you skip this part and go straight to the communications check. If that check is passed, deviation is accounted for and then we roll to see what the artillery effect is.
The rules escape one of the most common pitfalls by inflicting direct hits and pinning hits separately, moving from the centre of the blast area outwards, so that units closest to the epicentre will most likely feel worst off. Hit are applied until there no units or hits left (units can be subjected to multiple hits if there is an excess) so again there’s a decent chance that a significant number of units will be affected.
We get some additional rules for pre-registered target points, timed barrages and counter-battery fire missions, as well as a couple of good examples of artillery in action. We also see a detailed note on Soviet artillery, specifically picking out areas in the army lists where the Soviet flavour is (some are limiting, and some are definite pluses).
Morale is an important factor in the rules, with two aspects: unit (whether it will stand and fight) and battle group (who wins the battle).
Infantry units test whenever they take losses, but vehicles will take a morale test whenever they’re hit. There’s a chance that crew will abandon their vehicle is they were already pinned, immobilised or near an enemy unit without support. If the unit aces their test, they have a chance to go ‘Beyond the Call of Duty’ and immediately be given an order, even unpinning them if they are already pinned.
The battle group system is more complex. Each unit in your battle group has a battle rating (abbreviated br.). This represents how important and/or effective it is in the battle group. You can calculate your battle group’s break point by counting up your units’ total battle rating.
There is a mix of battle counters, most numerical (from 1 to 5, but clustering in the middle) but some with special effects. Each time your opponent destroys one of your unit you must draw a battle counter. More counters are drawn the first time your force comes under flame or air attack, whenever a senior officer is destroyed or when your enemy captured an objective. The extra battle counters include air attack, mine strike and others which allow you to strike back against your enemy. So it’s not all bad!
One really interesting feature of the rule (hinted at earlier) is the rally option at the end of each turn. You decide if you want to unpin (1D) unit in return for drawing a battle counter. This forces the player to make an assessment of the danger of his battle group breaking, and how important the currently pinned units are. There’s also an element of risk involved. When the number (hidden from your opponent) on your drawn battle counters exceeds your side’s battle rating, the game is over.
There are a slew of rules for specialised units, from the mundane (medics, artillery spotters, supply trucks) to the peculiar (bomb dogs). A few piqued my interest immediately. Radio trucks, wire teams and dispatch riders help you make those communications check to call in artillery, some give you a simple re-roll, but the dispatch rider gives you an automatic success as he rides off!
Some units are classified as ‘scouts’ whether they be a foot patrol, armoured car or spotter plane. Scouts help you win the initiative during the first turn of the battle and whoever has less scouting units than his opponent takes one battle counter in the first turn.
Also incorporated are rules specifically modelling mass Russian infantry wave attacks and tank assaults, as well as the strict authority of the NKVD.
The Army Lists
On first look the four army lists present a bewildering array of choices, but they are carefully structured so that you must purchase some basic units before going on to pick up the more specialist options. For instance, in the German Panzer Division list each standard tank option you pick allows one from the specialist support units; and given that a single Tiger I represents one such specialist unit, you may hobble yourself if you concentrate on non-standard units.
Within these constraints it is possible to pick a highly individual list, so I think this represents a good balance between historical accuracy and player style. Every possible option would seem to be available, from assault pioneers with flamethrowers and panzer aces to mass Katyusha batteries and motorcycle & sidecar combinations.
I’m not going to cover the painting guide or scenarios (I haven’t played them) except to say that they seem to be well chosen. The setups and forces involved varies in terms of size and style so I imagine most gamers interested in the period will be able to pick out one to try straight away.
While some don’t believe it should be a factor in choosing a wargames set, this book is definitely pushing the needle on the eye candy scale – while there are some historical images, the miniature photographs stand out for me, it seems like just about every unit you can field is represented in miniature form in the book.
I have to give these rules a solid thumbs-up: while I’m not crazy about keeping track of ammunition for each tank on the battlefield, the design principles are clear and implementation well-applied. I’m especially impressed with the battle group rating mechanic and trust that we’ll be seeing a lot more radiomen, supply trucks and other oddities on the battlefield due to the rules encouraging their use.
10 January, 2013
Putting together my Salamanders force for the Istvaan V Dropzone Massacre (I know, who'd sign up for that mission!)
As advertised I'll be using figures from Alternative Armies range of Retained Knights for Ion Age
|I have a good lot of these guys (with what Ion Age call the 'Angis 12.5mm Rifle').|
|Doesn't quite match the iconic image of the Bolter, but it can't really be anything else. Bonus points for bayonets!|
|Next big batch is these lads. Five of each with what look like energy weapons.|
|I just love this guy - he's going to be a Veteran Sergeant (maybe with Artificier Armour and a Power Fist) even if his weapon just looks like an Autogun! (a 'Tumbler SMG' in Ion Age)|
|This'll stand in for a Heavy Bolter - I wonder if it looks more like an Ogryn Ripper Gun though? (a 'Moth Type 12 Multi Launcher' in Ion Age)|
|Four guys with pistols, they have groovy crests and Ion Age has them tagged as Nobles, but I'll put them into action as Scouts instead|
|A Command squad if we ever saw them. Three studious chaps (a Lieutenant, Medic and TechMarine) in the top row and then a Librarian or Chaplain in the bottom left and a Captain to his right|
|Two who may just stand in for Assault Marines (armed with a 'Roaz Axe' and an 'Octa Sword' in Ion Age)|
Three strangely armoured guys with a variety of weaponry, Ion Age labels them as in experienced Aloutens with older style armour. I reckon they'll do as Veteran Sergeants!
So that's it so far. Four full tactical squads with a lot of energy weapons, a Scout squad and some Company HQ.
08 January, 2013
The third issue of the 'all things to all gamers' e-zine for the UK & Ireland The Gazebo was published a while back, but I haven't even gotten a chance to post my articles from it here yet.
You can view and/or print it from here but if you want to download it instead you'll need an account (pretty quick sign-up though).
I've always been interested in what inspires gamers to break new ground and start another project. This series of articles is a brief overview of things which caught my eye over the last few months - some have already prompted me to try something new, some may lurk in the long grass until their time has come. I hope that something here grabs your attention and calls you to action!
Wargaming Zorro in Black & White is an absolute gem of a site – you have to see it to believe it. First time I happened upon photos of the miniatures, I just assumed it was a black and white image effect. Have a look. If you’re still dubious take a look at the picture in the first post to see the setup with a full-colour miniature.
If the prospect of painting miniatures in black and white piques your interest, have a look at this post showcasing mobsters on Carmen’s Fun Painty Time.
I saw a nice review on The Shell Case a couple of weeks back bringing WarMill to my attention. They’ve recently begun releasing laser-cut MDF terrain, which snap together in a modular fashion by the enterprising gamer. Perfect for your 28mm sci-fi urban projects.
Still on my modern gaming drive, S&S Models have released another batch of 20mm vehicles. Have a look at Shaun’s post on The Guild. I’m particularly interested in the M-ATVs (the Humvee’s replacement) as there’s loads of different options along with oodles of stowage available.
We take a voyage into Horatio Hornblower territory this issue - Nelson and the Nile by Brian Lavery doesn’t just address the battle which took place in Aboukir Bay , but places it in its strategic context, with military and political factors at play. Lavery has a deep understanding of the maritime world and the culture of both navies, and his narrative integrates the daily lives of the sailors aboard with the loneliness of the admirals in command.
The finely crafted books of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series is a great place to continue this train of thought. The Mauritius Command (the fourth book) follows the pair as Aubrey takes command of a squadron sent to the Indian Ocean to conquer the French-controlled islands there. Seeds for a joint naval/land campaign will surely be planted as Jack Aubrey struggles with his mission.
Day by Day Armageddon by J.L. Bourne is a fast-paced journal of a US naval officer’s attempts to make sense of, and survive a zombie apocalypse. Layout-wise, the book is interesting: as well as the day-by-day entry aspect of it, there are photos and diagrams ‘taped’ into the book along with a few hand-written notes in the margin and the odd stain.
Probably preaching to the choir on this one (unless you’re a comic-book purist) , but if not see if you can catch season 3 of The Walking Dead (Update: Part II of the season starts this side of the Atlantic on February 15th). After the Comic Con panel in July, I can’t wait to see all the new faces…
Film / TV
Guilty pleasure alert! Strike Back: Vengeance has started on Sky1 and though seems unlikely to win anything at the Emmys (though it did get nominated this year!) this special forces romp might just tempt you into a military/espionage-themed roleplaying game. Though there’s a lot of high-octane machismo and the situations seem a little contrived, there’s not much wrong with the tactics shown.
Going to have to break out the D12s and the ‘Hard to Kill’ rule to make this work in Force on Force…
The Wargames Holiday Centre in Hampshire seems like a wonderful idea. A huge gaming area with custom made terrain and beautifully painted figures from just about any era you can think of. I’m seriously considering organising a visit with a few friends – bed & breakfast, refreshments, some great gaming and a few pints afterwards. All I need is the brownie points for the weekend away!
06 January, 2013
The Mujahideen evacuated their base as the two ground columns closed on Zhawar. The Mujahideen were unable to evacuate their stores but the Soviet commander knew that he could not destroy the caves in the available time. The combat soldiers were withdrawing as the sappers remained behind to destroy as much as they could.
The Mujahideen were keen to fall on the heels of their retiring foes; anyone who fell behind would be in serious trouble…
|The convoy enters a pass - the two heavy trucks carrying a few engineers and their equipment are escorted by two BMPs. Over-eager officers lead in a jeep|
|Two groups of Mujahideen open fire on the jeep as it enters the killing zone, but it somehow survives the torrent of fire (albeit with it wheels blown out and the engine spouting steam)|
|The jeep has been stopped (both officers are seriously wounded), but things are complicated: a group of Afghan civilians are crossing the road, an suspected roadside bomb has been spotted up ahead and the jeep has blocked the firing line of the BMP!|
|The second squad clears the small village, wiping out a second group of Mujahideen. They bundle their wounded man into the rear of the BMP and get the truck moving again|
|Time to take the alternate route - the going will be slower off-road but they'll avoid the IEDs ahead|
|One of the Afghan's T-55s was obviously recovered and put back into use as soon as the Soviets withdrew. Minutes of terror and tension build as every soldier tries to get out of the way!|
|So much for clearing that village - a crewed .50cal turns up in the rear but is knocked out by the quick-reacting infantry|
|Backing away, the BMP covered the withdrawal. A small fireteam holds their position 'til the second truck exits|
|One last group of Mujahideen makes its move to gun down the unlucky fireteam, killing one and seriously wounding the others.|