World War II

This section covers my on-again, off-again love affair with WWII miniatures gaming.

Dogfight Gaming

In the 1990s, I started playing WWII aerial dogfight games with a locally published set of rules and 1/300 aircraft. The game was much simpler than the classic Mustangs & Messerschmitts and played much faster, but was ultimately still heavy on arithmetic and from a distance still looked like a field of tall poles.

In 2013 a few local gamers started playing a Check Your Six! campaign, and invited several of us to join in. That group became the South Bay Aces and is still playing (now on our fourth campaign), even after the untimely death of the founding gamer. The South Bay Aces play with 1/144 scale planes on telescoping antennas moving across a 3" hex grid. I was initially skeptical of 1/144 scale; the models can be expensive and very hard to find, and tend to be a bit fragile. However, they are easily big enough to distract the eye from the field of poles holding them up, and most models are plastic and therefore very light, suitable to placing atop a 2'+ rod without excessive tippy-ness. Most of our planes are from the "Gashopon" collectible model manufacturers, and come pre-painted in nice cammo patterns (a huge boon when building up an air force),.

Operational Gaming

I flirted with WWII operational land warfare for a few years in the early 2000s, trying rules like Spearhead, Panzer Korps, Operation Brevity, Great Battles of WWII (GBOWW2), Kampfgruppe Commander, and a few homebrew sets before losing interest. I still have a large microarmor collection in various stages of paint and basing waiting for me to get back to it. Since the world has largely moved on to larger scales for WWII gaming, I picked up most of this collection very cheaply, but in truth my main accomplishment was to move other peoples' unused junk into my storage space...

My favorite of the operational rules was Operation Brevity by Phil Yates (one of the Flames of War authors), which have long since disappeared from the Internet, but I have reposted it below for as long as Phil Yates will suffer it to exist.

I also thought GBOWW2 had promise and I have collected all three versions of it in print and PDF form. I really liked the careful attention to pacing, casualty rates, morale, and the inclusion of mechanisms for multi-day operations, though I felt the combat mechanisms seemed a bit too "tactical" for the scale of the game and needed further streamlining and abstraction.

I still have rules on my "try some day" list:
And of course, like most gamers, i have my own unfinished rules to try out someday...

Grand Tactical Gaming

I got interested in WWII miniatures because in the 1990s a friend handed me a few boxes of mixed German and Russian microarmor and said "maybe you can figure out how to play with these". I discovered they were really fun to paint, so I crafted up a bunch and started looking for rules. As I'm generally interested in grand tactical gaming, my first focus was at about the level of PanzerBlitz, the old Avalon Hill board game (and also my first serious wargame - I still have the original copy I bought at age 12). This didn't lead to battles as big as I wanted, so I diverted into operational gaming for several years, which I mentioned above.

In 2010-2011 I tried White Star Rising a few times, a board game that basically recapitulates PanzerBlitz (platoon counters, 200m hexes), and noticed it was most fun commanding about a battalion of stuff. That gave me an interesting idea...

"Colonels study tactics, generals study logistics", so why not play WWII at about a colonel's aerie? Each player pushes approximately a colonel's command: a battalion (lt. col.), a regiment, a combat command, a kampfgruppe, a small ad-hoc brigade of leftovers, whatever. Since miniatures gamers never want to be the C-in-C but do prefer to have a clear delineation of their own forces, an approach that might work would be multiple players of equal rank on each side trying to coordinate their attack/defense to achieve the goals laid out before the action ("in the briefing", as it were). The general in command would only be implied, absent from the action, presumably in the rear coordinating the logistics and reinforcements and monitoring the action through reports. The general's "orders" would define the scenario.

Since then I've been trying to find, write or adapt rules that would do this right. Some features I want to include:
  • Platoons or companies as the maneuver unit
  • Built-in rules to limit (and reward) coordination between maneuver units
  • A time scale and pace of battle that rewards maneuvers, planning, and steady development of attacks or defenses
  • Rules to include air and long-range artillery support
  • The capacity for multi-day scenarios (battles at the colonel's command level lasted all of a day, and frequently multiple days)
PanzerBlitz. The old Avalon Hill PanzerBlitz family of rules (including Panzer Leader & Tobruk) has some of the features I need, and is a very simple game to boot, but it's a classic '70s design that concentrates wholly on the technical performance of equipment. It would need an entire C3 system grafted on to introduce the influence of cohesion, coordination and morale, plus rules for supply, air support, and so on. A lot of work.

Panzer Grenadier. Avalanche Press has made the 4th edition rules of Panzer Grenadier available as a free download, so I finally got to look at them. It turns out that this game has very nearly everything I've thought would work for the multi-colonel approach. They look very promising, and should be pretty easily adaptable to multi-player tabletop miniatures gaming. The game gets a lot of mixed reviews, but seems to have done quite well (for a boardgame) over its 20 year history. On the plus side, experienced players say it's easy to pick up and plays quickly once you have the hang of it. A lot of the games are infantry heavy or infantry only, so apparently the game is still fun without tanks. One of the most common Internet forum complaints is even ironically an encouragement for me: it takes a long time to kill anything, so troops tend to stall or bounce back and it takes time to reach a decision. To me that implies a proper pace of battle, that leaves room for a good command decision cycle. One of *my* frequent complaints about many game designs is that the pacing is all wrong because the author artificially speeds up the casualty rate to get the game to a conclusion sooner. I totally understand the need for speed, but speeding up casualty rates also distorts tactics and reduces the influence of the player's input, which reduces my enjoyment. I would also prefer rules for multi-day battles. The PG approach to multi-day battles is to have multiple scenarios representing each phase of a battle, which is not ideal, but I can probably work with that.
I. Craig Nichols,
Aug 9, 2018, 4:50 PM
I. Craig Nichols,
Aug 9, 2018, 4:51 PM