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Blitzkrieg Commander Review

Andrew Finch, SOTCW Journal, Issue 52, Winter 2005

BlitzkriegCommander is a set of battalion-scale wargames rules for Combined Arms Operations in the period 1936 – 1945. They are designed for use in scales up to 20mm scale and are developed from the Warmaster rules system. I must admit that I was initially sceptical about the feasibility of that system for World War 2, but having played several games I am delighted to say that they have been adapted in a very clever way and provide an excellent game. For those who do not know the underlying system, I will explain some of the workings as part of this review.

The core of the rules system is the use of command values to enable your troops to activate during the game turn. The days where every formation does what the player wants are over. Every army must have a C in C and usually also a number of subsidiary commanders, these all having a rating between 6 and 10 (which varies by nationality). In the player turn, each command unit may issue orders to formations on the table, requiring a score equal to or less than the command value, rolled on 2D6. A 12 is a blunder with various effects, while a 2 allows the receiving formation to carry out two actions instead of one. If a Command unit fails its roll, then it cannot issue any more orders this turn, and the player’s next command unit is then in action. Note that the rules are loose regarding command of formations, so a unit that has not yet been subject of an activation attempt can be commanded by any command unit on the table, though the distance from the commander has a negative effect. When the C in C has failed a command roll, his side can no longer command any units that turn, so you have to issue commands in the right order. A formation being commanded can receive several orders one after the other (assuming the CO feels lucky in his dice rolls) at an increasing penalty each time, but can only be ordered by one commander in a given turn.

By way of clarification, you need to be aware of some of the definitions: A unit is a stand of infantry, a tank, an artillery piece etc. A formation is a group of units, but its composition can change from game turn to game turn. Basing of your troops is recommended (I would actually have said it should be a requirement due to some aspects of the rules mechanism). Base sizes are suggested, but you are free to use your own measurements and styles, as long as both sides use the same basing conventions. You need to be aware of the differences in definition between line of sight and line of fire, which we got wrong the first time we played.

Artillery operates in a similar fashion, with indirect barrages being called down by a separate Observer (but only one attack per turn) or direct fire being applied to a target unit in the same way as other units are commanded, with the additional possibility that they can be controlled by the Observer.

The important feature, which must be stressed, is that your units have got to be persuaded to activate each turn, with a few appropriate modifiers to the chance. This means that you may have a line of 88’s on a ridge, but the chaps are having a swig of Schnapps when the Shermans roll forward and fail completely to activate. As a player you might have helicopter vision, but the dice can see what is going on as well and will happily mess up your plans before you can ! I had a small battalion of Honeys in a desert game who happily advanced in turn one and then resolutely refused to move forwards for the next 6 turns. Quite clearly someone had told them about the 4 88’s in emplacements just out of sight.

Some players might not be comfortable with the flexible command system in that the formations of units being moved this turn may have a different composition next turn. You are supposed to say what units you are activating when you roll your command roll. Each unit can take a single action (move, fire etc.) but you can shoot with two tanks and advance with another two in that formation, so you can replicate correct tactics of fire and movement.

Units have movement ratings with suitably varied distances, so you do not have the “sameness” which appears in some rules such as Spearhead. Usual modifiers and prohibitions on terrain apply, and getting into the wrong terrain can have a negative effect on your formation’s ability to respond to commands.

All shooting and combat uses the “buckets of dice” system with D6’s. When shooting direct you can one or more firing units in a formation at a target unit. It is usually better to gang up on a few targets rather than fire one on one, unless you are using a really powerful attack against a weak target. The number of dice rolled is modified for the tactical situation, and the score required depends on the type and location of the target. Hits may be saved in some circumstances. Get enough hits and you kill the target, otherwise you might suppress it, meaning it cannot act at all in its next turn. Subsequent shots at a suppressed target from another of your formations which do not kill it will probably drive it back. This is an important feature of the system which you should learn to use correctly to break up enemy attacks.

You can also make use of inappropriate weapons against targets in the hope of suppressing the target, while never having the chance of killing it. This can cause tanks to be driven off by a hail of defending fire as the crews find the area too hot to approach, again this is not unreasonable.

There is an underlying hint that artillery batteries are intended to be off table. If on table they have the advantage of being able to be fired direct, which can be useful, with the disadvantage that they can be attacked. Artillery barrages are well handled and have suitably large burst areas. Fire from multiple guns can be spread out in a long barrage or concentrated into a single burst. Concentrated fire stacks up the attack dice. Some nations have larger burst areas (such as British), while others have very high amounts of ammunition for pre-planned fire. I have to admit that I had trouble interpreting the pre-planned rules but obtained clarification from the author. You can purchase pre-planned artillery strikes for your artillery pieces, some nations do not get much but others can purchase quite high numbers, such as 8 strikes. These are specifically pre-planned however and will appear when they are defined before the game. You must define how many strikes are being fired when and where, and by what unit. Each pre-planned strike you make requires the use of at least one gun, but all the strikes can in theory be applied using a single gun. Once used, they are gone. It is possible to try and delay or cancel the strike if you have mistakenly wandered into the wrong place.

If units get close to the enemy they are able to fire once or move to contact or retreat without requiring an order roll. This happens before the normal command rolls, and such units can then be ordered again. Close assault is carried out later in the turn with tactical factors for attacker and defender being applied. The results are straight forward enough, though I have to say that there are some areas that need tidying up in this part of the system, mainly due to the suggested oblong base sizes which can cause some problems in interpretation of the written word.

Each army has a breakpoint based on the number of on-table combat units. When this is reached there is a chance that they will retire from the field. Game end is determined by one side retreating, a major objective being seized, the number of turns for the scenario being played out, or a player conceding defeat. Basic victory is then determined by a simple checklist which can then be tweaked by various additional factors.

The rule book provides 15 types of battle with appropriate suggestions for the relative strengths of the forces being deployed. You have to be careful with the victory conditions, because often these are related to the size of the forces attempting to succeed, so having three units on an objective is 3 per 1000 points, so a big 3000 point army actually has to get 9 units to the objective, which may not be quite so easy.

The bulk of the volume is made up of Army lists broken down into Nation, Theatre and Date. I was particularly pleased to see that some minor nations are also included such as China, Finland, Greece, Hungary etc. Availability of units is also specified, not only by date of introduction or withdrawal, but also by numbers available. Again the parameter is actually per 1000 points of the army, in most cases. There are also minimum numbers you must take as well. You only ever have one C in C, and there are some units where a limit is applied for the entire table. You cannot have an army of Tiger IIs. Interestingly I have just spotted that you are also not able to field vast batteries of 88’s either. Quite often you can only have one on the table.

I have to say that these rules are excellent and they are good value for money in the research that has gone into the data tables alone. They are well illustrated with examples of game play, though the location of some parts of the rules could have been brought together better (cf. remark above concerning lines of sight and fire earlier). They play quite quickly and are hair raising when you are trying to make your units do what you want and they constantly fail their command rolls. The underlying feeling is that if there is an area where you are not clear on a rule, be pragmatic, use your common sense at the time, then seek clarification.

Register your copy when you buy them and you get access to an excellent support site with rules forum, updates, new rules and units, and an army builder programme which applies all the availability rules from the data lists, and can be printed out for the game so you do not have to refer to all tables during play. If you have questions you get a prompt response from the author.

BlitzkriegCommander is published by The Wargames Directory and written by the eponymous Pete@wargamesdirectory.com. It can be obtained from various stockists at wargames shows or from the publisher direct.

 
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