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Blitzkrieg Commander Review

Wargames Illustrated, April 2005

Blitzkrieg Commander (BKC) is a rule system for gaming the Second World War. The rulebook is now available as the corrected version of the first print. So it is reasonable to have a review. BKC has the subtitle "Fast-Play Tabletop Wargame Rules for Combined-Arms Operations". As we shall see, this title hits the nail on the head.

The player in BKC leads a Brigade or a Regiment of one or two battalions with support troops. One stand of infantry miniatures or one tank model represents a platoon of 30 men or three to five vehicles. The 1:1 scale is also possible, but in my opinion the simple rules and the importance of command and control gives the feel of a game at higher command.

My personal philosophy is that tabletop rules have to fit to the models; the models and bases don't have to fit to the rules. That principle is perfectly served by BKC. You can use all scales, from 6mm (GHQ), 10mm (Pendraken), 15mm (Battlefront/Peter Pig), to 20mm (plastics in 1/72 or 1/76). The size of the bases does not matter at all.

The rulebook of 120 pages has 35 pages of rules. But if one ignores the examples only 17 pages of rules will remain. That shows how simply and clearly the rules are written.

BKC uses an IGOUGO system. There are optional rules for an alternative sequence of play, but they look like an untested add-on. Every player's turn has the following phases: in the Scheduled Phase predetermined artillery fire and air strikes take place; in the Initiative Phase troops in close proximity of the enemy fight without orders. The command and control system used in the Command Phase is the core of the rules. It is borrowed from Games Workshop's Warmaster rules. Every command unit can determine a formation of units. If it passes a die roll, it can give those units a move, fire, deploy or charge order. This can be repeated for the same formation as long as the command unit passes its command rolls. But the roll is modified by the distance to the command units and the number of orders already given.

Every unit has values for movement, attacks, hits and a save. So all fire combat uses the same rules. But there are some restrictions. Infantry can usually not damage armour, and some guns - especially of British tanks - cannot harm infantry. The rules for shooting are very simple. You throw a number of dice according to the attack value and hit on 4+ modified by cover. After rolling for saves the hits are marked on the target unit. If these hits equal the hits value of a unit it is destroyed. Every hit is rolled again, a success determining that the unit is suppressed. At the end of your own turn all hit markers are removed. Better weapons have more attacks and a longer range. Targets with better armour have more hit points and a better save. A few special rules simulate tank machine guns, the anti-tank weapons of infantry, or the unusual guns of the Grant/Lee tank. Units that are suppressed can be forced with further fire to fall back, sometimes with the result that they are also destroyed. Artillery bombardment or air support can be requested by Artillery observers or Forward air controllers.

After shooting is finished, the close combat phase follows. Unit types have fixed attack values in close combat, with flame tanks and pioneers being the best. A won close combat guarantees the enemy fall back and is the best method to conquer fortified positions. Finally in the end phase all hits on one's own troops are removed.

The second part of the rule book gives 15 different scenarios to play. A really new idea is that the total points value of an army is not fixed, but is modified by a die roll depending on the army. So the British at El Alamein will have a positive modifier, the late Germans in France a negative one. If a battle group has less points, these are afterwards given as victory points. So we have a rule system that doesn't give you fair combat, but the challenge to fight with what is available. This rule and the importance of command and control should give a realistic result, eg: the Germans in the early war will be superior even if the French have the better tanks; and in the late war the Germans will not dominate because of their big tanks and guns. That is very different to many other rules for World War Two, that have the "Tiger-syndrome", making the late Germans unbeatable.

The third part has 43 army lists for 18 nations covering 15 theatres of war. Listed are the available units with their values, the limits of availability and the time period a special unit or weapon is used. So you really can create an historically correct battle group. With these army lists BKC is a complete game; you don't need any supplements.

The book is very well produced. Everything is clearly laid out. There are many colour pictures, but not the glossy photographs of other rules (Pete does not try to sell models). They explain the rules.

We tried the rules in some games, playing Tunisia in early 1943, using the 15mm models by Battlefront based for Flames of War, and we used the following optional rules that can be recommended. Recce: nice rule that gives tank units more flexibility. Opportunity fire: a challenging rule, absolutely necessary in my opinion. Dug in: so our infantry had a chance to survive in the North African desert. Harassing fire: a rule that gives artillery more power, but is maybe too strong. In the future we will also play the rule from the website, that units in cover, that have not yet shot, cannot be seen and shot at from a distance greater than 20cm.

I will finish with some criticisms. The basic rules are very simple and clear, but in the special cases lack some clarity. In particular the definitions of some basic terms are not as clear as necessary. Artillery observers are command units. Can they command troops? No, but that is not written in the rules, but instead it is in the introduction to army lists. And the line "type" in the army lists is not very clear. Sometimes it refers to the type of the troops in the rules, sometimes it describes the function of a unit in history. The mine-clearing Sherman Crab for example is an "engineer unit". Does that mean he has six attacks in close combat like other engineers? Obviously not - but what "combat engineers" are is nowhere defined. Very complicated is the type "transport unit". The Germans in Poland and France have motorbikes as "transport". Can those tow anti-tank guns like other "transports"? Can a Sdkfz 251 tow a 3.7cm PAK? Or 7.5cm PAK? That is not clarified. When using transport it is best to look at real army organisations to see what is the correct vehicle for a unit. All these small problems can be solved with some human understanding and a little bit of historical background knowledge. Pete answers all questions at his website (www.blitzkrieg-commander.com). There you can also get BKC-Lite for free to test the rules.

To sum it up I would absolutely recommend BKC if you want a simple, tactical challenging and fast tabletop game for the Second World War.

 
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