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Monday, September 11, 2017

Battlegroup: A look at the Rule Book

Battlegroup is The Plastic Soldier Company's entry into the WWII gaming system. Written by Warwick Kinrade, the rules system is a tight, fairly historical approach to gaming at a variety of force sizes, in either 15mm or 20mm scales.

They have published a core rulebook, and a variety of Theatre of Operations books, including (as of now): Kursk, Barbarosa, Blitzkrieg, Tobruk, Overlord, Bulge (Wacht Am Rhein), Market Garden, and Fall of the Reich.

I've had a chance to read the rules and begin some skirmish games at our local gaming club. The rules are different, much different than what I'm used to with other systems. But, they're not complicated. The biggest challenge I've face has been trying to think inside of the Battlegroup rules, and not applying rules from another game set.

This article will look at the Battlegroup main rulebook, its layout, and how it presents the core of the Battlegroup system. The rules themselves will be covered in later write-ups.

The Rule Book
Battlegroup is published by IronFist Publishing and is distributed by Plastic Soldier Company (PSC).  The rules were written by Warwick Kinrade, with assistance from Piers Brand. The rulebook was originally published as a small paperback book distributed with the Battlegroup Kursk theatre book. It now exists as a hardcover, stand-alone product.

The main rule book for Battlegroup has gone through one revision since it was published. From the first publication run to the second, there were some changes to the book that includes additional content (sample army lists, a mini-campaign, scenarios/mission for play, as well as tear out vehicle data cards), adding in special rules from the other sourcebooks, The PSC sites list the core rules changes between the two editions as:

Aimed Fire with HE shells now has no -1 modifier to hit targets in cover. All Aimed Fire with small arms now has a -1 modifier to hit if the unit moved. There is also a -1 to observe units with the Sniper-Scout special rule. Area Fire is now called Suppressing Fire (but remains unchanged).

In addition, the introduction to the new hardcover ruleset explains that some sections have been re-edited or re-written for clarity. PSC sells the older version as a PDF that will be emailed to players after payment. It is available from their site here. Or, players can contact their Local Gaming Store (LGS) and request a copy of the new hardcover rule book. Additional theatre specific campaign books for campaigns such as Tobruk, Blitzkrieg, Overlord and others areas are available as well

For ease of understanding, all references herein will be for the newer hardcover ruleset book, and not the PDF of the older version.

The Basic Rules Section:
The core rules for Battlegroup begin on page five and run through page 63 of the hardcover ruleset. The one downside to the book is the lack of an index. (there is one available on the BG Facebook Group Files Page) That omission, however, isn't a critical flaw due to how the book is laid out. Rarely do I find myself flipping pages to go back and find something in another section of the rules. Most of the rules sections that I've accessed so far have included all of the pertinent rules information.

The other omission in the book layout is a lack of visual diagrams. The only diagram in the rules section shows how to determine if an armored vehicle is hit in the front, side or rear armor. I'm more of a visual learner, and seeing example photos of model "in action" with overlaid text and diagrams is a useful tool for me to learn with. However, the text is simple, clear and usually precise in explaining the rules.

I'll cover the rules themselves in future articles here on WWPD, and include visual images to illustrate the concepts in those pieces.

Into Battle Section:
The part of the hardcover book adds specials rules from the previously published theatre of operation books. First up in the section is Street Fighting. followed by Night Fighting and rules for Winter play. Following that are a dozen different play scenarios with table diagrams and rules for objectives and reserves.

Canada's Crucible:
This section presents part of the Overlord book (currently being reprinted in paperback form, in two volumes by IronFist Publishing) and presents a good flavor of how their Theatre of Operations supplement books work. This particular section focusses on the battles around Norrey-en-Bessen in Normandy. Players can develop their own battles with forces from the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, or the 12th SS Panzer Division.

Sample army lists are included for both the Canadians and German forces, along with historical details of the actual battles fought.

Four additional mission/scenarios are presented in this section for a more historical approach to how these battles were originally fought.

Tables, Charts, and Cards
Gameplay reference charts are included in the back of the book for the two forces presented in the Canada's Crucible part. In addition, there are several tear-out pages that include vehicle data reference cards for the forces. The data cards are an excellent reference to keep on the table and save time looking up the vehicle or gun values needed to play the game.

Another tear out includes a set of chits to be used in the morale section of the game (more on this in future articles), as well as a tear-out Quick Reference Sheet of the commonly used tables.

There is one downside to how the charts are laid out in the Equipment section. Vehicles have to be cross-referenced for both their vehicle qualities in one section (Movement, Armor rating, and Type of Armament), and then the qualities of the various guns on said vehicle are referenced in another section. This does make looking up the appropriate values cumbersome.

The vehicle data reference cards, however, combine these two sections into one handy card. Fortunately, the Vehicle Reference Cards for various forces (and that are not already in a book as a tear-out sheet) are available separately and are not expensive. They can be purchased from the PSC website, or through your LGS.

Also included in the back of the book is a blank form template for the listing the organization of units and weapons for each player's force. I've found that making my own spreadsheet of what is in each unit/squad/platoon, their type of armament, and the basic stats for each unit is almost required for speedy play.

Layout and Graphics:
As previously mentioned, the book has a direct and simple layout. The pages are clean, with an attractive and not overly noisy presentation. The Vehicle Cards, presented on tear-out sheets in the back of the book have a similar look to them. The cards, I have found, are an invaluable player aid.

The graphic designers have kept the layout simple and clean, which makes the lack of an index, not a critical flaw. By not combining all of a vehicle's statistics into one entry in the book, the designers avoid redundancy and are able to keep the type large and easily legible in the equipment tables.

Overall Review:

The lack of illustrations and diagrams mentioned above typically help me learn a new system quickly, but I didn't find the lack of them in Battlegroup a negative experience. Their rules are simple enough that such diagrams are not needed most of the time.

The addition of the Vehicle Data Cards as tear-outs in the back of the Battlegroup rulebook (hardcover only - not available in the pdf version) is welcome. I do, however, find myself wishing for a unit card for infantry and gun teams as well, though.

Overall, I rate the Battlegroup rules book as a solid, well written, game system. The rulebook gets a huge thumbs up from me.

Next time, I'll look at the overall rules structure of the system itself.

Troy A. Hill is a recovering journalist, and recent transplant to Los Angeles, California. He's a long time gamer and has played too many games to list. He even got to edit a D&D supplement for TSR back in the days of green computer monitors. He grumps a lot, especially before his second pot of coffee. If spotted in the wild, you have an excellent chance to escape if you toss him bacon, or oatmeal-raisin cookies, and back away slowly while he's distracted.

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