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Thursday, November 16, 2017

BattleGroup: Overlord Beyond the Beaches

All images courtesy of IronFist Publishing.

When IronFist Publishing and The Plastic Soldier Company (PSC) first published their Overlord book in 2013, the tome weighed in at 240-ish pages. The book covered the Western Europe forces in D-Day operations, as well as D-Day+1 up until the defeat in the Falaise Pocket.

IronFist and PSC recently republished a partial re-release of the book: Overlord Beyond the Beaches (BtB) that covers "the battles inland" after D-day. The reprint is slightly over half the pages of the original (at 136 pages).

The new version deals specifically with the forces and operations in Western Europe from D-Day + 1 on. IronFist will publish the D-Day sections and lists from the original at a "future date." PSC teases the release on the web-page for BtB, noting a major anniversary date coming up (2019 would be 75 anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy).

Why then did IronFist and PSC decide to republish just half of the original in paperback version?

"...many of the smaller European Theatre of Operations campaign books we'd like to do in the future will use these lists..." (BtB, page 5)

Both the Wacht Am Rein (Battle of the Bulge) and the newly published Market Garden books do refer back to lists from the Overlord book (now accessible in the Beyond the Beaches re-release). The Wacht Am Rein link above takes you to a page to purchase a PDF copy of the book - but check your Friendly Local Game Store supplier if you'd like to find a physical copy. The Market Garden Link takes you to a link for a bundle of Market Garden AND Beyond the Beaches (BtB). I suspect PSC will continue to bundle (on their website) BtB with the campaign books that refer back to it.

What's in the book?

Historical Section
Beyond the Beaches begins with a historical recap that spans five pages, and covers June 7 through August 1944. Photos from the Bundesarchive Archive, US Army Signal Corps, and Canadian National Archives enhance the layout.

Beyond that section, the book showcases several battle scenarios and rules for bocage terrain. Three types of battle scenarios are suggested by the designer: Meeting Engagements, Attack-Defence Scenarios, and Historical Re-fights.

Even though the "new" scenario of Recce Screen (that has been added to the hardcover Battlegroup Rule Book) was originally part of the Overlord book, the designers have left it in the new BtB re-re-release.

Two Historical Re-fight scenarios are included: The Polish Attack at St. Silvain, and US 3rd Armor at Fromentel. Detailed terrain maps are included, as well as recreated force lists for each side. The game designers also include a suggestion that these can be played as "what if" scenarios with different forces.

Information on weapons current to this time and theatre of operation is also included in this section. The first section on Infantry Weapons covers Heavy Mortars down to Rifles and SMGs.

Rifles are the go-to weapon for every trooper in the lists. If there is no weapon listed, assume the troops have a standard rifle for their nationality. Battlegroup classifies standard rifles into a generic class. This includes the US's M1 Garand. The authors point out that even though the Garand is touted as giving the US infantry a significant firepower advantage, they have different rules for the weapon at this point in the game. In Battlegroup, players may use either aimed fire (for destroying enemy soldiers at a slower rate of fire with more accuracy) or Suppressive/Area fire (for pinning enemy infantry and gun units).

"US infantry training emphasized individual marksmanship,  on shooting ranges, taking carefully aimed fire at static targets. When these inexperienced soldiers met German infantry in combat ... they relied heavily on this training... German smokeless powder also meant targets were harder to find. This flaw in US training was yet to be fixed... Whilst the M1 Garand was without doubt an excellent rifle for the period, in Normandy the US infantry were still using it like a bolt action rifle."

This book classifies the Garand as a standard rifle for suppressive fire, along with the Mauser Kar98K and the Lee-Enfield Mk4. Only in later books, such as Fall of the Reich, do the designers give the Garand a special rule that allows the better Suppressive Fire capabilities.

The book lays out properties and uses of various armoured fighting vehicles, guns (anti-tank, artillery, etc) and other supporting assets. These sections are worth a read before moving into the meat of the book, the troop lists. Doing such a read gives the reader tidbits of interesting info. For example, the HE shells eventually developed for the British 17 pounder were ineffective, and often either broke up on impact or buried themselves in the soft earth due to the gun's high velocity. Both reduced the effectiveness of the HE rounds.

Battlegroup is a scalable system. The rules provide for small battles at the squad level (up to 350 points per side), all the way up to Battalion level games (1500+ points).

Allies have US and British forces available in either infantry or armoured divisions. Germans have the option of Panzer, infantry or Fallschirmjager Divisions.

Calculating points in each section is fairly straightforward. Each force chosen must include a set number of infantry platoons. Company level games (less than 1500 pts per side) need to have two infantry platoons. Platoon level games (up to 750 points per side) need have only one platoon of infantry. More is always possible.

One note on the book design and layout. In each of their campaign books, IronFist has chosen to publish each set of support options for each type of Division.  Following the Armoured Division is the complete list of support options for that type of force. Following the Infantry Division is the complete list of support options for that type of force, etc.

Other game systems elect to have the support divisions grouped together and list exceptions for when a particular support choice cannot be taken for a particular division type. Battlegroup avoids that by reprinting the support choices in each Division's section -- but custom tailors the support list specifically for that division.

For example, the support options for the British Armoured Division has access to Staghounds in their Recce support lists, but the Infantry Divisions don't have Staghounds in their recce options.

When mixing and matching the various parts of the force, a player is instructed by the lists how many, and which, support options might be taken, based on what type of core platoons are selected. If a German player includes a Grenadier platoon or Ost Infantry platoon, they may add one support choice from either Recce, Engineers or Specialist Units. The specialist lists include assets such as Heavy AA or AT guns, StuH42s, AA Vehicles and towed FlaK guns.

The German Panzer Divisions give the player the option of taking Armoured Panzer Grenadiers.  The base point cost difference between this division's Grenadiers platoon and the armoured variety is only a 62 point difference. The base Grenadier platoon comes in at 100 points for: a command squad, three squads of 5 men each, and three MG teams. The same starting point for the Armoured Grenadiers is 162 points. The Armoured variety also ups the unit's Battle Rating from 11 to 15. The Armoured platoons have a Veteran rating, while the standard Grenadiers are rated as Regular troops.

Since the Battlegroup game system is written for casual play, and not for tournaments, the book includes options to add Defences to a list. Defences include such options as Barricades, Dug Outs, and Sniper Hideouts. But these are listed as being allowed only for players who are defending in an attack-defend scenario.

I like seeing the wide variety of defences available. One of my favorites that I'd like to surprise my opponents with is the Booby-Trapped Building. This inflicts a three dice, 3+ HE hit on the first squad to enter that building - unless the player rolls a 1 on its activation die. I can imagine a scene where one player hides a marker inside a building, and the attacking player removes the building's roof to start placing troops inside, only to see the marker.

Overall Rating
I give this book a big thumbs up.

The Battlegroup books have a clean and clear layout. Their organization is easy to follow. The only downfall is for a gamer like me, who skim-reads, or darts about willy-nilly between the sections. Because of my reading style, and general disorganization on my behalf, I had to do some digging to understand the M1 Garand's rules (it's a rifle... until later books give it a bonus for suppressing fire).

In addition, I'm a sucker for great photography. I enjoy the combination of 20mm models and the scene setting photography for the book. The care with which Warwick sets up his scenes to illustrate the books is apparent as I enjoy the images.

The book is well worth the investment for anyone getting into Battlegroup game system.

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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