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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Rommel - A Review of the Latest from Sam Mustafa's Honour Series

Review by Tom Burgess,

Sam Mustafa, one of the most successful US miniatures wargame rules developers, has brought his Honour series of the wargames into the 21th Century with Rommel. Sam has for the most part had kept previously to ancient, 18th and 19th century rules. The Honour series includes many great historical miniatures wargames to include Aurelian, Maurice, Lasalle, Blücher, and Longstreet. I have greatly enjoyed playing Sam's games and was a playtester for a couple of them. What I always appreciated about Sam's rules is that he always tries to push the envelope and come up with unique approaches and mechanics to keep games simple and fast moving while retaining the appropriate feel for the given period.

Rommel is no exception to Sam's guiding game design philosophy. As I playtester on Sam games I recall as many has eleven different versions being tried. And when I say different versions, I mean complete redoes of the entire core mechanics, not just some minor tweaks.  Blücher may have had many more as it was completely shelved at one point, before coming out in its published form after Sam returned to working on it.

So what make Rommel so different? I've played a lot of WW2 miniatures wargame rules that run the gamut from small man to man squad actions up to brigade size battles, but Rommel picks up where the other WW2 wargames leave off. Wargaming with Rommel starts at the Division command level and extends upwards to the corps and even army level, this level of command in wargaming previously was for the most part the domain of board based wargames.

Indeed, many may see Rommel as more of a board game than a miniatures game, and I can tell you that's exactly what Sam wants. As with rest of the Honour series, he wants you to make what you want out of the game. Sam has designed Rommel and other Honour series wargames to be equally playable using miniatures or without by using unit cards. Even though I consider myself a miniatures wargamer, this aspect has grown on me quite a bit. It really helps in playtesting new scenarios before embarking a large modeling project and it allows you to branch off and do "one off" scenarios in theaters that your model collection does not cover. It also lets you set up full battles which might be beyond your miniature collection span. For example, I have couple of lovely 15mm British Napoleonic Divisions for Blücher, but with the Waterloo unit cards decks for  Blücher I now have the complete orders of battle in unit cards for the Anglo-allied, French, and Prussian armies of the entire Waterloo campaign!

So what are the basics? As mentioned earlier this is a division level game where a game represents a "Day of Battle."  The battlefield is set up as a 8 x 12 grid system where each grid approximates a kilometer. On a 4' x 6' table this would make each grid square 6" x 6", however with 15mm and smaller scales you could go with 4" x 4" grid squares to either expand the battlespace for your games or possibly play it at the standards size on a 3' x 4' table (Kitchen table?). If using Micro Armor or Pico Armour you and counters vice unit cards you could go even smaller. Turns are not exact period of time. The number of a turns you'll see in a game is variable and each turn simply represents period of significant actions. 

A PzKw-III unit card for Rommel

Units are basically company plus to battalion minus sized formations. They are broken down into tank, infantry, and artillery units, though the latter are massed battalion sized units.  Other support units like Anti-Tank and Anti-Aircraft units have been "absorbed" by these other units and are not denoted separately.  There are special support units, that a "combat bonus" to infantry units.

The most friendly units that can be (Stack) in single grid square is three. Fighting occurs between opposing units in the same grid squares so basically the individual fight on the table will be up to battalion minus size. So there is no "range" for direct firefight in Rommel. Sam in his design notes states that most WW2 US tank actions occurred at the 600m to 800m range and that visibility was rarely more than a kilometer so the "close in" fight is what happens when opposing units come into contact in the same grid square.

9th US Infantry Regiment & support
A typical "Element" in Rommel
The next level of command up from the unit in the game is the "Element." The Element is a brigade/regimental size formation. As example Element the rules offer the 9th Infantry Regiment of the US 2nd Infantry Division. This sample Element on the table would have nine infantry units, a tank unit, and an artillery unit. Units preform best when operating from other units from their Element.

Units move by either road or tactical movement.  Road movement, as you might imagine, does not allow a unit to fight and allows infantry units to move three squares (18") and mechanized/motorized units to move six squares (36"), Road moves may not take units within an enemy zone of control (adjacent square to a square with an enemy unit).  Tactical unit is much shorter but allows combat  after infantry have moved one square (6") and armored units two squares (12").

Combat occurs in Rommel when opposing units end a tactical phase contesting the same square with enemy units. The combat power of units in a square is combined and modified based off of tactical considerations. A die roll then determines how many hits the enemy must take. Generally combat results are simultaneous.

A US Company Team with distant artillery support tries to
push some Germans from some crucial woods
If after the combat, the defender has a unit remaining in the square, the attackers retreat. If the defender is eliminated the attacker wins the square. Motorized/Mechanized units may make an evasion move after combat in which they discard their last hit taken, but retreat from the contested square.

To get a better view of combat in Rommel, check out a free PDF of Chapter 6 from the rules that Sam has made available for download here:  Link to Rommel Chapter 6 - Combat.

Artillery is represented by on and off board units. Artillery can be drawn upon to support combats once a turn by adding to the combat value total of friendly units in the contested square. Artillery firing in support of combat must be from the same Element as one of the friendly units in the contested square.  Higher level artillery, such as Corps artillery, can support an friendly units in combat. Artillery can shoot great distances. For example a US 105mm Howitzer can shoot 12 squares (70') which pretty much would be just about anywhere on the board.

There are eight basic scenarios in Rommel; Breakout, Breakthrough, Encounter, Evacuation, Recon in Force, Relief, Scramble, and Stonk. Each scenarios has its own deployment areas, victory conditions, and sometimes mandatory terrain. In these scenarios equal pointed forces would face off. The rules also have guidelines for creating historical scenarios.

Finally Rommel has an advanced rules sections which includes airborne and amphibious operations. Weather and special terrain like rives are also addressed here. Special unit rules for cavalry, pioneers, and recon also show up in the advanced rules section.

Rommel is designed for quick divisional level and achieves that in a way that only Sam Mustafa could design. I really looking forward to playing this game and would suggest all give it a serious look.

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