‘O’ Group, An Update
The punters in the pubs and bars of Lard Island are, like much of the hobby, talking about two forthcoming rule sets; Infamy, Infamy from TooFatLardies and ‘O’ Group from our sister company Reisswitz Press. We sent roving Lard Island News reporter, Walter Wall, to darkest North London to talk to wargaming giant and housewife’s favourite, Dave Brown to get an update on his WWII rules. He came in hope of news of great strides and was not disappointed.
WW: Meeting Dave Brown in his wargaming room, we discussed many aspects of his interest in WWII combat but I was here on a strict brief; What was ‘O’ Group all about. “Get details” the editor told me as I left the Lard Island News office, and details I was determined to get. So, without further ado, I Dave him to give me a brief over view of the rules and to explain what he wanted to achieve.
“‘O’ Group! is at battalion level rules for WWII, with each player fielding a battalion under the command of the Battalion HQ. The battalion consists of a number of infantry companies, normally three and will usually be supported by heavy weapons, guns according to the national structures and, of course, with room for supporting elements to be attached to produce a combined arms force, such as AFVs. We want gamers to be able to take historical actions and refight them on the tabletop with consideration for the doctrines of the various nations and their unit structures.
WW: That was clear enough, but the question everyone has been asking is how the game design process seeks to reflect, within a wargame situation, how battalions fought in WW2, not just focusing on that wargames favourite “national characteristics” but with regard to how battalions deployed, advanced to contact and then fought and also reflecting on some of the reasons as to why they fought in the manner they did. Can you give our readers some idea of how that will work in the rules?
“By all means. Let’s look firstly at how a battalion deploys. In “O Group!” the player deploys his companies at the beginning of game, each in its own given sector and makes a brief note of where their companies are deployed or their direction of advance. This can be as simple as “A Company on the left flank, B Company on the right flank and C Company in reserve.” Assigning Company sectors and boundaries is not only historical but also a useful playing aid, so by using roads or watercourses as company boundaries this aids company integrity and eases command and control.
For example the following is an extract from the Canadian attack upon Carpiquet village and the adjoining airfield in 1944. Although aimed at a higher formation level it does help illustrate how such formations deployed.
“In the first phase, the North Shore Regiment (left) and Le Regiment de la Chaudière (right), each supported by a squadron of tanks from the 10th Armoured Regiment, were to attack Carpiquet village from a start-line in front of La Villeneuve. Simultaneously The Royal Winnipeg Rifles would advance from Marcelet against the southern hangars. During this stage The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada were to be in reserve; subsequently they would pass through the village and carry out the second phase.”
This is exactly how the individual companies of your battalion deploy in O Group but at a lower level. Defending companies are assigned a sector to defend, centred on a particular terrain feature or are held in reserve. Attacking Companies have the company line of approach within boundaries identified as they move to contact. Attacking companies may also have terrain points or Phase Lines as their objectives, such as advancing to and reaching a particular line or point within enemy territory.
Your designated reserve company can then be brought forward using the Consolidation special action which we can discuss if you’d like.”
We can indeed come onto that, but I am interested in the concept of reserves. This seems to me to be something oft overlooked in wargames, You put your troops on the table and then fight, This seems to have more to it. Can you enlighten us there please Dave?
“Although not a strict ruling most WW2 battalions deployed with two companies up, (in the front line) and one or two in reserve. Similarly each company often deployed with two platoons up and one in reserve. O Group replicates this setup, permitting the player to hold reserves both at battalion and company level. However although the deployment doctrines were similar across all battalions, the important question of actually how these reserves where deployed matters, and O Group introduces a simple wargames mechanism to reflect these differences. We’ll look at two examples, German and Russian.
How do the Germans deploy reserves? As most wargamers know the Germans fought with a particularly flexible approach to combined arms, infantry often closely supported the panzers and vice versa. Certain assets though were not quite as flexible as others, such as guns belonging to heavy flak units and so on; but on the whole German commanders operated with a very agile approach and are thus classed as having, in wargame terms what is defined as a Flexible Reserves Doctrine. A flexible reserves doctrine means that although your infantry companies set up within pre-determined boundaries on the table, your reserves do not. Thus German battalions can bring on their reserve tanks and other assets to support a company of their choosing at any point during the game.
How do the Russians deploy reserves? Similar to the Germans, a Russian battalion commander must also designate where his infantry companies are deployed and by which avenue they will attack. However where the Russians do differ from the Germans is that they operate under a rigid command structure, the commander must allocate his reserves to supporting his individual companies at the start of the game. Therefore a Russian commander operates under a Rigid Reserves Doctrine. During WW2 it would be rare for a Russian company commander to amend the initial plan or use initiative to get the mission done as per the German method, as the price of failure could have a genuine life or death consequence for Russian officers. So our Russian player cannot switch reserves from one sector to another as they are assigned at the start of the game and that is where they remain. However, similar to the Germans, when deploying major reserve assets such as tanks, this cannot be done at the whim of a junior company commander and is done at battalion commander level using HQ Orders. Thus the Russians are “encouraged” by the rules to not deploy in penny packets but to deploy en masse, as this is easier when operating under their command structure. As a result we see tend Russian reserves entering the game at just one point but in greater numbers than other armies. So rather than see a single tank section or platoon arrive, with the Russians one is more likely to see two platoons or upwards of a whole tank company (battalion) deploy.”
WW: So, you are seeking to reflect different doctrines within that part of the rules. Now, can you tell our readers how a game would typically play out, starting with the advance to contact.
“The advance to contact is covered by two wargame mechanisms in ‘O’ Group. Firstly, players can deploy units on the table edge, within their Company boundaries. The table edge represents your Company Forming up Points. Units are deemed to be readied at this point; hence once you platoons are issued the order to deploy they can take a standard on-table move and fire.
The second method of deploying troops is directly onto the table via what O Group rules refer to as Potential Threats. It’s worth explaining at this point what is meant by a potential threat. A Potential Threat (or PT) is a wargame combination of: concealed positions, hidden movement or infiltration, reconnaissance activity, advanced parties, possible troop locations and of course unknown activity and the fog of war. It’s an attempt to bring uncertainty and hidden movement to the battlefield and overcome, in some small way the advantages of the player being a “300 foot general” that can observe and react to all enemy troop movements. These Potential Threats remove the wargamers “comfort blanket” of observation and certainty, that normally permits him to clearly observe every troop movement on table and is therefore highly unlikely to be surprised.
Potential Threats are mobile “markers” that can be used to deploy infantry, reconnaissance units and light guns, onto the table. This represents the actions of your commanders bringing their reserve troops into the battle using hidden movement and infiltration. PTs are considered more as units rather than just markers, so players should considered them as small teams of enemy infantry or scouts making their way forward to take up advanced positions on the battlefield, so the remainder of their formation can quickly advance to this new position.
However the vast majority of armour vehicles and heavy guns cannot deploy from PTs and can only deploy on the table edge on their Company Forming Up Point, as it’s difficult to move up several heavy tanks belching diesel or petrol fumes particularly quietly!”
Of course the next phase is contact with the enemy. How your battalion fights, how your infantry fire and manoeuvre and how your tanks and artillery provide support was covered in the previous O Group AAR. Have things changed as the rules have developed? Yes, not only have the rules attempted to cover doctrine at battalion and company level but they also attempt to cover the training aspect of the basic infantry platoons as well.
Obviously at this level of game, players don’t wish to become bogged down in the minutia of section and platoon actions, that’s best left to other lower level rule sets, a very fine example of which is currently provided by TooFatLardies themselves with games like Chain of Command. However, to represent the basic fighting tenets of each battalion’s infantry, a Training Characteristic has been introduced to outline the basic platoons fighting technique. For example, a British infantry platoon with its ubiquitous 2″ mortars can opt to lay smoke to cover an advance; whilst a German platoon gains a slight firepower advantage to account for their rapid fire machine guns, especially when on the defensive. Other fighting aspects also appear as players would expect, so later war German tanks have powerful guns that are good at long range, the Allies Sherman’s have good high explosive firepower, while the numerous Russian tanks suffer from poor situational awareness.
In addition all battalions can call in their mortars to provide indirect fire support to their infantry and the battalion commanders may also attempt to request higher level artillery assets. The differing nations may find calling in artillery either swift and flexible or potentially hindered by a slower artillery process.
Though winning the fire-fight is important, this alone may not win you the game and you will need to overpower your opponent in both the Command Phase as well as the Combat Phase, to ensure victory. ‘O’ Group encourages a combination of good command and control and superiority of firepower to force your opponent to respond to your actions and as such he will have little opportunity to launch his own attacks and struggle to assert his will on the battle.
WW: Dave, I am very interested to see you talk about Phase Lines. That’s something one sees in many battle reports, but rarely in a wargame. Can you tell me how you have introduced this into your rules?
“As mentioned above, one of the key command features of the game is identifying your objectives or phase lines, bringing in your reserves at the right place and the right time and consolidating your positions in order to hold and exploit. So how does consolidation work with O Group? Once a player has secured an objective or reached a certain point or phase line in the advance he may issue the Consolidation Order. This permits the player to bring forward the command element from his reserve company, to consolidate on the newly captured position and prepare for the next attack. However this is not guaranteed as this reserve cannot have been committed earlier, if it has already been committed perhaps due to command pressure or to plug an enemy counter-attack then it’s not permitted to fulfil its consolidation role. Secondly being able to play the Consolidation special action may be delayed due to a temporarily unavailability of this unique order, holding up the potential for a rapid breakthrough by a number of vital turns. Nonetheless if played correctly and troops are able to arrive swiftly in position this will provide a significant contribution towards your battalions ultimate objectives on the table.
The rules as they now stand permit each battalion to fight its battle within its own doctrine, utilising its particular training characteristics rather than fielding a “vanilla” battalion where the sole differences are the simply the weapons the soldiers fight with. Thus O Group rules try to present the player with a battalion that as far as one can in a wargame, reflects the tactical doctrines of WW2.”
WW: That sounds really interesting. How far through the playtest process are you, or, if I may ask the question that many people are asking, when will they be available?
“We are well into playtesting and the feedback has been very positive, especially now we have moved past the basic mechanisms for shooting and moving which you have to get right first. The shift now to looking at the big picture issues about development of an attack by application of reserves has really been seen as taking the rules to the next level. I would hope to have the rules ready for layout by Christmas. How that then translates into availability depends on how long the layout and production process takes. I hope it will be by Salute in April. That seems like an excellent opportunity for a launch.”
WW: Well, thanks very much Dave for that insight into ‘O’Group. We at Lard Island News look forward to following their progress.