“O Group” We talk to Dave Brown and head to Normandy for a Test Drive
Lard Island News was very happy to greet wargaming legend Dave Brown to our games room this week. It’s always a pleasure to see his beaming smile as he arrives on the island, but more so as we knew he had a rare treat up his sleeve in the form of his forthcoming battalion level rules, “O Group”.
In “O Group” each player fields a battalion of troops 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 and, of course, AFVs. This is a typical club-night sized game, although the rules easily and simply allow multiple players to field multiple battalions under a Brigade or battlegroup command if they wish. The command structure allows for each company having a company commander who attempts to maximise command and control for his company and battalion command who are attempting to influence the bigger picture. The standard tactical units in the game are the infantry platoon and gun or AFV platoon. That said, it is possible to operate heavy weapons, guns and tanks as single sections, so maybe a lone Tiger on the prowl.
We asked Dave to put his money where his mouth was and run through a fairly typical game. The following report covers a fictitious, yet typical engagement from the 1944 Normandy campaign; pitting an attacking British battalion plus support assets against German defenders holding bridges over the Odon river. The AAR takes a detailed look as some of the game mechanics and hopefully provides players with an insight into how much of the game works and plays.
Let’s Talk Detail
“O Group” has a two tier command and control method, utilising a system of HQ Orders and standard Orders. “O Group”, or Orders Group, is a British military term when officers and NCOs set out their plans and give orders. This can be at Battalion, Company and even Platoon level and the name “O Group” was selected as the rules allow the gamer to influence the action with command mechanisms at both Company and Battalion level (and higher). To win you want to keep all levels of command working in harmony.
At the beginning of each turn, both players roll a set number of dice referred to as the Orders dice and the various scores will dictate the availability of initiative, in the shape of orders that can be issued, for the turn. However, there is no guarantee how many orders, including what type of order, that you will receive per turn. As it is unlikely that you will be able to issue an order to every unit on the table, players will need to prioritise which units receive orders in a particular turn and which do not. In this way the commander can devise his plan but must continue to drive his force on to achieve those objectives.
But how does this dual command system work? HQ Orders represent a pool of “reserve” orders held by the Battalion HQ but are also intrinsically linked to winning the Initiative. They can be used for the following: to influence the Turn’s Initiative roll; to issue Orders to units; to request Artillery Support and to bring forward on units held in reserve.
HQ Orders can be banked and saved from turn to turn, thus represents your Battalion HQ’s state of preparedness and tactical momentum. The level of Battalion HQ Orders dictates how well the Battalion HQ is doing and more importantly what it can potentially do in the following turn or turns. A good supply of HQ Orders means that you are more likely to win the initiative, more likely to impose your will on the battle and be more likely to issue orders to the units of your choice than your opponent. However, if you simply burn your way through these HQ Orders the you’ll find that control and momentum will diminish.
Standard Orders are your basic orders issued through the company commanders to their platoons. Standard orders only last for the turn and the players will receive a varying amount each turn. A limited number of these orders will require the player to prioritise his command decisions, concentrating on those units that can secure the battalion’s objective. interestingly, these orders can be played immediately in the player’s phase or held in reserve to allow reaction in the opponent’s phase.
The Game Turn. Each turn is played according to the following sequence: Command Phase, Combat Phases and Reserves Phase. The player who wins the initiative may choose to take either the first or second combat phase. The turn ends on the conclusion of the reserves phase and a new turn is then started.
RAGNY. Bridges over the Odon
Dave decided to show us a game set in Normandy and what follows is a few turns of action to show you how the rules are shaping up. The attacking player has a battalion of the 7th Somerset Light Infantry, 214 Brigade and he is tasked with capturing the bridges at Ragny over the River Odon, to permit the Brigade to push deeper into the Normandy countryside. The Somerset’s battalion consists of three infantry companies supported by Vickers machine guns and battalion mortars, plus a detachment of armour from the 4th Armoured Brigade in the form of Stuart reconnaissance platoon and a single heavy Churchill MkVII.
Ragny is defended by an under-strength battalion from the 12th SS. This German battalion has two full companies and an assortment of supports including anti-tank units and sustain fire MG42’s. They are also fortune enough to have the support of a lone platoon of two Panthers.
German Deployment: The Germans deployed first as the defenders and decided to hold Ragny itself with a full company, the three platoons are positioned two up on the outer perimeter and one to the rear in the middle of Ragny concentrated on the church. All these units are initially deployed as Potential Threat markers (aka blinds).
The German plan was simple; hold Ragny and the Odon bridges by drawing the British into a battle for the village where their firepower and ambush units could come into play. The right flank wooded area was only lightly held as it was hoped that no serious British attack would develop in this sector as it was quite some way from the British objectives, nonetheless a lone MMG team were placed in an ambush position to cover the right flank, along with a single Panther was positioned on the higher ground on the right overlooking the valley and again concealed by a Potential Threat marker. The remaining battalion strength plus the one remaining Panther were held back in reserve.
Potential Threat markers. A system of blinds and dummy blinds will conceal most defending units, so bringing, as best one can in a wargame, a degree of confusion to the battlefield. In addition the defender may receive a small number of ambush units, these units are not placed on the table at all and only revealed when they launch their ambush. This also helps to create a further degree of uncertainly and perhaps apprehension for the attacking player.
British Deployment: The British plan was a two pronged attack upon the German lines. First, “A” Company would launch the initial assault directly against Ragny itself, supported by the heavy Churchill MkVII and the Stuart recon platoon. In concert “B” Company would push up through the woods on the left in order to develop a flanking manoeuvre and push into Ragny from the flank. In reserve where “C” Company and the heavy weapons company who would support either attack once the battle has developed.
As mentioned at the beginning of each turn the Battalion HQ gains its Battalion Orders dice. These are rolled to generate orders and these orders are your command tools to instruct your platoons fight the battle, to conduct reconnaissance, to move, fire and close combat the enemy in order to achieve victory for your battalion! (As the turns progress we’ll note just the HQ orders total to give the reader an idea of how this reserve order pool is vital to not only winning the initiative but in assisting the battalion to carry out a significant advance or counter-attack.
Turn 1 – British 4 HQ Orders. German 3 HQ Orders.
Both players roll their Battalion Orders dice, no major issues for either player with sufficient orders to carry out their plans, while both gained an additional HQ Order.
The Initiative. Players now ascertain who has the Initiative for this turn. Both players dice for the initiative adding one for each HQ Order the Battalion currently holds. The player with the highest score wins the initiative and decides if he will take the first Combat Phase. Wining the initiative is important, aside from gaining a bonus order, which is always useful; the player with initiative dictates the action for the turn. Losing the initiative could see a player simply reacting to the enemy moves, forcing him to use most of his orders just to react or rally and have little left over to initiate his own strategy in his phase!
The player taking the first Combat Phase may now issue orders. Each order issued by the phasing player may present the opponent with an opportunity to react with an order of his own. It’s important to note that a reacting player may only respond to enemy firing or moving in his line of sight, he cannot react if the enemy has conducted a move that is out of line of sight, such as moving behind a wood or ridge or react to an order that does not involve any movement or direct firing.
British: One platoon from A Company takes a up a forward position and awaits the armour to move up to the outskirts of Ragny, the British player uses all his potential threat markers (blinds) to accompany the armour, as hidden amongst them are a further infantry platoon from A company, as close support for the tanks.
German: The German player decides to remain quiet and keep his units hidden, until the British move closer or into their killing zones.
Reserves Phase: No deployments by either side.
Turn 2 – HQ Order situation: British 4. German 3. Neither player gains HQ Orders via their Battalions Orders dice roll and the British win the initiative after the dice off.
British: Initial British reconnaissance is successful and spots a German infantry platoon manning the forward buildings of Ragny, (hidden by a potential threat marker, that successful recon now removes). But the British now know where to concentrate their fire and the Churchill moves up to lob high explosives into the German positions.
German Phase: the Germans maintain their wait and see tactic, but also rally up the infantry platoon coming under fire from the British tanks.
Reserves Phase: No deployments by either side.
Turn 3 – HQ Order situation: British 4. German 3. Neither player gains HQ Orders via their Battalions Orders dice roll and the British win the initiative after the dice off.
British: This now prompts dilemma for the British player, he is reluctant to advance his armour into the village as he suspects its crawling with panzerfaust armed Germans, and decides to bring his infantry up. However his infantry are overtly conscious that they will have to cross open ground to reach the outskirts of Ragny. Therefore he decides to hold the advance until further reinforcements reach the front line, which will happen during the reserve phase. He intends to bring up another platoon and a Vickers MMG to provide covering fire before the advance resumes. Meanwhile the Churchill maintains its distance whilst still hurling in HE. On the left B Company continue to push up through the woods meeting no resistance.
How do Orders work? A unit may normally only receive one order per Phase. One order in your combat phase and one order in the opponent’s combat phase, but if using a special Company Commander Order you may issue a second order to a unit in the same phase. Each standard order type will provide the player with one or two “actions”, either move, fire, recon or rally. An order permits just one attempt at each of these actions. So a Fire and Move order permits one fire action and one move action, a rally order just one rally action and so on.
German: The German combat phase brings a distinct response to the British build up against Ragny. Using a company commander situated in the centre of the village as a spotter the player brings in mortar fire to hopefully force the Allied tanks to withdraw, but this is mostly unsuccessful. Realising that the Churchill must be driven off the German sends forwards an anti-tank team to stalk the Churchill. They fire off a few rounds but cannot penetrate the British tanks thick armour and with draw to their original position. Unfortunately this draws retaliatory fire from the Churchill who succeeds in eliminating the German anti-tank section.
Reserves Phase: The British now reinforce to bolster A Company, bringing up its final platoon with an attached Vickers medium machine gun to join their forward platoon facing Ragny. All of A company is now committed against Ragny. Their second reinforcement is to deploy B Company’s final platoon into the woods, as this attack seems to be gaining ground. However this reduces the HQ order total down to 2 HQ Orders. The German player noticing the increasing pressure on his weakly held right flank deploys a reserve infantry platoon on the far right his forming up point.
How do Forming Up Points work? In military operations each unit is given pre-designated area to assemble before joining the battle and that’s what the players are doing when they position Forming Up Points during the game. Players use Forming Up Points to deploy friendly units from their reserves onto the table forward of the table edge.
Turn 4 – The British now need to increase their HQ order total, as the British player plans to push against Ragny itself this turn and wants sufficient command to bring in artillery and keep his troops moving. He elects to commit two of his three Company Commanders to assisting with battalion orders.
The Role of Company Commanders. Company Commanders can either operate at the command level assisting with battalion command and control or concentrate their efforts operating at a more tactical level, such as issuing orders directly to troops or spotting for mortar fire. Players are therefore faced with a command choice each turn. Do they use their company commanders to assist with battalion orders and risk losing these valuable assets for the turn, being effectively consumed by their command task? Or keep their commanders free from the battalion command processes so that they can influence matters more directly at the tactical level? In this instance the British players needs a good command situation, rather than immediate tactical superiority thus chooses the command and control option. This command decision pays off and the British player increases his HQ Order total by three.
HQ Order situation: British 5. German 3. The British win the initiative after the dice off.
British: The British decide to request artillery support, the British acquire a medium battery fire mission, (25pdrs) which drops on Rangy, unfortunately has little effect but does expose another German platoon previous hidden under a potential threat marker. The British can now surmise that Ragny is probably held in company strength. The British armour now pushes closer to Ragny in an attempt to force the German defenders out of their positions; they are covered by the infantry and Vickers blazing away at any targets who try to engage the armoured vehicles.
German: The dominance of British actions now prompts the German commander to launch a counter-attack, ordering forward their Panther on the high ground to move up and take on the British armour. The German Panther engage the Churchill but misses. This prompts a British response of bags of smoke to screen their armour, their battalion mortars respond quickly and effectively blocking the Panthers field of fire. Over on his right the German waits with his ambush position MMG section hoping the catch the British infantry by surprise as the exit the wood.
Reserves Phase: The British need to keep the initiative so forego bringing on reserves and keep their HQ Order total at 3, (reduced to 3 as HQ Orders are required to call in off board artillery support). The German player noticing the increasing pressure against Ragny decides to bring on his second Panther to directly support the infantry in the village.
Turn 5 – HQ Order situation: British 4. German 4. Both players gain an HQ Order via their Battalions Orders dice roll and the German’s win the initiative after the dice off.
German: The German player quickly advances his reverse infantry platoon into a farm complex at the apex of the woods to support their lone Panther on the high ground and hopefully seal off the British advance in this area. Meanwhile in Ragny, the Germans content themselves with rifle and machine gun fire against the British infantry supporting the Churchill and succeed in suppressing and then forcing one platoon to retreat. German mortars fire continues against the infantry now building up in front of the German lines and this proves more successful suppressing the British Vickers section as well.
British: The British player can see he’s becoming bogged down in front of Ragny and switches his efforts over to the left flank. The British perceive that the Germans must be weak in this sector and push rapidly forward, with orders to B Company to push up out of the woods to engage the Germans in the farm complex, hoping to exploit this sector and permit an attack upon Ragny from the flank.
Reserves Phase: The British plan for a significant thrust on the left flank with B Company, so need to keep the initiative hence forego bringing on reserves and keep their HQ Order total at 4. The German player noticing the increasing pressure across his entire front reinforces his right flank with a further infantry platoon from the reserves.
Turn 6 – HQ Order situation: British 4. German 4. Neither player gains HQ Orders via their Battalions Orders dice roll and the British win the initiative after the dice-off.
British: Continuing with his push on the left the British commander now orders the first platoon to put down covering fire on the Germans in the farm, while the second platoon close assault. But this is where the German springs his ambush and opens up with his MMG 42 section, pinning down the infantry as they cross a stream. The British realise that if their attack is pinned down here, they’ll be made short work off by the German machine guns, therefore the company commander steps up and issues a company commander order. This is an example of company commanders working at the tactical level, issuing secondary and very important orders to their troops, these second orders can be expensive in terms of the actual number of orders used to issue it, but they can significantly impact the tactical battle as its permits units a second order as opposed to the usual one order per phase, so a second fire action and/or second move action or in this case a regroup order to get his men moving. The order is successful, meaning the British infantry regroup and push on into close combat, driving off the German defenders with a fine display of bayonet work!
German: In the German phase the Germans continue to feed infantry over to their right to prevent a British’s breakthrough in this sector. The Germans have now fed in an entire company to oppose the British advance through the woods, and it’s clear that without further reinforcements B company will make no further progress, but they have succeeded in drawing in the vast majority of the German reserves, which leaves the German company Ragny itself without any further support.
Reserves Phase: The British decides that he needs to build up his forces in front of Ragny for a final push into the village, therefore attempts to infiltrate a new infantry platoon from C Company reserves up onto a company commander’s forward position in front of Ragny. This is successful and they are in position for a big push next turn.
Infiltration is a special reserve move that permits infantry platoons to infiltrate onto a company commander’s forward position. WW2 accounts are full of descriptions regarding how infantry penetrated unseen towards enemy positions or at least attempted to. Infiltration is not guaranteed, and the better quality troops have an improved chance of doing so, but it’s a powerful weapon if it succeeds. As for the German player he has now run out of reserves and can only hope he’s deployed his men in the right place.
Turn 7 – HQ Order situation: British 6. German 5. The British player now elects to commit two Company Commanders into assisting with battalion orders, as he intends to launch his assault on Ragny next turn. Despite the British advantage the Germans win the initiative after the dice off.
British: The British use this turn to regroup and reorganise units ready for the big attack next turn. A lull decides over the fighting for a short time.
German: The Germans take advantage of the lull and attempt to rally their platoons just to hold the line.
Reserves Phase: No deployments by either side.
Turn 8 – HQ Order situation: British 6. German 5. Neither player gains HQ Orders via their Battalions Orders dice roll and the Germans win the initiative after the dice off.
German: The Germans seize the tactical initiative and decide to push up their Panther in Ragny to finally eliminate the allied armour. It moves up slowly through the narrow streets hoping to flank the Churchill. The German now uses a company commander to issue a second order to the Panther to push it forward into a good flanking position against the British armour; however the close nature of the buildings prevents the Panther manoeuvring to present its thick front armour and has to content itself with a quick flank shot from an awkward position. The Panther misses. The Churchill returns fire and gets lucky, the shot hits and penetrates the weaker flank armour of the Panther – brewing it!
The removal of this Panther plays into the British hands, the British player now calls in artillery once again upon Ragny pinning many German defenders, they then push into Ragny itself with the Churchill accompanied by a sudden dash by the infantry, covered by mortar smoke. Further use of a company commander’s second order sees the British infantry push on and gain a sizable foothold in Ragny’s forward buildings as the German defenders are distracted by British artillery strikes and now the Churchill that has just rumbled into Ragny . The only German reaction is to fire with their integral platoon panzerfausts desperately hoping to knock out the heavily armoured British tank……..but as the British are now in Ragny itself, and dangerously close to their brigade objectives, with one Panther gone and with no reserves left can the Germans hold them off?
And on that bombshell we leave the action. It was certainly a fun game where the sides were picked to allow us to examine the mechanisms within the rules. Dave has promised to come back to film a game for Lard TV in the very near future, so prepare yourselves for a treat!