WW2 Rules page

Rules as they are now

WW2 core rules (MS Word XP) as we played Kasserine with in March 2009. Of course we still tinker a little after every almost game, and these could do with a good clean to remove some deprecated concepts. I've posted them here "as is" just for speed. "We" means originally mainly two people, plus assorted contributions and play(testing) outcomes from a group of about 7 more people.

Although I'd like to be able to say where we've got to so far represents all our own work, in fact every single piece of it seems to have been stolen from somewhere else. It's definitely towards the beer'n'pretzels end of the complexity scale so it plays quickly, and it's given us enjoyable games, but it's not polished and therefore does need umpire assistance (and fairly easy-going players!).

We've considered quite a lot more factors than the extreme simplicity of the mechanisms suggests at first sight. I've given something of a brain dump below of what I can recall of the thinking to date. It's almost certainly incomplete. At every stage the overriding goal was to ruthlessly simplify or eliminate mechanisms and speed up play, and the test for whether it was working or not was a subjective wet finger exercise of how it "felt" in terms of what players were thinking about, and the operational-scale outcomes we were getting. There's no pretence at there being any rigour or much science involved here. The fact that there is probably more explanation below than verbiage in the "rules" themselves should make it clear that these are closer to a set of principles than a proper set of rules.

As a side-effect of the simplicity there's almost no mechanics leaning curve for beginners, which is just as well since we're all beginners - we seem to play these maybe once or twice a year, which is as often as we can assemble all the players and all the kit.

Everything that follows is my own highly biassed opinion - haven't had time to consult my peers.


Assorted clarification of the rules above, or changes that are being tinkered with

A complete game turn consists of two player turns, one for each side. Scenario rules determine which side moves first. Weather gets determiened by the umpire once at the start of each day.

HQ units are effectively always treated for movement as being "other wheeled" in everyone's army.

Combat is always optional, even for units already in contact. Only the moving side get to determine which combats to fight. In any given combat all of both sides' units directly involved, and any available artillery, can fire.

When there are multiple units involved in a combat we allocate hits inflicted amongst them randomly, including any providing rear support.

Recovery - usually adjudicated by the umpires - works within major formations. Apply the recovery factor and limits across all the formation's units combined, with odd SPs being diced for according to the recovery rate. So if there are 5 units (2 tank and 3 infantry) with one hit each, a recovery rate of 50% and a limit of 3, we'd add one SP back to one tank and delete the other SP, randomly allocate an SP to one infantry, eliminate one SP, and dice with a 50% chance for the other. Multiple hits to the same base are consolidated before consolidating across bases. Eliminated bases that recover at least one SP are brought back and placed next to their HQ. When the limit is going to apply, decide randomly who gets SPs and who doesn't, but normally everyone would get 1 before anyone gets a second. Hits scored while a unit is surrounded by enemy units or ZoCs, or otherwise isolated from its HQ or LOC (vague concept, umpire determined), are marked on the orbat as unrecoverable and don't get counted. The overall effect is that major formations are weakend steadily through attrition, but are often fairly resilient until someone gets through your line and starts causing havoc in the rear area. Maintaining some sort of front, or at least a refused enough flank not to get surrounded, gets to be very important. As ever whether this is "right" in any theoretical sense is eminently debatable. We find it works for us in Western Europe (and at Kasserine). The big open spaces of steppe or desert might be different.

Practically what we do is mark off hits from the left on a roster sheet. Recovered SPs are provided by manually adding new hit box(es) at the RH end of the unit roster. Any permanently lost SPs - by consolidation or isolation - are denoted by imposing a vertical line between boxes, with those to the left of it not available for future recovery. LOG and POL marking generally gets treated similarly.

The concepts of hospitals and recovery vehicles have been eliminated: we just doctor scenario recovery rates.

In practice we seem to have standarised on 3 SPs for a full 800-ish man regular western infantry bttn, which is a bit fewer than 1 SP per company. Similarly 3 SPs for vehicles for a 50-60-ish vehicle tank bttn, +1 for armoured, so 4 SPs for an average full tank bttn. Then there's the quality thing, so airborne infantry are typically 4 SPs. Italian regular infantry are often 2 SPs (both because the battalions were rather weaker and the quality slightly lower than our abstract average idea). We should probably call OB roster boxes "hit points", since it's a much closer definition of what they are than "strength points".

We now allow almost any combat unit to provide rear support to any other (but in particular not one vehicle supporting another), provided they are in the same command chain (see next para). Originally this was just for combined arms, but now it's also a way of representing either battalions being put on narrower frontages than the 1200 yards or so of the physical base width, or a phased assault, or defense-in-depth. Whatever the rationalisation one chooses, it seems to work. There aren't any standard rules for resubordinating units, but e.g. for Arnhem we did allow the Allies the choice of resubordinating a unit from one HQ to another at night, instead of making a night move and conducting recovery - this would have allowed the XXX Corps armour to be somewhat spread out under US airborne command if required (which as it turns out, it wasn't).

In the preceding para "in the same command chain" is rather ill-defined and is one of those places where the umpire comes in if a decision is required. Broadly it means subordinate to the same HQ or part of the same formation (for recovery purposes). So a corps asset can work with a divisional unit in its corps, but not that of another corps. Units from the same division can work together even if they started the turn being placed in command by different HQs which are part of the same division. But units from different divisions don't get to work together even if they are in the same corps. This is definitely pretty arbitrary, but it achieves what seems to be a real-life effect, in that it's not just having men and kit that matters but also that there has to be a functioning command structure to get them to the same place at the same time. This rule alone seems to encourage players to maintain formation integrity as far as they can (which "feels" good to us). This is all in place of any detailed (and very likely complicated) command or order rules. We haven't yet run into a need to have resubordination rules, other than the scenario-specific one for Arnhem already mentioned.

In order to get their (S) rating, armored infantry/panzer grenadiers need their (usually) half-track vehicles providing rear support. This is the only instance where a transport element contributes to combat in any way. Motorized infantry don't get the the (S), only mechanized, i.e. armoured vehicles are required. This is assumed to include some number of direct fire support vehicles such as M8 HMC or Sdkfz 251/9 or equivalent, as well as the troop carriers with their extra MG firepower.

Tactical air power has gone back and forth between being raw hit dice (and part of combat) and being a disruption effect that renders units combat-ineffective for a turn with a small chance of a hit as well (but being before movement, so that gaps caused by air power can be exploited). I definitely prefer the latter, but haven't won everyone over yet. Heavy bombers as used in occasionally in Normandy break-out attempts might be different. We haven't attempted to incorporate interdiction, but aren't missing it. We haven't yet settled on how drastic to make airstrikes against HQ units - the granularity doesn't give much room for manoeuvre. Current thoughts are roughly that disruption should suppress divisional comms/co-ordination ability, so within the command no rear support in attacks and maybe no artillery support while disrupted - but that HQs should be harder to disrupt than standard combat units, because they're smaller, tend to have the integral AA assets nearer them, and the in-game effect is stronger (take your pick). We haven't seen yet in games is anyone concentrating their air power against opposing artillery (as in German Blitzkreig doctrine), although I don't know why.

Not a lot has been done on engineering, since we're mainly looking at fairly mobile operational battles so no-one is doing a lot of digging. Hence why that bit is bridging-heavy. Minefields aren't sorted yet. While (S) etc., seem to have worked really well, (E) for RCT HQs just hasn't (which idea came from the SPI Campaign for North Africa boardgame). We're completly unclear what to do about thin slices of engineering capability. The idea of detachments with their own small vehicle doesn't appeal as much as essentially ignoring them, or possibly allowing any one unit under command of the HQ(E) to do limited engineering each turn or some such.

At the moment weather is mostly about what aircraft can do. For really bad ground conditions - Bulge and Nordwind - we just made the basic going Broken instead of Open, made everything else Rough, and maybe downrated secondary roads somehow that I can't immediately recall, or maybe left them off the table.

Towed guns can't contact the enemy (since transport elements can't). So they don't get to initiate melee-type combat. We're a bit ambivalent about SP arty, but tend to apply the same principles there - they're artillery, not assault guns. In our Kasserine game, when a US SP artillery unit was hit by the Germans the umpire ruling was that it (having survived the combat) dispersed in the same way as towed artillery - it not being artillery doctrine to fight toe-to-toe - but that it came back in nighttime recovery as an (I) unit, so with only some loss of vehicles/effectiveness.


How we got here

We liked V&B, and wanted the a similarly high level of command game for WW2, but still noticably a table-top wargame vice a boardgame, so somewhat limited operational scope in in time and space for a corps or so appealed. And Arnhem was the initial gleam in our eye (isn't it for every WW2 gamer?). Having picked up a copy of Megablitz somewhere, we fairly quickly grew to like the scale and the strength point rating system (that obviates any morale rules of any sort) but to dislike quite a lot of the rest.

In no particular order, pretty quickly we eliminated recce spotting as irrelevant complexity in the 200' general operational world, and swapped in the simple V&B combat system of always the same number of dice for a given type of unit in place of the much more complicated Megablitz original (which varies dice and hit chance by the number of SPs in the firing unit, and also a big matrix of which set of orders the firer and target were on). We found the original was a very big drag on play, and the V&B one worked just as well operationally even though it's statistically a bit rougher. In eliminating combat complexity we more or less eliminated the order concept as well, which also helped speed of play. Boardgaming background gave us semi-locking ZoCs which partly solves the broad/thin front problem of gaps between units. Narrow frontages and the necessity of combined arms gave us rear support (the latter might already have been there in Megablitz). Formed AT gun units went pretty quickly as well - since in reality they usually fight in elements dispersed among the other manoeuvre elements of their parent formation - and by 1944 (which is where we started) almost everyone had lots anyway, so they're just part of the normal way combat works. Ditto divisional MG bttns in most armies. But we retained fully tracked StuG/Tank Destroyer units because of the frequency they got used as assault guns rather than in a pure AT role.

Somewhere around this point we played through the Stolberg corridor scenario from CD2. As the American player I did what they did in reality and attacked the thinly held Westwall in several relatively low-density attacks. As happened historically I got a breakthrough somewhere, after which the really striking thing was that our game proceeded almost exactly in parallel with the historical timeline included with the scenario. We reached the same points in time and space, and combat-effectiveness tracked reality pretty well too so far as we could tell - at least major formations seemed to run out of oomph at about the same points. That convinced us we had a core that worked well enough to keep working on.

Explicit logistics tracking got reduced to just artillery ammunition (small arms ammunition being insignificant in weight and volume terms by comparison) and POL for mechanized units. A bit later came the idea of (S), (I), (L) modifiers to basic unit strength, which gives us a fairly high degree of flexibility around basic unit types. I don't recall exactly where we stole this from, but it was probably WRG 7th. Trucks are viewed more like poker chips now than in the original rules, and we allocate one SP worth of truck for each LOG or POL point of bttn it can motorize. In theory it's possible to switch around truck assignments - we generally let the umpire adjudicate whether it seems sensible. So in extremis you can get something like the 50th Div breakout from the Gazala boxes, where everything but men gets left behind.

Artillery exercised us quite a lot because the 20mm gun models are far too big for comfort as single bttns, particularly since towed guns have separately represented prime movers. In the end we standardized on a single artillery base being about 2 bttns of real guns (of up to 18 tubes each for the average 105mm calibre, 12 tubes for 155mm, or maybe 8 tubes for very large calibres), where we count roughly 36x88mm == 30x105mm == 24x155mm == 16xBIG tubes for a unit (and liberally mix'n'match, so 18x105 + 12x155 is fine by us). This is a gigantic simplification/fudge/whitewash but it gives standard 1944 British and US divisions 2 gun units each - the Brits have somewhat more tubes (all 88mm) but the American tubes are bigger. If there were such a thing as an up-to strength German division it would also get 2 artillery units, but both would be (I) because so far as we can tell there are just 12 tubes even in the 105mm bttns. There's nothing about fire control or proximity fuzes or British/US 4.5" gun shells being decidedly inferior in bursting charge or any of the other stuff we could have added if we wanted to have more detail. Later Germans are badly outgunned as it is, and so far we have found we can nuance this sufficiently in game-play terms by shaping ammunition supply in scenario rules.

The (S) mechanism gave us a neat way of tackling Brigade Groups, or RCTs or whatever you want to call them in 1942/3, where the artillery bttns really are dispersed all over creation without a central fire-control system. Also German KGs. I suspect that when we tackle something like Crusader we're going to find very few gun units in the orbats at all, most of which will be Italian (and almost inevitably (I) because of the lighter calibre). In part at that point Commonwealth 25pdrs are forward with the infantry firing in an AT role, so they might just remove (L) rather than add (S). Haven't thought it fully through yet. Guns dispersed like this usually contribute an SP to the absorbing unit, which is arbitrarily one of the bttns of the RCT/BG/KG. This way we get 6 combat dice (ammunition limited) if guns are concentrated and 3 (NOT ammunition limited) if they're dispersed. Since on average we tend to give players about enough ammunition to fire half the player turns of a day, this sort of balances to a zeroth order approximation but denies fire concentration to the dispersed guns. The theory is decidedly weak, but it seems to work in practice: a division with centralised artillery fire control is a lot more dangerous than one with the guns dispersed. Consider the performance of the US 1st (dispersed) and 9th (concentrated) divisional artillery at Kasserine, or all of the Commonwealth 8th Army (dispersed) between the end of Compass and Auchinleck re-centralising the artillery in one of the early Alamein battles. (Isn't it curious how this point about artillery concentration seems to have been broadly true since at least Frederick the Great, but that other arms keep beating gunners in the command stakes and dispersing the guns?)

The bit about higher hit chances for disengagement in daylight has come from lots of background reading over the years of how hard it is to get a committed unit out of action during daylight hours. We do understand that "hard" in real life is not exactly the same as "risky" in our rules, but what we have has produced a pronounced player tendency to leave things until nightfall, which is the intended effect. Whether it's risky enough will depend on players: we can always ratchet it up a bit up if people start ignoring it too often.

HQs were introduced originally as co-ordination elements for fire-control of artillery, but the command radius turned out to be very useful for Arnhem in particular, so now they're representing something closer to operational co-ordination capability (which abstraction is why they can reappear if killed: although this is probably a bit generous, permanent elimination is definitely too drastic), and as such have ended up fairly close to V&B officers. One of the great difficulties the Allies have in our Arnhem scenario is positioning their handful of HQ assets in such a way that they can address all of the tasks they need to handle. This gave us a nice warm feeling, because it resonates very strongly indeed with Horrocks' book Corps Commander. Yes HQs and command radii are arbitrary, but they're also incredibly simple, and they solved another problem we had in actions where there's lots of open space, where units sometimes just wombled off miles away on their own to get round a flank. Didn't seem right: devastating flanking moves usually needed some sort of co-ordination, even if it be a KG HQ rather than a standard division. We've got lots of spare HQ's in our Kasserine scenario precisely in order to allow such flexibility. Maybe we'd do it for Panzer divs in 1940 and US armour in 1944 too? It seems to be a scenario design call on how many there should be, rather than a concrete rule. (Now for Sedan 1940 we just need to figure out how to give the French half an HQ :-)

I think the airlanding stuff in the basic rules is straight out of Victory Games' Hell's Highway boardgame. It worked well enough for Arnhem, but it's clearly not drastic enough for Normandy where the drop dispersion and loss was considerably worse for most units. This might yet become scenario-specific.

AA has been largely ignored. Heavy AA - 75mm and up - tends not to fight in the front anyway in most armies (German 88s obviously excepted, and which tend to eliminate (L) rating or provide the odd (S) or whatever). The light AA bttn that tends to be in most western division orbats is just ignored in the same way as the AT bttn and for the same reasons - it's not normally concentrated as a single unit and it's there hidden in the likehood of air attack success. Other light AA assets that floated around behind the lines sometimes do get represented as being big enough concentrations of guns to make air attacks a bit less likely to succeed, or as the initial clean-up objectives of the US airborne in much of Arnhem. It's all very fast and loose indeed, and typically scenario-specific. For 1940 we should probably increase the effectiveness of most airstrikes to represent that there's relatively little opposition.

Somewhere along the line we considered the V&B idea of "stationary" - giving infantry in particular more combat dice once they'd had time to sort themselves out in a position. Also some sort of limited saving roles for people who have had time to dig in with their own local resources (we're not talking bunkers here). In the end we eliminated "stationary" as not being a useful operational-level concept - we wanted players to think about where the resource allocation of divisions was going, not what riflemen were doing with entrenching tools. We have found the overall game works well enough without it, possibly partly because there's usually enough rough terrain around in Western Europe to dominate foxholes at the scale we're at. Infantry can very often get a saving roll if it wants to just by picking the right defensive position, and where terrain doesn't provide this is where operational-level resource allocation decisions seem to matter most (it's quite likely to be where the other side are aiming for!)


Other random thoughts

Scenario rules sometimes allow night turns for one or both sides to be played effectively as normal turns, e.g. when a major attack or airdrop went in at night. We don't employ any special rules here, other than usually limiting activity to the first night. Combat and movement doesn't get penalised because mobility and lethality are a lot lower than during daylight anyway by virtue of the night turn being longer. In our Kasserine game an umpire adjucation once allowed the Axis to initiate a point-to-point move between boxes at night on order to exploit a breakthrough. But it's not normal. If it was going to be normal business we'd have to think about introducing a fatigue mechanism. Not keen on that.

There's no explicit provision for replacements (of men or kit), which might be a decisive factor if the game goes on long enough. We've pretty much lumped that effect under recovery rate as well and kept down to 7-10 day actions and haven't missed it. Setting the two factors of the recovery rule is something of an art, since it can influence enormously how the scenario plays. The mechanism doesn't necessarily deal well with outlier events - steady attrition gets handled fairly well I think, but a particularly bad day can cripple a command for the rest of the game, even if it's not surrounded at the time. Whether that's correct is an entirely moot point, although it does tend to encourage players to mass their firepower for a breakthrough which seems reasonable enough. The fact we've got away with this so far might be more down to the operation of the laws of large numbers than anything we've done.

Something probably breaks at very high or very low force densities. So it goes with most wargames rules. Maybe we'll think about this if we attempt Battleaxe (low) or some part of Operation Mars (high).

US TD units usually get one fewer SP than a directly equivalent tank bttn - effectively a -1 for inferior kit. Their vehicles just were't designed to be used as assault guns. Something must have been broken about the TD branch doctrine or kit or employment or whatever, since they were disbanded and replaced by proper tanks just as soon as WW2 ended. Maybe -1 SP isn't a good reflection of whatever was wrong, but we wanted to represent the fact that TD units are not tanks, even though they are armoured.

The command chain abstraction around HQs and support also gives the scenario designer something to work with. For Kasserine we gave Rommel his own HQ, able to command anything in Messe's army (but not 5th PzA). Elsewhere, for 1941/2 British armour in the 8th Army mainly gets its own HQs, and so apart from the Army Tank bdes (likely infantry corps assets) is just prevented from working effectively with the bulk of the Commonwealth infantry. Rommel's opposing German formations would likely get multiple HQs in each division, plus the DAK HQ overarching all of them, and so should have rather more options on how to tackle particular in-game missions, including the potential of delivering 5 or 6 combat dice on the same frontage 8th Army can often only deliver 3 or 4. In fact I'd be tempted to make each Commonwealth Brigade group HQ a separate command entity to try and simulate the 8th Army tendency to think and operate in brigades essentially regardless of division structure - brigade was pretty clearly the basic operational manoeuvre unit from Compass until Alamein, rather than the division.

Every American division in the ETO in 1944/5 also had the backing of an average of another 2 game artillery units in higher level assets, which is an awful lot of firepower. We like this effect - what makes the US Army in the ETO really dangerous in our rules is the sheer quantity of non-divisional assets beefing up the basic divisions. It can sometimes amount to almost another division's worth of assets (even in a binary corps) by the time you add tank bttns, TD bttns, a recce element, spare engineers, extra artillery, and on and on. This "feels" right.

Artillery rules don't yet allow effective counter-battery work, which at this scale they should - particularly the longer-ranged corps-and-up assets. Maybe guns that fire could be marked as visible for the purposes of artillery fire attacks in the next turn. But then we're not even yet clear whether we let artillery attack by itself at full effect, without being part of a standard melee-type combat. Generally we haven't had a problem, because the limited number of gun assets and ammunition usually mean there's something else important to do.

We seem to be fairly conservative in that 5 SP units don't seem to show up much, so there might be a subconscious non-linearity in how we rate things here. Contemplating DAK battles makes one case where you might get substantially stronger units. At Gazala Pz Regt 8 starts 190 tanks strong, or somewhere around 5 SPs per bttn, mainly Pz III and Pz IV with applique armour, so no -1 for inferior kit, +1 for armour, and arguably +1 for unit quality. That gives potentially a couple of 7 SP units (or a 6 and 7, or two 6s depending on how much one penalizes them for the PzIIs they do have - it's not a precise science). That could be considered to be stretching the relationship between unit strength and combat dice enough to merit an (S), or maybe even split into pairs of smaller units. It doesn't seem entirely obvious what to do, although in some sense what would be apparently indestructible units might have the right morale effect on Commonwealth players at Gazala :-)

I have pondered whether early German tank units should be (S) as a matter of course. Partly because everyone else doesn't have much integral AT capability and so the tanks can do a lot more harm than in 1944, and partly because they tended to have AT guns working closely with them - particularly in the Western Desert - and so be more dangerous to opposition armour than just a straight tank vs tank fight would suggest. Feels like a scenario design decision again.

We have used 10mm figures and halved all the distance scales for the initial Japanese Khalkhin-Ghol offensive. This might yet expand into how we tackle the Eastern Front in general. I'm pretty sure cm distances and 6mm figures would work just as well, but we mainly prefer bigger toys.

"stationary" as in idea might yet come back in a negative sense. For armies - like the Italians (or 1940 French) who don't have radios with their artillery - it might yet be decreed as necessary for the guns to be stationary before firing, mainly as a simple/crude means of representing some of the slowness with which wire-based comms are set up, and the relative lack of flexibility that results. People with radios should then have a definite edge in a mobile situation.

We haven't yet thought through what to do with the Russians, who almost always have huge numbers of guns, but don't seem able to organise fire control very well other than in set-piece attacks. Restricting ammunition might be enough (although completely ahistorical), otherwise a new mechanism is probably needed (boo! hiss!!). We reckon we'd move the basic HQ level up to being a corps, and most of the tank brigades (which seemed to have 30-50 runners on a fairly regular basis) would turn into not particularly strong single vehicle bttns in our terms. Dunno about the heavy mortars. At first sight I'd expect Russian recovery rates to be low. They seemed to treat most line units as wasting assets (in an operational sense) rather than attempt to keep them up to strength - committing replacement formations instead, and rebuilding the originals later.

One of the things that's consistently strongly reported in battle accounts but we don't attempt to model yet is the shock effect of saturation bombardment, particularly with rocket artillery. There might be a case for a chance of a disruption effect here too, for rocket artillery bases.

There's no hidden deployment or movement, so recce is nearly irrelevant except in the way the US Armored Cavalry regiments were sometimes used as an economy-of-force asset. So we haven't solved the 200' general problem, but it doesn't seem to matter much. Possibly because the battles we're fighting are well-known to everyone anyway, or maybe partly because you can't tell how many SPs are in the units you're looking at (so there's some fog-of-war right there). Besides in later German infantry divisions the Fusilier bttn is often effectively just another infantry bttn anyway and we model it thus. The conundrum is a bit more marked with Pz/Armoured recce units. I guess we haven't yet found a good idea to steal on this front: but then most wargames rules I've seen have something of a problem with recce assets - they typically have low combat value and limited survivability, and usually end up burning because they get used (ahistorically) as mainstream combat elements most of time - there not being much other use for them within the framework of game. So I guess we're in good company. We tend to find their best use is their relatively high mobility, so if they can be broken through a front they can cause disproportionate problems (much like the 17th Armoured Car bttn and Canadian Independent Force at Amiens in 1918). This doesn't seem quite right in WW2 terms, but also doesn't seem broken enough (from the operational viewpoint) to be worth fixing.

I've toyed around briefly with whether this can be adapted for WW1 (in mobile phases - not Verdun!). The main changes I think we'd see are to do with having to make artillery less flexible in indirect fire (direct fire guns can just be an (S) modifer). Otherwise it's so basic it might just work anyway, although there's an argument that infantry on the defense should have proportionately more lethality that we have now, since MGs seemed a lot more damaging relative to other weapons compared to WW2 (perhaps because there weren't so many ways of suppressing them tactically - no direct fire support vehicles or mortars or whatever? Alternatively it might be because MGs were all there was when things got mobile and contact with supporting artillery was lost, no vehicles, etc. I dunno.). We haven't tried it.


Page last updated: 2nd January 2010

[Return] WW2 Rules index page