Friday 26 April 2019

Blitzkreig Commander IV - a review

I returned to historical wargaming after a gap of 20 years or more, when I joined Portbury Knights wargames club sometime in the 1990's. Amongst the many games played was Flames of War, which took me back to my formative wargaming years with the Airfix WWII rules as well as their figures and plastic kits. Who can resist the allure of gaming with tanks? Not me, that's for certain.

But somehow I was never really happy with FoW as a ruleset. A fellow club member and friend, Nik Harwood, kept nagging me to give Blitzkreig Commander a go, with me eventually succumbing after seeing some games at the club using Pendraken's range of 10mm figures and tanks etc. Afterall, for around £20, I got a complete set of rules as well as army lists all in one book. This was very refreshing after the FoW route with various army books etc required to go alongside the rules.

To cut a long story short, I was very impressed with the rules and these became my go to set for gaming WWII. It took a while to get my head around the army lists, but once I had it was very easy to create combined arms battlegroups for games. Alongside this I then invested in several Pendraken armies and became a 10mm convert. Having just got used to the rules the author, Pete Jones, announced he was going to release an updated version just months after I had bought them! I was somewhat sceptical about this but after reading about the proposed changes on the BKC Forum, soon decided to invest in the new version.

So come late 2009 the new book landed on my door mat. In short he had produced a brilliant set of rules which really improved upon the first version, with the big change being seperating out AT and AP stats. I was so happy I had bought these rules and they have continued to give me many, many happy and memorable games over the past 10 years.

Then in 2016 Pendraken Miniatures bought the rules and announced they were going to release an updated version. I was quite happy with BKCII, but they did have some areas that needed tweaking and looked a bit dated compared to current rules. I volunteered to help with feedback as did others and looked forward to seeing what the new version would offer. Sadly BKCIII failed on many, many levels due to a variety of factors, which I will not go into here. After much soul searching and to their eternal credit, Dave and Leon of Pendraken Miniatures, decided to scrap BKCIII and produce BKCIV, all at their own expense.

Once again I volunteered my services along with other members of the BKC and Pendraken forums. The overiding feeling was to produce an updated version of BKCII, adding in errata and house rules that had become common place, taking good bits from BKCI, BKCIII and CWC, as well as giving it a modern makeover, as had happened with BKCIII. So after extensive playtesting, feedback etc, BKCIV was finally released at Salute this year.

The BKC family, with the latest edition on top.

My well read and thumbed copy of BKCII.

Just after Salute, my copy of the book landed on my door mat and it was great to see it 'in the flesh', having only viewed draft pdf's etc. So what do I think of it having had the time to have a read and play of the game? In no particular order:

  • The book certainly has an up to date feel about it, with nice images from the Pendraken range as well as WWII 'photos interspered throughout. It is very well layed out and certainly looks good. This was the intention of Leon & Co and they have certainly achieved this.
  • The rules do feel like an updated version of BKCII, with all the good bits from the other rules added as mentioned earlier. Alongside the book, on the Pendraken forum are various QRS sheets, optional rules etc that can be printed off as required. Some may have like them in the book, but it is always a trade off as to what to include or not. So again full marks on this front.
  • Mark Fry and team have fleshed out the Recce rules to a full 4 pages, whereas before they were optional and rather basic. To be honest some parts I like, others not, but that's just my personal preference. It's good to have them integral to the rules though and more playing with them might alter my view. 
  • Hidden Deployment, Reserves and Ambush have been broadly brought over from Cold War Commander and tweaked to suit WWII. I doubt I will use the Ambush rules, but it could work well for Normandy Bocage type games. Again great to have them in the rules.
  • The Special Abilities have been brought over from BKCIII and improved. How much I will use them remains to be seen, but they are a very useful resource to allow you to tweak units should you wish to. An example is Unreliable, which could be used to reflect say French tanks that were often short on petrol, or British and Italian tanks that had poor tank durability. Full marks for having these in the rules.
  • The Army lists have been given a makeover and look and feel similar to those in BKCIII. On the plus side there are more theatre specific lists, such as Italians for the invasion of France, plus units added that were missing from BKCII. The Spanish Civil War is no longer in the book, but this will be available as a pdf later on. There is talk of the Korean War being included at a later point in time. Personally I much prefer the lists from BKCII, but that's because I'm so used to them, but it is nice having etc info in the new ones. Going forward I will consult both.
  • There have been tweaks to both Air Support and Artillery Support, in terms of template sizes and how barrages work. They look to be interesting but more play is needed on these for me to make my mind up.
  • As with any rulebook, there have been some over sights and small errors in the army lists, but nothing major by any means. We are certainly not talking 'Cruel Seas' level here! Mark Fry and Leon have been great at answering questions and taking on board various comments and observations, with the intention that the online pdf will be periodically updated to take these into account, whilst there will be an errata section on the Pendraken Forum.

So what's the overall verdict? IMHO a job well done by all involved and they have pretty much ticked all the boxes, so a set of rules worth buying. Will I be using the rules going forward? Most definitely, but as with BKCII, I will take the bits I like and tweak the bits that I feel need tweaking to reflect my view of WWII warfare etc. That's just my personal preference but the rules work perfectly fine as they are. For me it's really a case of 'old dog, new tricks'!

Thursday 25 April 2019

Dash for the Duoro - a BKCIV SCW AAR

Following on from the game a couple of weeks ago, we played out the next logical scenario, which was 'Pursuit', with my Republican forces making a fighting withdrawl across the river Duoro and relative safety. The forces were pretty much identical from last time, with the Republicans being down a Company and some Support, with the Nationalists re-inforced with the troops from the train as well as an Italian bomber.

This time we were using BKCIV, the latest version from Pendraken, more of which in another post. The scenario was played pretty much as written, with the addition of the first Turn being Dawn, with limited visibility and a -1 to command rolls. Also, any air support was unavailable in the first Turn.
The Republicans deployed first, broadly in the same postions as the close of play in the last game. They had to deploy in the central third of the table and to the left of the Duoro river.

An overview of the table, with the Republicans already deployed. The Nationalists would enter from the left hand table edge and could also deploy along either flank.

The Republican cavalry on the left flank, mounted and raring to go.

The Republican right flank, with some troops dug-in.

The Nationalists view of the enemy.

Turn 1
The Nationalist armour got going right from the off, moving smartly onto the table and engaging the enemy, resulting in the loss of a Republican cavalry unit. Other units didn't want to play ball, with only the Militia arriving on their left flank.

Frankly the Republican die rolling was shocking. Apart from the cavalry on the left wing Initiative moving away, everyone else failed, leaving them feeling like sitting ducks. To say this was not a great start would be an understatement...

An overview of things at the end of Turn 1.

The Nationalist armour in a great position to turn the Republican flank.

The cavalry retreating over the Duoro.

Turn 2
The air was filled with the sound of planes as the Condor Legion appeared in the early morning light. Dodging the desultory flak, they then reeked havoc on the Republican troops. As if that wasn't bad enough, the Nationalist armour once again caused chaos on the Republican left flank, destroying two more cavalry units, a mortar and the Trubia Naval. The rest of the Nationalist troops arrived, threatening the beleaugered Republicans right across the board.

With their right flank suppressed, the Republican left flank managed to withdraw a bit, but things weren't looking good as the Nationalists had already achieved a Minor Victory due to the losses already inflicted.

The Condor Legion flies in low over the trees...

...and bombs and strafes the Republicans...

...leaving what looks like a measles outbreak in their wake.

The end of Turn 2

The Nationalist armour in a commanding position, with the Republican flank wide open.

The Nationalist right flank.

The Republicans have already taken a lot of hits...

...and are under pressure from the advancing Nationalists left flank.

Turn 3
The Nationalists continue their relentless advance and pressure right across the board, with Republican losses continuing to mount. The Republicans fought back as best they could, but it was too little and with them one away from their breakpoint, wisely chucked in the towel.

The end of the game with the Nationalists in complete control.

The Republican left flank had all but ceased to exist.

The Nationalist left flank has pinned the Republicans as well as turning their flank.

The Republicans in complete disarray.

A lone FT-17 fighting a losing battle against the overwhelming tide of Nationalist armour.

Post Game Thoughts
Well that was a brief, brutal and bloody game to say the least. At the end we were both a bit shocked at how quickly the Nationalists had won. So how did they do it? Some thoughts;
  • Dave was uncertain as to whether to mass his armour or to penny packet it out across the board. His decision to mass his armour certainly paid off. Guderian would have been proud. It was also helped in no small way by some excellent die rolling.
  • In contrast the Republican failure in the first turn pretty much sealed their fate as they were either pinned in position or had had their flank already turned by Turn 2. For the rest of the game, what little there was of it, was hampered by poor die rolling throughout.
  • The Condor Legion bombing run inflicted so many casualties that some units were almost hors de combat .
At least it allowed us to have an early bath as they say, so not all bad. With the Republicans so comprehensively beaten, the mini-campaign came to a natural conclusion. So what next?

We decided to stick with BKC and to continue to give the latest variant a run out. As mentioned earlier I will give some thoughts on the rules in another post. I mentioned that I have a plan for a mini-campaign based upon Operation Husky and Dave was happy to give this a go. I need to finish off some units but at least the bones of the campaign are already their, I just need to flesh them out. So until next time.

Friday 12 April 2019

Trains, Planes & Automobiles - a BKCII SCW AAR

Earlier in the year my wargaming chum Dave announced that he would be returning to the Bristol area on April 1st, he assured me that this was not an April Fool's joke. So last week we met up once again and, in between chatting and catching up on stuff, managed to get in a 'The Portable Wargame' game, which was perfect for this sort of occasion. Post game we agreed to have a game of BKCII, as Dave had enjoyed an earlier outing in the SCW. So it was left up to 'yours truly' to come up with a scenario etc. 

Background - NE Spain July 1937
The Nationalists inexorable advance has been continuing unabated during the early Summer months, leading to a threat to the Basque country. Republican forces have been mobilised to move to try and stop Franco and his men. 

An important railroad halt (Yuma) lies in the path of the Nationalists, who realise its importance too. Both sides have therefore sent advanced Battlegroups to try and seize control of it before their opponents. A train is due in at 3:10 local time and is rumoured to have useful supplies of arms and ammunition on board. Due to poor communications, neither side knows which faction the train belongs to.

Scenario Details
This is a basic encounter scenario, over 8 Turns, with the added objective of taking control of Yuma train halt. Both sides use Mobile Deployment and may use Flank Deployment as per the standard BKCII scenario.

The train arrives at the startof Turn 3 and reaches Yuma at the start of Turn 4. At the start of this Turn 2D6 are rolled to see which faction the train belongs to:

2-3 A rival local militia that will fight both sides, attacking the nearest enemy units in their Turn.
4-6 Republican
7-12 Nationalist

The train contains 3 Militia units, an MG unit and one T-26
1 x CO (CV9)
2 x HQ (CV8)
1 x HQ (CV7)
1 x Recce
9 x Infantry Regulars 
3 x MG
1 x Mortar
1 x Infantry Gun + truck tow
1 x 37mm ATG + truck tow
1 x Armoured Car
3 x L3/35 Tankette
1 x L3/35 Tankette with 20mm auto cannon field modification
3 x Panzer 1
1 x CR42 Ground Attack

1 x CO (CV8)
3 x HQ (CV7)
1 x Recce
9 x Infantry Regulars
3 x Cavalry
3 x MG
1 x Mortar
1 x Infantry Gun + truck tow
1 x 45mm ATG + truck tow
1 x Armoured Truck
1 x Trubia Naval
1 x FT-17 (MG)
2 x FT-17 (37mm)
1 x 1-16 Ground Attack

Both sides deployed on their table edges, hoping the die Gods would be kind and allow their troops to advance onto the table. My strategy was to deploy my mobile troops on my left flank, with the aim to advance as quickly as possible to the hill, from where I could bring down mortar fire onto the enemy. The centre would advance towards Yuma, whilst my right flank secured the attack as much as possible. That was the plan...

The Nationalists on the left, the Republicans on the right. In hindsight it should have been the other way round;)

Turn 1
The Republicans won the die roll for Initiative, but failed to make the most of the first Turn, as both flanks failed to arrive and the centre advanced as best it could. In contrast the Nationalists were able to advance on a broad front.

The Republican centre is left with its flanks somewhat up in the air. The Nationalists are in a far better position, especially as their armour has raced forward.

The view from the Republican centre, with their mighty FT-17s raring to go in the first battle.

Panzer Is and L3/35s push forward towards the hill, shielded from enemy view.

Turn 2
Once again the Republican flank forces failed to materialise and a Blunder lead to some of the Centre advancing out into the open. The Nationalists continued their eadvance and were able to open fire on an MG unit in the open, supressing it and forcing it to retreat.

With the Republicans stranded in 'no-man's land', the Nationalists continue to move forward and have positioned armour in Yuma.

Caught in the open and with no visible targets in range, the Republicans suffer.

The Panzer Is ready to advance to the crest of the hill.

The Nationalist left flank in a great position behind the hill but ready to move forward to take control of the train track if required.

Turn 3
As the train arrives on table, the Republican flanks finally arrive, as the centre attempts to take control of the hill. This move is thwarted by poor command rolls as well as the Nationalist armour gaining the hill and suppressing lots of Republican infantry with MG fire.

The Nationalists are now in a strong position.

The Republican infantry are starting to become suppressed from combined fire, with the FT-17s unable to respond due to either lack of range or inability to see any targets.

The Nationalists now have infantry in Yuma.

The train arrives in the distance, with K C Jones at the throttle.

Both sides wonder what the train holds for them.

Yuma train halt awaits the engine.

Turn 4 
As the train comes to a halt, it is revealed the the cargo is Nationalist, just what I didn't need! Shocked by this, only the Republican right wing is able to move. The Nationalists on the other hand continue to consolidate their position, with another Republican unit being destroyed.

The Nationalists surge forwad to greet their suprise re-inforcements.

A gratuitous shot.

The Nationalists well and truly in control.

The Republican centre has taking a bit of a beating.

Yuma firmly in Nationalist hands.

The Republican right flank somewhat outnumbered.

Turn 5
To try and turn the tide, the Republicans call in their air support, which suppresses some troops, but causes no losses. Not to be out done, the Nationalists do the same. The Republicans are pretty much sitting ducks and continue to take losses.

Huzzah for the Republican air force!

The after effects of their raid.

Yah Boo Hiss! for the Condor Legion.

The CR-42s targets.

The end game as the Republican losses really start to mount.

The Republican right flank is still intact, but faces an unenviable advance against the Nationalists.

No an enticing prospect at all.

At this point it was clearly 'game over' for the Republicans, who wisely decied to quit the field of battle.
Post Game Thoughts
Despite it being a decidedly 'one sided' game, I did enjoy it, as did Dave. Once again BKCII proved to be a great and flexible set of rules. Post game we reflected upon the scenario etc:
  •  The Inter-War and Early WWII periods are really great ones to play. It is nice to have some armour on the table, but it doesn't dominate in the same way as say 1944 onwards. Combined arms is very important in these periods and gives the games lots of nice tactical challenges. 
  • Even though both sides were pretty evenly matched, that 1 command point difference for the CO & HQs was very noticeable. The Republicans simply couldn't get going in sharp contrast to the Nationalists. But then this reflects the better led Nationlists in a very simple yet effective way.
  • It was nice to finally get my train onto the table and has spurred me on to try and finish my long planned amoured train. Whether this happens remains to be seen.
  • It was nice to finally get my FT-17s onto the table, even though they did diddly squat all game. At least they looked great though! 
  • The scenario worked well, which was good, even though I was on the end of a complete drubbing. C'est la guerre.
The plan is to have a follow up game, possibly next week, with the Republicans attempting a fighting withdrawl. This is subject to the usual family and work pressures as well as the build up to Easter. I've some ideas on my head, but nothing finalised yet. Until next time...