Rapier Offensive – A Multiplayer Operational Game

Martin Rapier has created a simple set of rules to allow a group of players to play operational level games. His rules are embedded within the context of Operation Uranus (19 Nov 1942). I’ve abstracted his rules so I can then apply them to different settings (and tweaked them a bit as I did so).

These rules are ideal for a typical offensive where the attackers have three to one odds against the defenders – something that is not possible in most rule systems. One of the beauties of this system is that it is a cooperative effort more than competitive; the players are the attacking team, and fight against the umpire who runs the defenders. Given the odds the attacking Division is going to beat the defending Division. The question is, will they beat them fast enough and well enough.

This isn’t a long game to play, taking a couple of hours at most. You’ll also need stands of miniatures (~65), counters (~16), a small table, some way of marking off a grid on the table, a map, and 5-6 people. An intercom and telescope are optional.

General

Based on Rapier (2006) and Rapier: Operation Uranus.

Battlefield: Table and Map

Table

The table is the green bit on the map. It is divided into a grid four columns wide (axes A1-A4) and six rows deep (lines L1-L6). On the table each square (sector) is 6″ x 6″ (appropriate for base sizes of 30mmx30mm).

The columns are called axes as each represents an axis of attack. Similarly the rows are called lines as each is a defensive line.

Notice that the depth of the battlefield is the same as the number of turns in the game, i.e. the attacker must advance an average of one line each turn or they’ll lose.

The defender deploys in the dark green area (lines L2-L5).

The attacker has three deployment echelons: line L1 on-table, off-table Division Reserve (R1), and off-table Corps Reserve (R2). The off-table reserve areas are the bits in pink.

In the basic game the attacker is trying to get troops off the far table edge – labelled the “Objective”.

You can include terrain, but it has no effect in the basic game. It does, however, add to the visible appeal.

Units are placed and moved on the table. You’ll also need off-table areas for the reserve echelons (R1, R2).

The Corps Commander has a map of the battlefield and uses pins or some such to plot where units are.

Scale

By default the rules assume a Corps of three Divisions is attacking a single defending Division.

Corps Represents Division Represents Unit Represents Sector
(approx)
Table Size
(approx)
Turn Game Length
(6 Turns)
Corps Division Battalion 2 km 8 x 12 km 3 hours 1 day

Command Structure

It is the umpire against the rest, i.e. most of the players are on the same side and attack the umpire’s Division.

The attacking players include a Corps Commander, a Staff Officer, and three Division Commanders. The Division Commanders cluster around the gaming table, whereas the Corps Commander sits at the command post (CP) – a table about 3 m away or in a different room. Martin allows the Corps Commander to communicate via an intercom and arms him with a small telescope to view the table. The Staff Officer can stand at the main table or the CP, can walk between, and can talk to anybody..

Division Commanders are nominally meant to follow the orders of the Corps Commander. There are some rule mechanisms to facilitate this, for example a Division must stay within its Division frontage, but if a Division Commander disobeys their orders it is up to the Corps Commander (aided by the Staff Officer) to impose discipline.

The Corps Commander has the option to hold troops back in off-table Corps Reserve (R2) under his personal command and only release them to axes/people he is happy with.

Divisions

The defender and each Division Commander has a Division of 15-17 units, less those held back in Corps Reserve (R2). Units in a Division include an HQ plus infantry, guns (anti-tank guns, mortars, artillery), and/or armour (tanks, reconnaissance). Infantry units can be Rifles (the default), SMG, and Engineer. Infantry can also be on foot (the default and generally just called “infantry”), mounted (called “cavalry”), or motorised. So you can, for example, get a Engineer Cavalry Battalion as a unit, or a Motorised SMG Battalion, or just an Infantry Battalion (assumed to be a foot slogging rifle unit). Guns are either horse drawn or motorised.

Depending on the scenario some infantry units are Assault troops with a high proportion of automatic weapons, demolition charges, flamethrowers, and/or attitude. This includes all SMG units, specialist flamethrower units, and all WW2 German Engineers. Assault troops get a bonus in ground combat, but absorb a higher proportion of the casualties.

In addition to the fighting units the defender gets about six fortification units, four minefield counters, and 25 dummy units (the same number as the other defending units combined).

The attacker gets bonus Corps level air/artillery support not represented by units.

About 1/4 of the units in a Division are Division assets. These are under the direct control of the respective Division commander so have more flexibly in how they move.

For the attacker you’ll need stands of miniatures to represent all units. For the defender you’ll need counters for all units (including dummies) as well as stands of miniatures (excluding dummies).

Stacking limit

There is a maximum of six friendly units per on-table sector at any time. This includes during movement, so if you’ve a shock group of six units you’ll have to ensure there are no friendly units in their path. There is no stacking limit in the reserve echelons (R1, R2).

Victory

Essentially this is a break-through operation. One of the attack Divisions is nominated as the break-through Division – usually the one with the fastest troops, e.g. an armoured, motorised, and/or cavalry Division. Victory is based on the number of units from this Division that exit the map by the end of the game. NOTE: the maximum victory level is only attainable if the entire break-through Division leaves the table intact.

Percentage of Break-through units exiting Result
100% Total Victory
85% Major Victory
75% Minor Victory
less Defeat

Starting the Game

Go through these steps in order.

1. Defender Deployment

The defender’s deploys all units, including fighting units, fortifications, minefields, and dummies, as face down counters in lines L2-L5. Remember the stacking limit of six units per sector (including fortifications, minefields, and dummies).

Note: As the defending units are revealed during the game the counters are replaced by stands of miniatures.

2. Attacker Reconnaissance

The attacker gets three attempts at reconnaissance. For each attempt randomly roll for the target sector using 1d6 for the axis and 1d6 for the line. This may result in an area that is off-table or empty – tough luck. If the target area is occupied then the Staff Officer can examine two enemy counters from the sector and report to his colleagues.

3. Initial Orders

The Corps Commander issues his initial orders to the Division Commanders at the CP. This is the one time the Division Commanders can join the Corps Commander at the CP. As the briefing occurs at the CP, the players only have access to the map, not the main table.

During the briefing the Corps Commander specifies:

  • The break-through Division (unless this is specified in the scenario).
  • The units, or possibly an entire Division, held in Corps Reserve (R2)
  • The Division frontage, i.e. a set of adjacent axes, for each Division (except any in R2).
  • His intentions for deployment and attack – this bit is open to interpretation by the Division Commanders.

Division frontages generally may not overlap. The only exception is if a Division is held entirely off table (in R1 or R2). In this case the front of the reserve Division can overlap two front line Divisions

3. Attacker Deployment

The Corps Commander has already specified which units will be retained in the Corps Reserve (R2).

The Division Commanders now deploy their remaining units (as stands of miniatures). Units are assigned either on-table to sectors on line L1 and within the Division frontage, or to the off table Division Reserve (R1). The initial on-table location of a unit defines its axis of attack – most units are subsequently stuck in this axis. Remember the stacking limit of six friendly units per on-table sector.

Units in reserve (R1, R2) will remain off-table until the Corps Commander releases them for action.

4. Corps Fire Plan

The Corps Commander secretly plots on their map four Target Registration Points (TRP) for later On-call fire.

5. Pre-Battle Corps Bombardment

The Corps Commander has 16 Fire Missions (FM) to use in the initial bombardment, with no more than 2 FM per sector. These do not have to be directed at the TRP. For each FM roll 1d6 for each defending counter (including fortifications, minefields and dummies) in the target sector. Kill on 6. The umpire removes the defender’s casualties and the attackers won’t know what has been killed.

Playing a Turn

For each of the six turns, go through these steps in order:

1. Random Events

Roll at the start of each turn. The random events will vary depending on the context but could include:

  • No effect
  • Thick fog, artillery and support fire may only be directed against sectors adjacent to friendly units. Event is cancelled when this event is rolled again.
  • Attacker Air Strike. One support point available against any sector.
  • Defender Air Strike. One support point available against any sector.
  • Attacker receives Extra Ammo. Add one support point to one attacker support fire this turn.

2. Attacker Movement

The attacking Division Commanders can move any or all their units; at most half their units if the Division HQ has been destroyed. Nominally they have to follow the Corps Commander’s orders.

Most on-table units can only stand still, move forward down their axis of attack, or retreat back down the axis. Division assets can also move left or right, but must stay within their Division frontage.

Diagonal movement is not possible.

Each mobile unit has a movement allowance of 1, 2, or 3 for on-table movement that depends on the type of unit and whether it is entering an enemy occupied sector or not.

Unit Type Movement Allowance

into contact
Movement Allowance

not into contact
Fortification, Minefield
HQ, infantry, horse drawn guns, dummy 1 1
Cavalry, motorised infantry, motorised guns, armour 2 3

Defending units are revealed when an attacking unit enters the same sector.

Undefended fortifications do not impede movement in any way. Otherwise units can enter an enemy occupied sector, but not move through. In other words, to move through enemy you have to kill them first.

Remember the stacking limit of six friendly units per on-table sector. This applies all the time, including during movement.

Units can withdraw from an enemy occupied sector as part of movement. This must be in the direction they came (or to the rear if stationary). One enemy unit gets a free shot at each retreating unit.

Moving a unit from Division Reserve (R1) to to any on-table sector in L1 requires the permission of the Corps Commander and requires a full move regardless of unit type. Once on-table the normal movement rules apply (including restriction to the axis of attack).

Moving from Corps Reserve (R2) to the Division Reserve (R1) requires the permission of the Corps Commander and requires a full move regardless of unit type. The Corps Commander assigns units to particular Divisions when they move from R2 to R1 (irrespective of where these units came from in the original order of battle). If an entire Division is held in R2, then the Corps Commander gives it a Division frontage when it moves into R1.

3. Defender Movement

The umpire may move 1d6 mobile units of the defending Division; 1d3 if the HQ is destroyed. A unit is revealed if it moves.

Otherwise see Attacker Movement.

Note: as the defender moves after the attacker, they can effectively retreat in front of them.

4. On-call Corps Bombardment

The Corps Commander can call in 8 FM during the game on the pre-planned Target Registration Points (TRP). Max 4 FM per turn. Max 2 FM / turn on any particular TRP. This hits everyone in the TRP, including friendly units! The Corps Commander must keep track of the FM expenditure. Otherwise treat as the Pre-Battle Corps Bombardment.

5. Defender Support Fire

The umpire can fire any revealed batteries (mortar, artillery and rocket units) that are not in a sector with enemy units. The umpire can reveal batteries so they can fire. Each battery fires at a single unit (can be fortifications, wire and dummies). Range is limited but the target can be in a sector containing friendly units. Roll 1d6, 6 kills.

Unit Type Range
Mortars 1
Artillery, rockets 2

6. Attacker Support Fire

Each Division Commander can now fire their batteries. Defending batteries cannot be targeted in the turn they are revealed. Otherwise treat as Defender Support Fire.

7. Ground Combat

Ground Combat occurs when opposing units are in the same sector. Fight three rounds each turn. The defender of the sector attacks first on the first round, but it is simultaneous thereafter.

Figure out how many dice each side gets and then throw all of them in one go; for each shooting unit use the most advantageous number of dice given the types of units present. Rolls of 6 kill. Allocated the hits evenly, obviously if you have AT gun versus tanks you need to be more specific. Mines and fortifications can not be destroyed in Ground Combat. If you use assault units (i.e. 2d6 as opposed to normal 1d6) they take any losses first.

Most units roll 1d6 but there are exceptions.

Shooting Unit Type Enemy includes Comments
Infantry (Rifle, SMG, Engineer), Cavalry Anti-tank Guns, Mortars, Artillery Armour (Tanks, Recce)
HQ Unit 1d6 1d6 1d6 1d6 when defending a sector; 0d6 when attacking a sector, i.e. don’t use them to assault.
Assault troops 2d6 2d6 1d6 Remove as casualties first when using 2d6.
Anti-tank 0d6 1d6 2d6 No effect versus infantry.
Tanks 2d6 2d6 2d6
Artillery 2d6 2d6 2d6
Fortification Gives one other defender an extra 1d6; otherwise no effect.
Minefield Gives one other defender an extra 2d6; 1d6 if no other defenders. Does not affect enemy Engineers.
Other 1d6 1d6 1d6

It is possible that ground combat in a sector will last for some time.

8. Clear Minefields

An Engineer unit can clear a minefield if it spends a complete turn in the sector without fighting (i.e. was present in the sector at the start of the turn and there is other enemy in the sector). This means the sector must be cleared of enemy first before the mines are lifted in a subsequent turn.

9. Replace Division HQ

This is the time to (possibly) replace destroyed HQ units.

If the defending HQ unit is destroyed, it is not replaced.

If an attacking Division HQ unit is destroyed, then the Corps Commander has two choices each time play gets to the Replace Division HQ phase: :

  1. Immediately replace the relevant Division Commander with the Staff Officer. One unit of the Division is converted to an HQ unit. The Staff Officer and Division Commander swap roles.
  2. Hope for the chain of command to take effect. Roll 1d6. On 4+ a subordinate officer from the Division takes over command. One unit of the Division is converted to an HQ unit and the player who is the existing Division Commander stays in command. On 3- the Division stays without an HQ Unit, hence the Division will suffer movement restrictions next turn.

Possible Scenarios

Rif War

Spanish Civil War:

  • Boabdilla, Guadalajara, Jarama, Ebro (see Rapier, 2007) i.e. any of the biggies

Eastern Front:

Italy

  • Sangro, Casino,

Optional Rules

Scale Variations

You can use the rules with any scale of operation. Martin Rapier used a division for each player and and battalions for his units. In contrast Ian Drury’s units were companies. Here are a few suggestions to adjusting the scale of the game:

Corps Represents Division Represents Unit Represents Sector
(approx)
Table Size
(approx)
Turn Game Length
(6 Turns)
Army Group / Front Army Division 30 km 120 x 180 km 1 day 6 days
Army Corps Regiment / Brigade 8 km 30 x 50 km 8 hours 2 days
Corps Division Battalion 2 km 8 x 12 km 3 hours 1 day
Division Regiment / Brigade Company 500 m 2 x 3 km 1 hour 6 hours

Difficult Terrain

Terrain has an effect on the game. Each sector is either Open or Difficult. Difficult terrain includes urban, steep contours (hills and ridges), woods, canal/river, and swamps. Following a road negates the effect of these types of difficult terrain.

Man-made obstacles are also difficult terrain but are not negated by roads. There are three types: minefields (as per basic game), anti-tank obstacles, and wire. Anti-tank obstacles are difficult terrain for armour, guns, and motorised infantry. Wire is difficult terrain for infantry, cavalry, and guns, but not armour.

Depending on the specific scenario there are two variations on the Difficult Terrain rule: Halting and Bogging.

Halting Option

A unit cannot enter a difficult terrain sector and pass through it in one move, unless following a road. Effectively that means that in one turn fast units (cavalry, motorised, armoured) can move into difficult terrain but not through.

Some sectors can be nominated as impassable to vehicles (e.g. an unfordable river). Armoured, Motorised Infantry, and any Guns cannot enter or pass through such as sector, unless following a road or crossing a bridge. These types of units can deviate from their axis of attack (i.e. move sideways) to avoid impassable terrain. They must, however, stay within the Division Frontage.

Bogging Option

Each moving unit must roll 1d6 to enter a new sector, based on the type of the moving unit and the type of the terrain in the new sector. The table gives the minimum score necessary to enter the new sector.

Terrain Type Infantry,

Cavalry
Motorised Infantry,

Guns
Armour,
Road 1+ (automatic) 1+ (automatic) 1+ (automatic)
Open 1+ (automatic) 3+ 2+
Urban 3+ 4+ 4+
Woods 3+ 4+ 4+
Swamp 3+ 5+ 5+
Bridge (or Ford) 2+ 4+ 3+
Canal/River 4+ 5+ 6+
Wire 5+ 6+ 2+ (and destroy wire)
Anti-tank obstacles 1+ (automatic) 3+ 3+

Fortification variations

The basic game has minefields and generic fortifications representing trenches, wire and pillboxes. The advanced game adds specialist Wire and Anti-tank defences.

Moving Targets

In this rule moving targets are more vulnerable than stationary, it being assumed that stationary units have had a chance to dig in.

In Corps Bombardments, Support Fire and Ground Combat stationary targets are hit on a 6 (as per the standard rules), but units which moved that turn are hit on a 5+, and moving cavalry are hit on a 4+.

Advanced Victory Conditions

The basic game has breakthrough objectives based on getting units of the breakthrough Division off table. More advanced victory conditions can supplement these by demanding:

  • Capture of specific sectors (e.g. a particular town, hill, or crossroads). For example, in Rapier: The Battle of Cambrai the British must take the dominating Bourlon Wood/Noyelles position.
  • Breakthrough on a wide front. Rapier: The Battle of Cambrai, for example, demands the British breakthrough on a 5 sector frontage (they are attacking from a 6 sector table edge across a 4 sector deep table).

References

Drury, I (1999). Hit the Beach.

This is where Martin Rapier got his inspiration. Apparently it was a demonstration game at a Wargames Development Conference.

Glasgow Phoenix Wargaming: KISS Rommel

A similar set of rules recommended by Martin Rapier.

Kremlin Miniatures: Hurrah Stalino!

A similar set of rules recommended by Martin Rapier.

Rapier: Operation Uranus

Rapier: The Battle of Cambrai

Rapier, M. (Autumn, 2006). Operation Uranus: An operational WW2 game. The Journal: The Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers, 55, 16-18.

Rapier, M. (Winter, 2007). The Battle of the Ebro, July 1938: A Spanish Civil War Megablitz Scenario. The Journal: The Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers, 60, 4-9.

2 comments to Rapier Offensive – A Multiplayer Operational Game

  • Dick Bryant

    Congrats on the blog – much easier to find the great stuff (amoungst all the good stuff)!

    Question on The RAPIER RULES: were the units represented by single stands? I.e. could I use my CF stuff to play that game? You may want to change the spelling indicated this is a more fun game than I expected!

    5. Pre-Battle Corps Bombardment
    …………. (including fornications,…………..

    Dick Bryant
    Charge! There are no lead widows!

  • Steven Thomas

    Dick, I’m glad the revamped site is an improvement. Justifies the enormous effort invested. 🙂

    Yes, units are single stands. CF stands are perfect. I chose 6″ x 6″ sectors to easily accommodate six CF stands.

    I’ll correct the rather risquĂ© wording. Thanks for pointing it out.

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