Adam Landa was keen to try out ‘O’ Group, so we gave the sample scenario a go but transferred it to the Eastern Front. The objective, “Cristot,” became “Kristov”. We also discarded the tanks and anti-tank guns. I contributed the photos but all words are Adam’s, although I add a few thoughts at the end.
I was delighted when ‘O’ Group was announced, as Battalion combat is the level I find the most interesting in WW2. At the club, we play a lot of Crossfire – an excellent set of rules, but I find that it starts to break down once you get a whole Battalion on the table, as there’s too much demand for micromanagement, and the rules favour manoeuvre at the Squad level. ‘O’ Group has Platoons rather than Squads as the smallest unit of manoeuvre, a big plus in my eyes!
Since their release earlier this year, I’ve been putting together forces for the game. I’m using 6mm miniatures by 2d6 Wargaming to create Russian and German Battalions for 1942, in roughly 1:1. I’m a slow painter even in 6mm, so it took until October for me to have enough troops to fight a battle.
Steven and I would fight an adapted version of the ‘Cristot’ scenario included in the rules, but transferred to the Eastern Front, hence ‘Kristov’. I went for an infantry-only affair – simple, realistic, and I didn’t have any vehicles painted anyway!
Forces in ‘O’ Group are built around a core of an Infantry Battalion. The Germans were attacking, with a standard Battalion (3 Companies of 3 Platoons, plus Company Commanders and an FO), with 4 tripod-mounted MG Squads as support. The Russians also had a standard Battalion, with 3 MG Squads in support, but I rated them as ‘Second Line’ to give the attackers an advantage. Points-wise, this came to 12 vs 8 in the Germans’ favour, which sounded fair.
The Germans were attacking the re-christened village of ‘Kristov’, with their win conditions being either to inflict 3 ‘FUBARs’ on the Russians (caused by killing 4 Squads), or take 2 of the 4 sectors of the village. If they couldn’t do this in 16 turns, the Russians would win. The terrain consisted of raised ground, woods, small farms, and fields which I decided would provide concealment.
Plans and setup
I would be the defending Russians, and Steven the attacking Germans. ‘O’ Group requires players to assign objectives and Company boundaries, so I opted for a fairly standard deployment of one Company either side of the main road, with the third Company in reserve, ready to react to the Germans.
Steven went for something similar – his plan was to demonstrate on his left, with the main effort on his right. The exact German boundary was slightly to the right of the central road, allowing his first company to attack straddling the road. Steven nominated a field on his right as his ‘Consolidation Point’ where, once captured, he would bring on his reserve Company for an assault on the objective.
Next, both sides rolled for deployment, and the opening bombardment. The barrage was severe – the Russians lost a Platoon, a Squad, and an HQ Order (although their special rules allowed them to replace the lost Platoon with a Green unit). Additionally, the Soviets would find it harder to deploy for the first 2 turns as their reserves were interdicted.
I was able to deploy my MGs in ambush positions covering the most likely German approaches.
Steven was able to deploy 4 units on-table, and in line with his plan deployed them across his right. Both sides could also deploy several ‘Combat Patrols’ – these serve multiple roles as scouts, area-denial to other patrols, but most importantly as a means to deploy fighting units. Otherwise, most units remained in reserve, creating a nice sense of the ‘empty battlefield’.
Steven pushed his units forward on the right. I responded by deploying a Platoon consisting of 2 MG Squads (representing perhaps 4 weapons in real life) and opening fire. We found that grouping MG Squads into Platoons was devastatingly effective (rolling 12 shooting dice, compared to 6 for a Rifle Platoon), and my MGs would eventually wipe out a German Platoon. However, on his furthest right, Steven pushed forward a Rifle Platoon, supported by an MG Platoon of his own, with the aim of seizing his Consolidation Point.
Elsewhere, on the other side of the table Steven probed forward with a Combat Patrol. This was just a demonstration, however, and after I deployed a Rifle Platoon to halt them, Steven made no further advances on this flank.
Steven also rushed a Platoon straight at Kristov through the fields alongside the road.
At the start of every game turn, both players roll dice to calculate their available ‘Orders’, which are used for all actions. At a crucial moment early on, both of us rolled large numbers of 1s, resulting not just in limited Orders, but a Company Commander going ‘Hesitant’! I was able to use a Russian special rule, and a Komisar suggested to the officer in question that he might want to rethink his approach (I was able to pay from my HQ reserve Orders to reroll my dice). Steven’s Hitlerites lacked such moral fibre and his progress was delayed, preventing them from storming in before the Russians could react.
The battle develops
Steven now felt ready to launch his attack. He called for artillery fire on the Russians holding the consolidation point, and received a Nebelwerfer barrage! Artillery in ‘O’ Group can be devastating, and the result was that my MG Platoon and a nearby Rifle Platoon were both suppressed – unable to fire, and highly vulnerable. Steven took advantage by dashing forward a Rifle Platoon to bayonet the MGs that had taken such a toll on their comrades. The plucky move paid off, with the whole MG Platoon being wiped out. Suddenly, it seemed that Steven’s plan was working, and the Russian left was in peril.
Emboldened by this success, Steven tried a similar rush straight at the objective with a Platoon. This reckless move came close to paying off – units can only be deployed onto Combat Patrols if there are no enemies nearby, so I couldn’t bring reinforcements directly into Kristov despite having Combat Patrols there. Ultimately, however, the Platoon I did have deployed, together with flanking fire from the remaining MG Squad, managed to halt the Germans. Over the rest of the battle, Russian reinforcements trickled onto the objective when I had spare orders, with the Germans eventually being overwhelmed by fire and wiped out.
Back on the right, the Soviets were finally able to call in some serious artillery of their own. Being a Second-Rate unit, the Soviets were forced to slowly build up a pool of HQ Orders before they were permitted anything punchier than Battalion Mortars. However, when the guns did come into action, targeting the German firebase on Steven’s right flank, the artillery was decisive. Among the casualties were Steven’s Company Commander – the suppressed survivors were forced to retreat rather than take even more shock, and again Steven’s progress stalled as a replacement was found.
However, the Soviets didn’t have everything their own way. Using the Company Commander ability to issue multiple Orders to the same unit in one turn (usually only one is allowed), Steven pushed a Combat Patrol around the left-most Soviet Platoon (German right), before deploying a Platoon of his own. This forced me to pivot my troops, who found themselves in a crossfire when the Germans returned to the woods I had stonked earlier. Again taking advantage of his (newly-promoted) Company Commander, Steven got his MGs firing immediately, and the Soviet Platoon was routed.
Meanwhile, my attempt to infiltrate into the woods Steven had seized from my MGs went awry, as Steven brought in another Platoon and drove my Soviets out again with losses.
At this point, with time against us, we decided to call the game. Steven had accumulated significant losses, and was approaching the 3 FUBARs necessary to break his force. Additionally, he still hadn’t taken his Consolidation Point. We decided on a narrow Russian victory, although the Russians had also taken serious losses.
Adam’s Observations and Conclusions
Time was a factor – this was our first game, and only I had studied the rules beforehand, so it took us a while to get going. There were many cases where we had to spend a few minutes figuring out and explaining rules. However, by the end of the game we had got much faster, averaging perhaps 20 minutes per turn, so hopefully the next battle can have a more satisfying conclusion!
Unsurprisingly, we had plenty of teething problems owing to our inexperience with the rules. Compared to Crossfire, ‘O’ Group features many unusual situations and processes, and looking back there were several things I either forgot (e.g. suppressed units always counting as concealed, which would reduce casualties), or under-utilised (e.g. the react withdrawal order, which Steven’s beleaguered Platoon in front of Kristov might have benefited from). However, both Steven and I felt that by the end of the game, we would be in a much better position to play the next one, and by the time we wrapped up the game was flowing fairly smoothly.
Something we couldn’t wrap our heads around was the balance of points. The points costs in the rules don’t really scale, and the ‘Core’ Battalion is heavily discounted cost-wise (5 points, compared to 10 points for a single reinforcement Company!) – most of the points are spent on support options. Therefore, while the forces were theoretically 12 vs 8 using the list-builder, realistically they were closer to 49 vs 45, which meant that the attacker probably needed a bit more help. I appreciate that the rules encourage players to use historical scenarios rather than points, but given that at the moment there are few ‘official’ AARs and scenarios from the authors, it’s hard to gauge what a reasonable scenario looks like.
Ultimately, however, I enjoyed the game, and I think the rules have great promise. Both of us felt that we were getting to grips with the system, and are keen for a second go to see if we can improve our performances (we both learned some tough lessons about what is and isn’t sensible). The events seemed believable and period-authentic: I felt that I had plenty of options, but also realistic constraints. However, I’m most excited for the upcoming 1940 scenario book, as this will give me a better sense of how the game is meant to be played, and what balanced encounters look like.
Steven’s Observations and Conclusions
I liked the look of the table. Nice rural feel. And Adam’s armies were impressive – as always – in a tiny 6mm way. But some things seemed odd to me, either in ‘O’ Group themselves or in the scenario.
Adam called out the problem with the ‘O’ Group points. I believe points in a set of wargaming rules contribute to fair scenario design. As they stand, you can’t use the ‘O’ Group points for this. Despite the Germans having more points I think it would have been pretty hard for them to win – I suspect it is beyond my abilities but I’m willing to try again now that I’m more familiar with the game system.
We played 10 turns in 4.5 hours. The first turn took longer because Adam had to explain the rules to me. Fair enough. Then we had a few turns that took 30 minutes each. However, by the end of the game we had got much faster, and as Adam pointed out we ended averaging about 20 minutes per turn. However, according to the rules, “a game Turn represents a period of anything from two to ten minutes or more” (p. 5). Something is a bit off with the simulation if it takes 20-30 minutes to play a game turn representing 2-10 minutes of game time.
The game length is “16 turns” and a fair chunk of that will be dedicated to the attacker just crossing the table. A rifle platoon will take 7 turns to walk across the a 4′ (48″) deep table (average 7″ per turn). With fast moves they move an average of about 9″ per turn so it would take 6 turns to go edge to edge. And these averages presuppose the moving platoon is unopposed and there is sufficient Orders to allocate to them every turn.
The time to get across the table means flank attacks are going to be severely time constrained in ‘O’ Group. By game turn 10, I was just starting to win on the right flank. However, that left me only had 6 turns to deploy my reserve on the consolidation point, move from the right flank to the objective, attack it, and capture it. It wasn’t possible, which was why I was content to concede.
The Germans became “Hesitant” twice in the game. The Soviets became “Hesitant” once although a special rule allowed them to ignore this. I’m left wondering what “Hesitant” represents and why the Germans are more prone to it than the Russians.
MMG Platoons are devastating. A Soviet MMG Platoon ripped one of my Rifle Platoons to pieces, even though it was in cover. Later on in the game, I did the same thing to Adam. One shot; dead platoon. I agree MMG platoons should be devastating for troops caught in the open, but I’m surprised they can tear apart troops in cover e.g. Woods.
‘O’ Group does seem quite complicated to me – by the end of the game I felt a bit battered. Shooting for example requires lots of separate dice rolls: roll to spot, roll multiple dice to hit, roll to save against hits (morale test) with success is dependent on the result of spotting, roll to determine the effect of high casualties (excess shock). Personally I don’t like long complicated combat mechanisms. I’d rather gloss over the minutiae and get to the result. This is one of the reasons I’m not a fan of Flames of War.
‘O’ Group has lots of rule mechanisms, with different look up tables to reveal the result. The oddest one was “pick a number and your enemy has to guess it”. The range of mechanisms means the quick play sheet has to have four pages of tables.
As Adam mentioned, there are lots of special cases you have to remember. For example those two special rules for the Soviets that came into play in this game: dead platoon becomes a Green platoon; Commissar discouraging hesitation. My brain is small and I’m not sure how many of these I could squeeze in. But luckily I had Adam to guide me through and Adam seems to soak this stuff up.
“‘Combat Patrols’ – these serve multiple roles as scouts, area-denial to other patrols, but most importantly as a means to deploy fighting units”. It is that last bit that means I struggle with Combat Patrols. Historically Combat Patrols nominally had a reconnaissance role, and this is also true in ‘O’ Group. But in the game they are also the mechanism for both hidden deployment and hidden movement. That combination of roles for Combat Patrols meant that, for me, this “assault” felt like a meeting engagement. Two forces drifting towards each other. I wonder if all ‘O’ Group games will feel like that.
We’re still learning and I’m keen to give this scenario another go, to see if I can do better.