Adam and Chris had another go at the ‘O’ Group sample scenario transferred to the Eastern Front. As in our first play test and second play test, “Cristot” became “Kristov” and the Germans were attacking a Soviet defensive position. Adam was keen to have a go himself so took the role of the attacking Germans. Adam also provided rules knowledge, figures, most of the terrain, and narrative for the battle report. Chris was the defending Soviets. I took photos and add some extra thoughts at the end.
This is the third time we’ve tried ‘O’ Group, with the previous two occasions having a decidedly… mixed reception. For our thoughts on the first two game, you can read the reports (Game 1 and Game 2), but the upshot is that I’ve had a hard time selling the set. I’m keen on it, but it’s a very different beast from our most-played WW2 set, Crossfire. The key question is: is the game just not for us, or had we not been using the right tactics for this ruleset (perhaps bringing over too many assumptions from Crossfire)? This sparked much debate, both in our club and on the ‘O’ Group Facebook page – pleasingly, this was constructive and cordial, despite the differences of opinion.
Either way, the first two games hadn’t been as satisfying as I’d have liked, so it’s to the credit of Steven and Chris that they agreed to give it another go. Of the three of us, I’m the only one to have read the rules in depth, and so it was probably a mistake for me not to have taken the role of attacker until now – in the previous games, the attacks had badly misfired, at least in part because the novice players didn’t know how to execute their plans under this new rules system. Therefore, I decided to take charge of the attackers, and show everyone how it’s supposed to be done!
For this third time, the Germans would be attacking Kristov. My Germans consisted of a Regular Battalion, with three Infantry Companies (each of three Platoons), plus four Squads of MMGs in support, and three artillery strikes.
Flush from victory the last time out, Chris would be taking the defending Soviets again. He had a Second-Line Battalion, with three Infantry Companies (although one Company was missing a Platoon, for balance), plus two Squads of MMGs in support, and just one artillery strike.
The Germans needed to take two out of the four ‘built up areas’ that made up Kristov, or inflict three ‘FUBARs’ (i.e. kill 12 stands). The Soviets had to hold them off for 16 turns, or inflict three FUBARs on the Germans. The table consisted of open ground, crop fields (providing limited concealment), woods, some scattered farms, and Kristov itself.
Deployment and plans
In ‘O’ Group, both sides make plans before the start of the game.
I chose to allocate the left and centre to Company One, who would advance through the crop fields and create a base of fire in front of the objective (with the help of the MMGs). Company Three would be in reserve as my ‘Assault Company’, with a consolidation point in the small wood in the middle of the table: once the base of fire was set up, and the Soviets suppressed, they would leapfrog Company One, and assault Kristov. Company Two would probe on the right, and only take a more active role if things went awry on my main axis of advance, or if they faced no resistance.
Chris deployed Company One on his left, and Company Two (plus the MMGs) on the right, keeping his (depleted) Company Three in reserve, with Kristov selected as a deployment point. This gave him the flexibility to react to attacks from any direction.
We then rolled for deployment. Neither player rolled a one, meaning that the pre-attack bombardment was ineffective, and leaving us with plenty of units and Combat Patrols to deploy. I was able to mostly deploy both ‘forward’ Companies on the table, while Chris set up plenty of units in ambush across his defensive line.
I won the initiative on the first turn, and got moving. The attacker starts with more ‘HQ’ points than the defender, and Chris’s Second Line Battalion were disadvantaged in acquiring these points. Combined with a German special rule, and some unlucky rolling from Chris, I would end up winning initiative every turn of the game! Using rapid moves, I was able to get my forward Company far up the table, and deploy additional Combat Patrols that I planned to use to bring on my MMGs.
I used spare orders to move up on the right.
Chris immediately responded with his Battalion mortars, suppressing the right-hand Platoon of my leading Company.
He then opened fire from Kristov, with both a rifle Platoon and his MMGs, and the unfortunate Germans now lost two Squads in quick succession.
My Company Commander intervened to prevent the survivors routing, but the Soviets were taking an aggressive approach.
In the previous game, Chris had launched a decisive counterattack on the German left, and clearly fancied a repeat; now he revealed the rest of his Company Two, and again started to hook around my left, firing on my leftmost Platoon. The game was on!
The plans unfold
Kristov was beginning to fill with angry Soviets, and was an obvious target for my artillery. With plenty of fire missions available to me, I opted for ‘Regimental’ Artillery – not as effective as the big guns, but easier to call in. True to form, I rolled poorly, but still received Battalion mortars onto Kristov.
To this, I added the firepower of a newly-deployed MMG Platoon, and soon the Soviets in the village were suppressed. My plan of setting up a base of fire seemed to be working, and so I was in no hurry to bring in Company Three for the assault.
Chris was doing his best to stop this. In ‘O’ Group, artillery can hit multiple units if clustered, so concentrating my base of fire gave Chris a juicy target for his mortars, piling shock into Company One’s infantry.
He also continued his right hook, suppressing my left-most Platoon and killing a Squad.
With his units on the objective under pressure, he also ‘consolidated’ his reserve Company into Kristov.
Meanwhile, on my right, I had continued to probe forward, with Chris deploying some of his Company One to check my advance. However, as the game went on, both players found themselves with fewer and fewer ‘spare’ orders that could be spent on this secondary axis of advance: there would be little action here, and the game would, once again, be decided in the centre.
I again called my Regimental Artillery onto Kristov, and this time received what I wanted! Some well-placed rounds gave me my first kill (a rifle Squad), and kept the Soviets from firing back effectively. Just as useful was that I dispersed the Combat Patrols of Chris’s reserve Company, and suppressed his Company Commanders – this meant that he would struggle to bring his units into Kristov, their movement disrupted by the barrage.
To this, I added the firepower of my second MMG Platoon, deployed onto a Combat Patrol – the hail of bullets into Kristov soon routed the Soviet MMGs.
The rest of my orders were spent rallying shock off my units; I also had my Company Commander intervene to allow my suppressed MMG Platoon to both rally and fire (albeit at the whopping cost of four orders!). Finally, I decided to ‘consolidate’ my reserve Company – this brought on the Company Commander and two Combat Patrols, so next turn I could bring on the assault troops themselves.
First, however, I would have to take my lumps. My base of fire was getting crowded, and Chris now called on his artillery fire mission. As he only had one of these, he decided to go for the big guns. This was risky, but Chris got his support, and a Divisional barrage pummelled my leading Company. The beleaguered right-hand Platoon was finished off – having taken four casualties, I now had my first ‘FUBAR’, meaning I would roll fewer dice when calculating our available orders. Chris also suppressed both MMG Platoons, as well as the third Platoon in Company One – units taking artillery fire must either take extra shock or fall back, and I decided to let this last Platoon flee the beaten zone. Chris also continued to pile pressure on my left.
My forces were battered, but I felt that I had survived the worst of it. Crucially, I continued to win the initiative, and went about reordering my forces, while continuing to saturate Kristov with artillery.
And inflicting a FUBAR on the Soviets with some more kills.
The survivors of Company One rallied, and did their best to orient themselves to face the Soviets hooking around their flank. The reserve Company now began to advance on the objective, deploying two Platoons for an assault the next turn.
Chris was now desperate to bring his reserves onto the objective before I could seize it. However, as I had knocked out his Combat Patrols, and an earlier ‘hesitant commander’ roll had stopped him bringing on more, he was forced to bring the two remaining Platoons from his table edge. These rushed into Kristov, but the one Platoon that reached the firing line was immediately hosed with German MMG fire and suppressed. His efforts to halt my assault troops with mortar and rifle fire from his left flank also came up just short – crucially, he could only inflict one shock on both Platoons, which is not enough to make the men ‘hesitant’ and refuse to advance. He did, however, continue with his right hook, inflicting more casualties on my left and forcing me to reorient the remainder of my Company One.
However, it was too little, too late. The men of my reserve Company charged in, wiping out Chris’s suppressed reserve Platoon in hand-to-hand combat, and weathering the Soviet reactive fire. I had taken two sectors, and we decided that this was an immediate win. In retrospect, I wish we had taken the victory conditions to require that I held them at the end of the turn – my assaulting units were suppressed, and Chris probably could have retaken at least one objective sector, and continued to menace my left. However, it was getting late by then, and I suspect I would have been able to see off his counterattacks (although I would say that, wouldn’t I…). After much bloodshed, Kristov had finally fallen!
Adam’s Observations and Conclusions
Adam’s tactical reflections
This game really confirmed what I had suspected in previous encounters – speed is important, but firepower more-so. Whilst the game was over in only five or six turns, I spent the majority of these establishing fire-superiority over the defenders, and making the most of my artillery. I’d spent two out of my three artillery missions, and would have spent the third had my troops not been too close to the Soviets to call it in (‘O’ Group does not allow artillery strikes on targets when friendlies are nearby). The result was that my assault troops could march onto the objective comparatively unmolested, while I still was able to resist the Soviet right-hook counterattack.
The inevitable comparison is to Crossfire, our usual WW2 game of choice. In Crossfire, it is very difficult, bordering on traumatic, to take terrain features, and so it rewards the immediate exploitation of any opportunity to advance. Not doing so will usually result in the defender sealing off the opening as soon as they have the initiative. This unstuck the attackers in the previous two games – after initial successes, the attacker had not stopped to deploy their superior firepower, artillery and reserves, but instead rushed forwards, ultimately overextending and being wiped out.
Chris concentrated his defence on Kristov, and put in a handy counterattack that both inflicted casualties, and forced me to spend resources in preventing my left collapsing – had we played on, I’d have had to switch my MMGs to hold him off. However, I was ultimately able to suppress his units in Kristov, and he didn’t have enough mutually-supporting positions to prevent my reserves assaulting. I think ‘O’ Group definitely rewards spreading units out to avoid artillery, and although MMG Platoons are devastating, it might have been better deploying them separately, outside Kristov, to make it harder to destroy them.
My biggest fear when I deployed my reserves was that Chris would have a unit in ambush in the central cornfields – this would have held up my advance, and prevented me deploying my troops onto the Combat Patrols. My units in the centre were very clustered, and Chris was having joy pasting them with mortars, not to mention his counterattack – might a holdup at that stage have changed the battle?
In ‘O’ Group, units advancing in the open aren’t quite as doomed as they are in Crossfire, providing you can spend orders to rally them – to me, this makes sense both historically, and also by assuming that units in ‘open’ terrain are really doing their best to make use of small dips and terrain features, along with sensible spacing, to avoid mass casualties. Cover is useful, but not completely essential, especially if you can establish fire superiority.
Based on my limited collection, both sides were forced to rely on MMGs as their trump card. However, I have now painted up some vehicles and AT units, so in future games it will be interesting to see their impact, and to give the players more options.
Adam’s thoughts on ‘O’ Group
As I had hoped, this was a much more successful game. Both sides were able to execute their plans to a reasonable extent, and the results were highly plausible. The key elements, in my opinion, were being a bit more ambiguous with where we allowed reserves to deploy, and the attacker having more familiarity with the rules. As with many sets, the role of that attacker is challenging, so having the most experienced player taking that role meant that I could make decisions with a much better idea of the likelihood of success.
The rules are certainly fairly complex, with multiple systems that don’t always align – there are always ‘extra’ elements that are easy to forget (for example, I have forgotten each game that suppressed units are automatically ‘not spotted’ if in cover, making them more survivable). Having not played for a while, it took me a few turns to get back into the swing, and I rarely put the rules down throughout the evening. However, ultimately the game flowed well after the first turn, and Chris was able to put together a good defence despite never having read them.
Compared to Crossfire, these are certainly a lot harder to learn: Crossfire is famously unforgiving of rookie errors, but once a player has grasped the ‘geometrical’ nature of the rules, things come pretty naturally. By contrast, in our third game of ‘O’ Group there are still some rules that I either forget every time, have to look up, or end up ‘fudging’. This is likely a matter of taste – whilst I personally like the ‘chrome’, as a club we tend towards more streamlined games. Your mileage may vary?
The biggest source of confusion in previous games was how to deploy reserves. Having established Company boundaries, it is hard to see how the reserve Company can ‘slot in’. I took the approach of being a bit looser – rather than ‘hard’ boundaries, I went for ‘Company Three takes over the advance, Company One supports and guards the flank’. This I think worked well, and seemed plausible and historical. Chris similarly went for a more abstract approach, of ‘reserve Company reinforces the objective’. We didn’t mind a small bit of overlap, and I think it worked well. Still, I think this remains a contentious part of the rules – hopefully it can be addressed by the author in an official FAQ.
Overall, I thought this was a good game, and I like ‘O’ Group. I think for the Battalion level, it produces a really good experience, and gets the ‘level’ of command really well. Crossfire is also excellent, but I feel that above Company level it doesn’t make sense to be controlling individual Squads. Still, I have a feeling that this will remain a tough sell at the club, and its complexities mean that, as a result, it is much trickier to ‘pick up and play’ as a once-in-a-while system. But we’ll see! Either way, if we do play again, I think we’ll have to find another village to fight over.
Steven’s Observations and Conclusions
I’ll talk about the scenario, the tactics used, and ‘O’ Group.
Steven’s scenario reflections
Both Chris and Adam enjoyed the game. I think part of the success of this game was because Adam tweaked the scenario going into game 3. The terrain continues to evolve and in every game Adam puts more terrain on table. Aside from being aesthetically pleasing, this means there is more cover opportunities, particularly in the centre where the main attack is likely to fall. Contrast the terrain in the centre in the first and third games in the following photo.
Probably more significantly, Adam reduced the size of the Soviet defending force. That missing platoon had a direct impact on the game as it meant that Chris’s flank attack had only two platoons not three. Chris also did an on-table flank attack in Game 2, but had three platoons to execute it with.
Steven’s tactical reflections
Adam played well. He has a better grasp of ‘O’ Group than either Chris or I, and knows how to exploit the rules to his advantage (not a criticism, by the way, it is important to know the tools of your trade). Although I had a similar plan for the Germans in Game 2, attack up the centre and then have a company pass through for the final assault, Adam made the strategy work. His timing of bringing on his reserves was perfect and his use of the massed MMG was impressive.
I do think Chris made two mistakes that he didn’t make as the Soviets in Game 2. Firstly he deployed his MMG platoon in ambush in the rear part of Kristov. This meant the unit had to move into German view to shoot, and took a mauling before it even got to fire. It would have been better to deploy it where it has visibility of the approaching Germans and so could fire with full effect.
Chris’s second mistake as the defender, in my opinion, was to have an off table reserve. Adam thought this was to give “flexibility to react to attacks from any direction”. I don’t think the reserves give that in ‘O’ Group. In fact I think the opposite. The off table reserve constrained the Soviet’s flexibility and meant Chris didn’t have on-table Combat Patrols to float where the action was – behaviour we saw in both Game 1 and Game 2. I also think it reduced his on-table fire power – fire power he needed to stop Adam’s thrust up the centre. Having all three companies on table at the start of Game 2 gave Chris both more flexibility and more firepower.
Also worth mentioning that, probably due to blind luck, the Germans got the initiative in every game turn. In ‘O’ Group that makes quite a difference.
Steven’s thoughts on ‘O’ Group
Adam calls out the advancing in the “open” as a key difference between ‘O’ Group and Crossfire. It sure is. Actually Crossfire is the outlier here as most rules – all Ancients rules and Flames of War – view the majority of a battlefield as flat and open, just like ‘O’ Group does. In contrast Crossfire explicitly models the “small dips and terrain features” which ‘O’ Group and other rules call “open”. Neither is better, they just simulate different things.
Ultimately I’m a fan of Realism and Playability via Abstraction. ‘O’ Group doesn’t tick my boxes. The same “chrome” that appeals to Adam means I find ‘O’ Group too concrete on the abstraction scale. It has too much detail for me, for example, the three steps to hit something (spot, hit, save). In fact there are so many different interrelating rules that Adam played all three games with the rule book, open, in hand. For me this complexity reduces it’s playability as a game system. Personally I find that kind of chrome detracts from playability, yet does not add to realism. Finally I’ve already mentioned my puzzlement on what type of combat ‘O’ Group is simulating. To me all three games looked like meeting engagements. So Game 3 didn’t change my view of ‘O’ Group. Of course, others are welcome to divergent views and Adam remains a fan.
This was the first time we have played ‘O’ Group when both players have actually enjoyed the game. And having fun is what gaming is about, for me anyway.
Chris’s Observations and Conclusions
We – Adam and Steven – invited Chris to add his 2 pence. Chris’s reply was, “Nope I’m good thx. I abstain. Let the public polis decide.” And that means you folks, the readers of Steven’s Balagan. What do you think?