Since the latest version of Too Fat Lardies "I Ain't Been Shot Mum" (...The other WW2 rule set) was released a short while back our gaming group has been champing at the bit to play more WW2. We discovered the original version ten years ago and have been playing it on and off ever since. I personally have played over three hundred games of IABSM over the years but in more recent years have played far more games in Napoleonic, American Civil War and American War of Independence genres.
This new version is a vast improvement on the old one. Graphically it is much more pleasing with nice tables, maps and eye candy. It is better set out, more streamlined, rational and consistent in its mechanisms, yet the core system remains unchanged in ten years. IABSM is all about command and control, and friction on the battlefield. It strives to give players historically plausible decisions to make on the tabletop AND ensure that they have a good time with a fun game, and for our gaming group ticks all the boxes. IABSM now includes starter scenarios at the back, and briefings on running forces for the Normandy campaign. Other campaign 'Handbooks' are in the offing shortly. If you bought the bumper bundle available you also get counters and the cards, though our group much prefer poker chips marked accordingly instead, and drawn out of a woolly hat.
The new version offers players a greater opportunity for using tank companies instead of infantry companies with armoured support. As many will be aware I am an unashamedly a 'Tread Head' and own large numbers of 15mm vehicles. We have always played games with lots of vehicles even when using the original format IABSM. However, this did require very experienced players to be able to do so effectively. Version 3 makes the whole process much, much easier.
All said and done, IABSM3 should have been great but upon playing scenario 4, 'A Canadian V.C.', at my good mate Clive's I hit a problem. My WW2 'mojo' had gone. After playing horse and musket almost exclusively for three years WW2 just didn't feel comfortable any more. This wasn't a fault of the rules but more a fault of the genre. I really don't like skirmish games, and to be honest it all felt a bit 'skirmishy' to me, compared with Divisional and Corps sized horse and musket games. On top of it all I've been in a lot of pain recently waiting for a knee arthroscapy and was feeling tired and sore on the night of the game. Since the arrival of two kids and the loss of my wargames room, storage too has been a problem at Wally HQ. I have by most peoples standards a large WW2 collection and this has all been moved, along with my buildings (and a bloody big bridge), to the loft. One of the problems of my lack of mobility is getting it all down and putting it all away. This is one of the major reasons why I haven't played WW2 in ages, I simply can't be arsed. However, to get my mojo back sacrifices needed to be made and I struggled to get my toys down.
I determined to write a scenario and host an IABSM game at Wally HQ. Now, WW2 is a huge gaming genre offering all manner of troop types, vehicles, terrain, weather, you name it, it has it all. My favourite theatre is the Eastern Front and specifically 1941-42. The sheer epic scale of the fighting, the savagery, tenacity and sacrifice dwarf all other theatres. So Eastern Front 1941 it was to be.
When writing a scenario for IABSM I try to do several things. I try to imagine how I would like to see the action unfold and try to write a scenario which will support this ideal. The nature of the system however means that this seldom happens as the action takes on a life of its own.
Apart from producing player briefings which set the scene, detail the forces involved and set objectives, I like to be as sneaky as possible. This means not telling players certain things, deliberately trying to mislead them, or give them clues to guess what is about to happen or what they face. I learned all this from numerous Too Fat Lardies games days where people will tell you Big Rich Clarke is a master at this sort of thing. Generally, if something is in a scenario it tends to have a purpose. My gaming mates are only too aware of my fondness for making them think out of the box and so when I invited them for a game of IABSM, alarm bells were ringing. This is all part of the fun for me. I find writing 'interesting' scenarios and umpiring probably more, or as much fun as playing.
A weakened German Panzer Kompanie is tasked with clearing the table of Soviet defenders and exiting on the southern road. In support of the Panzers are a Zug of armoured Schutzen, and a Gruppe of armoured engineers. The German CO can also call upon off-table artillery support from a battery of four 10.5cm field guns if the need arises. The German forces are Veterans, well led with numerous Big Men which should make it a walk over. However, to make it interesting I decided to make the terrain most unsuitable for armoured vehicles to cause a real headache to the Germans. The more I read of the Eastern Front the more I think that the Axis forces fought the terrain as much as the Soviets and I wanted this to be reflected in the game.
The table consisted of gentle rolling terrain, heavily wooded with fields and a small hamlet all of which would block line of sight and spotting. The northern half of the table featured a significant belt of woods which I rated as heavy ground, making it impassable to vehicles. The woods were rated for visibility and spotting as badly obstructed within 4" of the edge but further inside as very badly obstructed. Access through the woods for vehicles was via a single muddy road. The woods largely sat on an area of high ground with a sizeable area of boggy ground at its southern base where the rain water had collected. There were two plank bridges providing access for soldiers on foot but not vehicles. Included in the Panzer Kompanie HQ was an SdKfz 9 (18t) 'Famo' recovery vehicle capable of towing up to 28t, or in other words any AFV on the table. The Germans might have need of its services if a vehicle bogged down in an inopportune location.
The wooded area to the south had been subject to some serious bombardment however and here the woods were shell torn and classed as broken ground. There were also a number of shell and bomb craters which may have hidden the odd section or weapons team. All buildings in the hamlet were of wooden construction and classed as small.
In the German briefing I included a quote from General Halder making mention of heavy Soviet tanks, to put a seed of doubt in the German players minds. Also for the observant I placed on table two burnt out T-34's again alluding that maybe the German force might not have material advantage. I also detailed to the Germans that only two blinds per turn were allowed to enter the table, and then only via the single entry point of the northern road. This was all to ensure that the German advance was steady and measured. Clive and Nige took command of the German forces.
Now onto the Soviets, commanded by Max. These were a bit of a disparate bunch who had initially been bypassed by the main German thrust and were ordered to sacrifice themselves. An infantry Platoon of three sections, plus a Big Man, and an Anti-Tank rifle and crew were deployed in the shell torn woods. A Maxim MG and crew were deployed in a shell crater, west of the hamlet with a 76mm infantry gun and Big Man in the woods to the east. The infantry gun only had H.E. Behind the wooded rise were two KV-1s lying in wait. The belt of woods hid a level two sniper and a section of tank killers armed with molotov cocktails and bundles of grenades.
The Soviet infantry weren't exactly the cream of the Red Army. I rated them as Poor Regulars with Poor Fire Discipline to boot. However, I also made them Die Hards, and so they were resigned to their fate. Two Platoons of BT-7 tanks would arrive on blinds on the fifth turn of the blank card being drawn on the southern road entry point. Their crews were only rated as Morale II, and apart from the Platoon commanders, vehicles possessed no radios. I also deliberately omitted a Company Commander preventing any effective co-ordination in what looked a really sad and sorry lot.
A final twist was in giving the Soviets a felled tree obstacle blocking the road through the woods. On the Soviet side of the road block was a single AT mine buried in the road. The road block wasn't placed on table initially but would be if the area was spotted by the Germans, or if any enemy blind moved to within auto-spot range, which would be 24" in the open. It would cost one action dice to cross the obstacle. I had included the German combat engineer Gruppe as foil to the AT mine, but would Clive and Nige think along those lines? Time would tell.
Just a word on the briefings. I always try to cut and paste the relevant bits out of the rules for the players so that they don't have to rummage through the rule set looking for the right bits. It saves time looking it up, and it lets players know exactly what there troops are capable of. Also we've found that this helps people learn the rules quicker.
So the scene was set for a fun night's gaming at Wally HQ....
Initially the Germans advanced very cautiously with their initial two blinds, spotting the treeline as they went. Unfortunately the rolls to spot were really poor, and anyhow snipers can never be spotted, their approximate location being marked only when they fire. The tension was high though as the Germans tried desperately to check every inch of wood , convinced it hid a Soviet Platoon. The German players told me they wished to call their artillery in on the woods. At this point I told them that they weren't allowed to. I argued that were they able to do so I would have already given them stonks or allowed some form of pre-registered location, and in any event I hadn't either. Fire would only be called in upon troops on table and not on unspotted blinds either. You want artillery support, fine, find a target Fritz! This was a bit gutting for the German players who had chosen to lead with their Company HQ for that very reason. Doh.
The Soviet sniper really proved his value though as at 'Tea Break' the initial German blinds were automatically spotted. The Panzer Kompanie HQ consisting of PzKpfw IIIE and Big Man, PzKpfwIIF and SdKfz 9 'Famo' were placed on the table. Also deployed was a Zug of Schutzen in SdKfz 251C armoured halftracks.
Time was ticking by as the Germans continued to spot with absolutely no success but aware that something was out there in the woods and forcing their blinds to be spotted automatically. Clive had already clocked the T-34 and there was a distinct air of caution and foreboding that something bad was out there. This was exactly the sort of reaction I had hoped for, for the longer it took the Germans to move up table the more likely that the BT-7 reinforcements may arrive.
As the Germans began to lose patience they moved closer to the woods and their spotting became more effective. They began to realise that the woods must be very sparsly held, but also moved close enough for the fallen tree road block to be spotted automatically, and so it was placed on table. The Soviet sniper still had not opened fire and so two more German blinds which had arrived were auto spotted; a Panzer Zug of four PzKpfw IIIs and the Combat Engineer Gruppe in their SdKfz 251/7.
More successful spotting from the Germans and they realised that the roadblock was unmanned and so rumbled towards it, PzKpfw II to the fore. The engineer halftrack swung over to protect the left flank and prepared to dismount its combat pioneers but as it came to within 4" of the sniper's position he was obliged to slunk off, his chip being removed from further play.
Still moving cautiously, the armoured Schutzen advanced to the woods along side the roadblock and dismounted, though without searching the roadblock.
Now that some Germans were visible to the Soviet infantry they became susceptible and liable to Poor Fire Discipline, the chip for which was placed in the hat. I had Max roll once for every unit plus a few rolls extra to keep the German's guessing to how many hidden unit the Soviets had on table. Max rolled well though and fortunately, and wisely, the Soviets held their fire.
At last the moment Max and I were waiting for, the Panzer II crossed the fallen tree barricade. Ka-boom...the AT mine was triggered. D6-1 for a single mine, and check for effect. Clive rolls a three, modified to a two. When the smoke cleared the Panzer II was undamaged. Nyet, nyet!
Max then decided to open up on the Schutzen in the woods with his 76mm infantry gun, which was then placed on the table in the woods on the rise after hitting the lead section. Poor Fire Discipline then being drawn, Max's Maxim MG failed its roll and so rattled off a full belt, at a fair old distance too, but still killing three Schutzen. With the Schutzen well and truly pinned, Clive and Nige manoeuvred the combat engineers slowly through the woods right into the Soviet tank killing section, that was as yet unspotted and lying in wait for German Panzers. Amazingly, though heavily out diced, the Soviets drew with the combat engineers in losing one man each. Fight again immediately. This time the Soviets weren't so lucky, all men killed for no loss. Nyet!
The Germans, inspired by the bad luck the Soviets were having and growing in confidence, now had the bit between their teeth, surged over the roadblock were beginning to fan out. They made great use of the Armoured Bonus to double move their vehicles in a scene straight out of the Wochenshau news reels. The Soviet 76mm Infantry Gun just didn't seem to be coming up at all even with an attached Big Man. The Panzer IIIs with their short 50/L42 5cm Kanones blasted away at the Soviet gun causing enough shock for the crew to withdraw into the woods, no doubt harangued by their Big Man, but to no avail.
The Company HQ Panzer II, with its 2cm auto cannon, was pouring fire onto the Soviet Maxim in the shell hole. This was taking shock and casulaties and was responding in kind, though with little effect. It was at this stage that the Germans realised the Soviets were rated as Die Hards. With more shock than men left the Soviets should have withdrawn but the surviving crewmen gritted their teeth determined to resist until their last breath. It didn't take long. The German Company CO radioed through to his off table battery of leFH18 10.5cm Field Guns and shells rained down on the Maxim killing the remaining crewmen.
The German advance was thoroughly professional and efficient, what you'd expect of a well oiled and experienced machine led by men who were used to victory. Moving steadily, the Panzers and armoured infantry spotted each building in the hamlet convinced that it must surely be occupied. It was not. Wooden buildings offer little cover and in fact splinters may make casualties greater.
The combat engineers had remounted their halftrack and moved towards the abandoned Soviet infantry gun where they debussed again and prepared to clear the wooded rise. Max decided to put the KV-1 blind down to put a seed of doubt into the German combat engineers minds and make their progress halt somewhat. The Schutzen at last cleared the woods and mounted up onto their halftracks, in the wake of the Panzers.
Alarm! Suddenly Soviet reinforcements arrived in the form of two blinds on the southern road entry point. The Germans quite rightly expected that this must be enemy tanks. The action now turned furious. Spotted automatically, the BT-7's were placed on table and raced into action.
The German Panzer crews stood to the task with a calm fortitude. Blessed with plenty of Big Men, Veteran crews and a three man turret on the Panzer III, the quality of the Panzerwaffe shone through.
Although the Panzer Company HQ Panzer II was hit in the flank and immobilised, in a matter of seconds the leading three BT-7's brewed up. With the crews rated as only level II, they bailed more or less as soon as they were hit.
Max's second BT-7 Platoon found the smoke from the burning tanks of their comrades was blocking their line of sight. His KV-1s now were placed on the table at 'Tea Break' but found their path blocked by burning BT-7's.
As the German combat engineers penetrated the wooded rise, the Poor Fire Discipline of the Soviet infantry now got the better of them and they opened fire with small arms on the German Panzers, the troops being placed on the table amongst the shell torn woods.
Unfortunately, with the German CO now switching his artillery onto the exposed Soviet infantry we had to halt the game as it was well past midnight. It was a shame as the game was reaching its climax, but in reality the Soviets were really taking a beating.
The German artillery would probably take its toll of the Soviet infantry and the BT-7s would in all likelihood have been knocked out in short order also. It would have been interesting to see how the German Panzers dealt with the KV's. Had I still had a wargames room we would have no doubt left the game up and played it again the next week but as my old room is now my son's bedroom that option wasn't open to me.
Everyone enjoyed the game. The scenario had worked well, though it had required a lot of preparation and thought before hand. Granted there were a lot of differing troops, and weapons, but not all were on the table at the same time. By restricting the amount of blinds entering the action, and the limiting nature of the terrain it had been a challenging time for the Germans who had to really plan and co-ordinate their actions.
They hadn't really put a foot wrong, though were very lucky that the AT mine hadn't caused any damage. They had blundered into the Soviet tank killers lying in ambush but the German combat engineers were more than a match for them in close combat. When the Panzers met the BT-7's the real difference of the Panzerwaffe in having plenty of Big Men, Veteran crews, three man turrets, plus radio sets, was very evident. For the one damaged Panzer II the Soviets lost four BT-7's in a short space of time. The KV-1's were a different case entirely and perhaps Max held them back for too long. Generally Max had done well despite his appalling luck, poor throws and the troops he was using.
Now onto the rules. It is probably fair to say that our gaming group is a conservative one. When we heard that a new IABSM version was coming out the reaction was mixed. Yes, it could be set out better and be clearer in places but we felt that the mechanisms and results needed little attention. Our overriding reaction was 'Don't mend something unless it needs fixing' and to us it didn't need it. Paul B however is a relative newcomer to IABSM and I know he has found it difficult to get his head round all the mechanisms and rules. He was very eagerly looking forward to a more rationalised version. He was not to be disappointed.
Despite our reservations the new version of IABSM is, quite honestly, just terrific. Firstly it looks great and much more professional. The Lards have come a very long way presentation-wise since the early days. The rules are set out much more rationally and logically with numerous examples all aiding understanding. The mechanisms and core principles are still there but are much sleeker, streamlined and consistent than in the original version.
In particular, predictably, we really loved the tank order system. This didn't really have as much effect as we had expected in this game as the Germans mostly used individual orders, but we could see how much easier it would be to run games with a high proportion of vehicles.
The command initiative levels and actions are much simpler and clearer. The methodology for calling and using artillery is much, much less confusing too. The shock system is simple but an effective method for simulating morale and effect without the need for tests. Everything just works, and works very well. Basically upon discussion there wasn't a single thing in the new version that we felt wasn't better than the old version. We really liked the inclusion of starter scenarios and setting up scenario notes, not that we've ever had problems in that department.
As a system IABSM still rewards good tactics, gives historically plausible results AND provides a good fun game. I for one can't wait for the release of the handbooks. Rich, Nick and everyone else involved should be feeling very pleased with themselves for giving the real WW2 enthusiasts a great other WW2 miniatures game.
Oh, and my 'mojo' is back and I'm already working on another Barbarossa scenario for our group to try.
Note: The classification of the troops in the scenario was basically the same as in the old version of IABSM but I added and extra one to the gun ratings.
All figures Battlefront and Peter Pig, owned and painted by myself who also took the pics.
Kev "Fat Wally" Lowth