After reviewing the IABSM3 rules earlier in this issue, the least we could do is to report on a playtest using those rules! We had played IABSM during its first incarnation and we've played Sharp Practice several times, so we were already familiar with the major parts of the rules system. I had painted up three boxes of Plastic Soldier Company WW2 Russians, so we had several squads, AT guns, and heavy weapons, plus a few 1/48th scale Hobby Boss tanks. After reading through the rules a few times, making some shock counters, plus a few odds and ends, we were ready to at least try a small game.
It's late fall in 1941 on the road to Moscow. A German recon force has been ambushed and set on fire along the main road, plus there are reports of a heavy Russian attack. A German kampfgruppe consisting of a platoon of PZIVDs and a platoon of mechanised infantry in halftracks is rushed to the scene to prevent the Russians from seizing a vital crossroads. The Russian force consisted of two KV-1s and a KV-2 with one squad of SMG troops riding on the tanks. They were backed by a sniper (we wanted to see how the system worked with these), two infantry squads, two 45mm AT guns, and a 81mm mortar section with two mortars. At this stage we had no idea about the scenario balance, so it was a credit to both sides that they went along with the game to try the system out. Both sides used blinds to hide the advance of their forces.
We were using a 4x6 table, which with the number of vehicles we had was not a good choice and it should be recommended that larger tables be used for more than a platoon of armour per side if using 28mm or 1/48th kits.
The blinds moved up fairly quickly and when the first one was revealed it was a bit shocking to the German side: a KV-2 was sitting dead centre along the main road! The Sdkfz-251/10 that spotted it opened with its 37mm AT gun, but would have needed a miracle and didn't get it. The return fire from the KV-2 immobilized the halftrack, then the Russian 45mm AT guns revealed themselves and knocked the halftrack out for good.
The German PZIVDs deployed and tried to use cover to engage the KV-2 along with the AT guns. The KV-2 shook off the several hits it took, but the SMG squad riding it were not so lucky. One of the dismounted German squads in the barn opened fire on them, killing several. The first PZIVD went up in flames after being hit multiple times and the Germans were reeling.
Another blind was spotted and unfortunately for the Germans it was a KV-1 moving up on the Russian left flank. The Germans responded by turning one of the PZIVDs to engage this new threat while the other two squads of infantry moved to take up defensive positions.
The KV-1 and -2 then engaged a pair of PZIVDs in a battle that went on for a number of turns.
The Russian AT guns began to shell the barn that a German squad was in, but got more than they bargained for when the return fire knocked out the crew of one of the AT guns.
The KV-1 was then immobilized by a hit from a PZIVD and for a second it looked like the Germans might get back into the game. However, the PZIVD was then itself knocked out by the KV-2, which sat like a fortress in the middle of the board, taking everything the Germans could throw at it. Also, another KV-1 appeared on the Russian right flank and the Germans then moved to counter it.
A brief counterattack by a squad of Germans and a halftrack knocked out the final Russian AT gun, but then the halftrack was hit and knocked out.
The KV-2 then began to do something it was designed for; knocking out buildings. The German squad in the farmhouse took a battering and had to fall back.
The last two PZIVDs got the benefit of the card draw and were able to fire on the Russian armour first the next two turns, but couldn't score any knockouts. The return fire destroyed both of them and with that the game ended as the Germans would be forced to withdraw. The Russians still had mortars and two squads of infantry that had not even deployed yet!
A few observations from our first game...
First, the rules are a huge improvement over the first version that we tried years before, so that was good. The infantry firing chart and the anti-armour charts need to be on a reference card as those are what gets used the most as far as we could tell from this game.
I think that there was some confusion on our end about running vehicles as a platoon or individually. It appears from the rules that you should have a Big Man in charge of vehicle platoons to issue orders, but what if there isn't one? We couldn't make heads or tails of that during the game, so we'll need to look into that further.
The infantry and anti-vehicle firing systems are fun to use and there is some excitement when seeing if a vehicle can block a number of hits to it with its armour saves.
I've always been a big fan of the shock system that is used in these rules and I like how it degrades the performance of the units during the game.
We felt that the game's base systems work well and can be easily picked up by gamers in a group setting. Once everyone understands how the card system operates and you get through the first few turns the game proceeds pretty quickly.
In terms of problems there were a few, but fortunately they were pretty minor. First, there is some preparation time required to run a game, most notably getting the right cards, quality of troops, and Big Men organized. Nothing that takes hours, but it does help to come prepared.
We found that snipers are particularly nasty as well as early Russian armour, which really unbalanced the scenario in hindsight. We were just learning the system, so no big deal, but in the future we'll look at these things more closely.
I think the biggest thing that skirmish gamers may need to get used to is the number of troops that you will need for a group game. We're talking about needing (in our estimation) at least a platoon per player and some of the scenarios have quite a bit of stuff on the board. These rules are definitely designed for large skirmishes, i.e., company sized engagements with maybe two platoons of infantry plus heavy weapons along with support. Now some might argue that it will slow the game down, but actually IABSM3 handles large amounts of figs pretty well with the card system, plus infantry don't last long in these battles!
Overall, it was a very fun game and we liked the rules. I'm already working on getting some more infantry and vehicles painted up for even larger battles! For the cost of the rules you certainly can't go wrong.
Republished from Warning Order #33
with kind permission of the Wasatch Front Historical Gaming Society