Epic PSC Battlegroup House Rules!

Plastic Soldier Company’s game Battlegroup have produced a fantastic rule set – an epic blend of historic accuracy, depth and play-ability (£15 – Rule book on PSC). It’s not too crunchy nor dry, which can be quite easily be an issue with historic wargaming, yet it’s got enough layers to keep you on your feet and your brain engaged. That doesn’t mean it there aren’t Battlegroup house rules available though…

House rule brain dump! This post is a few of my musings on custom house rules for the WW2 Battlegroup game. These haven’t necessarily been played or even tested – I just wanted to get a few concepts from my brain onto the page. In fact, these aren’t even house rules – some are just working concepts to try and implement in the future.

Disclaimer #1 – I am in no sense of the word a historian or scholar of WW2 events. I am only a creative wargamer who is moving more and more into WW2 table-top games (currently, Battlegroup) – which is causing a parallel increase in my interest in all things WW2 related.

Why draft house rules for Battlegroup?

Lets start by clarifying that I’m not saying Battlegroup rules NEED changing. Every game of Battlegroup I’ve played I have 100% enjoyed, the authors have done a fantastic job!

I’ll stress that again; I love the published Battlegroup rules.

However as soon as I play a game, my brain just immediately starts adding and tweaking stuff I enjoy – not sure why. That’s the joy of playing non-competitively, you can modify it as it’s now you’re game! As you’re reading this I’m guessing you’re also interested in what others have done to tweak/enhance the original rule set.

Drafting up these house rules also gives me a list of WW2 topics or tactics to look into if I ever get bored. This is by no means a completed list – I’m sure things will get added. If I can test these rules out I’ll post some thoughts and feedback too.

Disclaimer #2 – these house-rules should be taken with a pinch of salt and a spades worth of common sense. The authors and play-testers of the Battlegroup rules have played hundreds (probably thousands) of WW2 war games – likely not limited to the Battlegroup either. There is likely a very good reason the following rules and concepts are not in the official rulebook – but the joy of these games is that I can tweak my games – everyone does. All of these suggested house-rules add complexity to the game.

Onto my working-list of Battlegroup House Rules…

House Rule: Mortar Smoke Screens

The iconic German Nebelwerfer was original designed to deliver a large smoke screen, for infantry protection – (or was it something more sinister…)

As far as I’m aware all countries used infantry mortars over the course of the war, ranging in size from the small Soviet ‘spade’ 37mm up to some big monsters like the Japanese ‘Type 96’ 150mm.

The house rule:

Allow mortars to deploy a single temporary screen of smoke, that scatters like artillery. The smoke makes observing units significantly harder.

The commander marks a spot on the table and then uses the Indirect Artillery Fire – Deviation rules for marking the location of the smoke cloud. A cloud of smoke centred on this point produces a -2 penalty to observation checks for any unit seeing through / into / out of the cloud.

Very Light and Light mortars produce smoke clouds that are 3″ in radius.

Medium and Heavy mortars produce a smoke clouds of 5″ in radius.

At the end of Rally phases, on a 2+ the cloud remains. On a 1 the clouds are removed from the table

Benefits of the rule:

  • New tactic for using and protecting infantry (and to lesser extend, tanks) charging through the open

Drawbacks of the rule:

  • Battlegroup already have observing rules – does this add a level of complexity that isn’t needed?
  • Do order hungry mortars + spotters make this too costly to field?

While digging into some research for this article, this page on American M2 4.2-Inch Chemical Mortar proved to be quite interesting. Two videos on YouTube show units firing, their coordination and the sounds of these weapons: British reservists on Salisbury Plain & US Marines firing 81mm mortars.

House Rule: Tall Building Bonus

In all wars, having a commanding view of the battlefield is key for a variety of reasons. In WW2 films; a sniper scans the streets from a church spire and an HMG team covers the rural fields from rooftop or dormer window.

The house rule:

Infantry starting their turn in a building of 2 or more floors (or equivalent) gain a bonus to spotting and bonus to weapon range.

All infantry weapons of 30″+ get a 5″ bonus to their range. As distances for units on different levels are measured diagonally in Battlegroup (Actually… are they? Page ref?).

Also its impact on observations:

  • Infantry in the Open Firing become automatic
  • Infantry in the Open become 2+
  • All other observations are unaffected

Benefits of the rule:

  • Gives tall buildings a certain level of importance

Drawbacks of the rule:

  • Snipers already have rules in place to reflect their negation of cover and bonus to observation – further rules risk them being OP

House Rule: Unobserved Units

As god-like commanders of the battlefield, we have a total and perfect view of the battlefield. It affects our strategy from deployment down to execution. We can see that enemy AT gun on ambush fire, even if all our units cannot. We can see that several units of infantrymen are just the other side of that hated Normandy bocage.

You could attempt to keep the position of all units in your Battlegroup game unknown to the other player, until they are first observed / fire, but I feel that would add an unnecessary weight and level of admin to the game.

The house rule:

For missions that allow the condition, units starting the game with reaction orders (ambush fire and reserve move in Battlegroup) and in cover are not placed on the table to begin with, but are ‘hidden’.

Their positions are noted down, sketched on a map or photographed before subsequently being removed. For each ‘hidden’ unit, at the start of the game a roll of a 5+ on a D6 means the enemy has been observing them from a far and that unit’s hidden status is lost. You could go half-way-house and mark the unit on the table with a poker-chip; so the enemy knows something is there but no idea if its a forward-observer, a full rifle squad, or a SU76M.

As soon as a hidden unit is given any order other than another reaction order, or indeed activates it’s reaction order, it appears on the table and it’s hidden status is lost for the rest of the game.

Optional / additional add-on rules:

  • Moving within 12″ of a vehicle or 6″ from infantry, automatically reveals the hidden unit.
  • An infantry scout / sniper scout unit always starts the game hidden.

Benefits of the rule:

  • Allows ambush units to be placed without the enemy commander immediately deploying to counteract their effectiveness,
  • Requires commanders to assess ambush spots and bottlenecks for fear that unknown units may lurk their,

Drawbacks of the rule:

  • Requires more cooperation and trust between players regarding hidden deployment,

House Rule: Hidden Minefields

As far as I can tell, it doesn’t actually say in the Battlegroup rules anything about actually placing the minefield on the table. This probably works quite well for most wargames and how they are IRL; as a force is quite likely to not know an area is mined until they accidentally send forces into it.

The house rule:

No minefield markers are placed on the table before the game. Each player who buys a minefield, secretly notes down its location using a distance and direction from a specific point on the table. For example, ‘centred on the cross-roads’, or ’10” South of a given tree’.

It is down to the owner of the minefield to monitor units moving into the minefield, at which point the centre of the minefield is revealed and the 1st minefield dice roll can begin.

Benefits of the rule:

  • Allows for minefields to have a surprise element that the attacker has to think about mid-game.

Drawbacks of the rule:

  • Requires honesty and monitoring during the game,

House Rule: Dummy Minefields

Pic from WarHistoryOnline. Link to article covering the German minefields in Denmark that still remain a lethal hazard today.

Similar to my previous house rule about the commanders god-like view of units, minefields impart a parallel situation.

For each minefield you buy, you can buy an additional dummy minefield (At a cost of 50% of the standard minefield). A dummy minefield is placed just like a standard minefield, and rolls to see if they explode are conducted as units move through them. The difference being if you rolled for the mines to explode (3+, usually?), the minefield is simply removed. That way on a roll of a 1-2, you don’t know if the unit got lucky, or if the field was empty in the first place)

Benefits of the rule:

  • Make commanders paranoid by the terrain, but also make some routes too costly to circumvent. (Risk / Reward)

Drawbacks of the rule:

  • Minefield spam! Maybe limit dummy minefields to a max of 1-2 per army.

House Rule: Minefield Shapes

Minefields in Battlegroup are defined as a point in the centre of a circle; I assume for simplicity sake. A central point that triggers a minefield-check if anything moves within 5″ of it. So essentially, its a 10″ circle, with an area of about 78 square inches. A central point of a circle makes sense from a wargaming sense, its easy to check if a unit is within a distance without needing to put down a 10″ circular template or terrain piece. This allows for minefields to flow over roads, into forests and even on bridges… all while not needing a giant circular base to be plonked down.

What if you want a nice marked, well defined minefield thought? With signs and barbed wire. Maybe, for the same points, the commander could choose to take 2x rectangular bases, each say 4×5″, or 3×6″. Ideal for just mining roads, a farmers gate, or even a wide expanse where enemy units can’t be funnelled. I would maybe drop the explosion chance to maybe a 4+, to reflect the thinner spreading of mines (even though, mathematically they’re not).

Benefits of the rule:

  • More flexibility, where a circular zone offers little defensive sense,

Drawbacks of the rule:

  • Additional complexity,
  • It may lead to bogging down movement by easily locking-down choke-points for a cheap price.

House Rule: Observing Observed Units

One thing I really like about Battlegroup is the observation rule set. No matter how much terrain we throw down on the table, the real battlefield is always going to be more cluttered, more uneven and more chaotic. I think the observation aspect of the game really helps add to the game while also being a simple mechanic.

The only ‘issue’ I have with this aspect of the Battlegroup rule-book is observing the same unit twice during the Open Fire! order. I get doing a 2nd check – the battlefield is full of distractions, explosions, dust clouds, shouting sergeants and soldiers ducking behind cover to reload etc. I get that.

My issue is that once you spotted an enemy, IMHO, it should be easier to spot them again (within a very short period of time, a turn).

The house rule:

If you issue an Open Fire! order and observe a unit successfully, the 2nd observation check is granted a free re-roll. That way it still isn’t guaranteed, but does reflect soldiers continuing to track and focus on their initial target.

Benefits of the rule:

  • Commanders receive a bonus for declaring both parts of the Open Fire! order against a single target

Drawbacks of the rule:

  • Might be quite powerful / unbalancing, a re-roll bonus on a D6 is a significant boost

So that’s a few of my house rules for Battlegroup; feel free to use any and feedback how they worked. I’m sure you may have house rules of your own to share too.

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