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Elsenborn Ridge - December 2014

Posted by Andy on February 23, 2015 at 12:35 AM

You'd think that after all this time I would have learned my lesson?

Early last year, when we were planning our game night calendar for 2014, we knew we had to return to the 1944 Ardenne for our annual December romp in the snow.  In the last few years we've used Bolt Action and 28mm figures pretty successfully, prior to that we'd used FOW and its 15mm figures, although in the last few years FOW has fallen out of favor with some active members of the club, including yours-truly.

My plan early last year was that we would use my ridge/hill terrain and play a microcosmic engagement of the struggle to control Elsenborn Ridge, with German forces trying to make it up the ridge, in the face of dug-in American defenders, using Bolt Action and 28's.  What happened in October, however, changed my plans...

A business meeting in Berlin gave me an excuse to visit a couple of German game stores.  I stumbled upon a copy of the Battlegroup rules, written by Warwick Kinrade (Iron Fist Publishing) and written for the Plastic Soldier Company.  In addition, the Battlegroup Overlord campaign book was available as well.  Having read good reviews about the game, I bought the books, hoping they would be a viable replacement for FOW, as I own quite a few 15mm FOW minis, both painted and unpainted, but got tired of buying more books from Battlefront.  Thus, I thought it wouid be cool to try these new rules for our annual December fling.  Did I mention not learning a lesson?...  

The lessons I should always remember are that December is usually our biggest turn out (12 guys were there this year!)  and with that big a group it's generally not a good idea to try new rules.  Also, because the group can be big, its always best to ensure that there are either no reserves, the reserves come in quickly (from the first turn if it looks like the first turn might take an hour to play), or if there will be a delay in their arrival, that all players are encouraged to take responsibility for something on the field at-start, so guys who came to play aren't waiting around with nothing to move/shoot.

The table was laid out, about 6' x 4', with a steep ridge and ridge top dominating one end of the table and a small town, woods, and roads covering the rest.  Lots of cover and lots of avenues of approach, from the German Fallchirmjager deployment zone at the other table end.  One objective was placed on the ridge and then each side placed another objective (we basically played the Battlegroup scenario High Ground, with the ridge as the principle objective for the Germans).  The US infantry were dug in and waiting.  Half of the attacking German forces started on board, with the other half entering on turn 4.  Half of the American GIs started on board, with the remaining half entering from turn 4.  1d6 of the American units were allowed to setup in Ambush (basically what these rules call Opportunity Fire).

The Battlegroup rules are similar to both FOW and Bolt Action.  This is a reinforced platoon to company level game, designed for 15mm or 20mm.  Units are fire teams or individual vehicles and gun crews.  It is point based and the two sides were relatively balanced.  Basing is flexible.  Units are killed one soldier at a time, so if you base individual soldiers on a stand you can easily remove casualties, but then at a company level game, you're moving a lot of infantry stands around (unless you use some sort of skirmisher movement tray).  We used FOW based figures and used small red dice to mark casualties on each stand.

The rules are IGOUGO and command and control is represented by a side rolling a certain number of d6 at the beginning of its turn to determine how many units can be activated for orders.  For this reinforced platoon sized game, both sides got to roll 2d6, but then also added one for each of their officers.  Once the number of orders had been determined then a commander activates one unit for each order.  For example, an order to move a halftrack up and stop, with its riders dismounting adjacent is one activation.  The dismounted infantry can then be activated to do something, using a second order.  Units can only be activated once a turn.  Units can be given an ambush fire (overwatch) or reserve move order with one of these activations.  This allows that unit to interrupt an opponen'ts action later in the turn/game.

Possible orders include:


  • Move and Fire
  • Fire and Move
  • Double Move
  • Double Fire
  • Others... (engineer functions, call for artillery, repair, replenishment, etc)


Movement is standard fair.  Infantry move 5" and can pretty much ignore most terrain.  Vehicles have movement listed in their profile.  Infantry that come within 5" of an enemy can close assault that enemy.  Close assault is resolved immediately, before moving on to the next order.

Fire combat is pretty simple.  SMGs have a range of 10", rifles have a range of 30".  You can conduct Area Fire where you are just trying to put a pin on a target (with the occasional killed soldier) or Aimed Fire where you really try and hurt the other side.  Rifles have a ROF = 1, SMGs = 1 (2 under 5" range), LMG = 2, MMG = 5, HMG = 6.  Add up a team's ROF.  

With Area Fire, a typical German 5 man team might have 4 x rifles and 1 x SMG for  ROF = 5.  Shooting at infantry out to 10" needs 3+ to hit on 1d6.  ROF = 9+ out to 10" would need 2+ on 1d6.  So ROF, range, and target type determine To-Hit on 1d6 for Area Fire.  If a hit is rolled then the target gets to try a cover save.  Infantry in the open save on 6+, soft cover is 5+.  Save failure results in a pinned unit.  Rolling a 1 also results in a single casualty.

With Aimed Fire, first the shooter must spot or Observe the target.  Roll 1d6.  Infantry in the open firing are Observed on a 2+, infantry in the open on a 3+, obscured infantry on a 4+, etc.  Then total the shooter's ROF and roll that many dice.  Range and the type of weapons firing determine To-Hit.  Small arms to 5" hit on 2+, out to 10" on 3+, out to 20" on 4+, out to 30" on 5+.  Any hits are rolled for their cover saves.  Failed saves are removed as men down, forcing a morale check.  Failing a morale check can result in pinning or routing.

The Battlegroup rules also have an interesting system for dealing with army morale.  Each unit in the game is given a Battle Rating, which measures how relatively important it is to its side.  Total all these ratings up to get an army list's overall Battle Rating.  Then, during the game, when units are destroyed, or a side comes under artillery or aircraft attack for the first time, or a senior officer is killed, or a commander wants to remove pin markers from 1d6 of his units, he draws a Battle Counter from a container.  Values on the counters range from 0 to 5, with a few special events thrown in.  When a side's drawn total equals or exceeds its overall Battle Rating, it surrenders.  Thus, you never know how close your opponent's army is to breaking.

For our game, the elevation of the ridge really made the attack difficult for the Germans, as the Amercian commanders had LOS over nearly everything.  The Germans tried moving through the town, along the backs of some of the buildings, rather that hopscotching from building to building, and got shot up pretty badly.  Unfortunately, a late start, having to explain the rules, and the slowness of playing new rules for the first time, didn't allow us to get very far.  I hope I learned my lessons this time.  Next December, no new rules.  No reserves.  Back to Bolt Action, I think, or these rules with no reserves.

In true Beer and Pretzels fashion, the highlight of the evening was watching Chuck shell his son's German unit.  Even after failing his artillery rolls, miraculously, Chuck preservered and kept rolling till he got though to Battalion.  His son got the artillery pasting Chuck was so sure he deserved! :-)

Categories: WWII Infantry, December

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Reply Rob
9:30 PM on February 26, 2015 
Andy, don't be so hard on yourself. It was a fun evening, continued our tradition, and the table looked tremendous. We were at Elsenborn that night! Cheers to you for putting on the game.
Reply Andy
3:02 AM on February 27, 2015 
Thanks Rob. It was great to see so many of our regulars come out that night. I always look forward to the March, June, and December game nights.

Sorry we missed you this month. It was a good game.