Whenever I posted a WWII or modern game report in recent months there have always been questions about what rules we use, especially on TMP. Since I always go and give a little information about the rules themselves, I thought it would be nice, if I gave a real overview of the rules that I could refer to when asked.
Now first I would like to explain the reasoning I use when picking rules. The most important thing for me is that the rules give a real life feel. In other words… soldiers should be able to do what they do in real life, the rules should even allow them to do some special things (as long as it does not turn into a John Woo movie or the Matrix Trilogy). And the results should be realistic. The rules should also reward the use of real life tactics, making forces the most effective if used like they were historically meant to. But they should also be fun and easy to play without bogging you down with excessive charts and rule-reading during play.
With all these things in mind I began the search for a set of WWII rules that could also be used for modern scenarios as well about a decade ago. I had never been in combat, but I had a real good friend, who had served with the British Army in the Falklands, Northern Ireland and during Desert Storm. We talked a lot about the things he felt were important in a game and I looked for them in rules and ended up with “The Face Of Battle“, buying both the rules and the two WWII supplements at my first Salute in 2002. We used this for moderns too, which worked fine. With the release of the modern version of the rules it all became a complete package.
In the end gameplay has vindicated these decisions. We have always had lots of fun with the rules and have taken them to a number of conventions over the years. We have had players who were active and former soldiers from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, the UK and the US (all in alphabetical order) who had served in Northern Ireland, Somalia, Desert Storm, the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq and they all commented that the rules gave a real combat feeling with realistic results. On the other hand we have had players as young as 7 and as old as their mid-60´s, from all walks of life and some who had never played a wargame before and all were able to grasp the rules with a 5 minute introduction and were able to play virtually on their own after two to three rounds. So I always felt that the rules achieved both the goals set (realism and playability). But now on to describing the rules themselves:
There are essentially two rulesets you can choose from. Either “The Face Of Battle” or “The Face Of Modern Battle”. The former is geared towards WWII and comes with weapon and vehicle stats for Germans and Russians, the later is geared towards modern warfare and come with stats for modern weapons and vehicles. Both use the some mechanisms (I think the WWII rules might require downloading the new morale rules which are available free from the Gamazon homepage). The modern version also includes rules for more modern equipment like anti-tank guided missiles or the use of helicopters. As mentioned above there are also two expansions for WWII Americans and Commonwealth troops, again giving stats for all the weapons and vehicles used by those nations plus some extra special rules. No matter which book or expansion, they all come with a number of relevant scenarios and notes on historical force composition.
How do the rules work? The basic element is a card based initiative. So you basically get between one (this would be the case for lowly militias or untrained conscripts) and three cards (special forces). These get shuffled into one or more decks per side. During the round all the players turn the top card of all their decks around and act with the soldier whose card came up. When all have acted the next cards get flipped, until all decks are done and the round is over. This means you will always have soldiers from both sides acting simultaneously giving you a very fluid and energetic battlefield. And you never know who will have to act next giving you a certain fog of war and an uncertainty to figure into you plans. It will also create some havoc for example if the loader for your Tiger has all his cards come up before the gunner and you have to wait till the next turn to reload ;-).
Officers and NCO´s get command cards in addition to their own cards. The number of their cards are based on their rank and quality as leaders. They can not act on these cards but can give orders to men under their command or try to rally them as long as they are within his zone of command (again defined by his rank and quality).
While vehicle crews act on their own cards to do things like fire a weapon, turn a turret, reload and so on, the vehicles themselves move on one of five vehicle cards mixed into one of the decks of their side.
Now if this kind of activation is not your piece of cake, the rules also have alternative activation rules that work without cards and activate squads as a whole. While they take some of the randomness away, these are also good if want to play games that involve a company per side to speed gameplay up a little more.
Combat works quite simple. Each time a weapon is fired you roll a D100. The result gets modified by all the usual factors like skill of the shooter, range, body armour, weather (if applicable) and gets checked against a chart based on the cover the target is in. The results can either be a KIA, Incapacitated (which is as good as a kill if no medics are around), a morale check (which can represent anything from bullets buzzing by to a hit in the vest) or no result at all. The first two results speak for themselves. If you have to take a morale check, your soldier just rolls to see if he passes it or not. And that is how simple it is.
Now a soldier can fire his weapon at least once per card (bolt-action rifles). Semi- and Full-Auto weapons can be fired twice with each shot getting harder to hit due to the recoil. Semi- and Full-Auto weapons can also fire bursts. Beltfed weapons are able to lay down firing lines.
What I really like about the rules is that they differentiate between weapons when it comes to things like range or rate of fire. Most rules these days seem to view weapons just by their class, but I feel this is unrealistic. For example both a Maxim and a MG-42 might be HMG´s but they were both completely different weapons.
Vehicular combat works along the same lines, at least when it comes to rolling for hits. But when you hit, you look if the shot was able to pierce the armour or not by relating the armour value at the hit location (front, side, rear and hull, mantlet, turret) against the AP value for ammo and gun type. This sounds more complicated then it is, since these values are given on the vehicle sheet anyway. Together with a die roll this will give the number of penetrating (if the AP value was higher than the armour rating) or non-penetrating hits (if the AP value was lower) which you again look up on a chart.
To beef things up there are a number of special rules that you can use if you want to, but obviously do not need to use. There all kinds of things… close assaulting tanks, minefields, paradrops, abseiling, night combat, bad weather, amphibious landings, artillery or air support, spotting and identifying, breaching, flamethrowers…. If they fit your scenario or setting these can add a lot to the gameplay.
Now a few final words… a lot of people shy away from these rules since they seem really big. At first glance this is true. If you put both rulesets and both expansions into one big folder it will be filled to the rim. But bottom line is… 99% of the time you just need two types of rolls and one A4 page (two if you include tanks) worth of charts and you are done. The rules are so big because they include so many stats for weapons and vehicles (as I said you will find every single German and Russian weapon and vehicle used in WWII in the core rules), examples for every rule mechanic and lots of special rules. If you want to be anal and want to know how big the chances of a Sherman tank getting stuck while crossing an Italian vineyard would be… you can find it there. Which is one of the biggest beauties of these rules… you can just play them but if you ever end up in doubt about anything, you will be able to find it in the rules.
The rules themselves are good for anything from a squad per side to a company with tanks and helicopters to beef them up, which is quiet something for a skirmish game. We have used them in 28mm, but they offer all the ranges for smaller scales as well. So if you want you can use them with smaller scales, too.
So the bottom line is… these rules have given us one great decade of gaming so far and if you are unsure about what rules to use for either WWII or moderns (or both), give them a try… I am sure you will not regret it!