Battlegroup Tobruk — a love affair

I got up this morning to the sound of a courier carefully and tenderly throwing this at my front door.

I've thus far only taken a quick flick through, but even at that passing acquaintance I can see that this is an excellent addition to the Battlegroup series.

I've come late to the Battlegroup party; I thought, when I first saw it on the internet, that it was just jumping on the Bolt Action bandwagon with its fancy illustrated books and what-not — all talk and no trousers, I thought, just another house-organ designed to sell models.

Boy, was I ever wrong. Battlegroup is a far superior wargame to Bolt Action in almost every way.

Don't get me wrong: Bolt Action is a fine battle game, very quick and easy to learn and play, and it can be a lot of fun, but its simplicity necessarily means that technological differences are very much glossed over, and lots of equipment is lumped in together in very broad, indistinct groups. Within the game, for example, a pre-war Hotchkiss 25mm anti-tank gun is functionally identical to a 6 pounder, which is fine if you're happy to accept that lack of granularity in return for the ease of play in not having to account for actual historical performance differences.

I would describe Bolt Action as a generic 20th century battle game wearing WWII lipstick.

Battlegroup is more detailed and granular in pretty much every aspect, while retaining an essential simplicity of play that makes it very beginner-friendly. It deals well with all-arms battles on a tactical scale.

It uses a system of chits (the "battle rating" system) which are taken when units are eliminated or when various conditions occur. These are mostly numerical, and are totted up against your army's total Battle Rating: when the total of your pile of numbered chits exceed your BR, you've lost, and if anything is left they run away. But there are other chits in the mix which, when drawn, can initiate things like air strikes, mine attacks, or which can be used to break down one of your opponent's tanks, for example. They add an element of uncertainty and variability to a game outcome which I like, disheartening though it may be to learn that losing that detached Bren team was much more catastrophic to your army than you might have expected.

The only mechanisms I've found at all tricky to come to grips with are those for indirect artillery, but "tricky" is a relative thing — playing through a few sample barrages soon got us used to the system, and it does a good job of representing the importance of artillery on the WWII battlefield, without making it an all-destroying unstoppable juggernaut. Usually.

I'm more impressed by the Battlegroup rules, the historical information in the theatre volumes, and the presentation of the whole package than I have been by a wargaming system in some considerable time. I may even splash out on a copy of Barbarossa, in spite of having very little interest in gaming that particular bit of the war.

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