We’ve had a bit of a break from PBI since my ‘what if’ series of games set in Vichy North Africa.
So – with COW priorities done for this year – it was time to visit some other favourite games and PBI got the vote. Having had a few less than satisfactory ‘jungle’ games with PBI we decided it would be good to give Graham’s PP 14th Army a run and try out some rule tweaks.
As a general health warning, when I imply that we play PBI, I mean we use the PBI game mechanisms: we don’t use any of the set up or scoring systems … but play to a scenario with objectives and win/lose criteria fixed in the scenario. Likewise, usually, issues like reinforcements etc. are specified/controlled by the umpire or guided by the scenario. The version of PBI we play might candidly be described as PBI ‘two-and-a-half’ … the 2006 game, but with things like ‘return fire’ removed because we found it slowed the pace of the game.
For multi-player games, we use an enhanced motivation variant: you roll 2 dice, motivation and APs, together and then decide which was which. This increases the likelihood of motivation, and results in more APs. This suits a multi-player games where a player might only get a single platoon, and again, speeds up the game (for us). We also allow commanders to count their position at the start of the turn as the position for further motivations if preferable (to limit the amount of ‘gamey’ running around they do in the basic game).
The effect of the extra motivation can be to make the game very bloody, as the pictures from the southern attack perhaps indicate. Even so, we had quite a few stalls on the night (nothing you can do will stop a player rolling ‘ones’).
Our house rules already allow spotting for mortars (L mortars can assess LOS from anyone in their platoon, M mortars – or L Mortars in a dedicated mortar platoon – can assess LOS from any officer within their company … so no actual ‘spotters’ but a mechanism for L mortars to be platoon support weapons and bigger tubes to be ‘one level up’) … Mortars can, of course, fire through jungle (because they did) …
The spotting rule is essential for this game – jungle means there is very rarely any significant LOS, but mortars are an important component in the jungle arsenal. These rules have worked well in other games, but Burma would obviously be a proper test.
The new ‘jungle warfare’ rule we introduced for this game was to make motivations possible. What has ‘killed’ PBI jungle games when we have tried them before is the ‘closed square’ modifier on the motivation roll (it means a Jap platoon on a normal frontage will frequently require 6 on a die roll for some of its sections to motivate, even where they are all in a continuous front with others that do motivate …) … The modifier might work well enough in Europe, when platoons get broken up into little groups, say, pinned-down in different buildings … but we don’t believe it works well in jungle where platoons seem to emerge from the undergrowth ‘en masse’ into the attack, not in dribs and drabs.
So our jungle rule is simple: if it is the same piece of jungle (no streams or clearings breaking it up) and the motivation path is entirely through occupied squares of the same platoon (i.e. contiguous), ‘word of mouth’ means you can ignore the closed square modifier other than for the commander’s square.
There is no implicit criticism of PBI, here … if you look at the table we proposed to use, it should be obvious that there are far more closed and partial squares than the rulebook recommends (actually, there is almost no ‘open’) … and so it would be normal to expect to make an adjustment.
This scenario will run more than one game. In the first, we had two almost coordinated platoon attacks on the southern and northern corners. The northern attack (supported by the company commander’s detachment) was very much a frontal massed assault, which after a succession of unlikely motivation fails eventually forced into the first line of military buildings. It suffered a terrible toll from spotted mortar fire.
The southern attack used a more subtle ‘traditional PBI’ approach of trying to work fire teams around the enemy squares to shoot the assaults in from several directions. This was also successful – apparently with less pain … however the defenders had cleverly stationed welcoming SMG squads in adjacent squares, and cut down the successful assault parties with close range fire. This southern platoon failed its consequent break test, so the toe hold may prove impossible to retain, depending on how rapidly the reinforcements can deploy (and the umpire is keeping his cards close to his chest) …
On the northern corner, the XIVth called up their solitary Stuart into the fray, mostly for the extra machine gun fire, and are poised for a mixed counter attack – to throw the enemy out of the position physically. There are still plenty of Japs around, of course, but lots of bodies from both sides, too … so morale and break tests will play an important part.
A diverting and worthy evening. We are looking forward to Game Two. The game was more playable than previous jungle games, but felt ‘right’. We didn’t use the ‘Banzai’ rule, but might have to look at it again (4 down on a big ‘average’ platoon is an issue: it leaves you vulnerable to break tests as you take losses, or more concerned with ‘housekeeping’ – clearing casualties – than feels right for a Japanese attack) … The motivation tweak solved the jungle problem, and I think the players liked the differential where, amongst the buildings, the Brit motivations were fragmented in the usual PBI way.
The mortar spotting rules brought out their true value as man-handleable support weapons … but we are likely to add in an AP cost for spotting (just to tone them down a bit) … actually, I’m not sure it is a spotting issue, it is just the way mortars work in PBI … because each hit is (up to two hits, of course) a hit on everyone in the square, and any save is a fail on a one (at best), it does come down to the dice.
Either way, one thing is very apparent: SMGs are very good. With a lot of jungle around, you seldom fire at three squares or more … at two squares, the SMG is as good as a rifle. At one square it is as good as a LMG. In an assault it is as good as a flamethrower.
And the Japanese don’t have any … (Oh? .. did I neglect to mention that I was on the Japanese side? OK, the southern attack – the one which broke after successfully making its initial breakthrough?) …