Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Review: Division Commander

Division Commander is a set of miniature wargames rules for gaming multi-day battles of World War Two from Bruce McFarlane published under his Complete Wargame Packages (CWP) banner. The rules are designed for multi-Division multiple day actions with individual stands representing a Battalion. The ground scale is 3 inches to the mile and the time scale is variable but a turn is roughly equivalent to between 90 minutes and 3 hours.
Division Commander is only available as an Adobe .pdf download comprising the main rules, quick reference sheet, three scenarios, counters and Division cards for typical German, Soviet and Allied Forces. The rules have a colour front cover and some small colour photographs of miniatures but is otherwise in black and white. Other than the contents page it is laid out in a single column format in a relatively small font. The main rules run to some 21 pages. The rules are followed by four pages of FAQs. The three scenarios included are Counterattack at Arras, El Almein (sic): Operations Lightfoot and Supercharge and Mud at Mtsensk.
The presentation is generally poor with muddled page layouts, multiple fonts being used in single sections for no apparent reason, fonts which are uncomfortably small which combined with poor proof-reading and the rules/FAQ approach does not make the rules pretty or easy to navigate. Different terminology is used to describe the same things (e.g. dispersed/decimated) and the Quick Reference Sheet actually disagrees with the main rules.
Sequence of Play
Each day turn is broken down into around 30 steps with additional steps for the first turn but night turns have only 4.
Typically these are as follows:
Corps Artillery, Air Support and Command
Initiative (an opposed modified d6 roll)
Phasing Player:
Recover from dispersed
Rally from disorder
Motivate deployed units
Change orders (optional rule)
Air strikes
Move HQ
Defensive fire from non-phasing player
Offensive fire
Close combat
Momentum test (optional rule)
Reverse Roles and Repeat
Whilst this may seem lengthy each turn actually flows relatively smoothly once the rule kinks have been ironed out.
Players are either allocated forces using a historic scenario or can select them via a random or points based approach. Not all Divisions will be present on the table at the start of the game and a mechanism is provided to determine which will be available immediately and which will arrive later. Reinforcements can be rolled for from turn 3 onwards.
Corps and Army Support
This is represented through the allocation of counters or "chits" for artillery barrages, air support and Corps command and control. These are rolled for randomly to determine the number available and then may be utilised during a player's turns.
Unit Status / Command Radius
Units can be deployed (following firing), disordered or dispersed (as combat results). Divisional HQs have a 9 inch command radius outside of which things become nasty for units (e.g. they are unable to modify units' status).
Each Division also has a "Supply and Communications Centre" (SCC) which is a fixed position on the table for each Division and the Divisional HQ must be able to link to the SCC via the road network.
The issuing of commands is one of the key rule mechanisms. As the day goes on and units become deployed, disordered and/or dispersed the number of commands available to a player will reduce until eventually units will "Go to Ground". Commands are then utilised to motivate deployed units (to enable them to move forward), rally disordered units or recover dispersed units (if successful they reappear at your SCC). Additionally commands may be used to call in air support (if any has been made available), artillery barrages or allocate additional support to units in combat (represented by die roll modifiers). Divisions that have Gone to Ground receive only a single command per turn and when all units have Gone to Ground the day is over (hence days may last differing numbers of turns).
Units have both a fast and slow movement mode (the latter when they are taking advantage of the terrain for cover) typically 6 inches and 3 inches. Even if only individual units decide to move "fast" the whole Division will be deemed as "fast" for applying the effects. Road movement is also available at double speed provided movement on road is done for the whole turn and it is not used to go into close combat.
Units which do not move may be marked as having "directed fire" for the use of 1 command which will enable them to have defensive fire in the other player's turn.
Ranged combat is simply a matter of determining if a unit can be seen, is in range and rolling a modified d6 and comparing it to the unit's Effective Fire number. Ones are always considered failures whilst sixes are always considered successes.
Close combat is resolved in a similar fashion for any units which are in base to base contact; however, multiple rounds of close combat may occur until a decisive result is acheived.
Night Turns
Night attacks are catered for but typically night turns are used for recovery, rallying, motivation, engineering, reinforcement and reallocation of support units.
Optional Rules
These are provided for paratroops, hidden deployment and movement, strategic and other movement options and Divisional orders.
I really like the concepts that Bruce McFarlane has tried to include in these rules and the ability to play games in a reasonable time at this level is very welcome. However, the presentation is frankly appalling, the rules are poorly laid out, no examples are provided and the Quick Reference Sheet is inconsistent with the main rules in a number of places and in very substantial ways. In addition, the inclusion of the roll of a 6 always being a success frequently turns combat into a "6 and you're dead" dice rolling exercise which removes some of the feel from the game. If you have the patience to persevere, rewrite the Quick Reference Sheet and add a few home brew modifications these rules could be useful, of course none of this should be necessary for a set of rules you are being asked to pay US$23 for a.pdf download in this day and age. Similarly there is no excuse for the poor presentation.
Overall there is a reasonable set of rules here but they do not compare well for presentation or value to other rules for this period (albeit for differing levels).

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