Friday, April 25, 2008

TCS: Bloody Ridge

Bloody Ridge comprehensive review

Tactical Combat Series No. 14

Published: 2005

Designer: Michael S. Smith

TCS Overview

Repeated from earlier reviews. If already familiar with TCS skip this part.

Now published by Multi-Man Publishing, the TCS is one of The Gamers founding lines of series wargames that use a common set of standard rules to allow players to explore many different battles without having to learn a new set of rules every time.

In TCS the ground scale is 125 meters per hex, time is 20 minutes per daylight turn and units are platoons of troops, weapons sections and individual vehicles, so it’s about halfway between the ASL/Squad Leader squad-based systems and the traditional PanzerBlitz/First Battle platoon-oriented systems typically seen in tactical 20th Century wargames. Unlike most of its peers, TCS games always depict specific historical incidents on the actual terrain. There are no “geomorphic” representative maps or generic counters.

Distinctively, the TCS system is much less concerned with the characteristics of the hardware used than the typical tactical wargame. Offensively, units either fire area-effect weapons such as small arms and high explosives or with weapons with a point effect such as anti-tank guns. Similarly, they are either area targets such as soldiers or point targets such as a vehicle, or occasionally both. If armed, the unit has a range and if made up of troops a morale rating. If it’s a vehicle or gun it has a defense rating based on its armor.

Platoons have five “steps” while weapons units have one or two. Vehicles represent individual machines and are either hit (mission kill) or not.

As one would expect there are rules covering special conditions, tactics and needs such as smoke, fortifications and various terrain effects, but the basic structure is very straightforward and, compared to other tactical wargames, uncomplicated. This aspect of the game is deliberately kept simple.The real heart of the game system is the command control rules, which mimics the kind of staff planning that goes into conducting actual military operations at this scale. Players actually draw up their battle plans in schematic form on “op sheets” specifying exactly how they plan to conduct their attack or defense using specific units in specific ways. Once the plan is drawn up it waits while sufficient “weighted turns” accumulate in order to put it into effect. How much time passes will depend on factors such the complexity of the plan, how many different units are involved, the nature of the mission and the overall quality of the unit’s staff work and a die roll. A simple movement plan involving no contact with the enemy by a single company under a highly trained staff might take just a turn or two before coming into effect. On the other hand, a complex, multi-battalion deliberate assault by a poorly-staffed army like the Soviets may never actually happen.

This is a fascinating and unique system that creates a very different pacing from what’s usually seen. Long stretches of time tend to pass with relatively little going on interspersed with periods of intense action. It much more closely resembles the pacing of actual military operations than most tactical wargames.

On the other hand, this is also the system’s biggest weakness. It is wholly unsuited for competitive playing styles. It relies absolutely on the players making good faith effort to act within the spirit of the rules. It relies on them faithfully executing plans that no longer make tactical sense because ground facts have changed since the plan was drawn up. It requires players who will not attempt to wring every possible “legal” advantage the rules might allow but instead try act as the real-life commanders would have. It’s pointless for players whose first consideration is winning to play this. This is a game system for people interested in the journey, NOT the destination.It can be played solitaire fairly easily by drawing up alternative plans for both sides and then dicing among those for the actual plans being used.

Series designer Dean Essig firmly insisted that no game in the series would be made obsolete by any rules changes. All updates to the system are required to be backwards compatible and therefore every game (Except the modern Force Eagle's war) can (and should) be played with the latest edition of the rules, currently 3.1.

Bloody Ridge specifics:

Tactical Combat Series Rules version 3.1

12th-14th September, 1942, Henderson Field, Guadalcanal

One small map

Unit symbols: Weapons and troops are all are full color icons. There are no AFV

Opposing Sides:

U.S.: Elements First Marine Division
Japan: Elements 124th Infantry Regt.

Total number of battalion equivalents (the usual op sheet size) in play: Up to about 9 or so.

Playing time: Up to about 4 hours, according to the box.

Bloody Ridge is small for a TCS game, with a very narrow focus on the fighting for a small, if critical terrain feature -- a ridge overlooking Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. While involving just a few battalions on both sides, it was probably the critical moment in the campaign, as it was the closest that the Japanese ever got to actually capturing the airfield.

The single most dominant feature on the map is the thick jungle that covers most of it. Because jungle costs 3 movement points per hex to enter the Japanese will find they don't have a lot of time to putz around. Their infantry platoons will generally move just two hexes per turn. Here and there a trail exists and the open ridge allows faster, although more vulnerable movement. For the most part it's slogging through jungle, though. And that slog will quickly leave the Japanese support weapons behind, as the machine gun teams. mortar teams and infantry guns can all move just one hex per turn.

The Japanese don't have a lot of supporting weapons in any case, and no real artillery. A cruiser and three destroyers make a brief appearance at the beginning of the battle with a quick barrage, but otherwise its bullets, bayonet sand grenades doing the work. The Japanese are quality troops with morale of "2" for the most part, which would normally be enough to give them a big edge. And they have some special rules increasing their effectiveness in close combat as well. But they're up against U.S, Marines, who have their own special rules giving similar advantages. And the heart of the Marine defense is held by the elite Marine Raider Battalion, with help from the Parachute Battalion. They have morale levels of "1." The Marines also have the benefit of standing on the defense, so they can use their supporting arms more easily, including a few batteries of artillery and some air support, too.

The Japanese labor under a further disadvantage with the poor command prep level of "6." This means implementing any changes to plans will be a long and uncertain affair and makes op sheets with reserves or alternative routes nearly useless. In contrast the Marines generally have comamnd prep level of "4" which designates about average competence. Committing reserves or executing an alternative route is about a 50/50 shot with that rating. The Raider battalion has a command prep rating of "1" which is excellent and means that unit will be very flexible and can use reserves profusely.

All this shapes up as a close-range and bloody fight, hence the name "Bloody Ridge."

There are just four scenarios. The first is an 11-turn depiction of the attack the Japanese planned to carry out on the 12th, but failed to happen because of delays getting through the jungle. This has the weakest Marine defense, so it provides the best chance for Japanese victory. The second scenario extends that assault into the daylight hours.

The second scenario covers the actual fight, over 37 turns, on the 13th and 14th, while the final scenario is an 83-turn campaign game covering all three days.

Bloody Ridge is, by TCS standards, small and makes a good intro to the system. Its available from MMP.

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