Friday, April 18, 2008

TCS GD '41 review

GD '41 comprehensive review
Tactical Combat Series No. 9
Published: 1996
Designer: Wig Graves

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.

GD '41 specifics:
Tactical Combat Series Rules version 3.1

22nd-25th October, 1941. South of Tula, Russia
Two full-sized maps
Unit symbols: AFV, weapons and troops are all are full color icons.

Opposing Sides:
Russia: 6th Guards Rifle Division, part, 4th and 11th tank Brigades, 1st Bn, 201st Parachute Brigade
German: Grossdeutschland Motorized Infantry Regiment, elements of 3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions
Total number of battalion equivalents (the usual op sheet size) in play: Up to about 20 or so. Playing time: Up to 40 hours, according to the box.

GD '41 continues the TCS saga of the Grossdeutschland Regiment that started in GD '40. The goal is to depict one battle from each year of the war from the perspective of this elite German army unit.

GD '41 may be the epitome of what the TCS system should cover, a combined arms battle with a good mix of armor, infantry and artillery between two roughly equal forces with some real choices between strategies.

This iteration of the TCS system has very few special rules, the standard 3.1 rules being sufficient to cover most eventualities.

Most of the special rules cover peculiarities of the Russian forces, including "encouraging" commissars, battalion-sized artillery shoots, physical forward observers, restrictions on tank fires, "bunching up" and limits on the number of op sheets available. Most of these rules already appeared in the earlier Black Wednesday game.

Heavy weapons are transported using inherent trucks, wagons or halftracks in a rule becoming standard fare in TCS. Also making an appearance are two new "standard rules" refining infantry guns ability to fire at point targets in some situations and making infantry and ATG "special B" targets that are usually affected by fire as area targets except in certain circumstances.

The five scenarios follow the by-now well-established TCS routine of breaking the historical battle up into discrete phases by location or time in order to accommodate players with time or space limits as well as an overall campaign. There's also a "prequel" scenario that covers the fighting before the Grossdeutschland Regiment appeared, which mostly provides a chance for the Russians to have some fun blunting a too-hasty German attack.

As usual, the Russian side is probably the more challenging to play. The Russian player is limited to just one implemented op sheet per brigade/regiment which means that he doesn't have a lot of flexibility and his five formations (4th Gd. Regt., 10th Gd. Regt., 1-201st Para, 4th Tank and 11th Tank) can't cooperate on the battlefield. In addition, the tank brigades are committed piecemeal by die roll. On the other hand, the burden of attack is on the Germans, the Russians are well-fortified and their tanks are as good as the German ones or better.

The Germans do have an important firepower advantage with more and more flexible guns and plentiful air support. The German advantage in command should give them a sufficient edge.

As usual with TCS, players who are looking for a balanced or "fair" fight are likely to find the game wanting, but for players interested in the dynamics of World War II battlefield tactics GD '41 is another good choice.

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