Sunday, April 13, 2008

TCS: GD'40 comprehensive review

GD '40 comprehensive review

Tactical Combat Series No. 5
Published: 1993
Designer: W.G. "Wig" Graves

[b]TCS Overview[/b]
[i]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.[/i]

[b]GD '40 specifics:[/b]

Rules: Tactical Combat Series Rules version 3.0

May 15th-16th, Stonne, France, Battle for France

One full-sized map

Unit symbols: AFV are full color icons, Weapons and troops are map graphic symbols

Opposing Sides: French: Elements of the 3rd DCR and 3rd Motorized Divisions
Germans: Gross Deutschland Motorized Infantry Regiment, elements 10th Panzer Division

Total number of battalion equivalents (the usual op sheet size) in play: Up to about 17 or so.
Playing time: Up to 20 hours, according to the box.

GD'40 was the first TCS game that featured a lot of tanks. And this one has a [i]lot[/i] of tanks! The Germans field a couple of companies of tanks, assault guns and armored cars, for a total of 59 AFV. But the French really bring it, with as many as four tank battalions and some stray companies of recon and tanks as well, for a total of up to 142 AFV. This game showed that the TCS system could handle armor as well as its forte, infantry and artillery.

The GD in the title refers to the Gross Deutchland elite German army unit that fought throughout the war. The '40 refers to the 1940 campaign, which was the GD's baptism of fire. The idea behind the GD series of games is to follow the Gross Deutchland through the entire war, with one game from each year of the war featuring a significant battle from the unit's history. The Gross Deutchland was a strong regiment in 1940, but ended the war a division, making this an ambitious project that should end up with at least six TCS titles.

GD '40 was the second game under the 3.0 version of the TCS series rules, which replaced the rigid sequence of play used earlier. Now most of the action took place during "action phases" in which units moved, fired and close assaulted/overrun as desired by the phasing player in any order desired.

The major exception to this full integration of activity was the artillery system, which still operated in its own artillery and call for fire phases before the action phases, although this artillery subsystem as much quicker and easier than what had gone before. Now the mission's target was selected, the amount of fire in EFSs (effective sheafs) was announced, the player adjusted the target location using a die roll and then placed the EFS as indicated. The fire was then resolved. In GD '40, representing main force battling in Europe, there's a lot of gunnery involved. The French have up to 8 batteries of 75s in support, while the Germans have as many as nine of 105s. This is enough to strain the EFS system and would prompt a final simplification of the system in the next iteration of the rules.

There are very few special rules in this game. Some German units are motorcycle troops, and an optional rule appears covering trucks and half tracks that doesn't represent them on the map as had been previous practice, but instead allows infantry units at least 20 hexes distant from the enemy to have "instant trucks." Later games in the series would explore this idea further, as it saves cluttering up the map with lots of marginally useful trucks and also helps avoid unrealistic PanzerBlitz style tactical misuse of transport assets.

Aside from rules detailing artillery and air support, the only notable special rules make note of the poor morale of certain French infantry units and the number of French tanks that broke down on the way to the fight. There's also an optional rule allowing for a stronger-than-historical French commitment of forces.

The historical scenarios are fairly straightforward. The first depicts the GD capturing Stonne, a small French village perched on a commanding hilltop in the middle of the map. The second scenario depicts the French counterattack retaking Stonne while the third shows the 69th regiment of the 10th Panzer taking Stonne back. All three of these scenarios are relatively short at 16-19 turns, so players will pretty much be stuck trying to execute their initial op sheets as there really isn't enough time to get new ones implemented.

The fourth scenario covers the whole day's fighting, which [i]will[/i] allow for changing plans and optionally can continue through the following day with a couple more battalions of French joining in.

No guidance is provided on scenario balance, but the historical back and forth suggest that the two sides were pretty evenly matched.

The system's armor rules, while workable, have been criticized for not having the right feel for armored combat. The 20-minute turns that work so well for infantry fighting work against the quick "duels" that characterize tank firefights. The new 4th edition rules may change that, but the game still works OK even under 3.0 and 3.1 rules, largely because the tanks involved have such short ranges that they're going to do most of their fighting are knife-fighting ranges anyway.

All-in-all, GD'40 is a deservedly popular game in the series and may very well have been its breakthough title. Wargamers like their tanks, and GD'40 showed the way for a larger role in the game system for armor. More tanks appear in GD'40 than in all four of the earlier games put together.

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