A Raging Storm comprehensive review
Tactical Combat Series No. 11
Designer: Nigel Roberts and Bob Runnicles
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.
Semper Fi! specifics:
Tactical Combat Series Rules version 3.1
3rd-4th February, 1944, Anzio beachhead, Italy
Two full-sized maps
Unit symbols: AFV, weapons and troops are all are full color icons.
Commonwealth: Elements of the 1st Infantry Division
German: Kampfgruppe Graser (elements of four divisions); KG Pfeiffer (elements of two divisions)
Total number of battalion equivalents (the usual op sheet size) in play: Up to about 25 or so.Playing time: Up to about 50 hours.
A Raging Storm is an intense, large-scale knock-down, drag-out divisional-scale fight.
In a break from the usual TCS pattern this game starts with the 44-turn campaign game and then lists five scenarios detailing various parts of the fight.
Many of the special rules have to do with terrain and map notes. Vehicles are restricted to the road net due to the soggy terrain, which not only limits their avenues of advance but also increases their vulnerability to overwatch fire. So, while there's a good amount of armor available for both sides, it's much less effective than normal.
The Germans have a "Main Line of Resistance" that the British can't cross, basically giving them a safe haven for organizing their offensive. Meanwhile the British are generally limited to "Battalion Defense Areas," a concept first seen in Hunters From The Sky. In this game, however, the BDAs are printed on the map.
BDAs are a mixed blessing. On the one hand, they're pretty restrictive. The Germans know exactly where they are and the British are forced into defending more or less in the historical positions. On the other hand, BDAs are more flexible than the usual prepared or hasty defense op sheets would be. British units within their BDA can move and fight freely, which lets them conduct a more active defense than usual.
While the Germans have some rules helping them out, such as an initial infiltration move, they do not have their usual edge in quality. In fact, on average the British troops have a slight edge in morale.
Both sides have plenty of guns and the British also have plentiful ammunition as well.
Overall, this will be a bloody, intense battle over the course of a single day. It's a feast for TCS fans, but probably not a good place to start for newer players.