Review: Battlegroup Kursk

Rating: 4 stars

Battlegroup Kursk is the much anticipated set of World War II rules published by the Plastic Soldier Company. They are written by Warwick Kinrade, who is perhaps most well known as the author of the Kampfgruppe Normandie rules from Warhammer Historical.

The rules are written as the first of several books, each concentrating on a particular conflict, and as such is actually split into two distinct parts. The first, covering 53 pages are the rules themselves. The second, much larger part is a campaign supplement for the pivotal battle of Kursk on the Eastern Front.

These rules are aimed at two different scales: 15mm and 20mm, but rather unusually they are not aimed at a single level of game. Given changes in table size and number of troops available, Battlegroup Kursk claims to cater for no less than four different levels of game: Squad, Platoon, Company and Battalion. Squad level games can be played on a table as small as 4’ x 4’ in 15mm, whilst it is recommended that a Battalion level action in 20mm use a table size of at least 6’ x 10’.

bgk 2The game turn order is nominally I-go-U-go, although you can issue orders which allow you to react during your opponents turn. Each player has a random number of orders each turn, which is dependent on the number of officers he has in his force, plus a randomly rolled number, varying from 1d6 to 4d6, depending upon the size of the game being played. Each order can activate a single unit, which can be an infantry squad or single gun, tank or other vehicle. Each order issued to a unit allows that unit to perform 2 actions. Those actions include movement, firing, disembarkation/embarkation of troops, limbering/unlimbering of guns, requesting artillery fire or various engineering actions such as rearming, repairing or recovering vehicles and guns. Each unit can only be given one order in a turn, and units cannot be ordered if they are pinned as a result of enemy fire. Units can be rallied to remove pinning, but this rally in turn reduces the overall morale of the force by a random amount (controlled by drawing a chit) – this may eventually cause the battlegroup to break completely and thus lose the battle.

Movement is measured in inches. There are three different types of firing – area fire, which is easier to perform but primarily suppresses the target, aimed fire, which is harder but is designed to cause casualties on the enemy, and indirect artillery fire. Other rules include special abilities for certain units, aircraft, anti-aircraft fire and the use of battlefield engineering – a part of the battle which many recent World War II rules tend to ignore.

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One of the mechanics that Battlegroup Kursk uses to differentiate how guns and tanks operate is the use of limited ammunition. Each gun or tank only has a certain number of shots (each shot representing in actuality a volley of rounds) before it has to be rearmed. Furthermore, these can be split between HE and AP rounds, which means the players have a certain amount of micro-management to perform when using tanks and artillery, but this can lead to some interesting decisions regarding exactly how a player arms their guns. It also means that players can deploy vehicles to re-arm their guns…using orders which are perhaps required elsewhere?

The majority of the book is taken up with the campaign background for Kursk. This includes an overview of the battle, a detailed breakdown of the forces and equipment involved, and four army lists, which allow players to field battlegroups for a German Panzer Division, German Infantry Division, Russian Tank Corps or Russian Infantry Division. Following on from this you have a section on generic scenario generation, a 7-part narrative campaign based on the events of the 12th July and a hobby section giving examples of how to paint various vehicles and also how you may go about creating a terrain board for the battle. Finally, there are detailed appendices giving stats for all German & Russian forces, plus quick reference sheets for the rules.

The army lists, though they are points based, are designed in such a way as to promote the use of balanced and historically accurate forces, rather than simply using the most powerful units available.

bgk 4Whilst the game is designed with both infantry and vehicles in mind, it’s major focus is on the use of tanks, guns and other AFVs, so it can be seen as a game in which infantry is used to support tanks, rather than a game in which tanks are used to support infantry – perhaps a subtle but necessary distinction to make. It’s definitely a set of rules which allows the player to deploy many of his toys onto the table, should he so wish.

The rulebook itself is beautifully produced in full colour, with many model pictures as well as black and white period photographs – it’s one of those books that would grace any wargamers coffee table, but it would be much better off on the wargames table!

It’s refreshing to have a new set of rules use the Eastern Front as its first campaign setting. The default first campaign for any World War II set of rules has a tendency to be Normandy, and whilst this supplement is due out early next year, the use of Kursk – still possibly the most famous tank battle of World War II – does make a nice change. No doubt the fact that the Plastic Soldier Company has a large range for both German and Russian forces had some influence on this!

Overall, whilst Battlegroup Kursk is a modern set of rules, it has a few nostalgic nods in its mechanics which remind me of some of the WW2 games that I started playing in my teens. Perhaps it is enough of a recommendation of these rules that, having sworn that I would not be collecting any models for the Eastern Front, my painting table is now full of Russian Infantry and T-34s.

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