By David Reynolds © 2001

Published by Sovereign Press, Lake Geneva, WI

(Review by Warren Peterson)


Kampfgruppe Commander is a set of miniature rules for recreating World War II land battles at a grand tactical scale using company-sized, multi-stand units. The rules are published as a soft cover bound book and include a one page, card stock rules summary (or player's aid) sheet for use during gaming. The rules are well organized with the discussion being accompanied by the appropriate table in the book. This limits having to refer to an appendix while reading. There are also a few examples of play to aid in understanding the rules.

Scales used in the rules are one turn equals 30 to 60 minutes, and 1 inch equals 100 yards. As published, the rules can be used with micro-armor to 10mm, with an extended scale (which is provided) they can be used for gaming in 15mm to 20mm scales. I have used these rules for 15mm scale play and find that they function well.

The rules call for units to be based on stands with infantry as 3 figures per stand and vehicles as 1 vehicle per stand. For 15mm scale, the rules recommend 1¼-inch square bases, although alternate basing schemes may be used. One infantry stand or vehicle stand equals one platoon. Units are made up of between two to four stands. The rules also require the inclusion of a non-combat stand such as a formation commander with the units.

As presented in the book, the rules are broken down into significantly more complex levels of play and rule mechanics. The levels are described as: command & leadership, mobile warfare, infantry tactics, and combined arms. This means of presentation allows the gamer to read the initial rules framework and begin play. As experience with the rules develops, the gamer can add more complex aspects of play. Six scenarios of increasing complexity are provided with the rules to allow the gamer a means of practice after reading each section.

One of the key aspects of these rules are the command and leadership provisions. A die roll (1D6, "an averaging die") is made at the start of the turn for the formation commander. The die roll is then modified by the commander's rating. This modified value is the total number of pips with which the commander can issue orders to his units. In general, units pay one pip to perform an action, such as move or fire. A unit can perform any number of actions as long as there are pips to pay for it. The more actions a unit performs within a given turn, the more pips it costs. Units rated as veteran can perform multiple actions with a lesser total pips cost than units rated as green.

When a unit performs an action, enemy units may perform a reaction. Reactions may include opportunity fire, return fire, fall back or voluntary retreat. To perform a reaction, a unit must roll 1D10 and get less than or equal to its' response rating. If successful, the enemy unit is allowed to perform its reaction. If unsuccessful, it may or may not be allowed to perform its' reaction as intended. Reactions performed by a unit are required to be paid out of the commander's pip allowance, in the next friendly turn, before further actions can be performed by that unit. This means that a commander of a unit that performed several opportunity fires or fall back movements during the enemy's turn, may not have sufficient pips to activate that unit during his own turn. This limits the combat effectiveness of units, which when you're facing German Panthers with Russian T34's is a good thing.

As fire is exchanged and hits are recorded, they may or may not cause casualties. However, the unit receiving the hits is required to perform morale checks. Besides the usual unit morale effects of shaken and retreat, the rules provide for force morale (i.e., army morale). A commander loses force morale as he loses units and retreats occur. When the force morale points are depleted, all formations must begin to withdraw. This serves to prevent the usual table top tactic of every unit fitting to the death, as the loss of only a few units can result in the entire force withdrawing.

One of the interesting features of the rules is that it allows a unit to be withdrawn for recovery of "hits". This can serve to repair damaged units, and possibly return lost stands to those units. This mechanism provides the formation commander a tool to control his losses, maintain an attack or defense, and manage that important force morale.

Included with the rules (as appendices) are data tables for Axis and Allied vehicles, infantry and weapons. The appendices also include six scenarios (3 East Front, 3 West Front) and tables of organization for German, Russian, British, American, Italian, French and Polish armies. Blank unit data sheets are available for download (in *.pdf format) from the publisher's web page.

What I like about the Kampfruppe Commander rule set is that it allows you to react to the play of your opponent in an immediate fashion. In my opinion, this makes for a more fluid game and aids in keeping players focused. It also allows for fall back movement and rewards players who preserve their units (i.e., minimize their casualties). In my opinion this is more akin to real life, as all to often games are played as every unit fights to the death.

An aspect of the rules that I haven't decided on yet (whether I like or dislike) is the way, Kampfgruppe Commander handles movement through different terrain features. When a unit encounters a different terrain type (such as woods) it rolls 1D10 and references a table. Depending on the die roll (as modified), the movement penalty for moving through that terrain type can be: no effect, movement at 1.5 times, 2 times, 3 times, or 4 times the movement point cost, or a complete stop. The unit is required to roll each time it attempts to move through that terrain type. Of course infantry movement is not as penalized as tracked or wheeled vehicles. However, the affect of this rule provision can be aggravating as a strip of woods has the potential to stop a unit's movement for a period of several turns. This forces players to use more open terrain which aids the defense. It also makes it more difficult to coordinate an attack through different terrain features. Arguably this is more in agreement with real life situations, but as we can be creatures of habit use to standard movement allowances for specific terrains types it does take getting use to.

What I dislike about the rule set is the element of book keeping that is required during game play. As units perform activities during their turn or perform reactions to enemy units during the enemy's turn, you are required to track this in order to account for the pip consequences. While these pip costs can be tracked by placing a die next to the unit, it can become quite involved in large battles with many units. It can also be a hassle (and a headache) when a rolling die bumps your pip counter die(s).

Another minor complaint about the rules concerns the description (or example) of battle in the rules book. The narrative provides an overall description of the sequence of activities but does not relate it to the rules or step you through the rule mechanics. This limits its usefulness to new players trying to understand the game's mechanics.

Overall, I would highly recommend this rule set to anyone interested in World War II gaming.

Addendum (by Joe Shaffer): I played this game with Warren, and I agree with all he said. The rules permit a fluid battle and the casualty system is not so overwhelming as to discourage attack. I think Mr. Reynolds may overstated the command and control expertise of the German Army, though. While it was often first rate, they also broke down and made mistakes, attrition took its toll over six years of war, and its soldiers' will to fight wasn't always at the peak. This of course can be easily remedied by adjusting command quality in scenario preparation. The only other concern I have is the concept of automatic kills. If a unit's armor value is more then 3 points inferior to the attacking AT unit, there is no chance of survival from a hit. (e.g. A German 75L48mm gun will always kill a Sherman at 1000 meters.) Since war is characterized by the improbable and the amazing, I'm not a fan of no-chance-to-survive situations. I recommend tinkering with the rules to give any unit getting hit a 4-5% chance of survival (e.g. rolling 2d10 and getting 1 or 2 on each, or perhaps rolling a 1 on 1d20). It is small but at least there is hope. I played these rules for the first time at Historicon in 2001 and I bought them as a result. I recommend these rules to anyone looking for grand-tactical or even operational games.