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Subject: Battlefield Europe, My Favorite First Battle rss

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Sim Guy
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Introduction
One of the premier wargame designers of the 80s and 90s was Frank Chadwick of Game Designer's Workshop. If you ever get the chance to meet him – he attends a lot of game cons - chat him up about old GDW, or history, or current events, whatever. You won't be disappointed. Among many other games, Frank designed a number of tactical armored combat titles in his time at GDW. Most notable of these games, to me, were the Assault series and the First Battle series. Assault was an ambitious, and mostly successful, attempt to simulate contemporary weapons, ca. 1985, at a level of detail not really seen to that point. I'll talk about Assault another day. This review is a long look at Chadwick's later effort, the First Battle series and specifically Battlefield Europe.

First Battle is mechanically similar to the Assault series but the complexity is dialed down, making it more accessible to a wider playing audience. FB also works well when applied to different eras, and games in the series cover WWII, Korean War, contemporary Europe, Middle East conflicts, and the near future – actually Y2K, but it was the future in the 80s. The series was introduced with Team Yankee, covering a contemporary NATO/Pact conflict in Europe, and the system proved popular enough to expand upon with another seven titles – if you include the free introductory game 'Battle for Basra' that GDW gave to everybody who would take one, back in '91. Battlefield Europe was released dead in the middle of the series and covers a myriad of once potential conflicts in, what has now become an alternate history timeline.

The game is classic First Battle, as I've reviewed in Blood and Thunder, so if you've seen that one pay attention to the differences over here. Battlefield Europe is a product from the glory days of GDW, the sophisticated gamers alternative publisher as opposed to the Avalon Hill/SPI offerings of the late 70s and 80s. By the 90s there were many more companies competing for fewer wargaming dollars and a great shakeout was coming, which would take these three giants (among others), as we knew them, out of the game. Don't overlook GDW when you peruse the auctions and used game sales, you'll miss out if you do.

Images used are taken from the BGG game pages.
Thanks to: (The Maverick)(Original_CorPse)(kjuice)


The Game
Battlefield Europe, by GDW, is a Platoon level treatment of armored combined arms combat between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces all across Europe. The game was released in 1990, and is the fourth of eight titles in the First Battle series, that debuted in 1987 with Team Yankee. The game doesn't focus in too hard on any one set of adversaries, spanning Europe from the Baltic to the Balkans. It does a pretty good job of depicting modern weaponry in an understandable format where the players can adjust the 'chrome' to their own comfort level.



First impressions

By today's standards, Battlefield Europe wouldn't win any awards for graphic design. The maps are good quality and easy enough to interpret, but players who are used to Tide of Iron, or Panzer Grenadier won't be impressed. Likewise the counters show good production values, but are rather ordinary looking and would probably pull a yawn out of a newer gamer. An inventory of the box gives us: four card stock geomorphic map sections, about 700 counters, a four page (!) Basic Rules book, a pair of scenario books – one for the Red side, one for Blue – a couple of CRT/Terrain Effects cards, and a Battle Manual. The Battle manual alone is worth the price of the game and is the kind of thing Chadwick was known for at GDW. More on it later.


The Maps – There are four 11' x 17” geomorphic maps; the hexes represent 200 meters, and depict typical European terrain. There are towns, woods, some mountains, but mostly you get small towns dotting a countryside of rolling hills, streams, and light woods. The four color maps are nothing to write home about; very symbolic features with roads and cities that are simple black lines and rectangles. Not very exciting but clear and 'functional'.


(Counters from Sands of War)

The Counters – The double-sided unit counters are similar to and maybe a notch above the classic old PanzerBlitz style, but are still basically a silhouette of a vehicle, soldier, mortar, or aircraft.
Aside from the graphics, the units are printed in bright blue and red and are a little unusual in that Warsaw Pact and NATO forces appear in both color schemes, due to the nature of some of the conflicts put forth in the scenarios. The counters don't break any new ground in style and, even by the standards of the day, they are a little basic. Still there is quite a bit of information on each counter, and it is presented clearly enough:
The unit type name
Movement value and type of movement (Tracked, Wheeled, Leg)
Attack and range
Defense (Armored and Soft targets)

Some counters also have a special function code, including a code that designates a unit as a command unit © - more on these later.

Rules
The astonishingly short, four page Basic Rule book, just a folded sheet really, is more than enough to get you playing. To be honest, most of the time that I played this game – and I did play it quite a lot – these were about all the rules I used. They cover component descriptions, movement, combat, some basic mechanics, and not much more The Battle Manual contains another six pages of Advanced Rules (still amounting to only ten pages total) covering command, morale, and some rules regarding modern weapons and aircraft.

The manual also contains a section on designing your own scenarios, tables of unit costs, and a set of broad guidelines for campaign gaming (which, I have to admit, have formed the basis for my own campaign games for PanzerBlitz, Panzer Grenadier, and such).


Mechanics
The game scale is Platoon level, hexes are 200 meters across, and turns are somewhere between 5-10 minutes per turn – it isn't specifically stated in the materials.

Battlefield Europe, like all of the First Battle series, is typical of most games of this type: Units move and fire at one another, fire is direct or indirect, and infantry has the capability to conduct assaults. Units can generally move or fire, except under special conditions. Units must be in command control to perform most functions. Adverse combat results in Destruction, Damaged or Pinned conditions, and loss of morale. Command, morale, and unit cohesion are emphasized throughout the system, and at times it can get cumbersome, especially in larger battles.

Battlefield Europe is designed as a two player game but, with large enough forces, can be interesting as a team game. One of the problems with larger games, however, is that unless you have multiple First Battle titles on your shelf (or you don't mind raiding your PanzerBlitz or Panzer Grenadier games), the four maps limit the size of your battlefield. And even in some of the larger scenarios, the number of counters needed is a handicap. You'll either need to raid another series game or buy multiple copies for original counters – of course you could always make your own, but that's another topic.

Set Up
Like most tactical games, set up is freer than in a themed battle game. Each scenario will describe a map board configuration, the initial and any follow-on forces, objectives and victory conditions, and either entry points or area boundaries for both side, along with initiative and morale values.

Game Play
The sequence of play is:
Command Phase – determine which units are in command control.
First Fire Phase – select and fire units prior to movement.
Movement Phase – move any units that haven't fired, mover are subject to enemy reaction fire.
Final Fire Phase – any unit that hasn't moved or fired may now fire.

I really like the split fire phases around the movement phase – this was a feature common to Frank Chadwick's tactical games. If you count Reaction Fire there can effectively be three fire phases per turn, and things can get bloody. I like being able to fire on a target and neutralize it, or soften it up a little, move assault forces closer, and still have some shots in my pocket. But mostly I like that it gives a player the option to move or shoot first. It's a little thing but it can make a big difference.

Combat
There's nothing really new here, for an experienced gamer, regarding combat. Combat is odds based for direct fire, with terrain effects shifting the odds column used. Weapons effectiveness of guns is affected by range, and target type. Indirect fire is handled as Light/Field/Medium/Heavy and ICMDP (Improved Conventional Munitions Dual Purpose – effectively another type of Heavy Arty) - and is at a fixed odds level for each type, and odds are shifted depending on armored and soft targets. Combat results are Destroyed, Pinned, Damaged, or no effect.

As losses mount, morale effects begin to affect the forces, eventually causing units to 'hesitate' and possibly to 'break' under pressure. Command units can coax a little more fight out of them but it makes everything harder.

Command
Command effectiveness is something that can make or break a unit, and therefore very important to factor into a simulation. But too much 'simulation' can take the fun out of what is supposed to be a game. Different designers try different things to incorporate command and control into their games. Some ignore it completely, some will include pages of command rules, in this respect Battlefield Europe is typical of the First Battle series, which attempts to address command and control without bogging down the game. In this respect I believe that the game only partially succeeds. All command and control rules slow down the game and makes bookkeeping a necessary evil. Battlefield Europe is no different.

There are some individual commanders, and there are also units that have command capability, similar to the command rules of Panzer Grenadier, which has individual commander units and AFV commanders which are assumed in the unit counter. Units in command control are capable of performing any action within their capability, while those out of command control are restricted from taking much in the way of offensive action. Needless to say, it's a good idea to keep track of your commanders and command units.

Scenarios
The game manual contains 15 scenario descriptions each focusing on a single action between European antagonists. Scenarios are framed by a political and historical observation and are clearly drawn. The set up instructions are contained in the Red/Blue scenario books and are clear enough. Most of the scenarios are on the small side, in order to ease the command and control burden on the players. If you like larger scenarios, like me, you'll have to design your own. Happily, as I've mentioned above, there is a unit purchase scheme included in the manual for do it yourself scenario design, and each of the scenarios feels almost like an introduction into a potential conflict, so the possibilities are almost endless.

What’s missing?
My biggest problem with the game, and with the First Battle series in general, is that in order for the command, control, and morale elements of the game to have their intended (and considerable) effect, the players need to keep track of their higher echelon unit formations. The counters depict platoons, but the scenarios operate at the company/battalion level or higher. There's significant bookkeeping involved, and worse, the suggested distinguishing feature for keeping your unit integrity straight is a tiny ID number on a counter that looks just like any other counter of its type. When units start to get intermingled in a larger scenario, this bookkeeping is a major burden. The solution is to either stick to small scenarios, or mark up the counters with a distinguishing symbol (and I hate marking up counters), or to just suck it up and play.
What usually happens with me is that I end up ignoring a lot of the command rules, and slip a house rule or two in to keep track of important morale levels. If you own multiple games in the series, you can alleviate this problem somewhat by introducing a few more different colors of counter into the fight - this works pretty well, but it limits the size of the fight. It should also be noted that the games can be enjoyed using just the Basic Rules with a minimum of Advanced Rules, or a few house rules to make the command and control a little simpler.

Solitaire – No solitaire rules are included with any game in the series, so either find yourself a partner, or do some research – there are many sources for solo gaming guidance, including the Files sections of tactical games on BGG. Some of the more interesting and elaborate sources are to be found in the miniatures gaming world, and many of these concepts can be applied to a games like these.

Overall Impression
The components are pretty ordinary, the maps are kind of dull and uninteresting - basic but usable. The counters are okay, but a little plain by contemporary measures. There nothing special about the documentation - rules and such are clear and concise, but lack much in the way of graphics and examples. The Battle Manual, however, is worth the purchase.

The scenario descriptions in the Battle Manual are like little time capsules of the late 20th century. So many of the little historical irritants between the States of 'civilized' Europe are laid out that you'll wonder how the Continent managed to hang together at all. You've got some precognitive situations like Albanians vs Yugoslavs and Russians vs Central Asians along with other traditional rivalries like Greeks vs Turks, Romanians vs Hungarians, Czechs vs Slovaks. But where else do you get Belgians vs Walloons, French vs Dutch, and more?

The manual also contains a 1990s snapshot of the organization, orders of battle, and philosophy of the military forces of 17 European nations. On top of all that, Chadwick provides a primer on battlefield tactics in late 20th century Europe, along with a lengthy article on the hardware that makes up the tank forces of each country in the game.

Battlefield Europe is my favorite of the First Battle games, partly because of its variety of subject matter and the wealth of information provided. It is the only one that I can play using all of the rules and still enjoy – this has something to do with the fact that I've gone to the effort of producing some of my own play aids. My house rules for command and control also work well to reduce some of the overhead involved in play while, I believe, keeping with the intent of the rules. But even without my help, it is a solid game, maybe a bit dated, but a good acquisition for a collector, and a nice pickup for even a new gamer that's curious about the good old days.


My Collection Ratings:
Battlefield Europe: 7
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Jonathan "Spartan Spawn, Sworn, Raised for Warring!"
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Thanks for the review! Would you mind sharing your own little house rules to ease the burden for Command and Control? TIA!
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Sim Guy
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Luftwaffe Flak wrote:
Thanks for the review! Would you mind sharing your own little house rules to ease the burden for Command and Control? TIA!

I sort of use the basic rules and meet the advanced command and control (C2) rules half way. I'm at the point in my gaming where the rules aren't necessarily sacred anymore: if I don't like something I ignore it or try to simulate it in an easier way. That said:

In Battlefield Europe, the Command and Control rules are in three parts:
Command and Control
Morale
Cohesion

All three of these elements make a relatively simple game into a sometime onerous bookkeeping exercise. I hate have to track stuff. I also own multiple sets of a number of First Battle series games, and play mostly DYO scenarios. I tend to like larger battles so keeping track of discrete units and commanders can be a pain.

Command and Control
What I will generally do is designate a headquarters and place it somewhere on the map – anywhere to the rear of the troops under its command. The HQ consists of a Commander unit, and a halftrack, truck, or jeep equivalent – sometimes an armored car for the Commander, and maybe a halftrack or truck full of infantry. Whatever I feel is appropriate. This is the location of the overall commander of the force, as long as this guy survives, the force under his command has at least minimal C2.

I'll then parse out Commander units to the field forces, my rule of thumb being one commander per Company equivalent. Armored vehicles and Heavy Artillery units (I.e not AT guns or mortars), and an additional commander for each Battalion equivalent (4-6 Companies) at my discretion. These are the commanders on the field going in to battle, the guys that the units are used to working with and the ones who have been briefed properly. They will function normally as a command source for whichever unit is within 5 hexes of them at the start of a turn. Their loss will be felt. All units still roll a die when they move, using a 10-sided die (d10, '0' is high (10)) – I never could understand why everything in FB used d10s except C2 where a d6 was used. Units only need to roll when they are moving towards or maneuvering around the enemy (not retreating – no roll is necessary to run). Units may fire at any enemy unit and defend normally, but any movement forward including advance after combat requires a roll.

So, normal operations is that every unit stack that is within five hexes of a Commander rolls a d10, and moves normally unless a '0' is rolled. Units rolling a '0' hold their position, except for armored units which may always move when within a commander's radius.
All units (including armor) outside of a Commander's radius hold their position on a roll of '9-0' (low is good).
Remember, retreating units don't need to roll.

If a Commander unit is lost, all units within his command radius hold position or may retreat, unless they are in the command radius of another Commander unit. This is intended to reflect the command situation sorting itself out.

So, easy just keep your commanders to the rear and out of harm's way and things should be fine, eh? Well just to make it interesting, I've given a bonus to encourage a side to get their commanders into the fight.
For any combat that the Commander is personally involved in (essentially, one of the stacks in the attack or defense) the die roll is decreased (in the attack) or increased (in the defense) in the Commander's favor.
The Commander must be dismounted with Infantry, and may be mounted (remember the armored car?) with Armored units.

Morale and Cohesion
I handle these concepts differently, depending on whether I'm playing a one-off game. In all cases I handle Morale as a function of C2, with lower morale making it more difficult to get the troops moving.

In a one-off game, I will total the number of Commanders and units, and set break points which will decrease the C2 point by one step when exceeded. I try to set the break points at about 10% of the value of the forces involved (simple scale: Commander = 10, AFV/Arty = 5, Vehicle/Gun = 2, Infantry = 1)
Example: Let's say I have 3 Commanders and about thirty units, plus a tank Company of three units. With a total of 75 points, I would set the break points at 8 points each. Once the C2 point reaches 6, all 'DP' combat results become 'X'.

Using this method, I find that Cohesion is unnecessary – it tends to take care of itself. If you want to differentiate troops by quality, add or subtract a point or two to their C2 roll.

In a campaign game, I again ignore Cohesion, but I am required to do a certain amount of bookkeeping in order to track discrete units and Commanders (to the Battalion level) over the course of the campaign – there's no getting around it. This topic can go off onto many tangential issues which may not be of interest, so suffice it to say that I handle each battle of a campaign similarly to a one-off game, but a unit may come onto the board with a less than optimal C2 level, due to losses from a prior engagement or not being fully reconstituted. I talk more about campaigning at this scale on the PanzerBlitz page.

For something a little less complex, the campaign rules included in Battlefield Europe (and most First Battle series games) are a great place to start, and are fine for most players.

So, in a nutshell:
Forget about tracking units and keeping track of which leader belongs to to it.
Forget about Cohesion, it takes care of itself.
Make a d10 roll to move, per stack in or out of a Commander's radius of 5 hexes (armor is +1 to the roll)
...Inside, base '0' – unless you're armor, you can't move
...Outside, base '9-0' – Armor sits on a '0'
A Commander involved in combat moves the result one step in his favor
...Commander must be stacked with a one of the attackers/defenders
...Enemy commanders are taken into account
...Plus or minus 1 only, maximum
Losses affect Morale through the C2 roll, subtract a point from the C2 for each 10% of losses.
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Jonathan "Spartan Spawn, Sworn, Raised for Warring!"
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I really appreciate you taking the time to share that! I will be printing this out and adding it to my copy that I traded for when it arrives!
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Jason Kruse
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SimGuy wrote:
I'm at the point in my gaming where the rules aren't necessarily sacred anymore: if I don't like something I ignore it or try to simulate it in an easier way.


Amen brother!
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