Blitzkrieg Design Notes

Blitzkrieg Cover

Blitzkrieg Design Notes
with Phil Yates

It’s hard to know where to start when writing the design notes for a whole new period! I guess that’s the best place to start though – Early War is a whole new period. Making Early War feel and play very differently from the later periods was the key design goal in the whole process. At the same time we didn’t want to change things unnecessarily. We wanted to keep things as much the same as we could. This means there are no major rules changes and that equipment that fought right through the war is generally the same as it is later in the war making it easy for players to transition to the new period.

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That Early War Feeling

Part of the feeling we were seeking throughout the design process was the fast-moving sweeping battles of manoeuvre where massed tanks swept across the battlefield throwing the enemy into confusion. At the same time we wanted to show how the infantry, with far less support than they would later have, were able to form bulwarks against this tide of tanks, standing their ground for as long as they could keep their flanks secure.


Another part of the feeling we wanted to capture is the weird mix of experimental ideas, some of which worked and went on to become mainstream and some which were better left to quietly vanish into oblivion, mismatched doctrines and by later standards, ludicrously under-powered tanks. The weird equipment ranges from tanks with two or even three turrets, to light tankettes far smaller than a modern car, to heavy tanks barely capable of keeping up with a walking man, but armed with a single machine-gun, to fast cavalry tanks carried to the battlefield on trucks and trailers. I love the idea of trying to make these weird ideas actually work on the battlefield!

These go hand-in-hand with the many and varied doctrines and tactical brain farts that spawned them. The French didn’t want their tanks able to move too fast; otherwise they would get too far ahead of the infantry. The British created cruiser tanks to roam the battlefield seeking out and destroying the enemy, unfettered by defences that doomed infantry to trench warfare. The Germans were not immune to crazy ideas either. Their reckless manoeuvres with massed forces of hundreds of largely-unsupported tanks worked well against disorganised defences, but failed dismally, at a high cost in knocked out tanks, against the well-prepared defences on the Somme as they would find again and again in later battles like Medenine, Kursk, and Mortain.
French forces attack a village
Manoeuvre over Firepower

To players familiar with Mid and Late War equipment, the tanks of the Early War period are unbelievably primitive. Whereas Late War players consider a 75mm gun to be barely adequate, to Early War players a 75mm gun is a super weapon. The most common German tanks in Poland and France were lowly Panzer I and II light tanks armed with machine-guns and 20mm cannon. The Panzer III with its 37mm gun is a rarity and a monster, while the massive Panzer IV with its short 75mm gun can take on anything. Even armoured cars pack a serious punch against tanks like these! This change in armour and firepower brings new challenges and tactics. Tank battles happen at short ranges and are far less deadly than they became as the war progressed. Manoeuvre and massing your forces are essential because firepower can’t be counted on.
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Armoured Trains

The new environment did require some new special rules, such as those for armoured trains. While armoured trains may sound a bit old-fashioned and outdated for the Second World War, the Poles proved that in the east where good roads are few and far between, these land battleships could prove to be tough opposition. A late-war Sherman tank might laugh at the 30mm of armour and 75mm field guns carried by armoured trains, but the tanks of the Early War period find these monsters a serious challenge. The model is over two feet (60cm) long and its performance is as impressive as its appearance. Trains move 16”/40cm a turn and can fire everything they have at full effect, unperturbed by their own motion. They can even fire deadly artillery bombardments while under way. They are not cheap, but boy are they awesome in every respect!

Armoured Train Rules
Motorcycles

We also needed to revisit motorcycles, after all what self-respecting blitzkrieg thrust doesn’t have waves of motorcyclists mounted on their BMW combinations, machine-guns blazing, roaring along with the tanks? Before the invention of jeeps and armoured half-tracks, motorcycles played a huge part in mobile operations with nearly half of the infantry in some German and French armoured divisions mounted on them. We pondered how to make these troops more effective and more suited to their real-life roles as cavalry scouts and fast-moving mounted infantry and realised that the answer was staring us in the face – they are cavalry. Now the motorcyclists use the cavalry rules, including having an infantry save of 3+, but move as motorcycles and can fire their machine-guns on the move. Of course, unlike cavalry, they can’t launch charges, having to dismount to make assaults. The result is an exciting new dimension to Flames Of War battles with fast-moving motorcyclists adding to the pace of the games.

A German Kradschützen Platoon
Polish Special Rules

Talking of cavalry, that brings me back to the Poles. I’ve always been a fan of cavalry and love the pageantry of the Polish lancers (yep, we even have a page on Polish lance penants!), and with their Lancers special rule allowing them to hit in assaults on a roll of 2+, they will be very deadly to any infantry foolish enough to let them make a mounted charge. Like the Soviets and mid-war Italians, the Polish cavalry and infantry are fielded in battalions and regiments rather than companies. This reflects the small size of Polish cavalry platoons (just 19 dismounts at full strength) and the limited support available to their infantry. However, rated as Fearless and using their Fate of the Nation special rule which allows both the company commander and the 2iC to re-roll Platoon Morale Checks to stay in the fight in the face of heavy casualties, the Poles don’t go down easily. Not that all Polish forces are lightly equipped. A Polish motorised cavalry regiment can field twelve (pretty good) anti-tank rifles, twelve (excellent) 37mm anti-tank guns, an artillery battery or two, and over a dozen tanks and tankettes and even an armoured train, making it a tough challenge for any opponent.

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The Poles also have a Night Counterattack special rule that allows their infantry battalions to start the fight at night in fair fight missions like Free-For-All and Encounter. This reflects their awareness of the difficulty of countering tank breakthroughs and their orders to launch counterattacks at night to minimise the mobility and firepower of the enemy. This wasn’t enough to stop some units from being bypassed and cut off, so the Poles also have a Bypassed special rule that allows them to bring a platoon on from behind the enemy, representing a bypassed unit marching to the sound of the guns to rejoin the fight. As you might expect, it’s a bit random, but it certainly adds a little confusion to the enemy’s well-laid plans!
Polish cavalry on the charge
French Special Rules

Like the Poles, the French are a new force in Flames Of War and needed their own special rules. Here the challenge was to balance the excellent French equipment with their out-dated approach. Contrary to popular opinion, the French actually performed well when they were given half a chance – unfortunately their elderly generals made sure that this didn’t happen too often. One aspect of the French obsession with trench warfare was their plan to fight a methodical battle where each attack would advance a few thousand metres, then halt as the artillery is brought up for the next attack. This is reflected in both the slow speed of their tanks and the High Command special rule that allows them to place objectives closer to their table edge than normal. Seeking limited objectives like this, French infantry can be quite powerful in the attack.

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French infantry is well trained for the defence. The thoroughness with which the French establish their defensive positions even impressed a tough American paratrooper colonel when he fought alongside the French in Tunisia in 1942! The French dig in quickly on their objectives and set up carefully planned interlocking fields of fire allowing their machine-guns and anti-tank guns to engage the enemy over the heads of their own infantry. To make their positions even more secure, the French can also swap machine-guns into their infantry platoons and infantry into their machine-gun platoons.
French tanks in action
French Tanks

French tanks were exceptionally well armoured. Even their lightest tanks were as well armoured as the best the Germans could match them with. Their guns were generally good too. While their light tanks only had a short-barrelled 37mm with limited armour-piercing capability, it was still comparable to the 20mm that most German tanks mounted, and French medium and heavy tanks had bigger guns and better armour than their German equivalents. The problem was in how they achieved this. In order to make so many well-armoured and armed tanks, they decided to make them smaller and cut the crew to a minimum. This meant that they only had one man in their turret compared with two or three in a German tank. The poor French tank commander had to scan the country-side for the enemy, maintain contact with the rest of the platoon, guide the driver, load the gun, and fire it – far too much to do all at the same time.

To handle this we use the One-man Turret special rule that limits French tanks from moving and shooting their main gun at the same time. This may sound like a incredible handicap, but given the other features of French tanks, it isn’t. Since French tanks are so tough, they can take a lot of fire enabling them to move into a firing position machine-gunning as they go, then shoot and destroy their target. Of course they can’t engage in mobile battles the way that German tanks can, but that just means that the French player has to use the objectives to force the Germans to come to where their tanks are and fight rather than chasing after the ephemeral Germans.
French Artillery

French artillery is also pretty good. There is plenty of it and it has special rules allowing it to mass its fire into one awesome bombardment when necessary. The quick-firing 75mm mle 1897 may be old, but it is still very effective against tanks and can lay down an incredible volume of fire. These are backed up by modern motorised 105mm howitzers or older 155mm howitzers to give them a serious punch. No French infantry player should consider going to war without a good artillery park!

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French are Cool!

As you can guess, the French fight like no other force in Flames Of War. Their style of play is totally unique, yet incredibly powerful. Any opponent who lets the French carry out their methodical battle plan is guaranteed to get clobbered. The real question is can the speed and manoeuvre of the German forces outfox the sheer grunt of the French?

A French 75mm artillery battery
British Expeditionary Force

As an existing nationality, the British forces in Blitzkrieg won’t come as too much of a surprise, except perhaps the armoured regiment. Yep, that’s right, an entire regiment of tanks! It’s not quite as dramatic as it sounds since British armoured regiments are only battalion strength, but it is still an awful lot of tanks. We decided to make the force a regiment rather than a squadron because the only massed actions by the British 1st Armoured Division were very much ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ actions with hordes of light tanks with little support. The remainder of the British forces will be familiar to anyone who has North Africa with an infantry tank company, a divisional cavalry squadron and a rifle company.

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What About the Germans?

Well, what is there to say? The Germans are just their usual awesome selves. Their tanks are fast and mobile with pretty good guns, their infantry are as good as ever, and their motorcyclists just fantastic to play with. We even included options for the SS!

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Skill Ratings

Talking about the SS, maybe now would be a good time to talk about the various ratings for the forces. To a degree the Conscript, Trained, Veteran labels we use in Flames Of War are not as helpful as they could be at the start of the war. After all most forces are conscripted soldiers, trained for battle, and few troops have had any chance to fight enough to be truly described as veterans. However, if you look at the skill ratings as reflecting the quality of training that troops received, there is plenty of opportunity to distinguish different troops in the Early War period. Obviously the vast bulk of troops are going to be rated as Trained. They are properly trained for war, although not very experienced, and are ready to fight.

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We reserved the Veteran rating for long-service regulars like those of the British regular and guards battalions, and for elite troops with extensive training like the German panzer troops and the Polish cavalry. In the case of the German panzer troops, they received the best officers and recruits and were allowed to train and develop their tactics relatively undisturbed, while the German infantry divisions were constantly robbed of cadres and even whole regiments to form new units. This allowed the panzer troops to reach a much higher state of combat effectiveness than most troops of the period. The Polish cavalry was in a similar situation. While the entire army was formed of conscripts (like all European armies of the time), troops volunteering for the elite cavalry forces served for two years while the infantry only trained for a year.
German StuGs in action
A Few Interesting Changes

Talking about the Germans, players will notice a few differences in the characteristics of some guns and weapons from those they are used to. In 1940 the Germans had not yet fielded the improved anti-tank ammunition that they later used to give short-barrelled guns better capabilities against tanks. The 7.5cm KwK37 gun in the Panzer IV and StuG for example is rated as Anti-tank 7 rather then Anti-tank 9 as it is in Mid War. Don’t worry though, this is still a seriously respectable performance allowing it to knock out even the much-vaunted British A12 Matilda infantry tank. The 7.5cm leIG18 and 15cm sIG33 infantry guns and the 10.5cm leFH18 howitzer are similarly affected by the lack of improved ammunition.


On the other end of the scale, we found that the Panzerjäger I self-propelled anti-tank gun was under rated in Mid War. With an Anti-tank of 7 it just wasn’t able to perform some of the feats it did in real life. As such a marginal contributor to the mid-war battles, we had overlooked this, but it became critical when we started using it in Early War games, so we upped its Anti-tank rating to 8.

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Wrap Up

Well, I could go on for much longer about the new Blitzkrieg book, but you are better off rushing out to buy it than listening to more ramblings from me. It really is an awesome book, even if I do say so myself. Not only does it bring Early War to Flames Of War, but it also gives the game a whole new set of challenges and two whole new countries to explore. It really is almost a whole new game, despite using exactly the same rules as the Mid and Late War periods.

~ Phil.

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