Wednesday, 11 August 2021

'O' Group, First Play, First Impressions


I had a very nice change to my week this week, following an invitation from an old friend Mr Steve L to join him at his with other friends Ian and my regular gaming pal Steve M to have Ian and Steve L take us through the delights of the new battalion level and above WWII set of rules, 'O' Group written by Mr David Brown and published by the Too Fat Lardies (TFL) as part of their Reisswitz Press stable of rules.

It was not very long ago that my wargaming diet revolved around WWII almost at the expense of other periods, and I find my hobby tends to see me going through these period specific phases where I will focus very intently on the period/era at hand which allows me to develop a seriously useful collection of models around that theme whilst also getting an education at a serious depth of knowledge around it, that may well and often does cover a period of a few years, before the 'Eye of Sauron' inevitably casts its gaze upon another period of interest and I'm off down another rabbit hole for a few years.

Thus with my focus very much on Age of Sail at the moment and with my Augustus to Aurelian 28mm Romano Dacians, my Sharpe Practice AWI 28mm Mohawk Valley collection and my yet to be started Coat of Steel 28mm Wars of the Roses collection to be addressed next, WWII, for which I have a very large and broad Normandy period collection of 15mm, mainly Battlefront models completed, is by no means front and centre in the focus of the 'great eye'.

This fact probably explains my not jumping onto the bandwagon of interest that has followed the publication of 'O' Group and the fact that having gamed at this command-level and above previously, before moving down the command chain via PBI (Poor Bloody Infantry) from Peter Pig, IABSM (I Aint Been Shot Mum) by the Lardies both battalion level and arriving at Chain of Command also by the Lardies at Company level, I was not that grabbed by this seemingly higher level set. 

So I was interested in the rules when Steve invited me to have a go with them but more so in spending time playing with the chaps, a luxury that has been denied us for a very long time.

I should say that my post is intended to give a first impression and overview of the game O-Group produces and not an in-depth description of the method of play which after just one game is beyond my abilities anyway and a quick search of the net together with the link to the TFL play series of videos will do a much better job.

Our table, at game-end, that depicts the demo-scenario in the rules focussed around the Normandy battle of Charnwood, the Allied assault to take the northern part of Caen just after D-Day

Knowing I would be playing O-Group for the first time on Monday, I took a bit of time over the preceding weekend to familiarise myself with their playing by watching two thirds of the first TFL video playthrough with Richard and Dave illustrating the basics, which even with my small introduction proved to be most useful in speeding up progress on the 'learning curve' and well done to the chaps for producing these videos as part of the launch.

The video link at the bottom of the page should go through to the first video in a series of four if you haven't seen them and are interested in knowing more.

My German Battalion HQ off table with the medium mortar platoon close by, together with my stack of platoon order chits, next to my two battalion orders, as indicated by the black die, and my single heavy artillery 'stonk' recorded on my yellow die. The village 'BUA' (built up area) ahead on the nearby road was a primary objective for the British and was occupied by my reserve company down to a single platoon after the initial British barrage and my artillery/mortar OP.

For any new players to O-Group, but those familiar with Chain of Command, the play mechanism will seem very familiar especially as Combat Patrol markers start to move forward from respective start lines to stake out the ground for the opposing forces to deploy and start to dispute key terrain objectives in preparation for gaining ascendancy or repelling attacks in any given area of the battlefield.

All the activity of moving patrols, deploying and firing by troops, bringing on reserve formations, laying down artillery fire means spending order chits and using battalion orders which though separate in the way they are produced from turn to turn perform exactly the same function, though battalion level orders held between turns contribute to one side or the other gaining the advantage or initiative allowing that side to choose to go first or second in the turn.
Rather similar to Chain of Command, O-Group uses 'Combat Patrol' markers, here showing blue German and green British, to move out from the respective line and stake out the ground providing that fog of war effect by facilitating potential 'jump off points' for new troops brought to the table from reserve. One key point on the German right flank was a village/farm BUA with a German Combat Patrol in occupation and with platoons deployed wither side and the Company Commander set up in the orchards behind.

The first command decision each side quickly grasped was the decision to lay down a mortar or artillery strike, as its use was restricted to that first command only. After that it was all about prioritising what had to be done with the orders available.

At the start of the game with minimal contact between opposing forces, and movement and deployment decisions predominating, the game seems very simple with an over abundance of order chits. The situation of the play at this stage left both Steve and myself questioning the attraction of the game as decision making was relatively straight forward.

However first impressions can be deceiving and the game O-Group produces rewards patience as the forces deploy and close on key battlefield terrain, the decision making process becomes more intense as situations develop demanding priority and the need for the senior commander, you, to decide what must happen over and above equally pressing demands for orders.

The empty battlefield starts to fill up as Combat Patrol markers start to morph into platoons, with the German platoon on the wall indicative of the way the game replicates the various formations with each base of the three seen above representing the squads or sections of 8 to 10 men in the command

Suddenly the wealth of orders doesn't seem quite so abundant as more and more decision points in the game occur and Steve and I found ourselves scanning the table, assessing each critical combat point, and deciding where to prioritise the limited pool of orders to get the 'biggest bang for the buck' as the saying goes.

Reserve company HQ takes up residence in the key village BUA with the artillery OP in residence at the local church, more specifically its tower.

In addition to the stress points caused by the order decisions, we all noticed how the advantage and momentum for one side or the other could quickly change based on the outcomes of the order decisions taken and the results of the combat generated.

At one point early in our game, British platoons were advancing in force on key positions with German troops looking to deploy off combat patrol markers, which once done required the gaining of the initiative to get their fire in first, hopefully cause significant casualties and combine their fire with mortars and the dreaded sniper attack.

Suddenly a combination of those factors combined in the space of a turn to completely change the position on the German right flank where three British platoons opposed one German, that they had decimated in their early assault fire, to be suddenly faced by two other German platoons in cover supported by attached heavy machine guns, sniper support and a mortar barrage that left just one British platoon on the original start line with the other two reeling back to it having lost four sections and gained a FUBAR (loss of command dice rolled to generate future orders) for their efforts.

Sherman tanks cautiously advance like new season debutants introduced to the dance floor, only too aware of lurking German anti-tank capability, which has just been revealed as my Panther on overwatch, making best use of its ridgeline hull down position to see out below, causes a 'double-shock' hit on the lead troop of Firefly's

The table quickly generated the key battles in specific areas and with infantry in close range and forced to group in support of one another, mortar and artillery started to drop from both sides, with the firing generated increasing the casualty count of removed bases.

I mentioned the dreaded German sniper which is the only deployment the player concerned (me in this case) doesn't need to use an order for and who is able to quite literally pop up anywhere, make his attack with three d6, and disappear just as quick without risk of return fire.

All success die results usually resolve around 4+ on a d6 and thus it was not unknown for my sniper to cause three hits on a platoon which is an automatic 'Suppression' and stops that platoon from firing until at least one hit is rallied off. Subsequent hits on such a target can cause base losses and thus the sniper together with my mortars became a key component for setting up target priorities for my infantry looking to fire in support of these attacks made at the start of my initiative. In addition the sniper became very useful for causing base losses on British platoons still Suppressed from the previous turn.

I eventually lost my sniper when towards the end of the game I contrived to throw three misses which is the only way for the unit to be removed from the game.

A battalion reserve formation, my platoon of Panther tanks got on to a neighbouring hill and performed its role perfectly, acting as the ultimate in overwatch capability for the infantry fighting below, knocking out advancing enemy tanks and engaging enemy infantry with HE and machinegun fire.

In the latter stages both sides pushed their armour up to try and turn the tide of battle or maintain the advantage and we managed to play through some long range sniping shots between the Panther placed on a hill in overwatch and a Firefly troop leading its platoon down the main road trying to close up with the infantry ahead to lend a hand in the infantry battle.

The Panther managed to score an early hit causing a couple of shock on the lead Firefly which promptly missed in its return fire to then be hit again with a damaging hit that knocked it out.

The modelling of tank combat all seemed familiar with the usual assessment of gun versus armour versus tactical and quality factors to come up with a total negative or positive dice modifier to resolve the effects on a hit table that also decides if the target is obscured when the shot was made or in plain sight. 

The key battle around the left flank village with the German infantry company firmly in control, if a little battered after its fight with the Tommies, the best of which are to left with a Supressed platoon lining the wall and the rest of the Company beyond, in a shattered state of withdrawal after our battle. A burning troop of Fireflies blocks the road to their left, as other tanks shelter to their rear in the woods.

The game generated the typical Normandy slug-fest among the hedges with the Germans grimly holding on as the British lines closed in.

Both Steve and I enjoyed O-Group and the decision points it generates and the game prompted lots of discussion around how well it would play in other theatres, the rule mods we had in mind about Battalion orders being needed to be spent to bring on Battalion support platoons, to the seemingly powerful sniper and to limiting HE capability for Pak 40 AT guns to just one or two rounds of fire.

In addition I don't think we played the game in a way that showed its full potential, such as getting to use British platoon smoke tactics to launch assaults on key German positions and that might have reduced the effect of sniping attacks as well as helping the British to get onto their targets.

At present there seems to be little in the way of scenarios for the game which will no doubt be rectified in time but the scale of the game made me immediately think of the Battlefront Scenario resource that would seem ready made for adapting to O-Group

Fire and Fury - Battlefront Scenarios

Earlier this week I referred in another post about my marker for a good set of rules as being how intuitive they are to play thus speeding up the learning process of moving from unconsciously-incompetent to unconsciously-competent and I think Dave Brown has done a good job with these rules to make that process quicker with a skilful application of the 4+ die rule for success helping greatly and a far simpler but just as demanding Combat Patrol/Jump Off system as pioneered by Chain of Command.

In terms of my other rules assessment tool of simulation versus game against fun or tedious to play I think I rate O-Group as high on the fun score and slightly towards game over simulation, primarily because of the greater compromises needed on ground scale, figure scale, ranges that this level of game requires, off set by its application to some solid historical scenarios where I think the rules will still model the combat quite well in spite of those compromises and still provide those golden moments of sheer fun as turning points happen and the drama it creates.

So as I wrote to Steve L and Ian in a post game email to the chaps thanking them for their hospitality, you can put me down as an O-Group admirer and happy to play anytime, now where did I put those sloops?


  1. Thanks for that JJ. It was a good game and fun to umpire and contribute. We did mess up on one point. Artillery only is on first order. Battalion mortors can be used at any time during your combat phase but not as a react option in your opponents phase. Sorry for that. Thought I would comment before I got lots of emails saying we were wrong.

    1. Thanks Steve, great fun and thanks for the rules update.


  2. Interesting JJ.

    I had wondered what "O Group" did that the myriad of other WW2 didn't. From what you say, it seems worth a look, although I generally prefer games that are slightly on the simulation side of the line, rather than the game side.


    1. H Vince.
      Yes me to. With the popularity of WWII inspiring the writing of so many rule systems you do start to wonder if there is any more to say about how to game the period.

      That said, my scepticism was happily overcome with an attractively challenging set of rules that seems to put the player in the hot seat of a battalion commander getting ever increasing demands put on him to make key decisions as the intensity of the battle builds with a set of rules that are simple in application but not simplistic in design.

      Worth checking out.


  3. Great to hear a view/review from you on this set, someone who's view I respect. I'm a massive fan of Dave Brown's Napoleonic rulesets, GdA & GdB, both of which reflect command & control challenges very well. So it's interesting to hear your take on this set. We too have vast 15mm WW2 collections sitting idle since we parted company with Flames of War many years ago. The period has always appealed, I reckon it's time to jump back in soon! Lots of other things taking my time & attention though.
    Best wishes,

    1. Hi Jeremy,
      Thank you for your comments, and much appreciated.

      Like you I think Dave Brown is a very competent and capable rule writer and I always look with interest at anything he produces because of that. So I was not surprised that these rules proved equally entertaining and when, in time, I no doubt come back to WWII, I aim to have a hard-copy of these together with all the necessary tokens ready to play, but as mentioned with all my other projects demanding attention and time I don't think that will be happening soon, so I'll content myself with scratching the occasional WWII itch by playing games put on by the chaps, if they'll invite me!'

      Cheers mate