Friday, February 6, 2015

"3mm-Friendly" rules?

Over the years, I've tried many rules for my 3mm gaming. So I thought I'd provide some thoughts on a few that I consider suitable for 3mm.
Disclaimer: This is my opinion, so take it for what it's worth. Others will have their own favourite rules and will undoubtedly disagree with my comments below, and that's fine.
At the end of the day, *any* rules can be used with 3mm miniatures, but I'll explain first some of the aspects I'm looking for in my rules.
I'm primarily focusing on the post-WW2 period ('modern'). Some WW2 rules systems cover (or could cover) the later period, so are included below.
To me, small-scale miniatures lend themselves to the play of high-level (divisional) games. The smaller figures allow you to use a larger ground scale, without the miniatures looking 'comical'. An example of what I mean by 'comical' is when Flames of War is played in 15mm; The miniatures are very nice, but the ground-to-miniatures scale distorts the game's aesthetics (resulting in the characteristic FOW 'tank car-park'...).
But the same game and ground-scale, but using bases of 3mm (or 6mm) minis looks great. Even better use a larger ground scale with the small scale minis (eg. swap centimetres for inches), then on the same play area, more tactical problems challenge the players; troops don't stretch from edge to edge (open flanks!), and weapons can't hit everything on the table (siting becomes important). In the player's mind's-eye, the miniatures and ground-scale just look more 'realistic'.
If possible, I like 'hex-friendly' rules. I have invested in Hexon terrain, and would like to be able to use it. I think hexes speed up play, allowing you to rapidly estimate and measure ranges for movement, firing and spotting. The hex spines also allow you to determine facings, cutting out ambiguity and speeding play. 
Modern Spearhead (MSH) / Spearhead (SH) 
MSH / SH is eminently suitable for high-level games. The MSH rules are a development of the WW2 Spearhead rules, so if you have played those, it has many of the same strengths and weaknesses.

I find that MSH gives good results and a realistic feel at the level it is designed for (Brigade to Divisional level actions, based around 1 stand = 4-6 AFV or 1 infantry platoon).
The scale. It uses platoon-bases, and is a divisional-level game. Battalions are really the units being ordered in the game, with the platoons acting as 'strength-markers' for the battalion.

For even larger battles, the rules and stats for units could be used largely unchanged, using company stands in place of Platoons (in fact, there are even house rules and ORBATs for Company-stand based games on the Spearhead Yahoo Group).

The rules use combined stands for infantry and their transports, called "Combat Teams" (CTs). The rules model the performance of CTs according to their doctrinal use and behaviour. I find the rationale and the way the rules are written to accurately reflect real-world tactics and use. But I know many gamers can't give up having separate infantry stands mount/dismount (just as grand-tactical Napoleonic rules without formations are a struggle for gamers who want to be Napoleon, but at the same time still want to order their individual battalions to form square!). For those who don't like the idea of combined stands, it's easy to modify: leave both the vehicle and infantry on-table when the transported infantry dismount. Keep the two together, with both stands considered to occupy the same space if desired. The infantry and carrier each count half towards the stand count for morale purposes when the infantry are dismounted.

The command and order is system is elegant and effective, using orders drawn on a map. I think this is a realistic and appropriate mechanism for a Divisional set of rules (representing the real world planning and execution limitations on the commander and his units).

Because units are committed by the limitations of their written orders and the order change procedure in the rules, all of the miniatures can be placed on table (who wants to leave them off-table for hidden movement, where you can't see your beautifully painted toys?!)

the rules represent doctrinal C2 and Artillery differences quite well for the differing command philosophies (called "NATO / WARPAC / Third World" in the rules. NATO and WARPAC are further sub-divided into grade 1 and 2, depending on their proficiency as practitioners of this command doctrine - eg. the US is a "NATO 1" army, whereas Denmark is a "NATO 2" army). Artillery and aircraft missions, counter-battery fire, EW, and order changes are all based on this categorisation of the armies.

The TOEs are very comprehensive and cover US, British, 80’s French and Germans, '67, '73, & '82 Arab-Israelis, 80’s WARPAC, and Gulf War Iraqis. Separate Data Cards are included for all these. The data charts are very good, with coverage back as far as 1949 for some. The MSH website has some additional fan-created TOEs and data cards for more obscure stuff.

I quite like the fire priority rules, which again are based on real-world doctrine and tactics. Units have a (well-defined) fire priority based on their role. The ambush rule is very useful for defenders  – in effect giving defending hidden tanks a free turn of fire.

The rules deal with most aspects of modern combat – ATGW, special armours (ie. Chobham, laminate, ERA etc.), helicopters, ground attack aircraft, EW, NBC attacks, ICMs, CLGP, RAP type artillery rounds, SRBMs, engineering.

Artillery fire seems to work well. As the fire is by batteries and is sequential in each phase (ie. not simultaneous), real-world tactics can be reflected. For example, batteries can be withheld for counter-battery fire at enemy batteries firing earlier in the phase. Most special artillery ammo types are covered.

Helicopters are well covered. Pop-up attacks, LOH's spotting for gunships, and off-table refuelling and return to the battlefield are all included. Aircraft are purely for ground-attack, with a variety of mission weapon-loads (iron bombs, cluster bombs, napalm, FAE/Thermobaric, ARMs, cannon, and PGMs). AA is able to shoot down enemy aircraft, but probably more importantly, its presence deters the enemy air-attacker,  reducing their accuracy.


The need for written orders slows the game a little bit, particularly in game set-up, where a map has to be produced. Even though this is a pretty simple mechanism in the rules, it can be a discouragement for novice gamers. Personally, I get around the need to draw a map by setting up the table, taking a digital-photo, and writing on that using an iPad application.
The disappearing targets (pass through fire) rules aren't very intuitive and need some work in my opinion. I don't like having to mark pass-through fire and then go back to it (too many markers, and back-tracking seems weird). I usually just get around this by just declaring and resolving Disappearing Fire as it happens.

The movement rates seem a bit slow - I prefer games with more free-flowing movement. Having said that, when you do the calculations they are actually realistic when compared to doctrinal planning times. But as gamers are impatient and time-limited, they just seem slow and don't make for the most exciting and free-flowing game. Balancing this is that the first few turns of the game normally go past very quickly, since units are on 'auto-pilot' due to their pre-plotted orders; players make minimal decisions in these early turns and units follow their orders until the enemy is spotted (units are then eligible to make orders changes - if they can!).

The morale ratings are probably not wide enough to discriminate accurately between various forces, as there are only three morale ratings. Basically, all troops are rated 'Regular', with exceptions being rated Veteran or Green in some cases. As these ratings also incorporate training quality you get the strange situation where some Iraqis are rated as highly as Israelis! The doctrinal differences incorporated into the order change and artillery response tables make up for this to some extent.
Overall a good set of rules for the period. If I wasn't currently using FFT (see further down), I'd be using these. 
Cold War Commander (CWC) / Blitzkrieg Commander (BKC)
Not a bad set of rules. To me, their main advantage is that they are simple and easy to explain to newcomers. Many people are already familiar with the rules, through the many other variants and derivatives of the Warmaster rules (upon which they are based) - eg. Warmaster Ancients, BlackPowder, and Hail Caesar).

The game plays quickly

There is a good amount of 'friction' and 'fog-of-war' through the command system (some might argue that there's too much, but I don't mind it).

The system is simple and easy to remember.

If things go well (multiple command rolls passed in a row), there can be a good deal of movement.


Largely due to the number of dice rolled, and the treatment of each stand (unit) separately, the game is best played at a lower level than the one I'm targeting. Battalion to Brigade level per side feels ok with platoon bases (with company bases, it could be Brigade to Division).

Of the rules reviewed, CWC is one of the more abstract. Perhaps because the rules have been adapted from some originally designed for another period, the mechanisms aren't really terribly reflective of the actions they represent.

The main abstraction I have trouble with is the need for units to 'gang up' on opponents to destroy them. In real life, in a company of tanks faced by a company of enemy tanks, each of its platoons would fire at one of its opposites. But in CWC, the rules lead players to have all of the company's platoons fire at one enemy platoon (ignoring the others) in order to get a decent probability of killing it. Worse than this, the cumulative nature of the system means that lots of low-strength weapons (eg. small calibre cannons or HMGs) can be grouped to take out even the most heavily armoured targets. There is something wrong here, as lots of HMGs or 20mm cannons shouldn't have any better chance of destroying an M1 than a single one - it just doesn't work that way.

There are some turns when players will fail their command rolls and get to do very little. This is great from a 'friction' perspective, but really doesn't make for a very fun game if it happens to you. Low quality troops can be really boring to command because of this (they just don't get to do much). In my opinion, it is not very realistic to be able to do nothing whilst your opponent runs rings around you. For this reason, I usually use a house-rule that the first order for each HQ is automatic. Subsequent orders are conducted as usual (ie. still suffering the -1 command penalty for each additional one etc).
Artillery seems far too random for the scale represented. The scatter and other mishaps that occur in the rules should not be occurring with a timescale representing 30 minutes? (surely the gunners can lob a fire mission on target within half an hour?!)

Infantry and their transports (APCs, IFVs etc.) are treated separately in the rules. Dismounting and mounting, plus separate stat-lines for the two stands slows play down too much for my liking. Further exacerbating this issue is the mechanism of Infantry Anti Tank Weapons being treated separately again, and having yet another stat-line (in my chosen periods, most infantry carry IATW as standard, so this is a big problem).

Having said all this, the game is fun and plays quickly. Not bad if you prefer the 'game' end of the wargame spectrum to the 'simulation' one. Most of the disadvantages can be "house-ruled", but games without the need for heavy use of house-rules usually get my seal of approval.
Fistful of TOWs 3 (FFT3)
I really like these rules - they are comprehensive, yet playable.  Play is fast, with a typical game turn averaging about 15 minutes.  Troop data is detailed and accurate, and the rules allow the proper use of tactics. The rules comfortably handle battles from company/battalion-sized to brigade/regiment-sized and larger. But like CWC, above, I think the optimal level they are really pitched at is about Battalion-Brigade level games. Higher than that and the game time starts to blow out and the play feels a bit cumbersome.
The rules claim to have the largest set of vehicle and gun data ever published in an individual rule set, and that's probably right since they are indeed very comprehensive. They also have a very large set of Army Lists. Virtually every major weapon system from the 1930s to present is covered, along with data for different time periods and conflicts. FFT also offers rules to determine your own ratings for equipment that is missing from the lists, or new types.
The rulebook provides a full campaign and scenario generation system, plus advice and guidance for do-it-yourself scenario designers. And a point system to help balance scenarios. All of this is very useful, and readers of this blog will have seen that a lot of the battle reports are based on FFT scenarios, and the mini-campaign system.
So all up the FFT rulebook, whilst a monster, is really everything you need to play both WW2 and Modern period actions.

Designed for play with miniatures from 2mm up to 15mm in scale with no modifications.  And no specific basing requirements! In 3mm or 6mm, the game looks great.

Play is fast, especially if using the "strongly-recommended" optional rule where movement is limited to 5 minutes for each player turn (although one "timeout" is allowed, and overwatch shooting etc "stops the clock" - very American sports oriented terminology!). A chess clock or stopwatch is useful for tracking this.

Good 'granularity' and accuracy in the data for vehicles, artillery and infantry. For example, Infantry are less generic than in other systems and the different weapon mixes and doctrines of armies in their squad and platoon organisations are reflected in the stat-line for their infantry. For AFVs, protection against kinetic rounds (eg. AP, APDS, APFSDS etc.) and shaped charge rounds and warheads (eg. HEAT) is well represented.
Nice, comprehensive terrain rules. Pretty much everything is covered - some terrain types will be used in every game, but those with less common terrain types are still covered (eg. Hedgerows, paddy-fields, marsh, etc.)

Players can use 'real-world' tactics, with expectations of realistic results. The turn sequence is fashioned to allow a realistic interaction between opponents. In particular the ability of both sides to fire in their opponent's turn through the use of "hold-fire" or "overwatch" markers makes the turn very interactive, and requires planning on how to utilise your stands together.

The combat system, combined with the troop data, is simple but very comprehensive. It resolves quickly and accurately.

There can be a lot of movement - especially wheeled vehicles on roads (x4) using 'strategic movement' (x2)!!

Troop quality affects every system in the game, as it does in reality. A smaller high-quality force can definitely beat a larger poor-quality force. This means all those heroic actions you read about in history, pitting the elite few against the rabble hordes, can be replicated.

The Artillery rules are elegant, fast to resolve and require no pre-plotting. They encourage accurate use of artillery in support of the manoeuver troops' plan. Artillery fire is by 'Group', which is normally a battalion sized unit of several batteries. Each of these will be requested each turn and can provide a number of its batteries 'available' for firing (between none and all of them...). So the player (as manoeuvre commander) doesn't deal with the intricacies of artillery fire, movement, counter-battery etc, but sees the impact of it all reflected in what is available each turn to fire on his nominated targets. A very good system.
Like MSH, most aspects of modern warfare are covered. Advanced technology, engineering, special ammunition and artillery ammunition, Chemical and Nukes, Airborne and Amphibious operations, Helicopters, Airstrikes, etc. The rules are very comprehensive.


The game is optimised for about a Brigade or less per side. Any more than this and it bogs down a bit. Playing using company-stands (instead of platoon-stands) could increase this to about Division per side.

The data and mechanisms may actually be a little bit too detailed (!!) for high-level games. In my opinion, mechanisms like "overwatch" and "shoot and scoot", whilst accurate minor tactics used by individual vehicles and platoons, are a little too "down in the weeds" for a Division or Brigade Commander to be worrying about.

Having said that it resolves well, the artillery system does take a little while to get used to. There are a few steps involved, but since they happen every turn, you soon become familiar with them and it becomes quite intuitive.

Lack of a high-level C2 system. I think the rules are a little too light on for friction and C2. To overcome this, I use a system derived from Modern Spearhead and modified to utilise existing FFT mechanisms. The system is outlined in the 'house rules' section on this blog, but in summary:
  • I use the optional Friction rules from FFT
  • Overlaid on this is a modified initial orders system, from Modern Spearhead (readers of this blog would have seen examples of this in my BATREPS).
  • Initial map-orders, are implemented until enemy are spotted (like in MSH). Units follow and obey their drawn command arrows (or static location), and must stay within cohesion distance as per the FFT rules.
  • To change orders after enemy are spotted, units roll against their Response number (from the FFT Friction optional rules). The modifiers are used as given, with an additional -2 modifier if the unit is firing / being fired upon (it is harder to change orders when 'in-contact'...).
This C2 system increases the fog of war, and forces a more realistic degree of planning, appropriate to the level of command being represented. The ability to change orders is just difficult enough to encourage players to plan ahead and factor in appropriate tactics and C2.


Another good set of rules for what they are designed for, but these swing a little bit too far towards too high level for me. They are designed for very high level games (Corps+), using battalion stands.
As a result, they abstract a lot of things, in my opinion losing some flavour of the various armies and their equipment. They do, however, include some things that really need to be considered at the high level. For example, Logistics, which is neglected in the vast majority of rules systems, but which at high-end tactical and operational levels is vital. They also cover air-power quite well.
BUT - they're only for WW2. There is a modification available for the modern  period available on line, but you'll largely need to work out the unit stats for yourself.
I'd recommend these if you want very high level games, or for quickly resolving campaign battles you don't want to fight out in more detail. They play quickly and give a good flavour for command considerations at this level, yet within a playable and enjoyable game.
Lightning War.
This is a set of rules available online for download (at the Lightning War Red Storm Yahoo Group: I think the author has done a good job and they have a number of interesting mechanisms.
Some aspects of the rules are a bit abstract, in order to go along with the level they are pitched at (multiple Brigades - Division (+) size of game). The ground scale is 1:10,000 (ie 1cm = 100m), using company-bases. 'Activation' is by regiment/brigade and manoeuver and combat is resolved by battalion.
The main reason I don't use these is that they are not a commercial set of rules, which makes it hard to find the potential pool of other players out there. Also, they need some work in developing lists, stand data etc, and commercial rules generally have all the work done for you (which appeals to my laziness!). Having said that, the fact that these rules are free online is a very good thing, and if a group of gamers or a club decided to adopt them, I think they'd produce some great games.
Air and Armor (board-game)
As you may have already read on this blog, I used these for my Cancon 2013 demo games. They worked really well too.  Many board-games can easily be converted to use with miniatures. If using hex-terrain, their mechanisms are often very elegant.
Air and Armor uses 1 mile hexes, and the scenarios and rules are generally pitched at multiple brigade to division (+) games. The rules have some really great mechanisms to reflect the command differences between the NATO and Warsaw Pact systems.

The system can easily handle multi-Divisional battles, using with company-stands (in the boardgame they are called "steps", but each is company-strength).

The command and order system is simple, but very subtle and elegant.

The rules allow for excellent fog-of-war using the counters, and with some thought these can be replicated on the table-top.

The rules encourage smart use of the various mission types and favourable terrain.

They also have good advanced rules for engineering, aircraft, chemical weapons, EW etc. These all work well and whilst some are abstracted, they are based in real-world logic and produce realistic effects.


They are out of print! They can be found on eBay and the like, but this is still a pain. There is a site offering PDF downloads for sale, which is good if you just want the rules for tabletop use. But the boardgame is nice and I tracked down a hard-copy to play with the maps, counters etc as a pure boardgame as intended.

Some conversion is needed. The base game uses 1-mile hexes with a stacking limit of 10 steps (companies). I wanted to use 1km hexes (1:10,000 scale), and the use of miniatures at 1:1 and my ground scale made it problematic to stack multiple companies in a hex. I eventually settled on a conversion where one company could occupy each hex, but companies in contact with the enemy, plus those adjacent to these, could participate in combat. This maintained the scale of combats, where a Regiment could stack and attack each one-mile hex. Full regiments can attack single isolated companies (if lucky), just like in the boardgame. I also modified some mechanisms to maintain the excellent fog-of-war aspects the boardgame possessed.

World at War (board-game series)

These board-games are very suitable for conversion to miniatures games, if using hex terrain. They work very nicely with 3mm, played (as-is) using Hexon terrain (4" hexes) and squad or platoon stands.

However, they are much lower level than I prefer, being set at approximately company to battalion per side, so I don't really play them.

Worth checking out though if you like the lower level actions, and the rules are downloadable from the Lock 'n Load website for free - which is very handy if you just want to play using miniatures (ie. not the counters, boards etc). I also believe there is an Arab-Israeli Wars version to be released in the future.

Some additional ones I've picked up over the years are:

Command Decision: Test of Battle (CDTOB)
This is the 4th edition (I think?) of the CD rules. They are a WW2 system, but there is a keen group converting them for moderns on the CDTOB forums.

They have some similarities to both MSH and FFT, and are a similar level to FFT. I know they have many fans carried over from many years and editions of the rules. I don't play them as they look just a little more complex and lower level than both MSH and FFT. But they look good, and have a number of aspects I do like.

For example, I like the Army Generator in the rulebook, and also the "Test of Battle" cards. These are basically random-event cards, with the players holding several cards in their hand at any time during the game. They can be played on your own stands, and sometimes the enemy's to make minor adjustments to core rules. Examples are to temporarily extend or reduce firing or visibility range, increase or decrease movement, or other similar tweaks. This adds to 'fog-of-war' by ensuring that players can't rely on shots being in or out at extreme range (the old "...well, I know his range is 20" and I'm at 20.5", so he can't hurt me..." situation). There is no absolute certainty (the battlefield is full of uncertainty!).  I think this idea could possibly be converted for use with other rules...

Combined Arms

Once upon a time there was a modern version of CD, called Combined Arms. I loved this game back when it was first published in the '80s, and I still have a copy. It is well worth owning, just for the lists contained (very detailed) and the very nice campaign system it has (set on NATO's northern flank in Denmark and Jutland - lots of interesting units).

If it is ever re-published, or CD gets a published modern version, then I might consider going back over to them. But I'm not sure that is going to happen in the next few years?
Kampfgruppe Commander II (KGC)
An interesting set of rules for WW2 gaming that I've never actually played, but would like to. Its predecessor was Clash of Armor, which also had some cool supplements. This even included a 'modern' supplement called From Golan to Sinai, which is (as you'd expect) about the Arab-Israeli wars. This had some modifications for the modern period (ATGMs etc), as well as AIW scenarios. I've used the scenarios from this supplement for other rules systems too, including a very enjoyable multiplayer game of the Quneitra scenario (Golan heights '73) at my local club a few years back, using the Cold War Commander rules.

I'd be interested in feedback from any of you that have played KGC II.
MicroArmor the Game
Published by GHQ to support their MicroArmor range. It has some interesting mechanisms, but is far too detailed for my taste. I like the generic scenarios it includes through.