Old School Tactical is a squad/vehicle level combined arms tactical war game from Flying Pig Games, and Mark Walker has come up with another doozy. The pieces are magnificent and the system is relatively simple with a great back and forth feel resulting from the impulse system.
Grant and myself played through the Brandenburgers scenario last week, which was our first real game, from start to finish. We’d previously pottered around with the game just learning the rules and seeing how the mechanics worked with the vehicles specifically. We did this because we regularly play Combat Commander from GMT Games, as our squad-based-tactical-of-choice which has no combined arms in that sense.
So here’s some thoughts from the game, and what happened and why:
Below is the set up of the game, I played as the Germans, who had a small elite force of commandos; from the Brandenburger Division. The scenario stated that the commandos were on the Eastern Front trying to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting command post deep behind enemy lines. For this reason all of the German units had smoke laying capabilities provided by the scenario. The Russians set up first creating some strong stacks so I responded in kind, hoping to create some hefty fire groups with my units and attached leaders.
The Russian units in the picture above all have a used token on them, this is because before every round each hex with Russian units in it rolls a d6 and has a 50:50 chance of being embroiled in chaos and confusion because the German commandos were dressed as NKVD units ahead of the main advance. Confused units cannot act, unless they are attacked, and then can only perform an attack action against the attacking unit. It just happened to be that Grant rolled awfully in the first round and every one of his units was confused.
Old School Tactical comes with reference cards for every unit type in the game, and I had the units pictured below. Next time I’ll pay a bit more attention to my setup, because I just rushed it so we could start playing, and it was a new game so that’s my other excuse: I really shot myself in the foot from the start.
I stacked my Pioneer squads with a Sergent on the right hand side of the map in the woods, seeing their strong fire power (6!) and wanting to cause heavy damage on the flank, and to really force Grant into repositioning his defensive line. I planned on using my other stacks in frontal assaults and distractions to pin his units in firefights so I could get maximum impact from my flanking tactics. Idiotically, when it came to my turn to sweep up the flank and shoot from the tree line I realized two things 1) the Pioneers have 3 MPs, so could basically only move one hex in the woods, 2) they also only have a range of 2 [that small white number superscript to the firepower on the left of the counter]. So, I would not only take much longer moving through the woods, but I’d still not have range to open fire. Great!
My advances up the centre and left of the board went swimmingly, as there was not possible opportunity fire due to the Russian confusion. We had a great time exchanging some fire between stacks that were on opposite sides of a wall. At first Grant was concerned that we both got the defensive bonus from it, the wall being between us. He protested “but my men are lined up against that wall with the guns leaned on it!” his units being there first was his reasoning. We had a great time imagining that commandos had sneaked up in the dark of night and were on the other side of the wall leaning up against it when all hell broke loose and both forces started to fire upon eachother.
The units exchanged some broken and shaken tokens, but my commandos easily passed their gut checks, which were a 6 or higher on 2d6, so they avoided getting bogged down.
In the next round, far fewer Russian units were confused and they brought up the rear guard to meet my advancing left flank. The Shock and Rifle troops bundled into small buildings for cover and I seized the opportunity to engage in melee! It should be noted that if you’ve read any of Grant’s AARs, we love doing melee combat as it’s just so visceral, violent and usually has an immense impact on a skirmish one way or the other. So I was more than gung-ho to try out the melee rules in OST.
Something I loved was that the melee is simultaneous. In Combat Commander, the melee can be affected by killing leaders and breaking units to reduce combat values. In OST, what you bring in is what you get. So things got bloody very quickly. Every unit rolled on the highest CRT column where it’s harder to not kill than kill pretty much. Sadly, that’s exactly what I did, Grant ended up with one broken unit and one without a scratch (passed it’s gut check). I, on the other hand, had an Assault squad outright killed, and the attached leader failed his roll and was killed along with them. My last unit in the stack suffered casualties and was reduced. Ouch! Even though I got crushed, it was still really fun. Being able to roll that high on the combat table just felt so dynamic.
With melee combat being so brutal and at times swingy, I often like to go for it just ‘because’. In doing so it kind of takes me away from the game for a second and realize that it is in fact just a board game, and I don’t have anything riding on it. Whenever we play heavier war games like these I find myself being intellectually and emotionally invested in the games and often get caught up and frustrated in bad rolls and tough scenarios instead of just having fun. Melee is my fun switch! I’ve played enough where melees are often the deciding factor of our squad level games, either imbalancing the forces wildly, or creating such strong positions it would take the rest of the game turns to even try to mount an assault. With that in mind I enjoy the refreshing feeling I get ‘oh yeah, melee! Let’s go for it! Who knows WHAT might happen!’. All that planning and strategic movement and positioning can go right out the window with a bad roll on hand to hand combat so just roll with it! Anyways, enough about my obsession with melee, and back to the game.
Read the Rules
This is an endemic problem in our group, forgetting rules, or misreading them, etc. Partly it comes down to playing new games constantly, and sometimes it’s just carelessnes. After having my Pioneers floundering in the woods for three turns, I figured out that they could use smoke grenades to screen their run across open territory. The un-used Russian stack closest to the Sergeant in the picture below had a massive heavy MG which I was scared of and wanted protection from. So finally, I was able to scramble up and engage the units on the far right flank, inflicting heavy casualties and eventually killing them.
Sadly, with the aforementioned melee going so poorly for myself the remaining stack of leaderless Assault squads, were quickly cut down by the now unconfused Russian forces. I found myself in the unique position during round 5 of having 15 Impulse points and only 3 units on the board. Grant swung his BA 20 armoured car round to cut off my flanking units from getting into the rear and capturing any of the VP hexes. I love the maneuverability the vehicles give you as a stop gap at times to bring in other heavier units. I also had a good time watching Grant read all of the terrain effects chart as he was plotting his movement trying to avoid multiple bog rolls.
I conceeded at the point this picture was taken, obviosuly things weren’t going well, but I had a blast in a losing effort nonetheless. I also learned a lot about the game, and how different it is from other tactical squad level games we’ve played.
I missed that my units were ‘elite’ in the scenario rules. I picked up the smoke rules only half way through the game. The Melee would have been even worse had we remembered an extra +1 from our unit reference cards. Halfway through the game we found a +1 combat value if you are ajacent to the enemy being attacked, which also may have made a difference in the outcome of rolls early on. And probably a bunch more we missed but didn’t realize.
That being said, we got through it and learned a lot of things about the game that are really great. The game feels like it plays quickly, it rewards attacking, and there’s no reason not to attack. We played Hundred Days 20 recently where you have to pick your battles properly because on every roll there are potential negative consequences to the attacker, but not in OST. This is move-fight-kill at its finest. Hunkering down is not a good long term strategy unless you have an excellent firing position covered by a few fields of fire.
I cannot wait to play this one again, where we’ll be more comfortable with the rules and will have a better grasp of how to make the game work for us strategically speaking. More than anything this game is FUN. So check it out for yourselves!
Thanks for reading and watch out for the next AAR coming soon.