I managed to snaggle a copy of these rules a few weeks ago, published by Lance Flint (a frequent contributor to the Honour Forum run by Sam Mustafa), and available from Magister Militum among other places. They’re pretty inexpensive, and harken back to the old photocopy style of years past, with a few photos and diagrams, but Lance eschews the glossy hardback filled with stuff approach in favour of a slimmed down model – the rules themselves are only about 20 pages in length. There are various lists for compiling armies for Operation Crusader also available online for free at the 3mm Miniatures yahoo group.
As the above picture shows, the rules are intended for divisional and corps level games set in WW2, an area that the big name wargames companies don’t cover, but that has a smattering of rules available from self-published wargaming authors. Most of these other rules tend to be quite simplistic (such as the Pz8 or KISS Rommel (That’s Keep It Simple Stupid, and not an instruction)), but KoH has a definite edge of complexity and depth in there in comparison. The title (tr. War without hate) comes from Rommel’s memoirs by the way, depicting the desert war as one conducted with vastly more civility and respect than in other parts of the war, most notable the eastern front.
I set up a small game for a mate of mine from school to play to try the rules out, after a couple of false starts while I was ravaged by the flu, and photos are interspersed throughout this review. One of the first things you will notice are the small dice – they’re markers to delineate squares, as this game uses them instead of the usual tape measure approach. Movement has a nice touch – it’s split into 4 phases, on the first phase, all mechanised troops with movement orders and specialised recon move, on phase two, they move again along with mechanised troops that don’t have movement orders, and motorised troops with movement orders. In the third phase, all of these move again, along with mounted infantry, infantry tanks, and motorised troops without movement orders, and finally in phase four, all the above move again along with dismounted infantry and unlimbered artillery (which can only move within the square to face a different direction).
We didn’t waste much time getting stuck in, and most of that movement wasn’t needed, since we only had a small playing area to test these rules out. We also only had small forces each, the attacking Brits having 4 units of infantry, backed up by 4 units of Matilda IIs, some 25 pdrs, and some Mark VI B to conduct recon. The Germans in defence had some engineers and infantry in the town, some 37mm AT guns and 105mm Artillery on the ridge, and a kampfgruppe of Panzer IIIs and SdKfz 221 armoured cars to take the fight to the Brits.
The Germans advanced into rough ground and were attacked by the Brits there on one flank, on the other, the Brits launched an attack on the town supported by artillery, while the Mark VI Bs tried a heroic (and ultimately hopeless) attack on the artillery on the ridge.
The turn sequence is pretty involved, and we needed to look a lot of stuff up, especially initially, which leads me to my main criticism of these rules – they are fairly complex in places, and could do with some examples strewn liberally around. I emailed Lance with a host of questions, which he was very quick to answer (within a couple of hours I had good replies to all my questions), and which helped enormously, but we did have to painstakingly read and re-read through some sections before we got the hang of it.
Charging up to attack the ridge wasn’t a great idea in retrospect. Each turn starts with the command phase, in which initiative for the turn is decided by dice, with several modifiers that work well and are appropriate, followed by the issuing of orders. Following this are the aforementioned four phases which are split into direct fire, move phase 1 for the active player, barrages and close assaults, movement for the passive player followed by more barrages and close assaults (barrages are only done in support of a close assault) resulting from that movement. The second phase repeats the above with movement phase 2 (so there’s another round of direct fire), then again for movement phase 3, and again for movement phase 4. After all four action phases have taken place, the morale phase takes place.
There’s quite a bit to remember, which is why we kept checking the book a lot to see what happened next, at least in the early turns, and each turn took a while to get through, though it was made easier by dint of not having much movement – the troops dug in on the ridge and city didn’t move other than when they eventually retreated and then routed, and most of the other movement was the panzers retreating having lost a combat and the Brits following up or assaulting, apart from that madcap dash by the Mk VI Bs to the ridge.
A lot can thus happen in a turn, and though I didn’t keep an eye on what turn we were on, we only went through about 3 or 4 turns in total, I think, if that. A larger game would obviously go through more turns. It was quite a bloody affair too, the Mk VI Bs getting destroyed in one turn by the AT guns, but they did manage to take one of them with them. The Panzer battle against Guard Infantry (rated as Superior) supported by Matilda II Infantry tanks ebbed and flowed, with first blood to the Brits, a strong counter-attack from the Germans, and in one turn the loss of one set of SdKfz 221s and a unit of Infantry and Matildas on the Brit side.
The defence of the town proved similarly destructive. The orders available were movement, hasty attack, prepared attack, 4 types of hasty defences and prepared defences. The Brits started on movement, the Germans started on Hasty Defences for everyone except their kampfgruppe, which started on movement too. You can move up or down the orders chain each turn, so after making a hasty attack, the Brits moved on to a prepared attack, while the Germans defending moved to Hasty Defence 1, then Hasty Defence 2 and so on – the different levels of Hasty Defence are there to represent the time it takes to get into fully prepared defences. There’s no dichotomy between being in a prepared defence state and not as with many games, each level of defences gives an incremental bonus to the defenders, which I liked.
Direct fire is pretty simple – roll a die and add or subtract a few modifiers (again, appropriate ones to the situation, such as target or firer moving, shooting from the rear etc) and has a range of 1 square only, so you have to get up pretty close to use it. A 6 is required to cause a loss, a 5 makes the enemy give ground. Indirect fire has much greater range (up to 10 squares in some cases) but is only used in support of close assaults.
Close Assaults have a whole host of modifiers, and use a combat table to get the result. You start by adding or subtracting modifiers, and you then check a table to compare orders given for each unit – so a hasty attack against prepared defences gives the attacker a -3 modifier, while a prepared attack on hasty Defences 2 gives a 0 modifier. The resulting total modifier is then crosschecked against a die roll, which gives a variety of results, from either side retreating to one or the other taking losses. Units involved in combat take attrition too, and some lucky or unlucky die rolls can lead to even a successful attack leaving your forces depleted, as happened with us.
The rules end with a points system, some advice on creating forces, some optional rules for blind movement (there are also rules for aircraft, but we didn’t use those), and a turn sequence sheet that we used quite a bit. A full QRS with all the tables and modifiers would have been handy too, but with the booklet only being around 20 pages, it didn’t take too long to look things up for combat. Our game ended with a defeat for the defending Germans after a very lucky set of dice rolls from Richard and some very unlucky dice rolls from me led to the town being taken closely followed by the kampfgruppe getting destroyed too.
On the whole, I’m still not sure about these rules, and will probably have to have a larger game to more properly form an opinion, and once I get the hang of playing them. I’ve looked at some of the free and more simple games like those mentioned above, but found them too simplistic; at times KoH was too overly complex for us, and I think I’d like a mid-ground set of rules ideally. The quite dense writing could use additional examples (there’s a good one at the end for close assaults which we read and re-read a few times) throughout, I think, and I’m still not entirely sure I have the in command / out of command thing sorted out properly in my head, though I’m getting there thanks to some very helpful email replies from the author, who really went out of his way to help me get my head round some things. I’d like to see the rules expanded a bit more too, with the aforementioned examples and with further notes on design choices and the like – a lot of the rules are clearly based in historical results, and it would have been nice if the author could have expanded on why he chose particular mechanisms, though that may just be me that likes to approach a rules set from that angle, seeing how the author’s thought processes affect the writing of rules and the effect these conceptions have on the finished product and on playing.
So for me, these rules aren’t perfect, and were a bit dense (or that may have been me) and complex in parts, with some tricksy parts that took us a while to sort out. Adding more examples or simplifying some aspects would have made for a more enjoyable game, I think, as we did have several breaks while we looked things up and figured out what we needed to do, but a larger game with a better grasp of the rules should hopefully deal with that. I’m not sure they’ll be in full rotation with other favourite games, but they’ll no doubt make further appearances in the coming year.