Today I would like to present you with a very interesting little thing - Platoon Forward! by Joseph Legan, available through Too Fat Lardies.
According to the tag line this PDF aims to offer "a dynamic campaign system for tactical level games". Well, let's take a look.
I kind of like this cover art. It's clever, shows models but certainly isn't overproduced. The layout and font are very reminiscent of other Lardies publications. The whole thing is 56 pages, full colour and really nicely produced.
So what does it actually do? I would describe it as a toolbox for your squad-, platoon- or company level games. While the layout is geared towards WW2 it can be applied to most games taking place in the 20th and 21st century, maybe with some small adaptions in terms of scenarios and period specific things.
Part 1: Characters
You can roll up a bunch of character traits (such as Addict, Inept, Optimistic, etc.), character motivations and driving force (Family, Alcohol, Religion, Government, etc.) and combat temperament including modifiers based on nationality. The traits also determine how well regarded the character is with superiors and men under his command and can have quite an impact on the campaign game.
Beyond that you can roll for the characters' combat leadership. This one uses levels of leadership, ranging from level 1 to level 4. This is rather reminiscent of the Too Fat Lardies games but can easily be applied to other games. The last table in the section lets you roll for the background of the characters ranging from the character having been elevated from the ranks to a privileged background.
Part 2: Scenarios
A snippet from one of the Scenario Cards in Platoon Forward
The largest part of the book is the scenarios section. This is divided into 11 offensive actions (prepared company attack, platoon attack, point reconnaissance, Exploiting a successful attack and so on) and 11 defensive actions (Company defense against a hasty attack, defense against raid, rearguard action, ambush, screening friendly forces, etc.).
There is a pretty cool system for generating terrain based on several tables sorted by theme (heavy, moderate, light, urban).
Each scenario has a full explanation along with friendly forces and support based on probability for it to be there, enemy forces are determined in a very interesting way - the use of blinds.
If you're familiar with Too Fat Lardies, Two Hour Wargames games or "old school"-ish games you will be familiar with the concept. If not, here we go: Blinds are possible enemy positions. A pillar of dust on the horizon might be the wind, an optical illusion or an enemy tank. A swarm of startled birds rising from a small forest might be nothing, or indicate an enemy squad sitting in ambush. Creaking walkways in a destroyed factory may be just a random creak or a sniper sneaking about. Essentially you don't know beforehand what the exact kind of enemy opposition will be, because in real life you wouldn't know either.
A few blinds in use. Picture from Brian Cantwell's Repple Depple blog
The number and kind of enemy blinds used is noted in the scenario descriptions. Let's say our platoon is ordered to carry out a local platoon attack to take a vital position from the enemy. The scenario "card" (page) tells us that we got artillery support, armour support is Possible, light support is Very Likely, engineers and anti tank guns are Unlikely to be present.
The enemy Possibly has artillery support, bunkers are Very Unlikely and barbed wire is Unlikely, so the low probability of us getting engineers isn't as problematic. The probabilities of things showing up is done via a dice roll and looking up on a table.
Then we look at the enemy blinds. They are categorized A (infantry, forward observers) , B (infantry or support weapons) and C (vehicles) and based on your force's strength.
Or of course the blinds might prove to be nothing at all. Usually the scenario description lists blinds like this:
Type A: The number of your squads +2
Type B: The number of your Light Support Weapons +1
Type C: The number of your vehicles +1
So you generally know what you might be up against but don't know the exact numbers or kind of enemy heavy equipment. This represents preliminary recon pretty well and adds a nice layer of uncertainty if you play solo or co-operatively.
All these sources of different results make the scenarios HIGHLY replayable. A reconnaissance mission for instance first lets you roll for what is being scouted, ranging from an enemy stronghold position to a village which might or might not be occupied by the enemy. Then you determine the support you get, the support the enemy gets and then you also get varying results for what the enemy blinds prove to be. All these layers make the numerous single scenarios different each time you play.
Part 3: Events
This section of the book deals with those happy (or indeed unhappy) accidents you can not predict.
You can add pre-game events (such as reinforcements, good recon, single squads being in top form that day and so on), in-game events - maybe at a certain dice roll or at a fixed time in the game - such as friendly/enemy reinforcements, good/bad things happening (all of which having their own tables to roll for results on), if the scenario is part of a larger operations your platoon might get the order to slow down to support a flank because it's broken in and so on.
All of these events I strongly suggest not to have happen too often but maybe once a game it adds a ton to the overall spice of the game.
Then there are post-game events. These are very much open to the interpretation of the player(s). There is a whole host of things that happen, ranging from varying replacements of losses, shortages in grenades, one of the characters getting noticed by the higher ups, characters developing a higher level of morale, an NPC from the batalion asking for a favour (resulting in another scenario), doing you a favour, meeting with a local personality and so on.
All these things can be tailored to fit your squad/platoon/company and help you running a campaign.
What's the verdict?
I'm a big fan of narrative play, solo and co-op gaming so each time I read through these rules it gets my creative juices going.
Platoon Forward is a collection of ideas and proposals for things to include in your games. The part that is going to be the most handy of course is the scenarios part. With this book you never have to invest a ton of time working out a scenario for your games. Even if you don't use the rules for the randomized supports, the blinds and all of that, you have a solid collection of all kinds of interesting scenarios. Along with the terrain generator you make two dice rolls and you got your scenario, along with enemy force composition and support if you want.
It's a pick and choose affair but given how many popular rulesets don't come with campaign systems and just a small handful of scenarios of which some are a rehash of always the same Platoon Forward can add a lot to your WW2 gaming. The character traits alone, even if you don't make use of their rules, already add something to your games. Leader 1 becomes Cecil 'Wombat' Hughes III who supports the government 100%. Despite being an aggressive fella in the mass hall and pubs his leadership in combat is even. He was just made Sergeant (level 1, he might have been promoted beyond his skills) from an average background. Working this out took five dice rolls and a few seconds.
This certainly is not for people who believe in points systems and competitive gaming above all. This book has nothing exceptionally to offer, nothing that couldn't be made up if one invested the time and passion. However, having this whole host of really fun and interesting idea of spicing up games available saves us this trouble. Let's say you're bored one weekend. You can immediately set up a game of your preferred WW2 game and you're good to go.
One thing I have to critisize though. It's a little layout thing, possibly just because I'm picky about such things and in other areas of the world that's just a little period flavour but I really could have done without the Feldpost stamp with the swastika on each of the scenario cards. It's okay on the framework postcards scattered throughout the book but I didn't care much for that on the scenario cards. Just a minor thing.
If you're into narrative games, characters, the human aspect, like campaigns and things happening outside of a game, at £7.00 Platoon Forward is WELL worth getting. You don't have to use everything from the book, in fact I'm rather sure that not using everything from the book is what most people prefer to do but it is just convenient to have these things at your disposal. I heartily recommend this one. Platoon Forward! is available through Too Fat Lardies.
I hope that you enjoyed this review, found it interesting, entertaining and so on. Something positive. If you have any questions, comments or indeed commission enquiries, feel free to let me know via the comments section, the Battle Brush Studios Facebook page or via e-mail.
Don't forget that any WW2-themed painting/modelling project commissioned during all of December is -20%!