Threading the Needle

Good day everyone, this past Friday evening I played a distance game of Battle Captains with my brother. The intention was to test the final adjustments for Second Edition, but being siblings it turned out to be much more serious and mentally intensive than planned.

The setting was late summer '44 on the eastern front. Seeing as my brother is an artillery officer in the Canadian Army, he naturally chose Soviets. Specifically he chose to play with a Motorized Engineer Company from a Mechanized Corps. I randomly chose what I would be playing as from my available forces and received a Fallschirmjager Company from a Fallschirmjager Division. The table was set up and we began the Pre-Battle Phase.


Text in italics is informational and intended to provide a glimpse into the underlying mechanics.

The table was dominated by a sloping ridge line to the bottom of the frame (the Soviet base line) with a river and a ford through the middle and compact farm fields at the top of the frame (the German base line).

Through the course of the Pre-Battle Phase the scenario developed into a hasty attack with the Soviets defending the ford (the only Center of Gravity). This would mean that I would have to prosecute a forced river crossing with dismounted paratroopers against defending engineers in emplaced positions, played by a professional in the use of supporting fires. Yay.

The Pre-Battle Phase is a kind of mini-game before the main fight that allows for the development of the scenario, forces involved, quality of said forces, recceing the battlefield, and establishing our initial orders and fire plan. A Center of Gravity is the focus of the fight. Holding a Center of Gravity allows for the player to pull Friction cards from their Play Deck and return them to their Friction Deck (more on this later). Essentially, holding one or more Centers of Gravity allow for a force to weather the rigors of combat that would degrade them at a higher rate otherwise.

The next steps of the Pre-Battle Phase allowed us to purchase support options, roll for reinforcements, receive artillery and aircraft fire support, and discover what of our available forces arrived at the battlefield

Player's can purchase units from their support list but may also receive random reinforcements and fire support options to assist in the scenario. Armies also have a supply rating whereby there is a chance for any of the player's forces to fail to arrive at the battlefield due to any number of reasons. As late war Germans, my supply rating was lower than the Soviets.

After the purchase of support, random reinforcements, and fire support options, the German force was as follows:

Command Platoon

1xFallschirmjager Command Section
2x81mm Gr34 Mortar Teams
1xKfz 15 Radio Truck (Adjutant)

1st Platoon

1xFallschirmjager Command Section
3xFallschirmjager Sections
1xFusilier Motorcycle Section
1xArtillery OP Team

2nd Platoon

1xFallschirmjager Command Section
3xFallschirmjager Section
1xPanzershcreck Team
2xMedium Truck
1xStuG IV

3rd Platoon

1xFallschirmjager Command Section
3xFallschirmjager Section
1xPanzershcreck Team
2xMedium Truck

Weapons Platoon

1xCommand Section
1xFlaK 36 AA/AT Gun
1xSdKfz 7
2xIG18 Infantry Gun Teams
2xMedium Trucks

Artillery Support

2x120mm Gr42 Mortar Batteries
1x75mm GebG36 Mountain Gun Battery

Air Support

2xFw 190 (small bomb load)

Several units failed to arrive at the battlefield including more Medium Trucks, 81mm Mortars, a PaK 40, and a FlaK 38 (which I would seriously regret early in the game).

My German Fallshirmjager Division for Battle Captains.

The Soviet force was as follows:

Command Platoon

1xEngineer Command Section
1xEngineer Flamethrower Team
1xMedium Truck
1xISU-152

1st Platoon

1xEngineer Command Section
3xEngineer Sections

2nd Platoon

1xEngineer Command Section
2xEngineer Sections
1xArtillery OP Team
2xMedium Trucks

3rd Platoon

1xEngineer Command Section
2xEngineer Sections
2xMedium Trucks

Artillery Support

1x82mm M37 Mortar Company
1x122mm M38 Mortar Battery

Air Support

1xIlyushin Il-2 Sturmovik (with RS-132 rockets)
1xIlyushin Il-2 Sturmovik (with RS-82 rockets)
1xPetlyakov Pe-2 (with bomb load)

The Soviets were particularly unlucky with their supply rolls, a Maxim HMG Section and a 45mm AT Gun Team failing to arrive along with two Engineer Sections and two Medium Trucks.

My Soviet Mechanized Corps for Battle Captains.

As the Soviets were on the defence they had access to defensive works and since they were engineers they would be particularly dense.

Defenders may spend points on defensive works such as obstacles, minefields, and entrenchments. Engineers grant additional points to spend on these defensive works.


The Soviet defences were quite thick and developed. The Germans approached nearly 600m of continuous minefields (of what type was never discovered as they had no engineers of their own nor did they wish to test them). 300m of wire covered the Soviet right flank as well as trenches at the ford and a tank pit on the left flank of the ridge line. This would be a difficult attack.


The German advance was headed by 1st platoon, the Fusilier Motorcycle Sections providing recce support and the Artillery OP Team ready to coordinate fires. 2nd Platoon raced on the table shortly afterword with the StuG IV leading.


The Soviet defence was centered on their 1st platoon occupying the grounds of the estate. These engineers were perfectly placed to apply firepower to the path through the minefields.


To the rear of 1st platoon, 2nd platoon was mounted, ready to race to their comrade's aid or occupy the trenches. They would choose the latter, leaving 1st platoon to weather the attack of the entire German force alone. 3rd platoon and the Company Command waited off table in the assembly area.

The scenario determines the number of platoons the defender may have on the table at game start. This being a Hasty Attack, the Soviets were caught not fully prepared in their trenches.


Next in the column was the weapons platoon with two IG18 infantry guns and an attached FlaK 36. The three gun teams and their transports raced to the German right flank into the depression behind the raised road. As the guns arrived at their position a firefight broke out between the German 1st and 2nd platoons and the Soviet 1st platoon occupying the estate. Across 200m of hedge rows and estate buildings, MG42s, DP LMGs, and rifles exchanged words.

The StuG adopted a position just outside of effective Panzerfaust range ready to put HE shells into the buildings when a sound was heard from the sky. In a brief pass a Sturmovik put RS-132 rockets into the only armoured vehicle in the German force and left it burning having achieved no effect on the battle. The FlaK 38 team broken down five miles ago was sorely missed.


Quickly after the Soviet pilot soared away from the battle, the German response was felt. Two batteries of 120mm Gr42 Mortars covered the Soviet 2nd platoon at the ford in a dense smoke barrage. Aside from the lung cancer, this had the effect of isolating the forward Soviet platoon and blinding the Artillery OP Team. This was critical as my brother's defensive plan relied on timely, accurate, and adaptable use of fire support. I didn't want to give him that luxury, he's too good at it.


With the cover of the smoke barrages, the German weapons platoon adjusted their position to the left,  unlimbered, and began providing fire support to the attack on the estate. To their left and right, the Soviet fire plan began. 82mm mortars shelled the road just 100m to the right while 122mm mortars pounded the road to their left. The German 1st platoon backed off from the road just in time having seen the ranging round. Both 1st platoon and the weapons platoon nervously held their positions as Soviet artillery rained down around them.


The isolated Soviet platoon in the estate was slowly pushed back by two Fallschirmjager platoons and the fires of two infantry guns and an 88. Meter by meter and building by building, the engineers left a trail of their own bodies. The going was slow and the German command structure started to feel the burden of the action.

In Battle Captains both players have a Play Deck composed of a set of Action, Reaction, and Battlefield cards. A hand of cards from this deck is maintained from which they play cards to prosecute the battle. As bad things happen such as (but not limited to) failed morale checks and destroyed commanders, Friction cards are added to their deck. Friction cards cannot normally be played, slowly degrading the effectiveness of the player's command and control.


In response to the carnage at the estate, the Soviet 3rd platoon and the Company Command with the attached ISU-152 entered on the road coming down the ridge line.


This was poor timing for the Soviets as the Luftwaffe had come out to play for once. Two Fw 190s dived onto this grouping of vehicles on the road, strafing the column with their 20mm cannons and dropping their small bomb load. The short action destroyed the Flamethrower Team and the CO's truck. They would now have to walk the ~800m to the front. Almost as an afterthought, a 75mm GebG36 Mountain Gun Battery began to shell the Soviet CO's area.

Armies have an air support rating which determines the likelihood of receiving aircraft. The German rating is not the best and only an amazing die roll during the Pre-Battle Phase allowed the Luftwaffe to participate. Controlling aircraft in this period is exceedingly difficult in a tactical sense. As the Germans I could only have the aircraft scheduled during the Pre-Battle Phase. In this case the two Fw 190s were on a Hunting mission, searching for soft targets. They happened to arrive as the CO's column was entering the table and they happened to be the closest targets to their Hunting area. This battle could be fought ten times and that might happen once.


As the Soviet CO was cursing the Red Air Force's absence, the attack on the estate was concluding. A brutal five minute house to house fight saw the Soviet 1st platoon destroyed or routed. The German 2nd and 3rd platoons began a right hook towards the ford, 1st platoon held in reserve with the weapons platoon ready to provide fires when necessary.


As the rest of the action was being fought, the Soviet Artillery OP Team had relocated to the opposite flank, regaining line of sight that had been blocked by the smoke barrages. For a few short minutes, the team redirected the two mortar batteries, adjusting fire, and creeping the fire missions on to target. The German 1st platoon was pounded, losing the Fusiliers, Panzerschreck Team, and a Fallschirmjager section. The weapons platoon lost all its transport and one of the two IG18 Infantry Gun Teams. Even the Company Command was not immune. Playing a game of cat and mouse with the Soviet Artillery OP Team, they weaved and dodged incoming rounds, using up precious time as they made their way forward.

This did not last forever as a brief firefight across the river between the observation team and the German 2nd platoon ended expectedly with the routing of the Soviet team.


The actions of the Soviet OP Team had its effect however, with the German forces depleted, the command and control system even further degraded, and the weapons platoon left a gun down and unable to relocate.


A few moments later, the smoke barrages lifted, a little too early for the German's liking but they had done their job allowing the estate to be cleared with out any support from the rest of the Soviet force. With no choice remaining, the German platoons turned to their right and advanced upon the Soviet trenches using suppressive fire from 1st platoon and the remnants of the weapons platoon.

Unfortunately, rolling down the hill to aid its comrade's was a Soviet 152mm assault gun. This seemed to be a rather bad time for the smoke to lift but the crack of the 88 solved the problem in one shot. Both the Soviets and the Germans had lost their only armoured vehicles before they could contribute to the action.


A short but intense firefight and a few close assaults upon the trenches cleared out the Soviet 2nd platoon, the majority choosing to abandon their positions and run back to Moscow. This left 3rd platoon occupying a farm on the other side of the river. However, the Germans were very much feeling the damage from the preceding firefights, almost punch drunk as they arrived at the objective.

Their saving grace was the fact that the Soviet 3rd platoon was Green, probably why they were held in reserve. The sight of 1st platoon being wiped out and 2nd platoon routing in the face of the Fallschirmjagers disheartened the final line of defence. With only a few shots fired, they followed 2nd platoon in turning tail.

In addition to their Play Decks, both player's also maintain a Friction Deck. Most of these decks are FUBAR cards which disrupt the player's deck when shuffled in; some of the cards will be special Friction cards with different effects. In this game the Germans had Ammunition Shortage and Fuel Shortage Friction cards while the Soviets had Political Interference Friction cards. Each army can have a different number of cards in their Friction deck. In addition to these cards disrupting the player's ability to command their force, if their Friction deck runs out they lose the game. When the last of the Soviet force routed, the German Friction deck had one card remaining in it. One more Friction card being added to the German deck would have changed the result.


Somehow a dismounted Fallschirmjager Company had successfully prosecuted a forced river crossing, advancing across ~600m of minefield ridden ground. Fighting hedge row to hedge row, building to building, and suffering Soviet artillery along the way had not made it any easier.

At the end of the battle three of nine Fallschirmjager sections were dead or routed, the Fusiliers were gone, an IG18 was destroyed, and only one functioning truck remained. For their losses, the Germans had destroyed a platoon of Soviet Engineers, routed two more platoons, and destroyed an assault gun with an 88. Too bad there's about three million more Soviets on the way.

I would like to thank my brother for a mentally tiring game. He always provides the highest challenge; if he didn't I would question his career choice.

This game was played using Battle Captains Second Edition (still in development). First Edition can be found here.

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