Saturday, 29 January 2011

Disposable Heroes

Well, one of my New Year's resolutions was to get some more wargaming in. I wittered on about this on this blog back in November. I'm determined that yes, this year I will spend more time pushing little lead and plastic men around.

Sebastian and I have been playing some Disposable Heroes, which is a WW2 skirmish level rules set from Iron Ivan Games, and it isn't half bad. It is aimed largely at platoon level actions: you can get a decent game with a platoon on each side, with maybe some company or regimental assets attached, like heavy machine guns, tanks, and so forth.

The aim of the rules is to provide the feel of WW2 infantry combat, without slowing the game down too much. It is a tricky balance to strike: some skirmish rules cater well to squad level combat, where you have 10 guys under your command, but really slow down once you add more squads to the game. Others are really geared for bigger battles, at company level, and really not suitable for skirmish gaming.

I've always been interested in platoon level games, since I was, heck, 12? The Russian Front and the Pacific campaigns (including Burma) are of most interest. We've now got enough troops to have a fairly decent game, and we got one done recently in a couple of afternoons.

I've played Disposable Heroes before, and it plays well, handling a multiude of troops - in our case a full platoon of Red Army with a tank, a sniper team and a Maxim HMG in support, versus two squads of Germans with a heavy tank in support. The Germans ended up getting whupped, despite holding a fairly decent defensive position in a built up area, and I suspect if you totted up the points, the Russians probably came out on top. Still, it was an opportunity for us to get our heads around the rules.

As ever with our miniature gaming, we tend to plan the game at fairly short notice. The opportunity emerges to play, and we quickly cook up a scenario and go at it with the troops available. No time is spent working out points values, or detailing a very complex scenario. In this case, we just put all the lead we had on the table, moved the scenery around, and off we went.

This was the first time I used my urban terrain in anything other than a D&D game last October, and it did well. I've been working up to some kind of Eastern Front WW2 game for a while, and it was good to be able to put it to some use. We ended up with each side being given three objectives to achieve: the Russians, played by Sebastian, had to storm the German position on the opposite side of the square from them (Karl Marx Plaza), take out the German HQ, and eliminate 50% of the German strength. The Germans needed to stop the Russians from taking their position, keep their Panther tank intact, and eliminate the Soviet HQ. Simples!

The good thing about Disposable Heroes is that it enforces WW2 tactical doctrine: you do not send squads out into the street, as I did with a rifle section, without adequate covering fire. They get killed. If you do want to cross a street, as Sebastian did later in the game, you make sure your LMGs have pinned down the pesky German MG team on the other side of the square before you send your assault team in. Tanks find it hard to acquire infantry targets in built-up areas. If you stop your tank in the street for too long, some enterprising grunt WILL toss a molotov cocktail on it.

And so on. But it is a set of rules that keeps the essential FEEL of WW2 combat. You get punished quickly if you think your troops can perform the heroics of the silver screen. They prefer keeping their heads down, squirrelled away in bunkers, and don't like moving.

Where the rules have crunch, it is in the pages of unit types - whole supplements support the British, US, Soviet, and German armies, plus there is another for the Pacific War, and one for the armies of the early part of the conflict, like the Polish and the French. There is also plenty of detail on tanks and aircraft should your games expand that far. An annexe to the DH rules, Coffin For Seven Brothers, takes the mechanics to larger scale armoured battles, where infantry plays more of a supporting role.

DH abstracts units slightly: you fire at the unit, not at the individual (only snipers can fire at individual soldiers). Apart from two man sniper teams, the section is the smallest unit, usually of about four or five men. Two sections make up a squad, and the traditional WW2 squad will break down into a rifle section and an LMG section.

Soldiers in a squad are defined by their ACC (Accuracy) score which determines their shooting ability, their Guts, which governs morale and their ability to function under fire, and their Close Combat score, which deals with close in fighting (we never used CC in our game, so I'm guessing it doesn't happen that often). Weapons have a Rate of Fire (ROF) which determines how many d10s you roll when shooting: a bolt action rifle like the German KaR98k will have 2d10, while the Soviet Maxim HMG will have 4d10, as will the German MG34 LMG. An AP dice score determines ability to wound if any hits are scored, but with the weapons being used in the Russian theatre, if you get hit, most likely you're not getting up.

Tank combat is a tad more complex, with the gunner having to acquire the target first, then fire. If it is at another tank, you then have to roll to see the hit location, then whether the shell has penetrated the tank's armour. We were using a Panther tank for the Germans, one of the best AFVs in WW2, and it proved very hard for the Russians to damage, even with their Churchill tank. Indeed, it was the molotov cocktails that looked like the more dangerous weapon.

The game needs concentration and ready access to the data cards covering weapons, unit stats, and vehicles. I can see how a larger game could slow down quickly. We probably played seven turns, which saw us play the game to conclusion, in about four hours. The Germans were easily bested by the Russians, who had more firepower with four LMGs and one HMG against a single German LMG, and in WW2 terms, this is the big factor. Yes, the Panther could have caused the Russians more trouble, but in a built up area, its power was neutralised. I'm going to need to paint up a few more Germans, and give my Wehrmacht some more LMGs if they are going to be able to hold their own against the fearsome Red Army.


  1. As you know, I've had a bit of a wargaming itch of late. What kind of cost is involved with Disposable Heroes?

  2. Hard to say really. You can now get easy to assmble plastic 28mm Germans and Russians - indeed, there is manufacturer in Brighton that has just released some 28mm Soviets. A WW2 platoon is cheaper than, say, 1000 pts of Warhammer troops. You probably only really need one box of soldiers, and then build from there with whatever other assets you need. Check out the new Germans from Bolt Action. Also, you can get started with only a squad, but then I'd recommend something like Flying Lead from Ganesha Games for that.