Armour Battles is designed by Jim Bambra to be a fully playable introduction to Combat HQ, his comprehensive set of World War II wargames rules. Armour Battles fulfils its brief with great success.
Three scenarios (Americans v. Germans, Lorraine, September 1944) are included to get you going. In these, the player commands a battle group of seven to seventeen platoons of vehicles or guns; each platoon is represented by a single base on the tabletop. You might notice that I didn’t mention infantry—for the good reason that, as the title Armour Battles suggests, there isn’t any! This exclusion of foot sloggers and their accompanying heavy weapons is the main way in which Armour Battles acts as an introduction to Combat HQ: the rules themselves are not simplified but the amount of unit types (and stats) you deal with is.
The game system is highly ingenious and exceptionally well designed. A friend of mine is fond of Mark Twain’s (alleged) comment: “Please forgive my writing a long letter as I didn’t have time to write a short one.” The same principle holds here: Jim Bambra has clearly spent a great deal of time and shrewd effort in designing out complexity and redundancy to produce a sleek game system—clear and simple, yet never remotely simplistic.
The centrepiece of the game is the command and control system. This skilfully combines realistic restraints with enough freedom for unwary players to hang themselves. Both players roll a handful of ordinary dice at the start of each turn. Scores of 5, 4, 3 and 2 are grouped into chains. Each chain is the amount of orders you can issue in your command pulse (player turn): if you roll 5, 5, 4, 3, 2, then you can either issue one order (with a 2 or 3 or 4) or two orders (with the two 5s). What about 6s and 1s ? Scores of 6 represent good luck: you can add them to an existing dice chain or use them to boost combat or rally rolls. All 1s are foul-ups: these are lost to you or, sometimes, end up as extra wild dice for your opponent. This not merely a very ingenious system: it successfully portrays the unpredictability and sheer luck that a battle group commander would have to cope with.
Not only is the game system a gem, it is presented in clear and polished prose that solves virtually all questions that occur in play. The table of contents is key in this: it is comprehensive (pretty much an index) and enabled this tech-sceptic to play entirely from his laptop, with no problems of locating rules when required. Clear examples within the text show how rules work in practice. There are also handy (printable) cards which summarise stats for each vehicle and for the battle group as a whole.
I’m now looking forward to playing Combat HQ, the full game—if this was the hors d’oeuvre, then bring on the main course!
[5 of 5 Stars!]