Tuesday, 25 February 2014

'Brigadier General' In The Gran Chaco

The 1930s Chaco War is on my length list of Things I'd Like To Have A Go At One Day. There's a few figure ranges around, in a couple of scales, and a couple of basic armies look easy enough to assemble.

I don't have any figure for it yet, though, but tonight I decided to dip my toe in the water (not that there was much in the Gran Chaco). I'd read a couple of brief reports/reviews of a newsih, small-scale WWII game called 'Brigadier General', which was supposed to be suitable for solo play; easy for me, therefore, to set up a quick game and see how things went. I bought and printer off a copy yesterday, read the rules through, and set to.

For figures I used my hair-roller WW1 armies, with the Germans standing in for the Paraguayans and the British the Bolivians. A single Risk gun masqueraded as the Bolivian artillery.

'Brigadier General' uses 40mm square elements, each one representing a company, so three bases basically represents a battalion of infantry. A basic force consists of 12 such bases, plus a HQ base. I used the following forces:

Bolivia - 1 x HQ, 6 x Infantry, 2 x Heavy Weapons, 1 x Cavalry, 1 x Light Armour, 1 x Artillery, 1 x Fighter
Paraguay - 1 x HQ, 7 x Infantry, 3 x Heavy Weapons, 1 x Cavalry, 1 x Fighter

I played the Bolivians, and left the Paraguayans to the AI.

Here's the board - the Bolivian are deployed at the bottom of the picture, with a strong combined-arms force in the centre, supported by the artillery, infantry on one flank, and a small force of cavalry on the other. The Paraguayans were deployed by the game system - a weak centre, a very strong right flank and a less strong left flank.

Here's the main Bolivian force, with my scratchbuilt MkIV tanks standing in for their tankettes.

The Paraguayan right was an impressively large force of infantry, supported by heavy weapons.

Both sides had aircraft, press-ganged from my 1/600 WW1 collection.

The Bolivians attacked right away, subjecting the Paraguayan HQ to strafing.

The Paraguayans attacked some Bolivian heavy weapons in the centre.

And got shot down. That's an opposed die roll, with the infantry AA scoring three times what the aircraft rolled (after combat factors are added in). Twelve elements - opposed rolls with combat results based on multiples? Recognise this game yet?

The Bolivians advanced, whilst the Paraguayans occupied a hill. At this stage I began to feel that the AI wasn't really doing any good, and just started paying the Paraguayans myself. The AI would have had those two Paraguayan bases launch themselves into a close assault on the overwhelming Bolivian force ...

An overview of the battle.

The tankettes assaulted the Paraguayans on the hill, but were repulsed. Note the small rocks on the unit behind them; units in 'Brigadier General' take Fatigue Points (FP) from combat. These can be rallied off, but if they exceed the unit's combat factor it's lost. Pulling units out of combat to recover is a tactic that is well rewarded.

On the Bolivian right their cavalry attacked a lone Paraguayan infantry company, driving it back.

The Paraguayan right assaulted the Bolivians opposite them, who had based their defensive position on some dense jungle.

The Bolivians fought off the attack, although they lost their exposed flank unit. Unfortunately the Paraguayan cavalry was too far from its HQ to exploit the excellent position it was in.

This was the position at the point I gave up on the game.

Yes, I gave up. I just wasn't enjoying it. 

'Brigadier General' is designed to be simple and, I believe, a little abstract. However I found it too abstract; it just lacked colour. Despite the units having special abilities they still felt very much the same. And the DBA-style groups (for these rules owe an awful lot to DBA) just didn't feel right.

I have to confess that I also found looking things up difficult, The rules really could have used an editorial hand to organise them; things are defined after the rules that use them (groups, for example), and the order of sections doesn't feel logical. Some definitions are hazy, or non-existent - what, for example, does 'unengaged' mean in the rally rules? It's a pretty fundamental section, but the eligibility of units to actually rally is a little fuzzy. For this game I took it to mean that the unit had not engaged in close combat, or been shot at, during the turn. But I may be wrong; it's not clear. And how are supply lines - a link between a unit and the HQ - measured so that they can be cut? The example given in the rules is very simplistic, but is the line between unit and HQ measured from any point of one base to any point of the other (which makes the supply lines hard to cut by interposing an enemy unit), or nearest point to nearest point? Again, the rules aren't clear.

What I felt I have bought is a game that's still partially floating around inside the author's head. Now I don't mind play-testing a set of rules and providing feedback or even just questions. But I prefer to do it before I've paid for them.

I did feel there was merit in the unit activation system, which is tied to an overall force morale. You can try to activate individual bases, which means that some might move, or activate whole groups, where you have the risk of mass failure set off against being able to use a large block of troops. Of course, what a group is isn't defined until near the end of the rules, and how an activated group may move isn't clear; do the units have to stay together, a la DBA, or can they move individually (like in Maurice, for example)?

I really wanted to like 'Brigadier General'; it's a size of game I like, promised solo play and gave me a possible set of quick low-complexity rules for WWII, and similar conflicts. But I was disappointed; there's nothing in them that I felt was worth my while buying them for. Maybe I will try another game, but I can't see it happening. If I relent, you'll read about it here.

Saying that, I enjoyed putting together my Gran Chaco forces, and getting fired up to play a game with the feel of that conflict. And now I have figures on temporary bases, it would be a shame not to use them for something. I see  a Memoir '44 variant coming on ...


  1. Have you tried Bob Cordery's Chaco rules? If so, di you enjoy them?

    Best regards,


  2. Not yet, but I have to say that I'm not a fan of the DBA system for 'modern' warfare - I like his Memoir of Battle rules or something akin to the Portable Wargame, and that's the route I will probably go down. I have put a few ideas together, and will test them out when I get a chance.

  3. Hi Kaptain, I am sorry you had a unfavorable first impression of my game. As I mentioned in the intro it's not a complicated game and yes quite abstract. And as you have gleaned I am a DBx gamer, particularly HotT. Yes you are 100% right I could have used the help of an editor. Thank you for your review it helped greatly with my FAQ over on my BGEN forum. I wanted to address some of the points you made in your review.

    First on the AI matrix, you stated that you gave up and took command of your OPFOR. This is what I suggested in the rules. "To conduct both sides from the viewpoint of a commander." As mentioned in the Section 2 use the AI as a guideline.

    Lets clear up some confusion on Rally. You mentioned that you were confused if a unit were eligible to rally based on being in any type of combat that turn. Note that Rally is itself a turn phase and the rules state in Section 5.6 that you may rally units that are not "engaged" in combat, at that time. In other words if during the Rally Phase a unit is in base contact combat then it may not rally at that time.

    Group movement is mentioned in Section 6.1 Tactical Movement. All groups move as one at the speed of the slowest unit. As a side note I had originally placed a combat bonus to artillery vs. groups but took this out.

    On your statements about the similarity of 12 elements and opposed die rolls let me say this. As mentioned in the game you can play with as few 10 (one could field 6 with a single d6 as the cohesion die but it would be a very quick game.) or as many as 18 (at one point we had tested 20 but it was too clunky so it was reduced to 18 with 3 cohesion dice.) Look at the cohesion dice total, if you have 2 then their max score is 12, hence 12 elements. If 3 cohesion dice then max score is 18, hence 18 elements. On the opposed die rolls it seemed so much simpler since this is a solo-wargame to keep dice rolling to a minimum and yes I love DBx.

    On supply lines, please remember that this is not a tournament game with strict rules to adhere to. It's a solo game and one usually finds that their solo wargame buddy is a very accommodating chap. Imagine your supply line running from your HQ to your field units, has an enemy blocked one of these lines? If so no rally until someone moves or the enemy unit is destroyed.

    Also on breaking off from combat, that can be dangerous. This is described in Section 8.3.1 if you lose the break off attempt you take a FP and are still stuck in combat.

    Also you mentioned that your infantry shot down a Fighter Airplane by tripling it's score. Looking at your picture you have the infantry with a score of 6 on the die and the fighter with a 1. The infantry CF vs Air units is only +1 so their score would be 7. The Fighter would have a total score of 3. The result was the same that the fighter was destroyed but your assessment of it was a bit incorrect, doubled not tripled.

    I really like your game pictures and I have been considering gaming the Chaco War, now you've convinced me! I do hope that you might find time again one day to give my game another try. I am an amatuer game writer with a small miniatures line operating out of my home wargame room so I understand if you simply cannot because my game is abstract and of humble production. I do thank you for rebuilding the Stronghold, it's a great resource!

    Cheers, Auston.

    1. Thanks for your comments, and especially the clarifications. I have to say that, since writing the review I have kept looking at the lonely printed-out copy of BGEN on my desk and thinking that, perhaps, I should give it another go.

      I appreciate what you say about the rules being written for the solo gamer, who can chose how to interpret them. I personally adhere to the idea that *any* rules should be written to as close to a tournament standard as possible to remove any, if not all, ambiguity. Maybe it's the IT professional in me; I treat wargames rules as computer programs, and don't like it when they 'crash' or when I go into 'subroutines' that don't seem to exist. In the case of the supply lines I felt that it's a fairly key mechanism and that it could have done with more clarity. I will probably go for closest point to closest point (which is how command would be measured) as this is easiest to adjudicate.

      I'm not sure what happened with that fighter getting shot down - maybe I did use the wrong factors, or maybe I allowed the heavy weapons to fire in support. I'm not sure. I think I had an issue with air units in that they can attack an enemy from the side and, technically, units only fire to their front. This allows air units to evade AA fire from their target. I assumed that AA fire was all-round.

      'Engaged' did have me puzzled; again, it's a matter of simple clarity - it's a key term and needed to be defined. Thanks for clarifying it.

      I certainly wouldn't bother with the AI matrix in future games; it was that which had the Fighter launching itself at a big block of enemy in the first place :)

      With air units I did find that the enemy HQ was the obvious target on every turn. Obviously with all-round AA it should be easy to support the HQ.

      As I said in the review or comments, I never quite feel that the DBx system does very well for any style of post-medieval warfare, but I appreciate that it's a useful and well-known mechanism which people are familiar with. I use it for my own South American Napoleonics games for example, despite its weaknesses.

      I realise my review does seem very negative, but I did find I was struggling to enjoy the game (however see above). Let me take this opportunity to say that I do appreciate anyone who takes the time and effort to write rules. You'll see that I have a few sets of my own on this blog, so I understand that it's not easy to write something that gives a good game, is easy to follow and is unambiguous. I spend a lot of time refining and rewriting in order to maximise clarity and remove ambiguity, and bits still get through. There's always a tricky balance to be struck between concise and complete.

    2. A few game reports/walkthroughs on the 'net might help; sometimes it's not so much the actual rules that make a game difficult to get into, but how they are played. For example, when our group played 'Maurice' the first few times we found the games very bizarre (albeit fun), and it took a while to understand *how* you were supposed to play the game to give something which reflected reality.


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