A couple questions about the tabletop. Are height distinctions important? I read something about hull-down but one webpage says there's no height scale.
Yes, and No. Yes height distinctions are important, for example you must be stationary on the top contour of a hill to count as hull down! (This is much
more playable than skirmish sets which have you "swooning" about behind crestlines, etc...). No there is no vertical scale, so you just slide to suit, for example in North Africa most terrain features are very low, but I often portray small ridges as 2 contours to distinguish them from very low rises which I make 1 contour. In a NW Europe setting these would all be 1 contour! (The most important features of high ground are that you can claim hull down and you can gain additional visibility (max is normally 18" to spot vehicles) PER contour (+3") so on a 2 contour hill you can see enemy vehicles at 24".
In particular, what sort of table terrain is necessary to have a good Spearhead set-up. What sort is desirable? I am completely new to miniatures and am unlikely to be able to have a permanent gaming table. Can a paucity of tabletop terrain create a reasonable Spearhead experience?
Well, we often play (IMHO) with the minimum necessary, typically on an 8' x 4' table there will be 4-6 reasonable hills (plus occasionally a few small ones), some roads, maybe a couple of streams or a small river, 2-3 large woods (occasionally some more small copses), and some BUAs - Built Up Areas (typically 10-15 town sectors in total). Occasionally a few fields or other minor features are used to break up large open areas to provide some cover... But because of the visibility restrictions, even with a sparse battlefield it is possible to have a reasonable manoeuvre battle.
What is desirable is more than this, I feel that for NW Europe and Russian games our terrain is sometimes too open, we need to have more small hills, small woods, and fields and stuff. This will reduce the amount of open space (a mile is
18") which in our games is probably too much at present. However this is mainly aesthetics on my part and is not absolutely necessary.
Are the flank march rules realistic?
Sort of, you can get the silly situation of opposing battalions passing each other to flank march on to the same table edge! But generally they work okay, we play quite a few pick-up/encounter/spontaneous type games, so FMs can be quite effective! In an attack-defence scenario like Arty intended FMs are useful for the attacker, but the defender is better placed to allow for them. Tactically FMs can often be minimised by keeping reserves near the flanks, which can be committed to intercept any offending enemy FM.
A common mistake is people try to spread a small Division (say 6-7 Btns plus attachments) along the entire 8'+ frontage, a strong flank march (say Tank Btn + attachments) can often roll up a couple of Battalions single-handedly while the opposing General looks on helplessly!!
TIME & GROUND SCALE
What is the time scale?
15-30 minutes per turn. We prefer to think 30 minutes.
What's the ground scale?
1" = 100 yds.
WHAT THEATRES/ERAS ARE THEY SUITABLE FOR
The focus seems primarily East Front [so far]. The scenario book seems to cover the whole war on the EF. Is there a particular era [early war? mid? late?] that the rules seem most focused on?
Not really, they were probably written around 1943-44 Russia & Europe and expanded out in both directions....
My [board] wargame interest of the month is Czech 38 / Poland 39 / and especially France 1940. How amenable is Spearhead to this? It looks like there exists Spearhead data for early-war divisions, but are the rules suited to this era?
Most certainly, one of the great things is the Tanks become very vulnerable
(as they were historically). Also they have a lot less fire power so when they encounter enemy Infantry they can't kill it very quickly by long range fire, they need to charge in and Close Assault (as was done historically many
times in France in 1940, and North Africa 1940-42) to Overrun the grunts!
There is data on 1940 units, and I've researched a few additional vehicles/weapons, while for poles and the like you can easily find compatible data elsewhere to get started....
How much table space for a typical division on division encounter?
Well we usually play on 8' x 4', 8' x 6' or occassionally 6' x 4'. This usually proves ample, infact in some cases it's almost too much room. Generally SH works realistically with actual doctrine, if your armour encounters dug in Infantry you can halt it and plan a new assault with Infantry and so on... so the space required is relative to how many troops you wish to use.
How much manoeuvre in depth is typical?
Not a lot in someways, Spearhead assumes you are representing the front half of the deployment zone, therefore some units are "off table" at the start of the
game in Reserve.
Also although movement is fast/decisive a table that is more than 5'-6' (6,000-7,200
yds) deep makes it more difficult for reserves, since once committed they can take 3-5 turns to reach the action (as opposed to 2-3 on a 4' table).
Is the feeling manoeuvre or attritional?
I feel it is mostly manoeuvre (but then I am a big SH fan), bad attacks turn into attritional battles as casualties can mount quickly and whole battalions can be destroyed in 2 turns if heavily out gunned and unsupported.
The game also promotes good reconnaissance; intelligent use of reconnaissance will be a big help - giving you a chance to modify plans before contact with the enemy, which is crucial as once you get into combat unless you are German you are considered committed and cannot have your orders changed until you resolve the combat, or elect to break off and withdraw.
Is "division-level" accurate? Or is it really brigade level or division plus level, etc?
Yes, its a Divisional game but many people play with Brigade sized forces, and I do not feel this completely captures the spirit of SH, we always play with Divisions, and often by having 2 players a side and a larger (8' x 6') table we may use close to an entire Corps (2 Divisions and/or Corps troops).
Actually a better phrase might be "its a battalion game designed to operate at the divisional level and higher..." as opposed to most rules which are "platoon games designed to operate at company or battalion level".
Two issues: For corps-level action, are multiple players per side necessary? My reading of the Spearhead description suggests that once the battle is engaged, battalions fight according to the game rules. So a corps battle should entail just more up-front planning than a division battle. Or not? Also, your site mentions the corps-level rules. Know anything more about them?
No to Question 1, but the game will play slower. There are lots of subtle little manoeuvres possible within a battalion, which means it's not completely Brain Dead when
it becomes committed! These involve support elements, Armour, target priority, etc... it takes a couple of games to start appreciating these and that is why many people who played 1 or 2 games, or only read the rules (and who failed to identify them) labelled SH as excessively simplistic....
The Corps level rules come in the form of the "BREAKTHROUGH" Campaign supplement, which is currently being playtested....
Second, when you say "a battalion game designed to operate at the divisional level and higher" how much sub-battalion detail is there? If possible relate to my paper-board-wargame experience. Is the battalion, the "counter" and platoons something like step-losses? Or is the bn the orders-receiving unit and companies the counter or platoons the counter? i.e. would different companies w/i a bn have different overwatch/support/assault roles?
There is not a lot of detail below battalion, Companies are sometimes insignificant (except for aesthetics) unless a support battalion which you can break up to attach out. Comparing the Battalion as the counter and the platoons as step losses is reasonable, but not totally accurate (after all each platoon can react
independently of the battalion HQ).
Finally [I guess I had 3 points], how comfortable are the Auckland players with the bn-level focus. My reading of WWII history is that the Brigade/CombatCommand/Regiment was doctrinally the primary manoeuvre component for Commonwealth/USA/USSR. Not sure about German doctrine, but in practice the bn seems the right focus for them. It was only post-war that the bn became the US manoeuvre element.
No problem with that, if you operate historically (ie. keep 2-3 battalions together to support each other) generally you will perform better than if you have them all charge off on their own in different directions.
Also if you are Non-German then you need to give yourself a chance to react to changing situations, since your battalions cannot react to order changes while engaged in combat. Therefore historical 2 up 1 back deployments mean that the front 2 battalions will "shield" the rear battalion which will therefore be able to respond to an order change as required. Likewise if the rear battalion is ordered forward through 1 of the front battalions it can then "shield" or cover that battalion allowing it to reform and change orders as necessary. Overall then the net result is quite nice and in my view reasonably realistic, despite the fact that there are 1 or 2 unusual mechanics involved in getting there!