Monday 2 March 2020

Spearhead - Somewhere in Northern Germany 1989

One of those great things I enjoy about our hobby, is being able to pick up a set of rules that you have owned for a long time but never played.  Then, spending some time reading them and seriously giving them a try out in a game...and being really pleased with the results!

Spearhead is one of those rulesets that you don't hear much about but having delved back into old posts in blogs (yes, including some of yours no doubt!), I have never read anything bad about them.  Those who play Spearhead do seem to keep going back to them, even after playing other WW2 rules, which I found interesting.

But!  I hear you say..'Those are modern vehicles and the title of your piece said '1989' 'why are you using WW2 rules and not the 'Modern Spearhead' set?

Well it's like this. I did try to start off with the modern set, but I found it pretty complex.  There is a lot of good detail on them to fit the huge amount of technical kit found in modern warfare, and I simply struggled to get a grip on the mechanics of the game.  So every few years I would get the rules out and give them a read and put them back on my book shelf.

I tried 'Team Yankee' and though some concepts were good, the total lack of Command and Control in that set bugged me.

I also wanted something a bit more 'out of the turret'.  I wanted a set of rules that would give the challenge of using combined arms forces and trying to co-ordinate all aspects to fit a plan whilst trying to seize objectives.  This would also involve off-board artillery and calling in air strikes.  Oddly enough, just like a real Brigade/Div/Corps would.

Browsing the WW2 set of Spearhead I saw that the rules were much more sleek and I could see the game mechanics more clearly. There is still plenty of detail but it was easier to navigate and take in.  The rules would also give me the exact level of command that I wanted.

So, thinking back to when I was a fresh faced Tommy Atkins in 1989, I realised that my own experiences largely involved, carrying a rifle, pack and a spade. Using the spade to dig in..lots. Trying to get comms on the radio and not succeeding and waking up to make that first brew of the day in several inches of water in a trench trying to eat/drink as little mud as possible.  This was modern soldiering and too be honest, not too much different to experiences I read about from 1944.

So surely I could use the WW2 Spearhead and just add a few of the more modern aspects to at least get a game going...and this is what I did.

I spent a week play testing and producing a table of equipment with the kit lists from Modern Spearhead.  The playtest was very worthwhile. I did simplify some aspects which made table comparisons too frequent for a first game and narrowed some things down to simple D6 throws with a few modifiers.

The idea of this was too keep the game flowing and to make the game more about sticking to a plan and changing if necessary, rather than getting too involved with tactical bits suited to skirmish game.  There were somethings I struggled with in the play test but eventually got my head around.  I did find it initially weird that tanks could only 45 degrees per turn to engage an enemy and not turn its turret to shoot (though it does have a 90 degree arc of fire). 

Thinking it through, I could completely get it that what it is making you do is try to stick to your planned route and if you have to move your tanks to face a new threat then your troop of tanks turning its turrets is not going to cut it (one tank model being a whole troop). You need to change facing and move your tanks to face the new threat. A complete shift in posture is required and this does make sense.

It did come up in the game, and it is odd if you are used to playing at lower levels of command.  In Spearhead if tanks are coming at yours from the flank then you need to shift your troops posture to face the new threat head on, as you are being flanked and no amount of turret turning is going to save you!

I prepared a narrative for the game (not really a briefing) which was:

North Germany 1989.  After weeks of unrest in Soviet Russia, the Politburo have distracted the populace by launching an invasion of Northern Germany, using the excuse that the unrest has been caused by western agents.  The destruction of a Soviet satellite was blamed on the west though western intelligence indicates that a small nuclear device was detonated in Space. This has caused radiation fluctuations in space which may affect communication systems.

The Soviets are attempting to attack and seize three objectives.  Hill (Objective 1), Y-Junction(Objective 2) and the Hamlet of Rammsteinsdorf (Objective 3).  This is required to allow safe passage of Corps elements of the 3rd Shock Army. 

Soviet Forces
You have:
Two Battalion of 61st Guards Tank Regiment equipped with T-72B.
Two Battalions of 248 Guards Motorised Rifles in BMP2s
You have attached FAC and FOOs as labelled
You have been promised 3 x sorties by Frogfoot Ground Attack aircraft
You have two timed  Divisional Artillery Bombardments of large 130mm Field Guns
Your army is largely conscript but they have known only victory so far. They are counted as Regular morale

British Forces
The British have two weakened Tank Regiments, 4RTR and 17/21st equipped with Chieftains and one mechanised Battalion of Royal Green Jackets in FV-432 to support.  They have fought rear-guard actions for the last 3 days and their morale has dropped to Regular due to their losses and fatigue.
The British expect 4 aircraft sorties but their field artillery is limited to battery fire by independent batteries.


If the Soviets take more objectives than the British hold then it is a glorious victory.  Should the British hold their 3 positions and be able to counter attack and take the large hill with village (Knockwersten) or the village of Himmlerstacht near Soviet left corner) then the entire 3rd Shock Army’s attack will be in ruins as and it will be a major British victory.   Should both sides hold any of each other’s objectives then it will be a draw.

If you are not familiar with the game then the whole basis is this. It is the map of the area with objectives shown. Your plan is drawn on with timed bombardments, reserves, timed shifts to other objectives etc all shown.  I spent so long playt-esting and setting up prior to the the game that I forgot to make a nice map and drew something up in about 2 minutes!

I planned to do a full battle report but for a first game it is sufficient to say that I planned for a 12 turn game but it was resolved in 4 game turns.  Mistakes were made on both sides as plans went awry. 

Above we see one of my mistakes on the right flank (matches my sketch) of two mechanised companies of Royal Green Jackets deploying and being faced with a T-72 tank battalion coming right at them.  I could see it coming though my FV-432 mounted troops could not. 1" is 100 yards and they were just too far away to see.

As there were three objectives for Ian to take with his Soviet troops. I focussed on the flanks and neglected the centre.  Ian chose to send a motorised rifle regiment here, and it was completely safe for them.

On my left flank (village of Rammsteinsdorf)  I dismounted my RGJ companies with Milans and together with the Chieftains they started to cause havoc to the T-72 tanks who brewed up very nicely.

Above we see the horror of a situation unfolding that I could see coming but was unable to prevent. The Soviet's contacted the FV432's at close range and devastation followed.  I hoped to turn to flank and make a run for it. I should perhaps have dismounted the infantry and try to take out least a couple of tanks with Milans.

To the right of the FV-432 APCs I had a weak battalion of Chieftains who were distracted by the assault of a motorised rifle regiment, and were unable to assist in saving the RGJ infantry  (sorry about the unpainted Soviet troops!)

In the centre the Soviet's gain the objective of the Y Junction.

On the left the British hold Rammsteinsdorf but it's all in vain. The Soviets have taken two of their objectives and it's game over.

The game was quite brilliant.  It is just what I was looking for, something that could happily work to make command decisions the key factor in co-ordinating large combined large battlegroups.  Some bits appeared weird but actually worked well as long as you understood what it was trying to portray.  You could almost forget the tactical side and look to the operational.  Your plan was the thing that would make or break victory.

I will now use the rules to add to my small WW2 collection of GHQ vehicles and I also picked up the WW1 set and supplements from the Abingdon wargaming show (Overlord) at the weekend. Now those really big battles are possible!


  1. Interesting report Jason...sounds like you have found the right set of rules for recreating BAOR actions

    1. Hi rross, I hope I have found the right rules. At last rules that specify objectives and give a great feel to the scale of the game.

  2. Great looking game Jason, nice pictures!

    1. Hi Phil, Thank you very much. I must get some more explosion markers when I play with so many small tanks though! :-)

  3. Good looking game and sounds like these WW2 rules work well for the tail end of the 20th century!
    Best Iain

    1. Hi Iain, Well there's the thing. I have spent time reading the modern set of Spearhead and though more daunting on the surface, most of the mechanics are exactly the same as the WW2 set - just a bit more detail for guided weapons, helicopters and instant sunshine kind of things. I'm very impressed with them.
      Best wishes,

  4. Yes, Spearhead is quite good! Enjoyable report and nice table. Hope to read more in future :)


    1. Hi Aaron, I'm sure your blog was one of the ones which had the Spearhead battles on which inspired me in the first place :-) I certainly intend playing more.
      Best wishes,

  5. Spearhead is fantastic - and I'll vouch that the Modern variant is also quite nice - a lot easier to play than it seems on first contact with the rules. But regardless, enjoy! It is a fantastic rule set.

    1. Hi Greg,
      Thanks for your kind comment. Yes, you are quite right - I have read the modern rules in detail now and they are very similar to the WW2 set - just the expected extra details. I am really enjoying these.
      Best wishes,

  6. Replies
    1. Hi John
      I'm glad you liked the report. Hopefully we can all get some more games in sometime and I can do some more reports. Solo gaming for now, alas!
      Best wishes,