Why Rattenkrieg?

In Spring 2015, we decided to extend our catalogue with modular buildings (for 28mm) and give our customers (and ourselves) a tool to play skirmish games focused in urban combat. When we finally got the first prototypes, we tried to find a set of rules to use them with.
With so many sets of rules in the market we thought that we just needed to find one which covered the three aspects we love in a wargame: The historical, to understand and learn how men and machines interact under battle conditions; the aesthetic, to reproduce visually the places and situations where these men and machines found their destruction or Glory, and of course, the playability and fun, because this is a hobby and our lives are too short to waste our time with boring and slow rules.
But after several months buying, learning, testing and discarding rules, we discovered that the balance between these three aspects was not easy to find. Some games gave us fast ways to solve a tactical situation, but in return, their abstraction level was too high, but, in other rules, the love  for detail and meticulousness turned even the simplest combat into a tedious and complex process where the player needed to spend most of the time  looking the tables up in the rules.
So we decided to write our own ones from scratch. This is exactly what we never wanted to happen, but we saw no alternative if we really wanted to play historical, aesthetical and fun wargames.
Coming up with the rules was an interesting process. We started to read documentation about the topic -from army manuals and personal  accounts of  men who fought at Betio, Stalingrad, Berlin or Warsaw. We also  watched many World War II training films in order to be able to reproduce the combat procedures. In order to reproduce the combat effects we consulted numerous casualty reports not only to learn how many people were killed or wounded, but also what  was the cause of their injuries. Due to the fact that I spent most of my career working in simulators, our very first approach (given the complexity of the problem) was to create an app to help the players to play, but soon we learned that people prefer a more traditional approach to wargaming,  rolling dice and checking tables, so we “modeled” a game engine to simulate the game world. A few rules and a coherent set of formulae gave us the scaffolding to start building such a world.
So, Rattenkrieg! was born as a set of rules about urban skirmish during World War II, and was designed to transmit the complexity of this sort of combat to the player in the simplest, fastest, and closest way. But once we started the playtesting, we felt that we should go one step further. The “simulator” worked at a very small scale (one platoon per side, fighting to take a two storey building), so we started to play with a tank.  And it worked! The  formula used to calculate the effects of explosives against walls worked seamlessly when we used AP shells against armor, AA ammunition against landing crafts or the bombs dropped from a Typhoon against a column of trucks.
If the game engine was able to do all these things, there was no reason to use it only in urban combat, so we pushed the limits a little further and Rattenkrieg! turned into what you have in front of you right now.
Our goal is to keep the world as “real” as we could –  most of the data regarding radius of destruction and lethality of the explosives, penetration, etc is sourced from military manuals, post action reports and related documentation – but at the same time, to design a fast and easy to play game.

The Rattenkrieg! design

We found immediately that, in order to have an historical approach to the Second World War, it was not easy to find “consistent” information that covered from the effects of small arms to artillery shells, so we needed to dive deeper into the world of mathematics and physics to create the logical and numerical roots of the game.
For example, in the case of the light weapons, we calculated the penetration using the “F-Formula” designed to model the ballistic impacts and penetration of naval armor, computing the collision energy keeping in mind the caliber,  weight, shape and type of the projectile and the muzzle velocity, and then we crossed this information against some forensic and military reports about the resistance of exterior walls against high velocity projectiles in order to find the equivalences. Of course, we needed to “tweak” the reality a little bit, but it was the only way to make the game both accurate and easy to play.
For the number of dice for every weapon, we assigned one to every pistol, revolver and bolt action rifle, assuming that most of the times these shots would be aimed at an enemy. For those with high rates of fire, like submachine guns or machine guns, we assigned one die per every ten cartridges in their magazines, assuming that in one action, there is enough time to cock and shoot all the cartridges stored in the magazine, but not to change it, and that these bursts were not as carefully aimed as single shots.
For artillery shells, we used the same formulas, but in many cases we needed to take into account the energy added by the blast wave (we based the calculations on the TNT data, the explosive used in one or another form in World War Two).
For grenades, land mines and some other explosive devices, charges, etc, we used only blast wave energy and – where applicable – the effects of the fragmentation.
But the damage done to the target is in function of the overpressure produced by the shockwave, and the effects are absolutely different depending on if it hits a building or a living being. The building structures collapse long before the humans inside them start to be seriously affected by the overpressure (ruptured eardrums).
This is a wargame; and this means that it should “represent” the war with the risks, perils and opportunities inherent in it. In other words, we haven’t modified the “world” to fit the wishes of the players.  This means that if you play the game ignoring the military doctrine, there is a high chance that your troops will be destroyed very fast.
However Rattenkrieg! is not only that. A wargame should be designed in such a way that the players could have fun without spending 30% of the game time reading the manual, waiting, frustrated or arguing. The sources of the players problems should be the terrain and the actions of the enemy, not strange and random “designer artifacts” created to introduce artificial stress in the game.
In fact, the game engine (examples excluded) barely take up a couple of pages.
Chose a squad for each side and follow the examples step by step. Then play the Introductory Scenario. You will find that the mechanics work seamlessly and that, as a Squad Leader, you need to focus on keeping your men in sight and to decide if they should move, fire or react to the enemy actions.
Using the Light Weapons tables you will learn why the MG-42 was so lethal compared to others, but also why the Wehrmacht soldiers in the East Front preferred the PPSh41 over the MP-40.
As a tank commander you’ll need to be conscious of your crew, but also use the strengths of your machine and the weaknesses of the enemy one to your advantage. If as a Red Army crewman you follow the doctrine and fight buttoned-up, you will not need to worry about enemy snipers, but your vision will be strongly limited.
Given that Rattenkrieg! covers nearly every aspect of the World War Two combat, from very small operations with just a few Commandos to company sized landings, we marked all the non essential rules as “Optional” (Opt). You, as the Player, are free to use them or not.
Right now, we consider that the “comfort area” of Rattenkrieg! for players with some experience, is to deploy one platoon (plus support) per player.  Many of your games will probably be much smaller or bigger than that, so feel free to find your own limit. A typical game will last from one to two and a half hours.

Basic concepts

The rules

We developed Rattenkrieg! to be  a “User Friendly Dice Powered Combat Simulator”.  This means that you can act in your games as you would act in a real combat.  This is a “Fat Free” set of rules, so there are no “designer tricks” to end the turns, or to stop the enemy activating some of their units, so if you want to pin the enemy, or to halt their movement, you will need to do it by yourself using your figures, ingenuity, skill and perhaps a little bit of luck.

The game

The playing time of a game depends on the size of the forces present in the scenario and the experience of the players, but it can take anywhere from 90 minutes up to three hours.
Given the intensity of the engagements, this game is perfect for two players. If you want to add more, keep in mind that maybe the best option is to divide the gametable in “sectors”, one for every two players.
The game is divided in two parts. The Approach Phase and the Engagement Phase. The Approach Phase is a fast pace game where the defender (if any) deploys his forces, and the attacker (or both players, in the case of “Encounters”) plans and executes the approach. This phase ends when one of the players asks to do so because the enemy is in his Line of Sight.
When the Approach Phase ends, the Engagement Phase starts.
The Engagement Phase is where all the combat takes place. This is NOT a IgoUgo game. Every turn is divided in as many rounds as needed, and in every round, both players can use part of their forces alternatively.

The battlefield

Keep in mind that the times when the wargaming battlefields were flat and boring (maybe with some “Old Style” hills)  are gone. Now we can play in 3D battlefields, with gentle hills, shallow valleys, creeks and wide rivers you need to cross with boats or bridges, so now you can (and probably should) use these terrain features to protect your forces against enemy observation or gunfire. The term “defilade” again makes sense.
The rules have been designed to handle nearly every possible combat situation, so don’t worry if you find systems to fight in low visibility conditions – due to darkness, smoke or haze – or to approach the target quietly in order to avoid detection. We provide easy to use mechanics to handle “Visibility”,  “Sound” and “Combat Awareness” in the game, but this doesn’t mean that you need to know them. They are there if you need them, but you can enjoy many games without the need to use these systems.

The environment

In Rattenkrieg! a figure, vehicle and a crewed weapon represent exactly what you see. Where possible, even the weapons, equipment – and in some cases even the stance – of the figures should correspond to those to be represented in the game. The distances and objects have  the same scale (1:56 for 28mm, 1:72 for 20mm and 1:100 for 15mm). For 28mm we recommend individual 20mm bases.
With regards to the battlefield, a 4’x6′ table means a combat area of 123 yards (112 meters) x 184 yards (168 meters) and a 6′ x 8′;  184 yards (168 meters) x  245 yards (224 meters) in the real world. Bear this in mind whenever you see a gun in front of you.
Timings, however, are more abstract. Before the actual combat starts, while the units move in the “Appoach Phase” each turn can represent from 30 seconds up to a few minutes. This means that for the first turns the players have a lot of freedom to move their forces until the first units are detected and the fun begins as soon as you start playing. When the forces start to fight and fast decisions need to be taken,  each turn can represent between 20 and 40 seconds, depending on the complexity of the fight and the actions taken.
For this reason, we ask you to open your mind and be flexible when it comes to determine “what could be done in X seconds”; the game has been designed to adapt especially to experience these stressful moments that seem to last forever and those that occur in seconds, and to get rid of the boring minutes when nothing happens.

Game terms

When we talk about “vehicles” we mean not only those used on land (wheeled or tracked), but also planes, gliders, boats, landing crafts. etc. In the rules, an “Element” is every figure,  fire team,  support weapon, leader,  squad or vehicle that can be controlled by the players.
Each figure has two characteristics; “Quality” and “Aggressiveness”; but don’t worry, you will not need to use markers to keep track of these data because they are already printed in the Scenario or in the Order of Battle.
The “Quality” value is fixed and represents something much more generic than that implied by word and      encompasses concepts like commitment to the cause, patriotism, self-sacrifice and, of course, combat Quality.  It tells us how many actions the figure can do in a turn (in other words, how many things it can do).
The normal value for an average soldier is three. Higher values don’t mean that the figure is faster doing things, it simply means that the figure knows what to do and how to do it, so the higher the position in the chain of command, the higher the “Quality” value. Sometimes this value is also used (against a D6) to know if a task (such as to fix a jam in a machine gun, or to spot a hidden enemy) will be successful or not.
The “Aggressiveness” value is given in the scenario and  may change over time, depending on the situation. It tells us the disposition of a soldier to use a weapon against another man with the aim of killing him, of his own free will.
The average value (for the men who fought in the Second World War) is two and most of the times is used – against a D6 – to know if an isolated soldier, or detachment (out of sight of his leader) will fire an aimed shot against an enemy (with a roll equal or less than his “Aggressiveness”) or if he will just pull the trigger in the general direction of the enemy (with a roll bigger than his “Aggressiveness”). Some situations and factors can reduce this value down to zero (which means that the soldier is in panic) or increase even beyond six (which means that the soldier becomes bloodthirsty and is out of control).
“Smart scenery”
We tried to create a combat environmet as close to the real one as possible in order to offer the players the same challenges faces by the Second World War officers and NCOs. For example, in one scenario, the attacking player could find himself forced to face the following terrain.
As you can see, there are no signs of enemy presence. But  lets take a closer look at one of these bushes.
In fact, most of them are “boxes” where the defender  can hide his troops inside, waiting for the perfect moment to ambush the attacker forces.
Nearly anything can be a piece of Smart Scenery. A destroyed tank may hide an MG team. So look twice before  send your troops to the battlefield.
During the Approach Phase, the players will need markers that will be used as “waypoints”, defensive positions or decoys.  We call them “Mojons” and we will talk about them later. They can be of any shape or size, but some of them will need to have numbers on them.  The defender will use the “Mojons” to mark the defensive positions and which elements are assigned to every position, and the attacking player will use them to mark on the table the path every unit will follow.
Keep in mind that the defender may hide “Mojons” inside pieces of Smart Scenery.
Once the combat starts, and the Approach Phase is finished, almost all the “Mojons” are removed from the table.
Tactical orders
The Tactical Orders are special markers used to assign orders to the elements in each turn. We will explain their use later. There are three types, but they should all look the same on the back; on the front, one will show something that means “Movement”, another will show something meaning “Fire” and the third type is used to foul (or ambush) the enemy and should be numbered.
Orders of Battle (or OOB)
Every unit deployed in the game will have an “Order of Battle” where the player will find all the information needed to play, from hierarchical organization, command structure,  strength, disposition of personnel, and unit equipment and gear, along with the data needed to play. The players will use the OOB to keep track of casualties, changes in Aggressiveness or status, etc..
Reference Sheets
These are guides to learn how to play Rattenkrieg! and probably the average player will stop using them after a few battles. They are step-by-step guides to ensure the player follows the procedure from start to the end when engaging in combat against enemy on foot or against vehicles. There are another Reference Sheets with tables, for convenience of use.

The units

The game has been designed for 20-28mm miniatures, but the game system is flexible enough to handle any miniatures from 15mm to 54mm.

You can play with only three figures (the surviving crew of a downed bomber) or land in a remote island with a reinforced company of US Marines… The “proportionality” of the rules allows you to focus on details only when needed, so you can completely ignore the rules about “Sound” or “Visibility” when fighting a battle on a sunny day or you can play with the shadows and try not to cough while trying to infiltrate behind the enemy lines.
During the game, you can handle your units in the way you want. Maybe in one turn you will move forward a full platoon as a whole and the next one you will move the same platoon by squads, fire teams and even maybe detach a scout.

Command and control

The limits of command and controls depend on the capacity of the leaders to reliably issue orders – by voice, signs, whistle, or other means – to their troops, so that in every situation the effective command distance may vary. For instance, in an urban area, with partially collapsed buildings, haze and the sound of the roaring tank engines, the command distance will be much shorter than if the unit is moving through a quiet prairie. Forget the “clumps” of soldiers around the squad leader and forget the “unit cohesion” rules. Simply keep your men in sight of the leader, or close enough to hear his whistle or see the flare.

About armor

Usually armor thickness is considered the most important factor when it comes to defeating a tank, but the slope is at least as important as the thickness, not only because it increases the chance of a bounce, but because it makes the armor plate work like a much thicker one.
So, for example, when a shell impacts on an armor plate with a thickness of 100mm with a slope of 0 degrees, it must pierce only 100mm to reach the other side. But if the same plate is at a 45 degree slope, the same shell will need  to pierce 141mm.
But if we shot the same shell against the plate sloped at 45 degrees, and from one side (another 45 degrees), now it must go through 200mm of armor. This is called “relative armor”, and you will find that this is a very important question when you fight against armored vehicles in Chapter 9.

Gun Sights: To Hit or not To Hit?

This is the question. In many games, you need to roll in order to know if the shell you shot with your tank hits the enemy or not. This makes sense in small scales, when the enemy is more than three hundred yards away. But in  Rattenkrieg! the average combat distance is between 50 and 150 yards. Maybe 200 yards playing with 15mm models.
So let’s take a look at what a gunner sees when he aims the gun. We used a Zeiss sight used in the Tiger I tank as template,  but other tanks sights will look quite similar to this one.
And we simulated what the gunner should see if the 1:56 T-34/76 enemy tank was 50, 100 and 200 inches away in our battlefield. As you can see, is not easy to miss the target. In fact, we gave more “weight” to the speed of the target for this reason. When the target is so close, the biggest challenge is to follow the target.

The effects of weapons in Rattenkrieg

We based the casualty system of the game (and many of the modifiers used in it) on the information given by official military reports.
Historically, the common belief was that about the 80% of the casualties in combat were caused by mortars, but it seems that the origin of this idea comes from the fact that the data was collected from the second echelon hospitals, where only wounded men were taken. Nobody asked about the dead.
In Europe, the moving front didn’t give time to study the corpses. But in the Pacific, the very nature of the war created the perfect conditions to learn more about what really happenned in the battlefield. When the fight was over, and before the units left the island to fight again, there was time to discover more about the worst face of combat.
So we studied the data gathered and organized by Ashley W. Oughterson, M.D., Harry C. Hull, M.D., Francis A. Sutherland, M.D., and Daniel J. Greiner, M.D. The Bouganville Campaign is – of course – a very different kind of war than the one fought in Europe, because the Japanese had a very special military doctrine (not to mention the use of their MG, tanks and artillery) and the nature of the terrain was quite peculiar. But the combats were fought at very close range, and even taking into account that the Japanese weapons were different to the German or the Soviet ones, the effects were nearly the same when used at close range.

This is what we learnt from this study and the basis of our casualty system.
It is possible that the MGs and grenades were more lethal in Europe than in the Pacific.
Also, the statistical data suggests that, when the combat is fought at less than a few hundred yards, the anatomic location of wounds is critical. The head or the legs gets hit as many times as the chest and abdomen together. And the chance of death is one third. A wound in the extremities rarely means death.
I would like to end this note with the following quotation from the same report.

Routing or breaking contact?

In Rattenkrieg! there are no “shocks” or routed units. Probably the concept of units “running away” from the battlefield is a legacy from other wargames based on other historical periods where there was no military justice or court-martial and people simply walked away when they had had enough of war.
But in Rattenkrieg! only irregular units may leave the battlefield without permission. All the other elements, must perform their duty and obey orders or they will face a charge of “misbehavior before the enemy” or cowardly conduct. The only way to withdraw a unit or element from the battlefield is to use a higher authority to issue such order to that unit.
But of course, a unit can be rendered unable to keep fighting, but this doesn’t mean that that unit is removed from the table. More often than not, that unit will become a new problem to solve.

Rattenkrieg! features

Prisoners and interrogation, war dogs, room to room combat, landings,  air landings, cavalry, bicycles, demolition, damages to buildings, boats, combat psychology and much more.