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The Rules - Reviews & Feedback
Sunday, 14 May 2006 20:22
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GHQ W81 T72M1Continuing the discussion...

Back in Journal 51 Mark Bevis responded to my previous article on MSH (Modern Spearhead) and my replies to some of his ideas and thoughts… As it has now been some time (2 years or more) since that article I thought I'd write some more on the subject, outline some of what I have been up to, and reply to Mark's recent comments as well.

As I write this I am in the process of building a completely new Soviet 1982-86 era Motor Rifle Division from scratch, along with an additional Tank Regiment as well as a British Mechanised Brigade and am intending to build a German or Belgian Brigade and a small US 'Task Force' to accompany them.

The following article originally appeared in the SOTCW's Journal No.56 (Christmas 2006) in response to an article by Mark Bevis in Journal 51 (Christmas 2004). Mark's previous reply is reproduced here in More thoughts on Modern Spearhead.

Needless to say I have become what is known as a 'GHQ Slut' and the forces are being built almost entirely with GHQ and CinC models (and of course Scotia's very good range of towed guns). Scotia & NavWar/H&R have only been resorted to when needed! I might even write an article on this at a later date. These forces will hopefully see their first action in August 2006 at our (seemingly annual) big MSH game in Wellington (New Zealand) - which will probably have been and gone by the time you read this! Another possible subject for an article too methinks.


I would like to take the opportunity to let people know that MSH is not a 'forgotten' rule set by its authors. I have been working on numerous items of material for it which includes a new website design, new Soviet organisations and data cards, corrections to the British organisations and data cards, and most importantly general errata for the main rules. However at the time of writing I can not confirm if and when any of this will be publicly available. When Alex and I published MSH in conjunction with Arty Conliffe it was done under contract and as such the (legal) copyright is actually held by the owner (i.e Publisher) rather than the authors - this means any significant material made available for free (even errata) is at the owner's discretion rather than the author's.

We've also been dealing with issues of breach of copyright and plagiarism in recent years - we have had a few instances where part, or all, of Spearhead, Modern Spearhead, and/or Crossfire have been reproduced and made available for free by one means or another, without the authors' consent, and in most cases presented as the instigators own original intellectual property! I one of these cases the entire rulebook of one of the above was converted to PDF and put up on the web. And that’s a prospective subject for another article about respecting author's efforts and intellectual rights.

Combat Teams

Ah yes, that old chestnut! Mark replied to my earlier thoughts about combat teams, again reinforcing his view they should be represented by 2 stands in MSH. Obviously as one of the authors I strongly disagree... Mark comments that he has found MSH gamers equally divided on the issue, but I would challenge that. I have found the vast majority accept the 1-stand concept outright, and once the balance are familiar with the game as written, also support the system, and Mark's experience is perhaps more symptomatic of the gamers in his area (reflecting the prior rule sets they have previously played).

I have found the gamers who struggle to get their heads around the concept and what we are trying to achieve are also usually the ones most obsessed (or perhaps in love with is a kinder turn of phrase) with minor technical differences of weapons and theoretical performance and who usually in the past have played WRG 1950-2000 or Challenger or similar 1:1 rule sets. This is not an indictment of them as gamers, but of the environment they have gamed in previously, and the areas where other rule sets have put their focus. In most cases I have seen players who initially disliked the one stand concept come to appreciate it once they had played sufficient games to get comfortable with the game mind set and its objectives.

As one of the authors I should of course not have to justify the decisions we made in the design, however that aside here are some brief points relating to the design of combat teams:


MSH is designed to simulate the experience from a Divisional or even Corps Commanders position (it can and often is played at the Brigade Commander's level but the same basic concepts apply). As such whether troops are in or out of their APC or IFV is irrelevant and is of no concern whatsoever to the Divisional Commander. From his or her perspective interest normally stops at the Battalion level (or occasionally Company Level if a Brigade Commander) - is it in position, doing what it was told, and is it succeeding...? Strangely enough Mark actually indirectly supports this view elsewhere with his comment "As we are not really making decisions at the Company/BGHQ level..." under his 'Moving under defend orders' discussion but seems to then ignore it when discussing Combat Teams?


The rules have been carefully designed to incorporate the single stand concept and to balance the benefits of the dual capability such formations offer. We also believe we have been quite cunning and smart in designing how these stands operate to represent the high level view of them without unnecessary complication. To suddenly start using 2 separate stands undermines significant parts of the rules and changes the play balance in many areas.

Soviet Combat Team with BMP-1PDevelopment

People seem to think we arbitrarily chose the one stand concept out of thin air - we did not. A lot of careful thought, some long and sometimes heated discussion, and play testing, all went into Alex and I arriving at the one stand result. We were unhappy with the original Spearhead APC rules for modern warfare, and were particularly unhappy with how the game played using 2 stands exactly as espoused by Mark and others... The game suffered. Once we decided on the single stand approached we even tried to distinguish APCs from true IFV or MICV Combat Teams, but found that also an unsatisfactory and unnecessary complication. In the end we developed the 1 stand system as it is in the rules to maximise speed of play, simplicity, and real life simulation, while minimising complexity and the number of troops needed to play the game.

Morale System

The morale system suffers significantly from the introduction of 2 stands. It was one of the major flaws we found when play testing and is irreconcilable with the SH & MSH morale system in our view.

Target Priority

Basically the target priority system gets screwy and can produce anomalous results by the use of 2 stands.

Game Play Mechanics

If players will give the (vanilla) rules a chance and actually endeavour to play several games with the rules as written they will almost certainly find the system works and there is actually no need to second guess it before even playing a game (as many actually appear to have done).


I challenge every gamer out there who agrees with views like Mark's on the 1 stand versus 2 stands debate to play the rules as written for at least 4-6 games (preferably more), and also to play reasonable sized games (i.e. with a Division or close to it, or at least a large supported Brigade) and to stand back afterwards and ask themselves;

  1. Did the game as a whole play okay? 
  2. Did the overall result resemble what could be expected in real life? 
  3. Would dismounting and operating 2 stands for every platoon have made any significant difference other than slowing the game down?

Afterwards if you believe Mark's way is better for you go ahead... You are free to tinker with Modern Spearhead as you see fit - and if you really feel that strongly about Combat Teams then we the authors are not going to force you into our view - but please remember that we did design the rules the way we did to create a specific experience for you the gamer, and Combat Teams are an important part of that. If you choose to field 2 stands remember they are no longer Combat Teams, just an infantry stand and a vehicle stand, and you will need to exclude several parts of the rules that deal with Combat Teams and you should not count both stands for calculating morale purposes, but loss of any stand of either type should conversely count against morale - but ultimately going down that road breaks a critical piece of the Modern Spearhead design.

SPGs and Vehicle ATGMs

Mark made the comment in Journal 51 that "...in practice they only need to halt for a minute to fire one or two rounds before moving on again" - that is partially true, but only for 1:1 scale representations. SPGs invariably require time to deploy to conduct fire, even if in direct mode, and there are a lot of actions involved for a crew of a SPG to engage the enemy, even if just to fire a round or two... Likewise ATGM may need to be dismounted from inside an APC and emplaced to fire, guided to target, then remounted inside the APC - not all ATGM are mounted and able to be fired externally from a vehicle - for simplicity the rules do not distinguish between them. Add to this the fact you are talking about a whole Platoon, Troop, or Battery of vehicles not a single one and the fact that in MSH although a turn is up to 30 minutes the activity is assumed to be happening in a short burst or two of anything from 1 to 5 minutes (or perhaps a single longer burst of up to 10 minutes).

However as Mark concluded, the rules do let you effectively use support weapons on attack, by leap-frogging them, or simply halting them in rear of the attacking fighting platoons.

Close Assaulting Armour

Although there are 'exceptions' to the norm as Mark quotes, in general dismounted infantry will not assault armour in the open in real life. The examples Mark quotes are scenario specific examples that should be dealt with by scenario specific rules rather than some wholesale rules change that will see infantry chasing MBTs across rolling grassland in every future MSH game.


As Mark has said it's great to see MSH getting discussion and I am more than happy to intermittently reply to comments from other contributors. I welcome Mark's thoughts and comments and anything that gets people talking about MSH is always good, and remember its your game so ultimately if you aren't happy with it feel free to try various 'house rules' to get it how you want it...

Contributor: © 2006 John Moher.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 March 2010 18:14
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