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The Rules - Reviews & Feedback
Friday, 25 April 2003 19:52
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Soviet Combat Team with BMP-1PHaving signed up to the SOTCW Journal sometime ago, and being a co-author of Modern Spearhead, I had taken an interest in Mark Bevis’ review of MSH (Modern Spearhead) in Journal 38, and his on going series of articles since then. Mark has raised some good points, proposed some very sound “house-rules”, and otherwise raised some issues for topical discussion!

In the following article I have made a general response to Mark’s thoughts in his review, some specific responses to his proposed rules changes and house-rules, and in conclusion some links to useful MSH related websites (the latter not reproduced here as they are now obsolete - Ed).

The following article originally appeared in the SOTCW's Journal No.48 (Christmas 2003) in response to series of articles by Mark Bevis in Journal's 38-46 (Christmas 2000 to Christmas 2002).

You can read Mark's original review in the article Modern Spearhead Review and his follow up article Modern Spearhead: A Further Review.

Modern Spearhead – The Review

In Journal 38 Mark Bevis commented that he had hoped these would be a set using d10 and he was disappointed at the time to find they only used d6. Over time I have come to agree that should an updated version be published we should seriously consider changing to d10. The use of d6 was dictated primarily by a need to maintain compatibility with the original SH (WW2 Spearhead) rules, amongst other things.

In this review Mark questions whether we have got “in a muddle with MICV transported infantry” and I can assure him we haven’t. The rules are very carefully constructed to accommodate these in a unique and flexible manner that most importantly maintains game balance and fits in with the overall approach of the rules. We went through lengthy trials and discussions deciding how best to represent these. Mark offers a suggestion to represent the vehicle and it’s troops separately – which is a common demand we had from play testers who were used to the 1:1 rules environment of WRG or Challenger. This is not a good option, it unbalances the rules and makes the IFV teams far more powerful than they should be – all the data card values are based on these being ‘combined’ teams, not two separate entities occupying the same space – and I will touch on this further, later in this article.

Regarding the lack of Pre-Game Reconnaissance, etc, this is (as with SH) the realm of the scenario designer, and an unnecessary complication to build into the actual game rules. However I do agree we could have better represented RPV’s in some form… I’d be interested in seeing people’s proposals for how to represent these in a MSH game as I have failed to find a truly satisfactory mechanic myself.

In answer to Mark’s comments on aircraft, yes, we didn’t specifically include specialist Air Combat rules – after all MSH is a ground combat game and we didn’t have space to do justice to air-to-air combat – however we did include AA factors for most Aircraft and Helicopters, allowing enterprising players to conduct air-to-air fire in the AA Combat Phase!

As regards the issue with movement under defend orders this has been well clarified in relation to the SH (WW2) rules a couple of years after their release (about 1997-98) and in MSH we have assumed gamers already have a knowledge of SH (which is perhaps an unfair assumption). In MSH we endeavoured to reword the rules where necessary to make it clearer and more definitive without deviating from the intent of original SH rules. To quickly clarify, “moving towards the enemy” under defend orders can include backing away – basically once a defending formation is contacted by enemy it’s stands may move where ever they wish within the CZ (Command Zone) of the unit – subject to the pivoting and movement rate rules.

Mark does raise a good point concerning the recon elements – a perpetual thorn in our side – and in all honesty we have yet to find a truly innovative way to represent them. Allowing Recon stands to conduct individual break offs (exactly as if they were infantry being overrun) may well be the best reasonable representation at this time.

Now we come to a bugbear of mine – the constant cry, “my veteran troops don’t shoot any better than my opponents green ones” – and I hate to disagree, but they do! When stands are suppressed, 50% more Veteran units will return to action compared to Green ones – the combat effectiveness is represent here, at the target end not the initiator. There are several reasons for this, one of which being the restrictions of the d6, in the case of poor quality armies the factors on the data cards have already been reduced to include poor quality training, and another being game scale – we make no separate allowance for movement directly affecting fire combat effectiveness so neither did we include additional minor factors for crew skill (over and above overall army skill level). So overall this is reflected, just not in the usual big plus on the to hit die that most 1:1 gamers are probably used to!

Mark raises concerns regarding ATGW factors for infantry; the infantry on the data cards are designed as fairly generic and not necessarily representative of specific units. Pretty much all Infantry platoons do have ATGW, whether it be a solitary LAW, or everyman carrying an RPG, so all infantry platoon stands should have some ATGW factor. On the MSH website I have provided a brief summary of how ATGW factors were derived including base factors for most systems and adjustments for top attack, helicopters, having only 1-2 weapons on a stand, etc, and players should feel free to use these to adjust the factors to represent actual real-life TO&Es.

Moving under Defend Orders

Soviet BattlegroupAs noted above it is possible to do this and you may move in any direction provided what you do is a reaction to the enemy you spotted rather than moving off against some as yet undetected threat (the old helicopter view general ship issue). In Journal 39 Mark recounts an occasion in a game where it took him a while to re-deploy a company on defend orders; to support a neighbouring company that was exposed on the flank and under attack. Using an order change will speed this up Mark, exactly as you mused on in your battle report! By issuing an order change all stands in the recipient battalion may make an unlimited pivot next movement phase, as they can also do when the reach the end of their attack ‘arrow’. In MSH units have large CZ’s, so in Mark’s example the BHQ could have advanced with one company to support the outlying company while other stands could have remained stationary in their positions still within in the CZ (since the unit was engaged with the enemy stands are not required to move at all under attack orders). Admittedly this is slightly ‘marginal’ (i.e. the BHQ should be able to look after it’s own matters) but it has the desired effect without requiring any rules changes.

Ground Surveillance Radar

In both Journals 43 and 44 Mark refers to GSR and offers some proposed house rules – I like the look of the proposal in Journal 43 and would be interested in feedback from players as to whether they find this “too powerful” or not, and hence whether play balance suffers. MSH is intended to emphasise manoeuvre and command rather than long-range gunnery duels at theoretical range and performance! So extended spotting capability may prove counterproductive to game play.


The effects of training are built into the combat system – but in reverse. They affect the ability of stands to remove suppression rather than the ability of stands to inflict damage. The reason for this is that when using a d6 for fire combat there just isn’t room to add adjustments to attack or defence values for training. If we were using a d10 for example we could have factored in a +1/-1 for Veteran/Green troops respectively – however we aren’t, so I strongly discourage Mark’s suggestion in Journal 44, see my previous comments earlier in the article.

Higher Level HQ’s

Mark’s suggestion is quite acceptable and is in fact more or less the very same house-rule I use myself. Brigade/Regiment HQ’s may form improvised battalions by attaching up to 3 companies of troops from their own command.

Dismounting from IFVs and Combat Teams in General

Here I have a major difference of opinion with Mark. Unfortunately these suggestions are symptomatic of a failure to grasp what we were trying to achieve with MSH (no offence to Mark intended) – I have had this discussion repeatedly with gamers here in New Zealand (mostly those that play the WRG modern one to one scale rules), where I believe the combination of a change of scale and a radical shift in rules focus which does not emphasise theoretical performance and (irrelevant) technical details – tends to be a bit much to take in initially!

TI Bonus for spotting troops in cover if halted

In all honesty this is irrelevant in my view – This is an unnecessary complexity – it’s just another minor rule that will have little impact on 99% of games and will simply slow them down. We culled out several of these types of rules prior to publishing to assist game play and speed up games. However I have no objection to the rule per se, if (as Mark obviously is) you are happy to use such a rule then do so.

Order of Fire Attacks

If you are playing some sort of combat modifier for troop quality you should not also play a house rule of this type (Journal 44) – not withstanding that I have already explained why we did not include a combat modifier in the first place. If you do feel a need to represent differences in troop quality I’d prefer to see this option used rather than adjusting die rolls. Personally I don’t actually see a need for this anyway – since the better-trained forces have advantages basically everywhere else, if they need this as well they aren’t being commanded very well! Once again, if you prefer it, then use it.

Close Assaults

Contrary to Mark’s comments in Journal 46 the rules are clear about Close Assaults. The close assault described by Mark is not permitted – normal (dismounted) infantry may not assault Combat Teams or AFV Stands (that are unsuppressed in the open). As the troops described are armoured, and not “inside terrain” (e.g. in a wood or town), they cannot be assaulted, except by “Combat Teams”. The hedge is a linear terrain feature so they are not “inside it”, nor do tank scrapes count as “terrain”. The philosophy here is that normal infantry, in the open, simply wouldn’t be able to, or wouldn’t be allowed to, close with unsuppressed armour. Combat teams, riding in or moving behind their IFV’s, could however literally drive “onto the position” (hence they are allowed to CA armour in the open). An artillery barrage to suppress the Scimitar’s, etc, would have allowed the Soviets to close and assault.

GHQ N99 M60A3 with reactive armourMoving onto the effects of the actual close assault (taking on board that it occurred in the game described regardless), a failed assault only results in troops retiring when a single defender defeats multiple attackers. The logic here is that the (defeated) stand will advance again on the following move, so it retreats a double move back, then advances a full move forwards next turn, ending up 1 move away from where it attempted the assault the previous move. This is solely a mechanism to have the stands end up in the desired position (1 full move from the original target) and unable to immediately assault again on the following turn. An alternate more complicated option would have been a standard single move retreat, followed by a suppression that could not be removed that turn. This is obviously very clumsy, and leaves the stand vulnerable to suppressing fire the following bound – which we did not want.

Recce Battalions

The idea here that Mark mentions is a good one and I support it totally. My personal house rule is similar; “Recon stands may move half speed and count as in spotting cover regardless of where they are – while doing so they may not shoot”. In fact, on contemplation, I would suggest a combination of the two (see below).

Artillery OPs (FOs)

Again I agree with Mark and have no issue with OPs calling in fire while ‘Combat Moving’. However OPs should not be allowed to call in fire if they move their full movement.

Data Cards

In several issues Mark has offered some rehashed data cards, and I must admit I have not studied these in detail so I will reserve comment for some other occasion. However I would note that the beta version of the official Dutch data cards is available on the website – and may differ from Mark’s offering.


In conclusion I’d like to remind players that MSH is all about what you enjoy – so if you aren’t happy with something feel free to experiment. MSH is designed to provide a backbone for your games, and scenario designers are encouraged to incorporate special rules to add flavour to individual games. If you don’t like something – change it! Hopefully you will play fast exciting games, have lots of fun, and when it’s all over look at the final result and say “that’s probably the result that would have happened in real life!” Also please remember that I am but one half of the MSH team, and my thoughts on house rules and similar are purely those; mine. MSH is very much a combined effort in which Alex and I had many differing ideas, which we eventually incorporated by finding the best adoption of those ideas in each area.

On the whole I’d like to thank Mark for his constructive criticisms and thoughts regarding MSH, and look forward to more thought provoking discussion. I hope this article has been informative, useful, and as thought provoking as Mark’s? Where possible I will endeavour to periodically submit articles to the Journal in response to queries and comments contributed by other SOTCW members.

Optional Alternative Reconnaissance Stand Rule Suggestion

  1. Recon stands may use “Stealth Movement” at the rates suggested by Mark and Phil (1/3 Speed for Green, 1/2 Speed for Regular and 2/3 Speed for Veteran), they may not fire while doing so. The movement of any recon stand cannot be reduced below 1/3 when doing this (e.g. a Green Recon Tank stand on soft ground would move 1/3 not 1/6 it’s normal distance).
  2. Their base range for being spotted becomes 3” while doing so (even in the open), adjusted of course for spotters on high ground or in helicopters. 
  3. If fired at (while in stealth mode) they will suffer fire as normal, but may choose to “break off” (directly to their rear) a full move if suppressed (if it survives this occurs immediately at the end of the fire phase in which it was suppressed – this movement counts as its move for the next turn's movement phase). Unsuppressed stands that were fired on (but not hit) may do a reversing move their full move distance in the next turn's movement phase if desired. These moves do not count as stealth movement above and can include an initial pivot if needed the minimum to avoid enemy in the way.

Happy Gaming!

Mark Bevis replied to this reply in the SOTCW's Journal 51 (Christmas 2004) and you can read his reply here in More thoughts on Modern Spearhead.

Contributor: © 2003 John Moher.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:28
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