Friday, 15 February 2013

PBI'm not sure what's going on.....

I have a couple of PBI armies for the Burma campaign, - XIVth Army & Japanese. I have described one game at least we have played with them using the PBI2 mechanisms but without the pregame and reinforcement process. The game played quite well, but I think most people would acknowledge that PBI2 worked best on the Eastern front, and the updated version “Poor Bloody Infantry” was aimed more at Easy Company and Band of Brothers. I periodically think of revisiting the period and working up a proper set of modifications to play in the jungle. Being a perverse individual my bookshelf has more on Burma than any other front from the period. I just love the slouch hats on the XIVth Army and I’m generally speaking a fan of General Slim ahead of most other allied generals.

Anyhow we’d finished the SCW game last week and I’d tidied away so we were looking for a subject for this Monday’s game. Due to some domestic/parental issues I had less time to plan the session than normal and I ended up just putting the terrain on the table quickly and knocking up a couple of army lists. I wanted to do the later period of the campaign when the XIVth Army was on the offensive (I was going to say “British” but my chaps are West Africans & Rajputs…) and Japanese bunkers had to be blown apart at short range by armour.

I had a head full of ideas to modify the rules, starting with the movement. As you pay a higher command point tariff to move out of cover squares in PBI moving on a table covered in jungle is very slow, - unrealistically so. I therefore wanted to put together a matrix that made the higher tariff apply when moving from thicker to lighter or no cover.

Another problem in PBI is that HE and tanks are generally fairly ineffective against infantry compared to, say, a German LMG section. PBI2 has a special rule for blowing up buildings & bunkers with panzerfausts & bazookas which I think describes perfectly what happened when a Grant drove up to a Japanese bunker and let fly with the sponson gun.

That was as far I’d got when Phil turned up. Due to the snow he was the only one who’d made it but he had remembered to bring his set of “Poor Bloody infantry”. Those of you familiar with RFCM rules will know that this is slightly different to the older PBI2. So here we had an extra experimental approach. I was running my army with PBI2 whilst Phil was playing the Japanese with “Poor Bloody Infantry”. In the event of any conflict we’d consider the pros and cons and decide which rule book gave us the better answer. 

It was a typically frustrating and challenging PBI game. Troops refusing to move for no reason at all, the combat system giving truly random results from all points on the bell curve.

As I wanted to play a bunker busting game I decided on the table set up and direction of attack. The objective markers were three bunkers, which the defender got to place in the middle area of the board.

The Japanese had a three platoon infantry company, and a four piece infantry gun section. The XIVth had a two platoon company and a three tank armour section.

Phil started with an infantry platoon and a section of four infantry guns and defended. I had an infantry platoon and an armoured section - two Grants and a Stuart - and attacked.

Phil had set up strongly in the middle of the board, deploying his infantry guns to cover the approaches the armour might take. I had the infantry mostly in jungle, with the armour in the adjacent open squares.

The armour pushed forwards and despite being veteran persistently failed to get enough APs to both move and fire. It also seemed to be unable to acquire a target at half a table's width. This was less of a problem than it might be as the infantry guns whilst being able to acquire the target were unable to penetrate the Grant's awesome armour.

One of the Grants seeks to dominate the centre of the table

The Stuart I deployed in the jungle to support the infantry advance. It pretty much failed to move all game thereafter.

The infantry pushed forwards confidently, although having three activations in a platoon with four sections is a bit frustrating and it took a while to get the infantry mortars in my HQ section into action. Not that they ever really hit anything.

A bird's eye view of the action. The river is dried up and forms partial cover
The infantry pushed on and got up next to the central building and bunker. Some well directed small arms fire thinned the occupants, but I couldn't kill the last man, nor could I must enough APs to close assault the square. Phil hung on by his finger nails, passing break tests and clearing bodies to help with the morale tests. Even a direct hit from a Grant failed to clear the square.

My reserves were being a bit reluctant to get in the game as well, and perhaps I should have put the m on the table at less than half strength. The flamethrower would probably have done for the central bunker with a couple of squirts.

A rather blurry bunker
Phil in the meantime had got an extra platoon on the table and pushed it up aggressively. It took heavy casualties, including losing its commander, but like its colleagues it resolutely refused to break or run away. This, coupled with insufficient APs to launch a close assault kept me pinned back in my half of the board and without any objectives. Add to that Phil's last ditch close assault on one of my Grants that left it a smoking ruin.

Alas a phone call from my Mother cut the game short with a couple of points on the countdown track. We've left the game set up, but I think it is fair to say that even if we play the last turn I'm unlikely to make enough progress in my last turn to take the game away from Phil.

I always enjoy PBI, but also find it frustrating in equal measure. The closed terrain movement modifications worked well and gave the game a more believable narrative than simply relying on the "sneak  move" rule.

Even with all the other things going on hopefully we will revisit the jungle in due course. After all I've got a battery of 25pdrs that I've painted and never used.


  1. It sounds very tense and realistic, with troops being appropriately reluctant. I have neve tried any PP rules, but I confess this has me curious to give them a look at some point.

    1. PBI usually gives you a tense game. The people that love it play it to death. I prefer to dabble, which means that I never quite get all the nuances.

      The Peter Pig rules (RFCM) always have something different and original in them, so you should try them. PBI is a complicated game, - or rather there's a lot of detail in them. Joining the RFCM yahoo group is essential if you are trying to play them from scratch.

  2. T: The closed terrain movement modifications worked well and gave the game a more believable narrative than simply relying on the "sneak move" rule.

    P: I agree. Which is good as there is no 'sneak move' in PBI 2006 :)

    BTW, of course, the difficulty of the tank gun to hit anything at such close range is not meant to simulate the difficulty of hitting things, but the difficulty of the crew/gunner actually to _see (target) dug in infantry in closed terrain at all.

    With the Grant's gun, if you see it you wreck it, pretty much ...

    Intriguing game, which I'll happily do again,


    1. I should probably put the terrain movement matrix we used up on the blog. I thought it was a major improvement.

      I understand the argument over the target acquisition. Still doesn't stop it being annoying!

  3. Aparently once the viking rules are finished PBI is in line for a re-write.
    One change in the new viking rules (which are based on 6" squares like PBI) is that moving units have to roll for the square they are moving into rather than out of. Doesnt change troops moving from one jungle square to another but does make it easier to leave jungle to an open square. I take it you are grading some jungle as 'partial' rather than 'closed'?
    I'm looking forward to the re-write. I think it will be interesting what emerges!

    1. I think that making it easier leaving a jungle square to open than making it easier jungle to jungle is probably wrong if the movement tariff represents a reluctance to expose yourself.

      Another re-write of PBI? Well, there's enough problems with PBI 2006 to warrant sorting it out, just to deal with the contradictions and poorly worded rules. If it means adding more complexity, I'm not interested. I still like PBI2 more.