Too Fat Lardies, £10, sent by downloaded PDF.

Having enjoyed ‘Kiss Me Hardy’ (Napoleonic Ships- my review) I decided to purchase another set of rules from ‘The Too Fat Lardies’ . I put it off for a few weeks, waiting to see if the new editions of ‘I Ain’t Been Shot Mum’ (IABSM)- a WW2 set, or ‘Le Feu Sacre’ (Napoleonics) were out. As IABSM isn’t ready, I went with ‘Troops Weapons & Tactics’ (the ‘&’ is important for the abbreviation). I’m pleased I did. (continued after the break)

What you get upon payment is a link for a download emailed to you, from which you download the 110 page rulebook.  When you get it DON’T print it out without reading the ‘gripes’ at the end of this review.  The first two thirds is the rules, then 40 pages or so of nation specific stuff for the 4 major European combatants – UK, US, USSR and, of course, Germany.

Basics- It is designed for larger figures (though of course if you want to use individually based 6mm there is nothing to stop you), and deals with warfare from the point of view of the platoon leaders, and their NCOs. The intro describes it as ‘Son of IABSM’, as apparently it uses the same mechanisms, but is the next level down to take advantage of larger figure (eg the new ‘Hard Plastic ‘ 1/72).  The relationship between vertical and horizontal is always difficult for gamers, though this works perfectly well if you use the same for both- I have 20mm figures- which is approximately 1:80 (12″ = 26 yards-  close range or an average move if the man does nothing else)

Men are based individually, and grouped into sections/squads, which are subdivided into ‘fire teams’. So a British Section would be 10 men, a 3 man Gun Group (Bren +2) and a 7 man ‘Rifle Group’.  These squads are the basic building blocks of your force.  To these can be added various platoon support weapons (2″ mortar, bazooka etc).  The most important men you have are the ‘Big Men’- the platoon and squad leaders: Lieutenants, sergeants and Corporals (but not PFC/Lance Corporals).  While your men will happily blaze away under their own steam, these Big Men are the only ones who can get them to move, and in addition add a die to firing as well as recovering a team’s cohesiveness. They are rated from 1 (plodder) up to 4

Governing everything in the game are the cards.  These come in 4 kinds; Section cards, Big Men cards, Tactical initiative cards and National characteristics (special cards), as well as the ‘Tea Break’ card, which signals the end of  the turn, and the shuffling of the pack, even if not every unit/Big Man has had a turn.

The game starts with just ‘Blinds’- templates representing where a section may be,and the pack just having 3 cards- German blinds, Allied blinds and the tea break. On their card the blinds move and/or spot. Once they are spotted, or wish to open fire, the troops they represent are placed (though some may be dummies, representing a trick of the light, an unexpected sound, or maybe just one lone man having a look in advance), and the cards for the section, and any big men with it are placed in the pack.

Section Cards allow a section to shoot, or try to spot a blind. To really be effective they need to be activated by a Big Man, using the Tactical Initiative cards.  These Tactical Initiative cards are left on the table when drawn, until used, and are also graded 1-4.  When a Big Man is placed in the pack then two cards of equivalent rating are also put in.  When he is drawn from the pack he can use any card of his value or lower to carry out actions (no matter who put them in the pack). The more cards he can use are on the table, the more actions he can carry out (though he himself always has an inherent ‘1’ Initiative). A Big Man that wants a unit he is with to move, then it costs 1 TI to move it 3d6 if it is not under fire. If it is under fire then it costs 1 per 1d6 (to a maximum of 3d6).  If he is not with the unit, but shouting from up to 18 inches away, the it cost 2 per d6 of under fire movement.  He can also use these TIs to remove ‘wounds’ from the unit, or direct their fire, in which case he adds his ‘Big Man’ die (which can be from d4-2 to d6+2) to the firing.

Before I get to the unusual bit about firing, a brief over view of the mechanism.  Depending on weapon (and in the case of rifles, number of men) you roll a number of d6, with additions and subtractions, and cross reference on a table. For each of the 3 ranges there are ‘Great’ ‘Ok’ and ‘Poor’ classifications, which will give you the number of hits for your dice throw, and whether the target is pinned or suppressed.

Now here’s the unusual bit- what makes a Great, Ok or Poor shot is only loosely defined- you either have an umpire decide, or if no umpire then the players agree (though there are guidelines and a chart provided by a solo player if you really can’t agree). It is a case of “lets see, you’re in the open and moving, which is a ‘Great Shot”, “Yes, but your men are under fire, and that shed would partially obscure your view”. “Fair enough, but as that shed is just the loo, its not that big- given your fire did no damage how about we combine those two effects to drop it to ‘OK'”,”Fair enough”. (NB Spotting is done the same way to come up with a 2d6 target score- again there are tables as a safety blanket).

Fow each hit you roll again- 1-2 Miss, 3-5 Wound, 6 Kill (man removed). The wounds are shorthand for loss of cohesiveness, and cause minuses to dice scores, and if you get enough, the possibility the fire team they are applied to will run away.  Wounds can be removed by Big Men at the cost of 1 TI per wound.

National Characteristic cards are extras- from the German ‘Bonus MG fire’ to the possibility of a random event, or one side going low on ammo.

That’s the rules- How do they play?

Card Driven isn’t for everyone, and many don’t like an ‘END TURN’ card (Tea Break), meaning all their units don’t move.  I like it. It adds confusion and chaos, and breaks up the predictability of I-GO U-GO. Teams rush forward, but their buddies lag behind, men freeze in combat, officers are unable to motivate their men, or maybe nothing can stop them.  It makes the game chaotic, you know what your plan is, but it definitely hasn’t survived contact with the enemy. The TI system works well: sometimes your NCO have the luxury of getting all their orders obeyed, other times it is all they can do to hold a section together, as the wounds pile up as quickly as he can remove them (remember these are not necessarily actual wounds, but the unit’s cohesiveness and belief in itself being put under strain). What is important in this game isn’t the minutiae of weapon types (though they are differentiated), but the leadership of the junior commanders- you have to have good men in the right place to influence the battle.

They are easy to learn- a friend and I tried them for the first time on Sunday. We played a simple 2 section a side game, and after about 30 minutes he suggested we stop and play a larger game, as he had got the hang of the rules, and was comfortable working out stuff.  We played a larger game- 2 platoons attacking a hamlet with a platoon hiding in it- with the platoon mortars, PIATs adding some HE and the German ‘MG Bonus fire’ card- the pack was about 60 cards in total.  Because the turn proceeds quickly, and you are not waiting there as yours can be the next card turned over, it felt dynamic, and I feel we got a lot done.

The rules have lots of examples, presented by Captain Hugh Jarce (the lardies seem to believe anything can be improved with a pun), as well as an interesting mechanism for ammo counting for things like grenades and artillery rounds. The unit is given an EDNA (ever decreasing numerical amount). After a grenade is used a d6 is rolled, if it is more than the EDNA then the EDNA goes down by one. Once it reaches Nil then you have run out.

The ‘decide the factor yourself’ feels odd, and it is something that I think I will get better at calling as I play more (I seemed to have an awful lot of ‘poor’ shots, though he will point out that if I will use men under fire to shoot at people behind wooded ridges that is bound to happen!).  If you have an umpire then you don’t have to worry about this- it is a game where if umpired you don’t need to know to many mechanics- what the modern world calls ‘best practice’ should work.  The telling point is it felt like a WW2 battle, or at least a ‘Band of Brothers’ one, while still being an enjoyable game.  I think the highest endorsement comes from my opponent, who is now cursing me as he is seriously thinking of buying some larger scale WW2 figures and the rules (he has to tell him self I can supply these if he wants a game, but he is tempted), although he prefers the medieval period, and 20th Century is a recent period for him.

Gripes: only two of any importance.

  1. The final 40 pages are all on full colour backgrounds- mostly a photo, though some are from a 1940s Army training  book, so would be expensive to print. Being a PDF copying the tables it contains into Word etc is a nightmare- you either copy text, then format it into a table, or snapshot it, and accept the table background will be full, if faded, colour.  This is a hang over from its hardcopy days, and the Lardies have assured me that all future rules from them will be more home printer friendly.
  2. The way a section is described as having ‘3 dice’ is confusing- the rules say things like ‘lose one shooting dice for every die used for movement and spotting’.  After clarifying things on the Yahoo Group (thanks too Richard, the author), I explain them as 3 Section Initiative points. 1 SI gets you 1 die of movement, or a chance to spot. You only need 1 SI to shoot, but lose a shooting die for every SI you have used for something else. eg a section moved 2d6, which uses 2SI, then shoots with 7 rifles. 7 rifles give you 4 dice, but because you used 2SI (1 per move die), you only get 2 dice.

We found a few other rules we felt play wrong, so modified them slightly, but there was no major problem (one of these was grenades, but as we were throwing through church windows then as written probably does work for most combat, just seemed wrong for such a difficult target).  There is also a full list of vehicles, one suspects to keep the ‘King Tiger’ fanboys happy- though I have not played the armour rules- they are primarily infantry based

Overall I recommend these rules, and can’t wait until I can get my hands on the revised IABSM.

Presentation 8/10:- Well laid out but you do have to print it yourself. Lacks a centralised QR. Let down as a download by the 40 pages that have photo-backgrounds, though these are not integral to the game, and you don’t need them during the game. No index, but there is a comprehensive contents page.

Mechanics 9/10:-  Inventive system using Big Men, emphasising leadership.  The cards give uncertainty, and breaks up UGOIGO.  If you are worried about the ‘decide it yourself’ system then there are guides- as long as you are consistent it doesn’t matter. For experienced players, who are not trying to squeeze every last drop of advantage, the loose nature could be a positive plus- likewise with a good umpire.

Clarity 8/10:-  Again, the main parts are quick to pick up, but there are the odd parts that can be read two ways, or not made fully clear.  Plenty of examples in the text, though these are usually of straight forward situations. The Lardies are always helpful on the Yahoo group, and a good rule of thumb is if the rule can be read two ways, take the most obvious, or the obvious implication.

Playability 9/10:       Aside from the odd  ambiguity in some rules, they are easy to learn, and pass the “would play again” test. Most of all they feel right, and gained a fan on his first game.

Overall- 9/10:  If you play WW2, buy them.  It is the game I have been looking for, or trying to write, for many years.  I am definately buying the new edition of IABSM on release.

Buy them here