New Central Front system

New central front system


This is a a revised game system for the SPI series published in the 1980s which began in 1980 with Fifth Corps, and includes additional games covering other portions of the Germany cold war border like British Army of the Rhine (BAOR), and others.  The Fifth Corps game page on BGG can be found here –

Fifth Corps game page

This Central Front series had some innovative ideas in its continuous operations and action point (AP) mechanics, but I don’t find all of them entirely realistic in their execution and effects. In particular, the system used its AP system (meant to track something like “accumulating friction”) as the only measure of unit loss and elimination, and allowed interleaved Hasty Attacks throughout movement, while multi hex Prepared Attacks had to begin adjacent, giving the defender an opportunity to just step away before the blow landed. The system’s CRT is also quite kind to outnumbered defenders.  All of these create realism issues IMO.

The goal of this revision is to introduce a more conventional step loss system and a more realistic (and attritionist) CRT, and to tone down the continuous operating freedom of the original to what I consider more realistic dimensions. The Action Point system is retained as a key mechanic representing friction and fatigue that limits operating tempo, but it is no longer the only way units are destroyed. High AP state renders a unit Ineffective but does not eliminate it, on its own.

The phasing player can still integrate attacks with movement in an interleaved fashion, but only for March attacks, which are consolidated with the original’s Overrun mechanic into one combat type conducted during movement. On the new CRT, March attacks receive -1 DRM unless delivered in the fog / limited visibility conditions that favored Overrun in the original.

Steps and step loss effects

All combat units now have steps, which register the physical survival or destruction of the unit’s personnel and major combat equipment, as opposed to the friction state tracked by the AP system.  Combat inflicts permanent step losses that units cannot recover from and that permanently lower their combat strength.

Regiments have 3 steps, maneuver battalions with at least 4 A or D have 2 steps. Combat units with 3 or lower A and D are always single step units. 2 step units on their last step are 1/2 combat factors, while 3 step units lose 1/3rd of the combat strength per step.  In both cases these strength reductions apply to both attack and defense combat factors. Regiments on their last step are also considered battalion sized units for stacking purposes. All other reduced units have their original size for stacking purposes. Round combat strengths to the nearest whole number, 0.5 attack rounds down, 0.5 defense rounds up.

If a unit has 1/2 strength due to a step loss and also 1/2 strength from being Ineffective, then its strength is reduced to 1/4 its original strength, and similarly for 3 step units that have lost 1 or 2 steps.  Round factional combat strengths only at the end. The minimum attack is 0, minimum defense is 1 per unit.

Support units determine their number of steps exclusively by their first combat support number, their attack value, which is also the strength they use to bombard.  So a 3-5-6 SP artillery battalion is a single step unit, as is a 3-20-3 attack helicopter battalion.

I recommend using separate step loss markers e.g. from OCS or any similar game system to track step losses separately  from AP state.  You can also use numerical markers of a different color e.g. white for step losses and the counter mix provided black numerical markers for AP state.  A unit with no step loss markers is at full strength.

Revised stacking limits

Warsaw Pact stacking is 2 units maximum, and only 1 of them may be an armor or mechanized regiment (11-12 or 10-14) with 2 or more steps remaining.  When on their last step, these are considered “normal” battalion sized units.

NATO stacking is normally 3 units, but single step company sized units count as only 1/2 unit against this limit.  (E.g. 3 US 1-2 armored cavalry companies and 1 1-1 armored company – together a full armored cavalry squadron – could stack in the same hex as only 2 units, allowing 1 additional unit as well).

Infantry, artillery, attack helicopter and airborne units with brigade size symbols are still only a single normal unit for stacking purposes and do not count as “regiments” for Warsaw Pact stacking limits.

Note that these unit count limits are the reverse of the original game, but more accurately reflect the larger Warsaw Pact units, especially their maneuver regiments.

New sequence of play

Weather and Air
WP first movement
WP first combat
NATO first movement
NATO first combat
WP second movement
WP second combat
NATO second movement
NATO second combat
WP retreat
NATO retreat
End turn

The new sequence of play has combat phases for the Hasty and Prepared attack types, after each movement phase. Each side has only 2 of these movement phases per game turn, instead of the “unlimited” (in practice, up to 4) of the original. As in the original, units can spend 1 AP to activate, move and fight in each of these movement phases. There is no longer any restriction that only units that activated in the first movement phase do so later, however.

Hasty and Prepared attacks occur in a combat phase only after all movement by that side in that phase is complete. All Hasty attacks must be resolved before any Prepared ones in that combat phase. Prepared attacks cost far more movement points in the preceding movement phase, which does limit them to being launched from a “short range”, but the attackers don’t literally need to start adjacent to the defenders. Both of these attack types can “advance after combat” 1 additional hex after the defender’s location, if they clear the defender’s hex.

Procedurally, you must pay for the attack in your movement phase and designate the attack (target hex, attacking force, etc) at that point.  Designated attacks are only resolved in the ensuing combat phase.  All participating units must be able to pay the movement point cost of the attack type used, 4 MPs from units stacked in 1 hex for a Hasty attack, and 8 MPs from units in any number of hexes adjacent to the same target for a Prepared attack.

Prepared attacks receive +1 DRM on the new CRT, and can also earn 1 right shift if the attack is delivered from 3 or more hexes. The Warsaw Pact loses that extra shift if the attack does not have Formation integrity, however – basically, they don’t get it in multi-division attacks to reflect coordination difficulties. The Warsaw Pact can also support Prepared attacks with any number of artillery units from the same participating formation.

Revised Action Point (AP) system

All units have an AP state at all times, representing their state of friction, fatigue, and readiness. Units that act at a high operating tempo will rise to high AP levels and these will eventually render them Ineffective.

How units incur AP “hits” – Units start at 0 AP. Activating a unit to move it in any friendly movement phase costs 1 AP. Normal artillery units incur 1 AP every time they fire in offensive or defensive support, while rocket artillery and attack helicopter units incur 2 AP each time they do so. Combat results frequently add 1 AP to the losing side and occasionally to both sides, as well as causing step loses and required retreats. Retreating through 1 hex of enemy ZOC is allowed for Effective units at 1 AP cost; farther is not.

AP limits and how AP are recorded – the most AP “wear” there can ever be on a unit is 6; any AP “hits” incurred beyond that are ignored. Units at 5 or 6 AP are Ineffective, see below. AP level 0 is shown by the unit on its front, black on color side with no AP numerical marker. AP 1-4 is show by the unit on the black side with numerical 1-4 markers immediately under the unit. AP 5 is shown by the unit on its back, white on color Ineffective side without a numerical marker. AP 6 is shown by the same with a numerical 1 marker under the counter.

How units recover from AP – most units recover 1 AP per game turn automatically, in the recovery phase at the start of the turn. Artillery and rocket units normally recover 2 AP in each recovery phase, attack helicopter units just 1. Units at AP level 6 – including artillery and rocket units – recover only to the AP level 5, meaning Ineffective on white side with no numerical marker – in the recovery phase. They will not be able to act voluntarily until after the recovery phase on the following game turn, and will suffer all Ineffective penalties throughout the game turn in which they recovered to 5 AP.

Effective and Ineffective units – a unit with AP 5 or higher is Ineffective and is always on its white on colored side to show this. Ineffective units may not activate in a friendly movement phase, may not attack, overrun, or fire in support, have no ZOCs, and defend at 1/2 defense strength (round to nearest whole number, 0.5 rounds up, minimum 1 defense per unit). Ineffective units must conduct Retreat Movement at the end of the turn (see below).  Since they cannot activate for movement normally, this is the only opportunity to move that Ineffective units get.

AP hits for activating are incurred after receiving movement allowance for that activation but before moving or fighting. So a unit already at 4 AP before activation may activate and move its full movement allowance, but will be ineffective already and unable to attack that phase. It ends its move on its white Ineffective side, etc.

Retreat phase and retreat movement

After the second NATO combat phase, there are two new Retreat phases at the end of the turn, first the Warsaw Pact retreat phase then the NATO retreat phase. In each Retreat phase, phasing units at AP 5 or 6 *must*, and phasing units at AP 4 that did not activate for movement, attack or support in that player turn *may* conduct Retreat Movement. A unit conducting retreat movement gets 1/2 its normal full movement allowance for movement only. It must leave enemy ZOC if possible and may not enter enemy ZOC. It must end its movement closer to a friendly supply source than where it begin its movement. Retreat movement does not cost any AP.

Retreat through enemy ZOC and AP – A unit may retreat through enemy ZOC without penalty if a friendly unit occupies the hex through which it retreats. An Effective unit may retreat through 1 un-negated enemy ZOC at the cost of 1 AP. Ineffective units forced to retreat through un-negated enemy ZOC or any unit forced to retreat through 2 or more enemy ZOCs in the same retreat is eliminated for failure to retreat. Units may never retreat through enemy units or across impassible terrain.

Support units

Artillery, rocket and attack helicopter units are Support units. All support units have a support range between their attack and defense factors. There are various limits on support units engaging in combat, but when eligible they simply add their combat factor to any eligible combat within their support range, spending the AP cost to do so (1 for normal artillery, 2 for rocket and attack helicopter units). This includes support at range 1 – there is no “direct fire” doubling support for WP artillery at range 1 or similar.

Bombardment attacks

Support units may attack enemy forces on their own during their owning player’s combat phase (only). This cost them the movement cost of a Hasty Attack if firing individually and the cost of a Prepared Attack if 2 or more artillery units wish to combine their support strength into one bombardment attack.

A given target can only be attacked once per combat phase, and all Hasty attacks including Hasty bombardments must be executed before any Prepared attacks.

The bombarding player chooses a single unit in the target hex as the target of a bombardment attack, and only that unit’s defense strength is used.  In addition, unit defense strengths of Warsaw Pact regiment units are divided by 3 for defense against bombardment attacks.  NATO company units double their defense strength against bombardment attacks.  All other units use their printed defense strength.

Defensive support may not be used against a bombardment attack. The defender may receive shifts for terrain, but no DRMs apply in bombardment attacks. Only step loss and fatigue effects on the defender count in bombardment attacks; all retreats and effects on attackers on the CRT are ignored.

Defensive support limits – only 1 attack helicopter may support a given defense, and at most 1 normal artillery unit. Rocket artillery may not conduct defensive support. The effect of the additional defense strength added by defensive support never moves the odds column more than 1 column to the left; any effect beyond that is ignored. E.g. a 10 point WP regiment with 4 points of artillery support is attacking a 4 point NATO brigade. NATO assigns a 4 point artillery unit to support the defense. The initial odds are 14-4 = 3-1, and with the defensive support would be 14-8 = 3-2. The combat occurs on the 2-1 column as 1 shift left from the original attack; the second column shift is lost. Note that 1-3 points of NATO support would have the same effect in this situation.

Warsaw Pact support limits – the Warsaw Pact may only use 1 attack helicopter unit in support of any given March/Overrun attack, and only 1 attack helicopter and at most 1 artillery or rocket unit in support of any Hasty attack. In addition, the supporting artillery or rocket unit in a Hasty attack must be from the same formation/division as at least one of the participating maneuver units, if there are any. WP hasty bombardment attacks are limited to 1 support unit. WP may use any number of attack helicopters and any number of artillery and rocket support units in one Prepared attack, but all the artillery and rocket units participating must be from the same formation/division as one another. WP non-formation (higher HQ level) support units may act as part of any formation for these support purposes.  NATO forces are not subject to these support limits, only to the defensive support limits above.

Support unit and combat results – Artillery and rocket units in the same hex as the maneuver units in any combat suffer the same combat results as those maneuver units. However, non-bombardment step losses must be fulfilled from maneuver units first if possible. Attack helicopter units suffer combat losses in the same way as the previous, even if supporting from range. Artillery and rocket units supporting from range never suffer any combat results from the CRT, though they may of course be targeted by enemy bombardment attacks normally.

Artillery and attack helicopters may only support 1 combat per phase. Attackers designate support first for any given attack, then defenders may declare support. Only attack helicopters may support March/Overrun attacks; the support value of any normal artillery units in the overrun stack or in the target hex is reduced to 1 per unit, and rocket units are reduced to 0.

March/Overrun attacks are conducting during movement by one moving stack for a cost of 2 MPs. The stack may continue moving, and must pay normal movement costs (if possible) to enter the defenders hex if the overrun succeeds and clears the defending hex. A stack may conduct as many overruns in a single movement phase as it can pay for in MP cost terms. March/Overrun attackers use the unit factor indicated by the “wedge” triangle on the unit counter, defenders use their normal defense strength. Overrun /March attacks are subject to a -1 DRM on the CRT unless delivered in fog/low visibility conditions.

Hasty attacks cost 4 MP, Prepared attacks cost 8 MP but don’t need to start adjacent. Prepared attack is needed to attack from more than 1 hex or for WP to use more than 1 artillery unit in support, including multi unit bombardment attacks. Hasty and Prepared attacks that clear the defending hex may advance into the defenders hex up to the stacking limit. Units that do so may then advance 1 hex in any direction, with ZOC to ZOC movement allowed. Only the units that entered the defender’s hex may advance further in this fashion.

All Hasty attacks in a combat phase must be resolved, including retreats and advances after combat and including any Hasty bombardment attacks, before any Prepared attack is resolved. Within an attack type, the phasing player may resolve combats in any order they like.

There is a completely new 2D6 CRT for the revised system.  March / Overrun attacks and Prepared attacks confer DRMs on this CRT instead of using new lines on it, though this is equivalent in its effects.  Terrain shifts the odds column instead of using new odds rows above the CRT, and those terrain shifts are significantly smaller than their effects in the original system.

Specifically, Town, woods, slope are 1 left shift on the odds column.
Wooded rough or city are 2 left shifts on the odds column.
These shifts are available against bombardment attacks as well as maneuver attacks.

Attackers across a river are halved, though supporting artillery, rockets and attack helicopters are not affected by rivers.


CRT effects

A, D and X letter codes on the CRT determine whether a given combat result applies to the Attacker, the Defender, or to both (the X stands for “exchange” in this context).  Any number appearing without an immediately preceding “R” (for “Retreat”) is a step loss result.  An “F” means one AF (“friction” or “fatigue”) hit to that side of the combat; AF hits are always 1 or 0 per combat, never higher.  An “R” result requires that side to retreat the specified number of hexes.

Advance after combat – in Hasty or Prepared attacks, if the defender was forced to vacate the defending hex by elimination of the defending units or by retreat, then the attacking units may enter the vacated hex, up to the stacking limit.  Any of the advancing units may then advance one additional hex in any direction if they wish to do so, and may ignore ZOCs as they do so.  Defenders never advance after combat.

Soft units – if any soft unit is forced to retreat as a result of combat, it incurs 1 additional fatigue point (thus normally 2).

March/Overrun attacks specifics

When a March/Overrun attacks that clears the hex of defenders, the moving units must enter the defending hex paying the full movement costs to do so if they can.  They may then continue moving normally, potentially including other March/Overrun attacks.  If a March/Overrun attack fails to clear the defending hex, the attacking units remain in the hex from which they made the attempt.  They may attempt another March/Overrun attack from that hex if they have sufficient movement points remaining, including another attempt vs the same defenders.  They could also pay to set up a different form of attack for the ensuing combat phase, again if they have sufficient movement points to do so.

A unit that failed a March/Overrun attack may not leave a ZOC if they entered one and failed to clear it by their attack.  Note that is may be possible for them to hit a defender, not clear the hex, but inflict sufficient AP hits on the defenders to make them Ineffective and therefore take away their ZOC.  They could move away afterward in that case.  What they can’t do is leave an intact enemy ZOC that they have not cleared by combat, that they hit in that movement phase.

Unit value adjustments

The 1-1 US armor companies in the armored cavalry regiments are underpowered for M-1 tanks, and deserve a 2-2 rating instead.  The tank company was not the weakest element of the armored cavalry squadron but the strongest.

Static west German infantry garrisons

No unit counters are provided for these 0-1 rated units, which are set up with hidden placement in the original rules.  This adds significant playability and solitaire drawbacks to the game for very little in realism.  Instead allow the NATO player to set up the allocated number of such garrisons in city hexes by using “1” Friction markers, but in known locations.  They do not get ZOCs but do block movement through their own hex.  If forced to retreat they are destroyed.

Optional Chemical warfare rules

Any WP attack may declare use of chemical warfare. The effect varies with the kind of attack and a random die roll, thrown along with the attack resolution dice using a third die of a different color (e.g. green). This may be used on bombardment attacks as well as maneuver combats.

1-2 – 1 column left
3-4 – no effect
5-6 – 1 column right and Fog effect (negates March -1 DRM)

1 – 1 column left
2-3 – no effect
4-6 – 1 column right

1 – 1 column left
2-3 – no effect
4-5 – 1 column right
6 – 2 columns right

Chemical warfare first use – in the first phase in which WP declares use of chemical warfare, all his green chemical warfare die rolls receive +1 DRM. The combat roll itself is not affected. Note if the WP player uses this in support of March/Overrun attacks in a movement phase, the first use modifier disappears before his ensuing combat phase. If he first uses it for Hasty and Prepared attacks in a combat phase, he gets the DRM for all bombardment and regular combats in that phase.

NATO chemical warfare – after the phase in which the WP first declares use of chemical warfare, NATO may use chemical warfare for any artillery or air bombardment attacks in any of his later combat phases. NATO regular combats and attack helicopters never use chemical warfare die rolls or modifiers.

Artillery Smoke

One artillery or rocket unit may provide smoke is support over an overrun attack (only) not occurring in fog conditions, in addition to any unit providing offensive fire support.  If the overrun is being conducted by the Warsaw Pact, all supporting units must be from the same formation.  The combat resolution rolls a third colored die.  If the colored die roll is less than or equal to the attack support strength of the smoke firing unit, then the -1 DRM for overrun is negated, as though the attack were being delivered in fog.  If the colored die roll is higher than the support strength of the smoke firing support unit, the -1 DRM for overrun remains.  A support unit firing smoke takes 1 fatigue as with other forms of support.  Attack helicopters and air power may not be used to create smoke.

EW and tactical nuclear weapons

Ignore these original rules.  The major effects of EW are incorporated into the 1 column shift limit on effects of defensive combat support.  The nuclear rules are fanciful.

Air power revisions

Air superiority and air support – In the air superiority and weather phase of the turn, air superiority for the coming game turn is determined randomly.

In any turn with fog/overcast conditions, neither side receives air support, neither side may use attack helicopter support offensively or defensively, and March/Overrun attacks are not subject to their usual -1 DRM on the combat results table.

Air superiority in other turns restricts the enemy side to at most 1 attack helicopter support unit per combat (even Prepared attacks or NATO attacks) and allows the air superiority player a number of air bombardments which may be used to support attacks, defenses, or used on their own to conduct air bombardments.

In the Fulda Gap scenario, when the Warsaw Pact has air superiority, they receive 4 strikes worth 6 points each.  When NATO has air superiority, they receive 6 strikes worth 6 points each.  Strikes may not be combined into larger attacks.

In other scenarios the same idea is used – triple the number of air support points granted in the original scenario then divide them into 6 point strikes.  The single column shift limit on support on defense applies to air power and other support combined.

Ignore all scenario references to “pre-emptive strikes”; just conduct 6 point bombardment attacks on selected targets normally.