Osprey publishing has slowly been releasing a series of campaign specific books for Bolt Action. Battleground Europe takes the ambitious task of highlighting the Western European front from the invasion of Normandy all the way up to the end of the war. The book covers special units as well as more scenario specific rules and throws in some historical background sections to boot.
Like the theme, the material in the book is rather sprawling. The campaign is broken down into progressive sections where historical information is first presented, then any particular rules related to the battles, and finally a few scenarios depicting a historical engagement or a more generic type of skirmish that was fought in that battle.
Rules for special units are presented and can be chosen as selectors for particular scenarios. In addition there are a few hero type characters for Allied and Axis forces. A few special vehicles are also covered. There are some force selector lists that are also given for armored platoons of Allied and Axis flavors.
New scenario rules primarily cover minefields, night engagements, and amphibious landings. Each of the listed scenarios usually have some small additional rule regarding the composition or other tweak to give the battle some flavor like limited fuel or ammo. Hedgerow rules are also covered to add as a terrain feature for Normandy battles. All in all 15 scenarios are provided. Most of them have victory conditions that range from destroying the most enemy units, to having the attacker move into enemy deployment zones. Some scenarios like those for Normandy beach landings detail an expected table layout some, but most are fairly generic. They do cover a broad type of engagements fairly well with each having some small special rules, along with what would be considered atypical forces for the battle.
The good – The book gives a fair snapshot of the Western European theater at the end of the war with enough scenarios to visit. The additional units offer some fun choices to give a platoon a decent theater selector feel. The artwork and photos are also plentiful and along with the historical background, certainly helps convey information and evokes inspiration for playing the game.
The bad – Most of the scenarios don’t really stand out as anything new. While there are a fair amount of special rules for particular engagements, much of it is scattered throughout the book. And some key rules which would work in different types of battles (like amphibious landings, mines, and night fighting rules) would be better presented in one section rather than spread out and aligned with one scenario. I really would have appreciated a few more maps. Some actual aerial photographs or simple drawings of scenario tables would have been nice. You get a written description which is functional, but having some more details on a table layout would have been better.
The Verdict – Battleground Europe isn’t a bad book. It’s just not a completely stellar release. I was hoping for a more historical scenario book with more rigid force selector rules. There is some of that, but not quite enough. It seems to go more for providing games that give a certain flavor over depicting a true historical battle. I just wish it dabbled in both types of scenarios more.
Another ding is the presentation of the material. For the most part it’s sectioned off in the different stages of the conflict, which isn’t bad. However the special rules also are spread throughout the book. This becomes an issue as some rules (like for mines) are required for several missions throughout the book, but the actual rules are with one particular scenario. Having them collected in one section would have been better and easier to reference. There is some nice stuff here. Some interesting vehicles (ex. Hobart’s funnies) and units are depicted, like French resistance troops and the Einheit Stielau commando unit (English speaking German commandos that were in first days of the Battle of the Bulge).
While it is a European specific book detailing Axis vs. Allied engagements, some of the rules could be applied to other theaters. Amphibious landing rules could easily be used for the Pacific, or the Invasion of Sicily. And night fighting rules and mines could also be added to a regular game. Likewise, many of the scenarios could be used to depict some generic battle with a small twist on the composition or conditions of the game.
I guess that’s my main complaint for Battleground Europe. Too much effort was put into making the scenarios something that could be applied to a wide variety of forces, rather than trying to depict a specific engagement. I recognize that’s the nature of skirmish games. You really can’t mimic something unless going for a larger scale battle. These skirmish fights are a zoomed in, snapshot of the action. However it seems a missed opportunity. So for a player that wants to duke it out on the Western European front, and is a Bolt Action fanatic, they’ll find this book worth picking up. If you aren’t I’d be hard pressed to say it’s a must have. It is a decent book with a fair amount of scenarios that have slight tweaks to make for a different game. However it’s not enough to make it an essential book to have on your shelf.