Great Battles of WWII
Play Aids
Updated 9/29/15 11:09 AM

Other play aids: Command Decision: Test of Battle, Volley & Bayonet, General Quarters 3

There are several things I like about the GB approach: reserves mean something and how units that are given a day's rest increase their chances of replacing eliminated stands (and supply level and length affect this too). The multi-day approach seems to model actual battles' descriptions more closely than the typical "short" (2-5 hour) actions that platoon-level games seem focus on.

Weaknesses of the system is that the rulebook was not clear in many points and so I have made a turn-sequence based chart (below dated 8/31/13 but has the latest version of the chart #5 anyway).

The biggest pitfall that I have seen is groups of gamers (like ours) is to be put off by the inconsistent terminology of the rulebook. But even if they get into the game, the next pitfall is to gravitate towards huge games (multiple divisions per side) which while it can be done, might lead to some of the players have a "boring front" while the "pointy end of the spear" takes more time to resolve.

My goal is to help Great Battles players.
Here are accessories you may find usefu
If you have variants or aids, please contact me.



Great Battles of World War II is a ruleset by Bruce McFarlane where each stand represents a company so a player will generally command a 1-2 regiments (each 2-4 battalions). Scale varies by scenario 150-200 yards per inch and 15-240 minutes per turn. With 8-10 turns per 'day', many scenarios allow for 2 or more days to be played in the same game session (with nighttime redeployment etc., replacements).

Since miniatures merely represent units (not a certain number of troops or vehicles per figure or model), any scale could be used but because of stand sizes, smaller scales like 6-10mm might work better. even 2-3mm. You could test the game out without miniatures by just cutting out green cardboard shapes in the recommended sizes (each type is shaped differently).

There's a fairly inactive Yahoo group. Maybe it should be mentioned that while the rules were published by Canadian Wargamers Club, and its first book of scenarios featured WWII battles in which Canadians were involved, the later edition of Drop Zone and France '40 obviously feature a variety of nationalities and do not include the Canadian forces at all. One of the weaknesses of the ruleset is that it does not tell the scenario-designers how to calculate Activation Points (that allow a battalion or regiment to advance on the enemy). I am working on a system to do this!

The Yahoo page is supposed to also cover McFarlane's Division Commander rules (also available from Saber's Edge as a PDF). Division Commander is a battalion per stand and I have no experience with it. It has some great photos of a painted terrain for Agira (probably have to join the group to see the photos. It is similar to the style of another Bruce here. This Bruce Weigle made a GBoWWII variant in 2012-2013 (or possibly better described as a new game). I have not heard if he has tested it yet.

I like GBoWWII's smaller scenarios like Agira and over time maybe I will find ways to play the larger scenarios (and it will help as I find more players in my new location).


9/29/15 Milne Bay Scenario

I am working on a multi-day scenario of the pivotal battle of Milne Bay in New Guinea during August-September 1942 between the Japanese and the Australians (mostly; a few US troops also). This was the first battle where the Japanese were stopped and thrown back from their strategic advance. After that, the Allies only advanced ending up with VJ day.

I found this as an old CD2 scenario (from Courier #62) and decided that it would take fewer troops to try it out in GB first. I am getting into redrawing the maps (plural because there's a strategic phase where Allied air power can impact the seabourne arrival of the Japanese invaders). It's a relatively small battle with about 20 companies on either side mostly infantry. Because of the heavy jungle it may not be a free-wheeling game of movement but this lends itself to hidden movement. And if the Japanese are allowed to land reinforcements anywhere along the extensive coast, this could complicate the Allied defense which is as it was.

Watch here for the latest which I will announce on the Yahoo group.

6/29/15 Direct source of digital PDF version of the rules/campaigns
Noble Knight has a discount on the printed volume 1, listed under Canadian Wargamers Group

Now that Saber's Edge has closed, I just heard from Bruce McFarlane that the PDF e-versions of Great Battles' first 3 volumes are now available, click here.

Each of the 3 e-volumes (PDF) contain the identical rules (about 24 pages) that come in the printed volumes 1 & 2 (link for the printed edition below on the 7/12/12 date). I do know of any way to buy just the 3 sets of scenarios without the rules. The 3 volumes each run about 76-83 pages (including the identical 24 pages of rules):: Volume 1 Canadians at War 1939-1945; Volume 2 Drop Zone; Volume 3 France '40. Each complete volume currently costs $15.

If you wanted to test the game inexpensively, you could buy the Rules-Only PDF for (currently) $9.99 shown at the bottom of each of the 3 volumes' webpages and then download one/all of the free 4 scenarios linked on this page!

3/22/15 Narvik next

I plan to make a GB scenario for Narvik which will be in combination with General Quarters 3 rules for the naval portion. I may try a different approach of not a strictly historical approach. But rather to give the players the option to X, Y or Z and matrix that to see who actually shows up first, the British or Germans... and play it from there. Maybe for the first playing, it would be easier to have it be historical. The advantage of the "what if" approach is that the game becomes less predictable.

I discuss some of the issues of setting up a campaign that runs longer than a few days' battle at the CD:TOB forum here (CD because as you read below on 8/5/13 I was planning to use a modified version of CD (with GB elements). Now (as I say on 8/29/13), the goal is to use GB.

2/28/14 Added an "IOS" version of Charts (see table below)

This is one super-long column so you could scroll through what is on 2 pages on the other charts (no changes, same 9/12/13 version) on an iPhone, iPad or similar. You need the Adobe Acrobat Reader app and for Mac move it over from your computer via iTunes. I am not familiar with the Android etc. procedure.

11/2/13 Fixed the links to 3 scenarios below

Click here to go to the scenario PDFs for Termolli, Mtzensk and Bluecoat. Thanks to Old Skirmishman who had saved them before their old website went inactive.

10/31/13 Made a PDF replay of Agira with lots of pictures!

Click here for a very detailed replay of an Agira battle that lasted 4 game days and was down to the wire. The description will give you an idea of how the game is played and why I think it is more realistic than most rulesets. While this game is small, there is a lot play value in this "introductory" scenario. I think one could play it 3-5 times and still not discover all the subtlties of strategy.

9/28/13 Made minor stylistic changes to Charts, version 5 below

I corrected some color and small spacing issues.

And added a new file: a way to tile together a 28x14" chart by printing out legal sized pages and cutting off 2.5" of the excess width, so each sheet is 7x14" so x 4 =28x14". This is just the Turn Sequence steps (page 1 of the other charts). I figured page 2 didn't need to enlarged. Added this new 14x28" to the table below dated 8/31/13.

All the files below on the table now show a 9/28/13 upload date but the date of 12SEP13 is on each chart--that is the latest version. If you have already printed on the charts before now, the changes are minimal.

I have not gotten any feedback on typos or improvements.

8/31/13 Charts Reworked, version 5, so all rolls are with a 20sided die. Note: latest, September 2013 version of charts are linked below!

Notice that all rolls now are based on high rolls are best. So the positive die roll modifiers are bonuses to the roll (rather than score modifiers). We found it easier and more intuitive to roll and then add or subtract than to calculate the score then roll. The new charts are designed to be much more compact than my versions 3-4. All in PDF format, free of charge:

Charts 12SEP13

"IOS" 1 super-long column for iPad or iPhone (3.5x64") or any that can read a PDF format
Not Available
Legal, 8.5x14"
Not Available
Letter, 8.5x11"
Not Available
Tabloid, 11x17"
Not Available
A4, 8.27×11.69" 210x297mm
3 Pages (this is a large 3Mb file but not sure why)
28x14" tiled from Legal sized
Not Available

Please advise if you find any typos and I will make corrections and upload new versions.

Blowing Up The Chart

If you want to make a big wall chart, any of the pdf files above can be used with no loss of resolution. Just pick one that most nearly matches the proportions of the final print size. For example, for a 22x34" chart have them enlarge the 11x17" to 200% of size. But first...

Think about how big the primary text needs to be seen at a typical distance! I made my first charts too small to be seen from the opposite side of my table! Here's how to save some trouble and expense. Get the player with the worst vision and measure the furthest distance he can read the key parts of the chart in whatever size it's printed in now. Then divide that distance into the furthest point you will need to see where you have hung them. That may mean enlarging to triple (300%) or quintuple (500%) of size!

Making giant wall charts is easy through one of these companies:

  1. Fed Ex Kinkos (I did not research there prices because I haven't had recent experience with them)
  2. Staples site says an engineering* print for only $1.79 for 18x24", $3.59 for 24x36" or $7.29 for 36x48" (12 square foot) which is the winner for the lowest mass market price (although a blueprint shop may be less) I have found on a square-foot basis: $.59-.61/foot. But if you don't have a Staples or Kinkos here are some more sources.
  3. Short Run Posters to produce 18x24" for $2.97! (About $1/foot.) But is that big enough? Could have them enlarge both halves of the 1st page to end up with a 24x36" effectively for $5.94+ $.27 tax + $10.41 shipping. The shipping adds a lot of cost. The only advantage is that they print in color for not much more than others charge for black & white.
  4. Your local "blueprint company" (like an enlargement of the Tabloid to 327%), for an engineering-style print* 36x56" (they would round up the partial square feet to 15 square feet not 13.67), for only about $.50-$.75/square foot or $7.50-11.25 for 15 square feet). Maybe big city shops are more.
    With no shipping cost, picking it up at a Blueprint shop would probably be less on a net per-square-foot basis than most other options. Just call them and then if you like their price and you can forward the PDF to them by email. At most shops now, this is a digital Xerox process not the smelly blueprint that you may have once known. It's not perfect but a lot better than blueprint days. Usually down in a few hours or a few days.
  5. A local print shop where they might have less-expensive lamination (than some blueprint shops, assuming you even need that) or mounting to foam core board. I never used either but I know some people go to cons or travel to their games.

*Note that Engineering Prints are black & white so the colored parts will appear as dark grey. Getting colored posters are a lot more expensive (like 8x or 16x so $4/sq ft or $8/sq ft depending on the stock printed on) so probably not worth it.

8/29/13 GBCD: Reversal of my opinion!

I have to admit that Great Battles is a very good system despite its underdevelopment. I just played through a really great game of Agira. I am back to puzzling about what adjustments could be made to GB and how to "bolt on" some CD concepts from that more mature and complete game system (Command Decision: Test of Battle) onto GB and a GBoWWII variant edition.

Note that Bruce Weigle has already developed his own version of GBoWWII but he has not tested it yet. Bruce is famous for really nice terrain which you can find here. There you will pictures and a link to a nice PDF booklet explaining how he creates his realistic terrain system.

8/5/13 CDGB:

I have come to believe that it's better to "bolt on" some GB concepts onto a more mature and complete game system like Command Decision: Test of Battle. I do like the company scale of GB and some of its more multi-day, campaign aspects. So I will be testing how to use the GB stand sizes with elements of platoon behavior. Watch this space.

7/12/12 Sources of Rules:

I checked today and the club that sells them (Canadian Wargames Group) says both Volumes 1 & 2 are still in print here.

Other people have made scenarios that you can get free of charge. Here are updated (as of 11/2/13) links to 3 Scenarios: Termolli, Mtzensk and Operation Bluecoat. See below for my Pegasus Bridge scenario. Warning: Mtzensk and Pegasus Bridge may be too big even for experienced players. I think it would be better to narrow the focus and reduce the map size for one or both. I have no experience with either Termolli or Bluecoat.


7/16/09 Charts Reworked:

In my opinion, the rules were written a bit unclearly (British understatement), so I produced my own pdf that reorganizes the charts in Turn Sequence order. And also a compilation of FAQ answered by the author plus some other aids and rule variants. For these Game Reference Charts/Variant/FAQ/Play Aids come in 2 versions: version 3 and a slightly different version 4 (which is just my chart revision number; GB has only 1 version). There is now a 5th version of the charts above at the date, 8/31/13.

I made a Ruler for all formations' move rates (print on self-adhesive, full-sheet letter size paper and wrap around the right size wooden stick). The wrapper comes in 2 halves to make 1 inch-ruler to play GBoWWII at usual scale of 150-200 meters/inch. Print on either A4 or Letter size self-adhesive paper and wrap around a 1/2"x3/4"x12" piece of wood.


Agira scenario from rulebook we played at WinterWar in Champaign IL in January 2002. What was unusual was that we had 2 identical tables and so the sides were also competing against the same side, other game..





British Airborne on the eve of D-Day scenario below I made up on Pegasus Bridge 6/5/1944... and a table map with 1-km large hexes made up of (5) 200m hexes. Click for larger area map (below) to show where 21st panzer was located and here are counters for its battalions. Some of this was for Command Decision and some for Great Battles because we played it in both systems.

The map was made from my giant D-Day maps that I drew of the whole Normandy area in CD scale (1 km/hex), Great Battles scale (1 mile/hex) and 2 other scales just for fun (600m and 300m per hex)... see for the awesome map series and hang on to your socks!


The larger area map around Caen needed to be modelled roughly because the 21st Panzer was spread far and wide.

Guys at Pegasus Bridge: (from left) Bob Bledsaw, Marc Summerlott, Mark Whitehead, John Holtz & Craig Fogle (not pictured, referee/photographer, Bill Owen).
Malta from Drop Zone supplement
Recon Matrix was an idea from 2006 for a pre-game set up where players could adjudicate exactly was hidden and what was not. Or in the case of Command Decision's set up "in the clear" you could identify X number of phantom stands and minimize/increase ambush stands etc. Just a starting point for playtest.