‘The Chosin Few’- my first megagame as designer.

Saturday saw Pennine Megagames put on a Korean war flavoured game by Simon and I: ‘The Chosin Few’. As you have probably guessed it was based on the desperate battle around the Chosin reservoir in North Korea in the winter of 1950 that saw the 1st Marine Division conduct a fighting withdrawal in terrible conditions against a numerically superior foe.

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Running a megagame has been on my personal wargaming ‘to do list’ for a long time, I wanted my game to have the same feel as my first: Jim Wallman’s Operation Goodwood run at the Royal Armouries in 2011. Also I wanted to do something different from a standard set piece attack so I decided to pick a fighting withdrawal, one of the trickier military manoeuvres to pull off. Even spliting the duties 50/50 with Simon a lot of work goes into a megagame and I certainly have a lot more understanding of what you need to get one up and running. It is also one of the reason my blog posts have been a little thin on the ground recently. The production of the game components, whilst enjoyable, was rather time consuming.

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After a few trouble with venues the biggest worry I had over the game was recruiting enough players, given the popularity of some of the other games that Pennine Megagames have run that has not been a problem as they often went to a waiting list. However both of this year’s military themed games (Chosin and Jena) seemed to suffer from a combination of low numbers and a high rate of players dropping out. Oddly though the military themes seem popular it is the games that give or are perceived to give more individual agency to the players that are the most popular. Perhaps there is something off putting about a game set in the more rigid hierarchy of a military organization.

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Given the increase of interest in megagaming after the viral success of the Shut up and Sit Down video perhaps the demographics of those attending games have shifted. The choice of topic, the Korean War, may not of helped matters as a lot of people considered it too niche. Whilst amongst the wargames community it is a well known battle in a well known war I will concede that in the wider gaming world it may be seen as something as an unknown. Fortunately enough players came to ensure the game ran well. I’m pretty sure that it ran as well as it did partly because of the numbers of players.

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The control team did a superb job, after a few turns they were running the map by themselves requiring very little input from either Simon or I. Given that a couple of the team are not hardcore wargamers I really appreciate the effort that they put in. Before the game Simon and I decided to split the control duties with him running the map and me taking care of the rest of the game trying to ensure it’s smooth running. Part of this was visiting the players commanding each side as their superior officer. In the role I could give them certain prods or on one occasion admonish them for not being aggressive enough. It was during these in character visits that I gave out any reinforcements that had become available. We decided not to program the arrival of these forces but to use them as a mechanism to moderate the pace of the game. Unlike the games I run at home an early finish when people have paid you for a days gaming is undesirable. As a balancing mechanism it worked well and was nice to be able to follow the variable fortunes of the game from the privileged position of the control map.

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One player was not too happy in the role that he had as a Chinese Commissar, after a brief chat about things regarding the game and his expectations of it, he inquired if he had any agents behind the enemy lines. I thought that this was an eminently sensible suggestion and came up with a mini game on the fly. I drew up a list of agents in the villages/ towns that the UN players occupied and gave them a ratings based on their loyalty to the party, the accuracy of their intelligence and the effort that they were prepared to put in to collect it. It was a good addition to the game as it acted as a reconnaissance asset for the Chinese who were otherwise just finding units when they made contact with them. (In contrast the American had six flights of Corsairs that could either be used for tactical strikes or reconnaissance.) In Hamhung for example they were two agents both loyal to the party but one who was lazy and unreliable who mostly gave the Chinese what they wanted to hear and the other who gave an exact report every time. Having a double blind game made it much easier to decide on the rate of the flow of information from the contacts. Other ideas were recruiting mountain guides to gain a movement advantage and setting up a propaganda unit in Hamhung, the proved useful when the UN started to bomb the town in support of combat operations there. These addition had the double bonus for keeping all the players involved in the game as well as adding extra depth to it. On the topic of propaganda and the media one of the control had a mini role in the game for one turn; they took on the persona of Marguerite Higgins and were ‘flown’ in to interview General Smith commanding the 1st Marine Division.

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In retrospect a lot more could have been done with the commissar role, other than the few bits that we developed onthefly with those players being asked by control to report back on the morale and socialist fevour of their troops. If the game were to run again all of these aspects that evolved during the course of play would be developed much further.

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Given that the obvious objective for the Chinese is the city of Hamhung at the bottom of the map, the origin of the UN supply lines, it madde sense to havea mini game prepared for the urban combat there. Having two megastacks fighting each other for a dot on a map would have been rather unsatisfying from both the player’s experience and a game design point of view.

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Overall the game ran as well as I hoped it would. I had made a few minor errors with labelling the counters but nothing that couldn’t be rectified witha few strokes of the pen. Everyone I spoke to after the game seemed to have enjoyed themselves and for a game with 20 players it was very satisfying to hear that. The Pennine Megagame calendar has been finalised for 2017 so it will be the year after that when I do my next game. However there will be a trimmed down show friendly version of ‘The Chosin Few’ going to Fiasco in Leeds at the end of this month if anyone wants to see it.

You can find Simon’s write up here: http://lestradesgame.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/the-chosin-few-post-mortem.html

Cheers,

Pete.

3rd Quarter 2016

Things have been a little slow recently. A series of headaches meant a trip to the optician; this revealled a sudden deterioration in my vision. I’ve got new glasses but they are taking a bit of getting used to so I’ve not been spending much time on the PC or in the shed.

Anyway enough self pity:

I painted 19 20mm figures. Finished 6 1/72nd plastic kits and I read 25 books.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

A Soviet Valentine.

I’ve recently finished this kit as part of a forum’s group build. The kit is by Armourfast, the crewman by AB and the stowage is from an unkown manufacturer that I grabbed from my bits box.

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As part of the lendlease agreement the Soviets recieved some 3462 Valentines (of all marks) from both British and Canadian production runs.

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Although slow and lacking a HE round for the 2pdr it proved popular in Russian service, being standardised as a light tank during the middle years of the Great Patriotic War.

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I decided to go for a work winter white wash paint scheme. It was easy to achive, green was used for the basecoat followed by a patch badly applied (on purpose) all over coat of white. Then by using a sponge and some Vallejo Russian Green paint the work paint effect was built up by carefully dabbing the green on to the exposed edges. A dark brown wash of thinned Vallejo Smoke was used to weather the paint job and add some grime.

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Cheers,

Pete.

 

 

 

Tauregs.

Fresh from the painting bench we have this small group of 20mm Tauregs.

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They are from what was previously Force 20 miniatures, they seem to have (as of 1st July this year) changed their name to Covert Intervention Games. Either way they are available through Elhiem Figures.

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The Tauregs are an interesting tribal people who ancestral land crosses the borders of several modern African nation in the trans Sahara area. Periodically they have launched a war for self determination or at least increased right. However the latest uprising saw on of the major factions becoming allied to Al Qaeda. The French intervention in Mali Operation Serval was in part linked to the latest Taureg rebellion.

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Finding information is pretty hard on them, as much as it pains me to say it Wikipedia is as good a starts as any, it was through there I become aware of a few different scholarly articles that I got hold of that gave good info on the late 20th century Taureg Rebellions.The fall out from the Lybian civil war has left a lot of their lands in a state of perpetual low level warfare as this Vice documentary shows:

https://news.vice.com/video/libyas-quiet-war-the-tuareg-of-south-libya?utm_source=vicenewsfb

Either way my figures will be making they way on to the table top in games of Black Ops/ Chain Reaction/ Force on Force as I use gaming to try and make sense of this latest geopolitical development.

Cheers,

 

Pete.

 

 

 

 

Dungeons Of Yendor.

In the middle of August some 80 or so gamers met up in Manchester to play one of the latest games by noted designer Jim Wallman. Set within his established setting of Yendor (I believe this was the third or foruth megagame to be run in its environs) the King is fed up with parties of adventurers going down to the dungeon and causing trouble as well as the troublesome Orcs (free folk in this game) raiding out of them.Accodingly the King’s army has been tasked to clear the dungeons on mass.

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The game saw teams of players taken on the roles of the King’s army with their allied factions of Elves and Free folk as well as wizards decsend in to the dungeon; it was inhabited by teams or players representing factions that become increasingly monstrous the further down you went.

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My role was as control for the FreeĀ  Folk allied to the King’s army so my perception of the game is pretty much limited to that position. The Free folk did send one detachment with the main body of the King’s army but their main force seemed to be content to try to force its own path through the dungeon, engaging in some pretty big pitched battles with the dungeon dwelling Free Folk along the way. For army sized units to go dungeoneering you need to factor in a fairrly substantial logistical element. This really was the crux of the game and a faliure to really grasp this seemed to lead to some inital frustration with the players. That said all the players seemed to get into the game well; the number of players in costume was higher than normal too.

Given my role there were parts of the game, especially concerning the deeper parts of the dungeon that I was unaware of, something involving plastecine monsters, until one materialized on the surface attacking some Free Folk. After what was the best attended Pennine megagame to date we all went to the pub for the usual informal debrief.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

 

 

 

 

 

Napoleonic Wargaming for fun and Little Cold Wars- book reviews.

As I enjoyed my short stint as Napoleon so much in the Pennine Megagame’s Jena 1806 (see an earlier post) I decided to pick up a copy of Paddy Griffith’s Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun from the History of Wargaming Project. Whilst it is really not my period (other than a fondness for the Ridley Scott film The Duellists and subsequent desire to do a retreat from Moscow skirmish campaign) I was intrigued by the inclusion in the book of high level games hence my purchasing of it.

The late Paddy Griffith seems to have a reputation in gaming circles as something of an iconoclast famously and publicly swearing off miniatures gaming sometime in the 80’s. This book (the HoWP being a reprint) pre dates that proclamation as half of the book deals with miniatures games; that it was republished within his lifetime implies to me that he still saw some worth in what he wrote and he was not as dogmatic as his reputation at times suggested.

As alluded to earlier the book is a compilation of seven rule sets all on the theme of Napoleonic land warfare, they cover different scales of engagement, starting with the skirmish level, passing through, brigade, division and army level, all of which are miniatures games the book concludes with a generalship game, Kreigspiel and advice on TEWTs (Tactical Exercises Without Troops). It was these last three I was interested in. Not that I am giving up on miniatures, I’m still keen on the toy soldiers but for one thing I’ve not got the space for a giant collection in another period. Rather I’m wanting to use the Napoleonic Wars to add a bit of variety to my gaming.

Dealing with the first four sets of rules first they are very straightforward games, interestingly it is noted that apart from a few special circumstances/ theatres there is not that much scope for little actions within the Napoleonic period and even Brigade and Divisional actions are best assumed to be part of a much larger action. Being honest this middle part doesn’t interest me much. My gaming interests lie at either extreme, the larger extreme being adequately covered by the Army game, also the shortest of the four miniatures rules. Indicative of the time it was written perhaps is the fact that you would still have a multitude of little bases to move about. If I were to dabble at this level in 6mm I’d want to have more figures representing a higher formation to speed play. In any event this rules set would form an ideal starting point.

Following on from this is my favourite part of the book: the generalship game. Essentially it is a time management roleplay where you have to plan your day as a general running a campaign against an opponent who is doing the same. I’d love to use this system to re run the Jena campaign, also the example used in the book, I think it is eminently possible, maybe as a PBEM too.

The nineteenth century origins of Kriegspiel are well known enough now for me to not detail them further. Unsurprisingly playing the 1824 Kriegspiel is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but like many things remains on my gaming wishlist Paddy Griffith’s notes and observations makes me want to get organised and put on a game. Any pointers as to where I could get the blocks to play the game with would be much appreciated.

The final section deals with yet another part of gaming that I want to try but have yet to do so a TWET, essential a country walk with a moderated battle taking place in the participant’s mind’s eye(s). It has a similar heritage to the Kriegspiel in that it originated as a training technique for nineteenth century officers, known then as a staff ride. I think how ever I shall wait until someone offers to run one of these locally as I fear any attempt to dive in at the deep end myself and run one would be a little beyond me.

Overall the book is ideal for those wanting a little more from gaming, I think that in today’s hobby market the miniatures rules themselves are unlikely to get any new adherents, the market is not structured in that way. However they still have worth as examples of rule sets written by a professional (i.e., holds a PHD in History) historian rather than an enthusiastic amateur, not to belittle the latter rather I want to highlight the different viewpoint that the (rarer) professional historian who also writes rules brings. In gaming as well as his academic work Paddy Griffith wasn’t afraid to follow his convictions even if they went against the orthodoxy (at this point I’ll recommend his ‘Forward in to Battle’).

On a completely different tack but in the same order I bought a copy of Little Cold Wars: Wargaming the Cold War using Toy Soldiers by Tim Gow and Betrand Plastique. This rule set takes a nostalgic and delightfully whimsical approach to the often technologically obsessed genre of Cold War gaming. Channelling HG Wells the authors have developed hybrid of a floor game with toy soldiers to the warm glow of remembering a childhood living under the bomb. Eschewing dice for all but the Close Combat mechanisms Little Cold Wars sees a mix of scales (1/35th for toy soldiers, 1/48th for vehicles, 1/72nd for aircraft) do battle by matchstick firing cannon, dropping darts into targets and throwing scrunched up bits of paper. The thing is it really works, I can vouch for this having played an early playtest version of the rules.

Early hobby gaming all started out by using physical props to determine the results of combat, it was not until after WW2 that the dice rolling obsession took hold. It is really pleasing to see a return to these mechanisms are carefully put together is a game that relies on two lots of nostalgia, not that any gamers alive today would have played any HG Wells style games pre war so that nostalgia at least is vicarious. Being 11 and just starting at secondary school when the Berlin Wall was opened I am probably amongst the youngest gamers who remember the Cold War with any clarity, I’d be interested as to what a millennial would make of Little Cold Wars. My uncle was in the Army in Berlin at the time it was knocked down and brought a piece back for me which I still have.

[A little piece has broken off from the larger lump which gave me the idea to crush it up and mix it with plaster to create a scale model of a section of the wall to have a physical link to the place on the table top]

Either way it is a game I want to play myself, albeit all in 20mm, though I need to assemble a few props and toy cannon… and buy some silly hats… I just wish I still had my DDR flag too.

Both books are available here:

http://www.wargaming.co/

Cheers,

Pete.

Alternative DPM and UK Militia.

I have recently finished a small batch of figures from Under Fire Miniatures. The first lot were inspired by pictures I saw of British infantry wearing blue coloured DPM, apparently they have been issued for OPFOR purposes at BATUS (British Army Training Unit Suffield) in Canada. As I had some spare 2010 Helmand British that were surplus to requirements I knocked up this section.

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Bill of Under Fire is in the midsts of developing a future timeline called Reiever ’25 as a setting for some civil distrubance in the UK games. The work so far can be found here:

http://www.underfireminiatures.com/page2.htm

The first new releases to support this are a pack each of armed civies for countryside and urban enviroments.

First up the Urban pack- all youthful armed with Pistol, Shotgun and MP5s:

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Then we have the countryside pack, more older gents, with the possible exception of the AWOL squaddie. They come with 2 SA80s, a Lee Enfield sniper and a hunting rifle.

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I look forward to seeing the project expanded upon and some scenarios released too.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.