‘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.

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29 comments on “‘The Chosin Few’- my first megagame as designer.

  1. Peter Merritt says:

    Very well done guys – not an easy subject for a first game! I actually ran the same thing for the successful SELWG series of megagames many years ago, but the map was area-based, a single contiguous line (around the hall, so they could see how far they had to go!), and the Chinese waves were placed in various ‘pots’ around the tables as they arrived by the umpires. The Free World players then picked out a handful (some were dummies) and operated them according to a simple system. There was so little higher direction once the Chinese divisions had set-off into the mountains (no comms equipment below divisional level) that this worked well.

    I am so sorry to have missed this game but am determined to make it at some point for the historical ones, if only as a visitor or ‘jobbing umpire’ to lend a hand with messages, awkward visits etc!

    You should all be justly proud.

    • Pete S/ SP says:

      Thanks Peter. Your take on the game sounds interesting. Were the Chinese fielded by a team or did they just act in a preprogrammed manner after they had appeared in one of the ‘pots’?

      The historical games next year are all what ifs? Very British Civil War, French invasion of Ireland 1796, then WW3 in the 1980s, hope you can make it up for one of them.

      Cheers,

      Pete.

      • Sorry, Pete, missed your question.

        I had a pre-game planning session for the Chinese with two other Korean War fanatics. They set broad, corps-level objectives and routes, which then fed easily into the actual haphazard entry of units into the available ‘pots’ on each table (much behind schedule, of course), plus the recon efforts of the UN side. It also allowed me to do all the pre-damage assessments from frostbite, exposure etc which we now know (in -40 degree mountains and no casevac) were greater than the combat figures! It was also a key tactical decision – holding the heights was a major tactical advantage, but the resulting damage from exposure was also severe.

        Watching the UN progress around the hall was very interesting (the tables were in a linear layout, to mirror – and accentuate – the single road), especially the rearguard!

        Future games – I do hope to make it up there even as an observer, and if you need any freebie pre-game input (secret agent reports from 1793 Ireland etc), do let’s discuss. Good luck to you all.

      • Pete S/ SP says:

        Sounds great- have you any pictures of theset up? It would be good to get some background on Ireland as its 18th C history is not something I’m familiar with. If you are making the trip up am sure you’ll be found a role rather than just be observer. What game are you thinking of coming to?

        Cheers,

        Pete.

      • Hmmm, Irish rebellion – I’ll have a look and get back to you. In the meantime, I assume you have seen this treasure-trove of stuff?

        http://emperorslibrary.com/

        Really helpful and so cheap you’ll spend a fortune! 🙂

      • Pete S/ SP says:

        That is a great resource thanks- the Russo- Japanese collection is very tempting (it is a topic I’m determined to turn into a megagame of some sort).

        Cheers,

        Pete.

      • Pete – if you start to look at Russo-Japenese War, do have a look at ‘Great Naval Blunders’. The description of the voyage of the Russian Black Sea Fleet is more like a Carry-On script and relates levels of stunning incompetence and ineptitude which is actually difficult to model in a game! The resulting massacre at Tsushima (makes Little Big-Horn look like a near-run thing) comes almost as a blessed relief, except for all the poor ordinary sailors who died….

      • Pete S/ SP says:

        Thanks for the tip- I’ll add it to the list. Though it won’t be until the new year when I can do much reading for myself.

        Cheers,

        Pete.

      • Sorry, meant Baltic Fleet, of course. Still, I think you’ll enjoy it – stories like this make me feel better as a commander in games!

  2. Matevz Groselj says:

    Congratulations Pete! If nothing goes wrong, something isn’t right and it looks like you had it all under control. It’s really good that commisar player got more out of his game and at least now you know what to watch for next time.

    • Pete S/ SP says:

      Thanks. If I were to run another Soviet/ Socialist force the commissar’s role would be massively expanded upon and seperated from the main military game (just as it should be). Roleplaying the spy next work was good fun too. Would be great if you could time one of your UK trips to coincide witha game 😉

      Will email properly tomorrow btw.

      Cheers,

      Pete.

      • You are always welcome. One ploy you might consider is what I did for a 1943 Eastern Front mini-campaign. The Army commander had three subordinates, with broad objectives set by STAVKA (me). They then not only had to balance forces to achieve this (fully 50% of an army striking power was held centrally then parceled-out); but their actions were also judged on a simple ‘political’ scale (to see who survived the post-war purges)! It lead to some interesting ops which suitably confused the Germans who were of course not in on this…

        I would love to attend all of them (the spy network is great), but I cannot guarantee how fit I can be that far ahead.

      • Pete S/ SP says:

        I like the sound of that. The idea that political consideration would trump tactical/ operational decisions is an interesting one. Can see why it kept the Germans guessing too.

        Cheers,

        Pete.

  3. Joe Collins says:

    Very cool! I have been involved in a few metagames as a player or as a GM assistant. But I never actually ran the game. Unfortunately, the gentleman that was the GM for the metagames passed away and no one has the experience or feels comfortable to try to do one in my area.

    Cheers,
    Sapper

    • Peter Merritt says:

      Joe, all I can say is give it a try – start small (so the prep doesn’t drive you crazy) even with two teams ‘back-to-back’; and I have seen ‘professionals’ get very rattled when all the map markers for the other side disappear…. You can then build from there, not just in game design (too complex rules will collapse), but also building a pool of umpires. If still not sure, you can always email me to chat; one game I ran at SELWG was taken from a cracking little boardgame on the last 100yrs before the fall of Rome.

  4. Pete S/ SP says:

    Joe this link lists all upcoming games world wide. I’m not sure where you are in the states but the games seems fairly well spread: https://www.reddit.com/r/mega_game/comments/3cwe0f/watch_the_skies_and_other_megagames_being/ hopefully there is one close by to you (I know close is a relative term for UK and US people).

    As Peter says it is easy to start but the thing is to get a good umpire team sorted, were lucky that Pennine Megagames is developing that side of things fairly well.

    Cheers,

    Pete.

  5. Congratulations on pulling this off successfully, Pete. A very respectable achievement, by the sounds of it. I am not surprised that your attendance was lower than hoped for – a megagame of alens invading earth, or even some human conflict sexier than the forgotten Korean War, would have certainly done better, but well done nevertheless.

    I am wondering if a megagame based on the Lord of the Rings would work – it would have to revolve on more than just the quest for the Ring, and yet at the same time, it would have to be all about the Ring, in that if it ever got to Mt Doom, that’s it, game over, and all the hard work of the players running elves, dwarves, Haradrim, etc would be for nought. Just a thought.

    I must come to England some time and try one of these. Don’t see them here, with a few notable exceptions.
    Cheers,
    Mike

  6. Pete S/ SP says:

    Thanks Michael, the purely military games seem to have a smaller audience but I think that they are often better for it. The feedback I’ve had has been very positive about the fact it was a smaller game.

    The calander is up for next year- if any of the games takes your fancy enough to make the trip over:

    http://www.penninemegagames.co.uk/2017-games.html we’d make you very welcome.

    I have to confess I know very little about Lord of the Rings, I’ve got to 38 without reading the book or seeing the new films, I do remember the old BBC cartoon though. It can be a problem in game design if there is a single event that is a game over situation. A parallel but unrelated example came about when we were discussing the Falklands campaign as a possible game. The loss of the carriers with a lucky strike or two would have been game over for the British players.

    Cheers,

    Pete.

    • Michael, can I just echo what Pete said – you’d always welcome to join in a game over here, and while it is always better to have some prep, in my experience there are usually ‘last minute’ slots which can be filled. Have you seen these sites?
      http://www.megagames.org.uk/
      http://www.megagamesociety.org
      http://www.westcoastmegagames.com

      On Pete’s other point re scenarios or campaigns which can have a truly critical tipping point part way through the day of the game, this can be done in the design – for the LOTR example, why not take Frodo & the Ring out of the player arena? Both sides will ‘know’ he is en-route (the bad guy players cannot ‘forget’ this), but neither is aware of quite how near or far he is to lobbing said ring into the volcano. If the bad guys therefore get their fingers (or claws) out, they may still achieve a ‘winning draw’ by destroying the human lands, which means the good guys have to fight desperately for time…

      [Pete – if nothing else, do watch ‘the charge of the Rohirrim at Pelennor Fields’ on YouTube. It is the closest we will ever come to seeing what happens when a ‘real’, full-pelt cavalry charge smashes into a body of infantry, irrespective of their being Orcs or what have you. Well, the nearest since the 1920’s and 30s Hollywood, when extras were cheap and ‘Health & Safety’ regs less, umm, vigorous?

      Another good way to avoid such criticality is to add a slight ‘what if’ twist. In one fab post-D-Day game (actually two games in parallel on the same day!), the Bomb Plot was slightly earlier and Hitler was put into a coma. There was still no army coup, but the govt was now run by good old Herman Goering (still at this point Deputy Fuhrer, ‘cos no-one had got around to firing him!). He – the umpires – was then perfectly happy to have some new uniforms made and be addressed as ‘Mr President’, leaving the army to just ‘do the best you can’. All the units were the same, arrival schedules etc, but the German teams were not then shackled by ‘hold fast’ orders. As I recall, we the Germans (I was made Rommel in a last-minute ‘putch’ by the umpires) then played it like we were still on the Eastern Front (all the senior cmdrs being 2yr veterans of the same), and politely ignored the warnings about Allied air power… Was also the loudest game I ever attended – including ‘Springtime For Hitler 1’ – when we heard the Allied conference room way down the hall ‘explode’ as the news broke that we had re-taken the critical junction of St Lo on turn 2………

    • Joe says:

      Hey, Pete

      If you would ever decide to do a Mega game on the Falklands conflict, you are more than welcome to bounce ideas off in emails with me. I am not an expect on the subject, but I am very well read on the topic (30+ books, thesis, and declassified reports) and had planned to run a campaign covering all of the aspects so have tons of notes on it. There are a lot of unknown or poorly covered topics that are not covered properly in mainstream history. The biggest misconception is how great the Harriers were in the air superiority role. They actually performed poorly in that role, and only maintained air superiority due to the (rightfully) decisions by the Argentine high command.

      Cheers,
      Joe

      • Peter Merritt says:

        Thank you, Joe; most kind. Ah, Falklands – I agree, very interesting (was glued to car radio while on my way to a game at Sandhurst the very morning of the Goose Green attack by 2 Para). There are also the political shennanigens in Buenos Aires, Washington (why was that huge US carrier just outside striking distance?); plus of course the espionage war, especially the Exocet buying scams we ran. Oh, dear, the Argentinians should have read more history of just how ungentlemanly we can be at times!

        I agree with Pete’s earlier post that basic success/fail is so critical in terms of the British a/c carrier(s) – the Atlantic Conveyor almost did the same, with all but one of the Chinooks on board. However, if it were structured like the Mid-East crisis games with multiple Argentine factions and a strong political element (what the US, USSR, France, the UN are training to gain), then ‘winning’ can mean very different things to each team, and co-operation/dealing is the order of the day. As with the Balkan Wars, what you lose in the field can be won back at the Conference table…

      • Pete S/ SP says:

        I’d be tempted to start the game immediately after the landings at San Carlos. Less risk of the game ending suddenly but still sufficient interplay between the different arms and the decision on how to reach Stanley the quickest before winter sets in. Always good to have some sort of time pressure in a game.

        Cheers,

        Pete.

      • Pete S/ SP says:

        Thanks for the offer Joe- I may take you up on that somewhere down the line. The problem is at the moment there are so many people wanting to run games and so little slots in the years to do them. No point jamming the calander to saturation point.

        I noted your comments with interest on the TOE yahoo group about the Harrier’s air combat performance. I’ve a fair library on the conflict myself and look forward to comparing notes with you at some point.

        Cheers,

        Pete.

      • Joe Collins says:

        @Pete,

        Didn’t realize that you were on the TOE Yahoo Group too. I know that you commented on my blog about the entry on the nuclear weapons carried on the Task Force.

        But, I think a good game would be the global view of the conflict with the Argentine Junta, the UK, the US split between the pro-Argentine faction (US State Dept) and pro-British faction (US Dept of Defense), and the USSR competing to help the Argentine Junta just enough to humiliate the British but not enough to give them too much popular support so that they can start up the pro-Communist movement that was crushed in the Dirty War.

        Unrelated, I have been reading a lot on the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War in Siberia. There is a lot of critical decisions that I am reading about by all of the different factions. It could make for a very interesting game between the Reds, Whites under Kolchak, the Whites under Semyonov, the Czech Legion, the Japanese, the Americans, the British/French/Canadians, and the Chinese. All with different goals and objectives and it does not all have to be combat related. I have came across more than one event that almost started a battle between the US and the Japanese…including an almost alliance with the Reds and the Americans vs the Whites under Semyonov and the Japanese!

        Cheers,
        Joe

      • Pete S/ SP says:

        I like your suggestions for the Falklands game- much more of a geopolitical negotiation game than the operational one I was thinking of.

        The Allied interventionist sounds very intreguing too but it is something I know nothing off. Having some many armed forces playing off against each other whilst nominally on the sameside would make for an interesting game.

        Cheers,

        Pete.

      • Joe Collins says:

        I forgot to add Chile to the geopolitical factor for the Falklands as they were the reason why the best Argentine troops for winter / mountain combat were not deployed to the Falklands as the Junta viewed Chile as a the main threat vs the British. You still can do the combat operations, but have the GMs control the random ‘rolls’ outcome to keep the game interesting for everyone. For an example, the Argentine find the carriers and got a good chance at sinking one, but have it damaged instead to keep the game still playable for the British, but giving kudos for the Argentine players for finding a luckily decision to get an attack in. Plus, if you do it right, the Argentine players might actually believe that they sunk a carrier and not crippled and would claim a big victory for it during the period the game covers, sort of like in the real world were the Argentine military still claims that they were successful in damaging one of the British carriers.

        But back to the Allied Intervention in the RCW. I can’t point you to a specific book that covers the political or birds eye view of what was going on, because I am reading almost nothing but personal accounts from the lowly private up to the commander of the American Siberia Expedition. I have not started reading an overall view by a third party yet. But, there are a lot of players, with a lot of different objectives. I might try to get a blog entry up on it in the near future as I really need something worth while to post soon anyways.

        Cheers,
        Joe

  7. Pete S/ SP says:

    That is a great video Peter. Still the orcs needed better discipline and longer pikes imo.

    The DDay game sounds great was it run with counters of figures?

    Cheers,

    Pete.

    • Orcs? I’d take it up with Mr Sauron, if I were you… 🙂

      The D-Day games were all map-based ones. The German teams all had a wonderful time, almost as good as the first ‘Springtime for Hitler’ game (France 1940) when we were the ‘cover story’ going through the Ardennes; claimed more French a/c than the Luftwaffe in the end (overran the main airfields outside Rheims!!). With D-Day we knew that we could not ‘win’ in the end as it really showed the value of the ‘2nd D-Day’ in the South of France; even if one failed, two simply could not. But with our group the challenge is a good game and trying to do better than before!

      With most of my megagames in recent years that is actually the easy bit for players, as they have featured subjects in which their historical counterparts were a complete shambles – Balkan Wars, Shennandoah Valley, 2nd Punic War, almost anything Austrian….! Does make for a difficult design, though, but fun to watch unfold.

      • Pete S/ SP says:

        I often find that in a historical scenario it is easier to play the loosing side as you know what didn’t work for them. Obviously the scenario doesn’t play out the same way every time but any glaring errors can be avoided. It would be pretty hard to win an Operation Market Garden scenario as the Germans for example (I’ve tried and failed).

        Cheers,

        Pete.

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