This past Saturday saw the first run of the Case Blue ’42: The Drive to Stalingrad megagame that Matt and I have been working on for so long. I’ve decided to write down my thought on the game before I’ve looked at much of the feedback so it won’t influence me.
The game was a multi-layered exploration of the first few months of the German offensive in 1942 to try to take the oil fields of Southern Russia that ended in bloody failure in the streets of Stalingrad. Attendees took on a variety of roles: operational players gamed at the map- either moving counters around (representing divisions/ corps) of battling out the air war on four 6 foot by 9 foot maps of the area. Above them in the command hierarchy were the senior generals who they reported too, they were ensconced in a separate room and had to rely mainly of their Chief of Staffs for reports. The high command team had to deal with the whims and vagaries of the two dictatorial leaders that were ran Germany and the USSR, they were to buy the supplies and units they felt they needed to prosecute their campaign. Additionally, there was a propaganda officer on each side that was reporting on what was going on within the game to give their side certain bonuses.
The game started with a very busy north-western map as the Germans attack was launched into the Soviet defensive lines, the Germans mad slow progress on this map especially in the most northerly portion, some Soviet units held out right until the end of the game. In the south the drive towards Rostov progressed a little better with less Soviet defenders to contend with. Given how busy the map was I stood back for a lot of the day and let the more than capable map control players deal with things as too many voices would just have confused matter. As such I just answered the few queries that came up and kept on top of the rest of the game.
The Germans managed to break out onto the north- eastern map and push towards Stalingrad, often this drive saw the various Axis Allied nations in the van (I even heard of one player being surprised at how well their Italians were doing- a country that has always suffered in the historiography of WW2). At one stage there was nothing but a solitary Soviet mechanised corps in Stalingrad whilst it was being menaced by a Panzer division; this didn’t last as reinforcements were rushed up to hold the line. As a result, the Germans never got into Stalingrad* but they didn’t really try as their plan was to use it as a diversion and to keep the Soviet’s attention there whilst they pushed south.
In the south Maikop fell to a Panzer Division unsabotaged, sadly bereft of air cover it was badly mauled by Soviet air power and forced out by a brave counterattacking Soviet division. Grozny too fell intact to the Germans, and in one of those wonderful examples of megagames generating the kind of Clauswitzian friction that you read about, reinforcements in the form of 6 rifle divisions were tasked with ousting them they were deployed on the wrong part of the map due to miscommunication. As a result, the southerly railway line to Baku was cut. Some games might resort to using dice rolls of other mechanics to simulate the chance of orders going awry it can often be easily replicated by just adding more players into the equation. Like everygood megagame the players wanted a few extra turns to eithe cement their gains or really get the counter attack moving. The Germans had caputured the oil but their position was very precarious: who won you ask? Well I’ll let that question get settled in the FB discussions. Players seemed to really engage with the game by the end and were getting quite invested in it. The awarding of medals was a popular addition and being called upstairs to explain your lack of progress or other failings was taken in good humour. All in all what could have been a difficult game was approached in the right spirit by all concerned.
Overall the game went well I think but there were a lot of little bits that didn’t go that great that I were my responsibility that I felt added together and impacted on the day. As such this self- criticism is not so much a call for sympathy but rather an aide- memoire for the future so I know what mistakes not to make (I know I’m a hard taskmaster on myself at times).
Firstly, the good: it was an absolute pleasure to work with Matt to develop the game. The bits that he brought to the game worked really well. The air game was simple enough to be resolved quickly but gave plenty of game for the player to enjoy. His idea for the high command game worked a treat too. The high command players had to negotiate with the ‘plumpired’ supreme leaders (Hitler and Stalin) and buy resources for future turns based upon how well they had followed their leaders’ orders in that turn, it was a great idea to quantify the abstract idea of political goodwill and support into a shopping list style system, due to the roleplaying skills of the plumpires this was not as artificial as it could have been. Also, if you want a rulebook writing that is easy for the beginner to follow Matt is your man.
Also, I can’t say enough good things about the control team, they handled the difficulties of the day really well and kept things moving, in what was at the start of the game, some sub-optimal conditions.
Matt’s Mum was along for the day with a selection of delicious homemade cakes that were for the players to eat as accompaniment with their cups of tea for a donation to charity: I’m please to say that together everyone raised £140 for McMillan Cancer support which is fantastic.
As for the not so good… there were a few errors in the game that were either conceptual failures in which I had not thought through the ideas behind and ramifications of the various components of the game. Given my only previous megagame that I had run was a closed map game for 25 players moving to a multi-layered 50 player game with my rule mechanics out in the open and as such not easily able to be changed or improvised like I was previously able to do with the previous game; a game which was essentially an old fashioned kriegsspiel, I mismanaged my time. The game was finished and ran OK but a few things were left vaguer than they should have been. For example, the rules for Partisans existed in my head but should have been available for players and control in paper form. Even if they weren’t given to the players in advance in the rulebook I should have still written them down. Other parts of the rulebook should have been proofread by myself better, fortunately the only potentially major typo was handled very well by improvisation by the map control team.
The counters could do with more work- specially to differentiate the two sides at a distance I feel. The map game was too slow or more accurately I severely underestimated how long it would take to play through the turns. The first turn ran twice as long as I had anticipated, in the future I could do more things to mitigate this: a pregame walk though, better examples to be made available before the game, better labelling of counters so players could identify those they were responsible for quicker. The cards that I added to the game to add flavour were too numerous, too many options can mean that turns take too long. I should have narrowed it down to a handful of key cards for each side. Also the integration of the air game, in terms of close air support and bombing might have been a little too powerful, something that should of come through with more playtesting.
What I was concerned with was that if the operational ground commanders to 4 hours to play 3 turns or 4 hours to play 2 turns they still got 4 hours of gaming in; the other parts of the game whose player’s activities were over quicker would be hanging around a fair bit. Again, the part that was my responsibility being something that impacted the high command negatively. As a result my errors the game fell behind my intended schedule as such Matt and I had to bring a few events forward so that they happened in the time left in the day. However by half past three when all four main maps were being played on and I saw all the players enagaged and having fun I did relax a bit and felt good about our creation.
Whilst the maps Simon designed were fantastic I think I could have made a better decision as to where to split them. As you saw in my earlier post all maps were of the same size; had I done it differently I could have started the two German Army groups on different maps, something that would have greatly eased the congestion round the table.
The logistic game ran well, the players who were in charge of getting the supplies to the HQs did sterling work, however, given how busy the operational players were fighting battles the last part of getting supplies from HQs on the map to subordinate units did not go as smoothly.
The preplanning game needed more work too, I should have made more information available earlier to the high command team so that they could plan better, also more clearly stated intentions of what they could and couldn’t do as well as their role and what was expected of them would have improved their game immeasurably. Facebook isn’t a perfect platform to run a preplanning session on but it is the best of the available options I think.
Given that this was the first time that the game ran I should really be easier on myself; I had wanted to do a half/ quarter sized run through, but realised that would have taken nearly as much effort as running the full game, as I knew certain things regarding the integration of all the game elements would not become apparent until it was scaled up like that.
Still… there is plenty to think about for my next game and I’m sure it I’ll make it better than this one, I’ve learnt a lot from this experience.
I’ve a few medium sized gaming projects that I want to work on for myself over the coming months but I’ll be back to pondering my next megagame soon… I guess it is a case of watch this space,
*Although the wonderful smaller Stalingrad map wasn’t used on the day I intend to develop a participation game based upon it to take round a few of the northern Game shows, again watch this space.