‘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.

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.

6mm Cold War game report. Part2- the game.

Following straight on from the last post:

After due consideration Brian decided to place his forces as below, all of the companies dug in or taking cover as appropriate.

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Evan decided to have a broad advance, mixing the little mechanised infantry in and amongst his tanks. After his first turn, which he elected to take as a Scurry, his dispositions and intentions looked like this:

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In 5core Brigade Commander a D6 is rolled at the start of a players turn: on a 1 the turn is a Scurry (all can move) on a 2-5 it is a standard turn (1 unit in 3 may activate) on a 6 it is a Firefight (all may shoot).

Evan put most of his effort into his right flank. A high number of activations (using his assets well) meant that he encircled the bottom wood.

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At this point Brian rolled a Scurry turn and used it to withdraw from what would have been a heavy attack. Evan then took up the positions that the Soviets had vacated.

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Focussing on the centre and his left flank Evan moved forward and occupied the hills for a commanding position.

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As you can see Brian has started to lose his units. Unfortunately this seemed to be the high water point of the West German advance. Brigade Commander uses two different dice in its combat system, Shock dice produce morale results and Kill dice produce the losses (we just use blue and red dice respectively. Basically for the remainder of the game Brian was spectacularly lucky with his shock dice. As soon as Evan tried to advance Brian’s units firing on overwatch would send them scurrying back to which ever spot of cover they tried to emerge from. Thematically you could explain this by the fact that the West German forces were deeply unsettled by the Soviet offensive so much so their counter attack went in at something far below peak efficiency. Mechanically Brian just rolled a lot of 6s on the blue dice.

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Though he was pushed back in the West German right flank Brian’s units did not break completely. Still inflicting losses on Evan.

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Whilst artillery is very potent in the game, as it should be in a game at this level, it did not shift that many of Brian’s units out of their cover, it really wasn’t Evan’s night. That the right flank took all of his attention he failed to breakthrough at all in the centre of left.

With the attack completely stalled and the time getting late we decided to call the game.

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It was a hard-fought game and at time a little frustrating for Evan his plan was sound but Brian’s luck was seemingly endless. Still next week will see the 6mm forces take to the table again, we shall see what happens.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

 

 

 

6mm Cold War game report. Pt1 the set up.

Earlier this week I umpired a game of 5core: Brigade Commander (by Nordic Weasel) for Evan and Brian.

I knocked up the following generic scenario:

Soviet Briefing.

Date: 1984.

Location: The Former West Germany.

Situation: The attack into Germany has gone well but the focus has shifted from our sector. Hold the line in the face of the counter attack.

Victory Conditions: Control the North/ South Road.

Initial deployment: Set up any where within 18” of the North/ South road.

Special Rules: The weather is bad until informed otherwise. Max visibility is 24”. No aircraft can fly.

Forces:

HQ Coy.

6 BMP Motor Rifle Coys.

2 Tank (T64 no ERA) Coys.

1 ATGM Coy (may be split into 2 attachments at your discretion).

2 AA Aetachments.

1 Light Recce Attachment.

1 Heavy Recce Attachment

1 Engineer Attachment.

You have the following Assets:

1 one use Stonk

1 Persistent Stonk

1 Persistent Deception

1 one use Shock Operations

1 one use Communications jamming

West German Briefing.

Date: 1985.

Location: West Germany.

Situation: The Soviet offensive seems to have stalled, now is the time to counter attack to regain some lateral movement.

Victory Conditions: Secure the North/ South Road.

Initial deployment: Enter from your board edge.

Special Rules: The weather is bad until informed otherwise. Max visibility is 24”. No aircraft can fly.

Forces:

HQ Coy.

8 Leopard 2 Coys.

6 Marder/ infantry Coys.

2 Heavy Recce Attachments

2 AA Attachments.

3 Engineer Attachments.

You have the following Assets:

2 one use Stonks.

1 persistent Stonk.

1 persistent Intel advantage

1 persistent Coordination

1 one use Shoot and Scoot

1 one use Tactical Withdrawal.

This was the set up:

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Whilst we were discussing possible games a bit back Brian made the suggestion to make cards to to played for the assets. These assets are one of my favourite parts of the rule set as they allow you to add a large degree of differentiation between the forces. While a big advantage of the system is that it takes a relative approach to vehicle performance it does mean that some units feel a bit generic. An hour or so on the PC saw these knocked up. I printed them onto thin card then put them in the sleeves that Collectable Card Gamers use.

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Next will be the pictures from the game itself.

Cheers,

Pete.

Some heavy metal comes forth from the Shed.

These were the last  of the 1/72nd vehicles that brought me up to my total for the quarter- see last post.

First up a Dragon Models M103 heavy tank. A great kit to build, and the single colour paint job went well too. Serving from the fifties to the early seventies it will make an interesting opponent to my IS3s.

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A Model Collect TOS1, basically the Katyusha from WW2 updated with Thermobaric warheads and mounted on a tank chassis, in this case a T72. They first saw operational testing in the Soviet war in Afghanistan then further use in Chechnya.

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Last but not least we have an S and S models Jagdpanzer Kanone in resin, I acquired this one from ebay a while ago. Seems like the tank hunters design lived on a bit longer after WW2, the 90mm gun of its was a rmed with soon became obsolete; the chassis were converted to carry Anti tank guided missiles instead.

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This trio should make for some interesting additions to my post war games.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

The Return of the Diecasts

I was in town today looking for craft supplies for my nephews and popped into the Works shop. I noticed that there are limited restocks of the cheap £2 diecast tanks and vehicles.

By way of illustrating that these are new models with different paint jobs here is a pic of what I bought:

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The Challenger II is especially nice and I’ve now got enough BTR40s to carry a platoon for skirmish games.

 

Keep an eye out in your local shops.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

6mm Cold War Fun.

The Cold War is one of those periods of history that has long fascinated me. Not least because of all the ‘what if?’ possibility. I’ve been gaming the skirmish possibilities using 20mm fora while now and have fancied looking at the larger picture for a while but have not wanted to get bogged down in all the tech heavy detail that the 80s style ruleset revelled in (looking at you Challenger 2000 and Corps Commander). Fortunately I hit upon the Nordic Weasel ruleset ‘5core: Brigade Commander’. The rules were bought as a PDF and the relevant bits were printed out; in a moment of sense I cut out some counters to try the rules before I commited to anything.

 

The game works great. A weak Soviet divisional attack on a weak British Brigade was played out in well under three hours. Very abstracted but enough flavour there to get and keep your interest. So I dusted off some old H&R 6mms I’ve had for 15 years or so and repainted them- Soviets and USA. I then picked up some 2nd hand terrain and Evan bought himself some West Germans. With our 80% completed forces we had a game to see how things were looking…

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The table- packing and masking tape stood in for roads, felt and lichen for woods and plastic card textured and painted makes the extend of BUA.

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My forces: 3 companies of Mechanized infantry, 9 companies of armour with a HQ base (the BMP2s) and 2 recon and 2 AA attachments.

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Evan had a similar mix or armour and infantry.

We have gone for 50mm squares for company bases and 30mm square for attachments.

I borrowed some of Bill’s superb collection of 1/285th GHQ aircraft for the game as well.

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It was just a simple encounter game so we both advanced to meet each other- Evan got to the best positions quickly with two scurry moves in a row.

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I tried to get a strong defence on my flanks by placing tank companies in the edge of the woods.

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In the centre the mech infantry didn’t suffer too well.

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Neither in the end did the flanks when the Tornado turned up.

 

At this point I conceded as I was losing units far quicker than I could get my reserves up to fill the gaps so I had been pretty much out manouvered.

All in all we are all very excited with the rule set. Plenty of scope to make plans for future projects too. Look out for more in the coming months.

 

Cheers,

Pete.