‘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.

Three weekends of Megagaming

Firstly apologies for the paucity of posts. I’ve been busy with postgrad work. Also with megagaming which is the topic of this post.

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Firstly Peninne Megagamers put on their first full home grown game: A Very British Civil War which was run in Manchester. Based on the popular alternative history gaming project (long story short: Edward VIII refuses to abdicate causing chaos and he invites Mosley to form a government, civil war starts between Socialst, Royalist, Fascist and Anglican factions) we had the four major factions battling over the Pennines from Liverpool to Hull, York to Chesterfield.

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Each faction had a number of players split by region and role. Military commanders moved forces on the main map and fought occassional battles whilst the political players played a seperate game trying to influence the population of each area with rallies and marches. Ideally this activity was controlled by the overall leaders so that when a military player took control of a town the population had already been won over to that faction’s cause. Control of the towns and cities meant extra income allowing the purchasing of bigger armies etc.

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My role in the game was as a military umpire. Whilst armies were moved on a main open map the actual battles too place on a gridded board. With four battle boards ready the three military umpires (John, Rupert and myself) were expecting plenty of business but other than selling massive amounts of ammo we were fairly quiet. A few changes that would increase the number of battle in the game were discussed post game and I’m sure they’ll be worked in to future games.

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The mixture of political, military and diplomatic roles seems to mean that there was something for everyone and all the players seemed to of had a good time.

The following weekend saw Paul, Rupert and I go to the Hammerhead Wargames show in Newark to run a demonstration of Rupert’s forthcoming Jena game, given that the Napoleonic period is not something I know much about I swotted up with an Osprey the night before. The game is similar to the VBCW one in that players move unit on one map then go off to a seperate battle board to fight out and battles. The biggest difference is that the moves in the Jena are done on a double blind system to really get that fog of war that is often hard to replicate in table top games.

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We had a good run through of the game at the show. It was pleasing to see one young lad wander over to see what is Dad was doing then get into the game himself. Being the only map based game amongst all the table top games made us stand out and hopefully it has resulted in extra interest and players for the game.

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A fortnight after Hammerhead it was myself and Simon’s turn to demo a game. A the Triples show in Sheffield we ran through our Korean Chosin game to drum up some interest.Simon had done a superb job with the map and I knocked up some counters with his help. I bought some flags to add a bit of colour to our table

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Different to the above games it is a true double blind game with both moves and combat being resolved by umpires who then feed back the results to the players. Although we only let the punters at Triples play the US Marines on the day as we presented a stripped down version of the game. Again those who played the game seemed to have a great time and it was encouraging to see younger gamers pick up the ideas of the game (there being no rules to learn) and get into the spirit of things. It was nice to be asked by another show’s organiser to put on a similar game at his event, must have liked what he saw.

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Please look at the following links to register for either game – and the Urban Nightmare and Dungeons of Yendor games that are upcoming too.

 

http://www.penninemegagames.co.uk/

http://www.penninemegagames.co.uk/the-jena-campaign.html

http://www.penninemegagames.co.uk/the-chosin-few.html

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

 

A quick overview of my projects so far.

As stated I’ve set up my blog to try and get my projects in order. They’ve grown quiet organically over the years and have got slightly out of hand…. Over the years I’ve kept a list of all the figures I’ve got (fortunately I started when my collection was pretty small) as an aide to writing scenarios; this was when I moved from playing Rapid Fire to skirmish level games. Additionally I’ve managed to keep almost everything in 20mm/ 1:76/72 scale. That way I can get the most use out of the scenery I’ve amassed.

Rapid Fire was the rule set that got me back into play historicals after years of GW games and dabbling in Napoleonics. It’s a decent system but it plays better the bigger the game you have. As I’ve never got the chance to have a table bigger the 6 foot by 4 it turned out not to be the best system for my needs, hence me moving to more skirmish based games: first Crossfire, then Red Poppy White Feather, then Arc of Fire now we seem to be giving Nuts a try.

One of the early decisions I made was to concentrate on the Eastern front- I figured it would give me more gaming options than any other theater: you can get infantry, armour, amphibious, winter, urban and partisan etc actions all with one set of figures. over time this has been expanded to include some of the minor nations too. However I couldn’t leave it there- so I started to look at the Italian theater too, some late war Brits and Americans to go with that. The late war stuff I’ve got plus the Russian vehicles and guns will also work for Korea so recently that’s been an area I’ve been looking into. Talking of Korea I’ve got a modest collection of 1/600th aircraft.

Vietnam films have always been a big favourite of mine So I’ve got a modest collection. I’ll be using the new Force on Force rules to game that.

My modern collection is quite disparate- plenty of stuff for Chechnya, bits for the cold war, lots of stuff for Afghanistan (1979- present really). Modern gaming really seems to be growing at the moment lots of new companies are releasing ranges for it – most seems to be based around the aforementioned FOF rules, though bigger games with a modern modification of Rapid Fire seemed to be being played too.

Other than that I seem to be getting a WW1 collection going too- the Emhar tanks are lovely, and the early battle before the trenches were dug appeal too.

Following work I did on my BA I’ve developed an interest in the Franco Prussian War- I’ve picked up some figures cheap but I’ve yet to really decided what I’m going to do with them.

Also in 28mm I’ve got a cheap German Army for Secrets of the Third Reich, and my old Necromunda gang Is lurking somewhere in the Shed….

so this is where I’m up to so far. Like I say it really needs some organizing and direction.Especially as I’ve got more ideas fermenting away too.