Very British Civil War 2 – the megagame.

The 4th February saw Pennine Megagames host their first game of the year, reprising last year’s Very British Civil War game. Starting where the last game ended  we saw four factions battle it out in the north of England. For those of you who are not familiar with the setting imagine an alternative 1930s where King Edward refuses to abdicate to marry Simpsons, this triggers a chain of events leading to Mosley being PM. Fascists battle Royalist battle The Anglican League battle the Socialists.

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The game is a nice mix of political and military play, meaning that there is something for everyone’s preferred style. The game started with the fascists in the ascendency both politically and military but a strong socialist block in South Yorkshire. My role on the day was as the military umpire responsible for overseeing all the combats movement on the map generated as well as acting as ‘shop’ for any military themed supplies. I also had to feedback any pertinent results to the political umpires, for example air strikes of heavy artillery used against populated areas would have a detrimental effect on any political or financial support to the guilty party. At this point I should like to apologise to John Mizon as he had to read my barely legible scrawl to find out who had shelled who. After every turn there was a quick radio bulletin read by John Moley, who did a fantastic job again reprising his role from the original VBCW. This was great as it allowed umpires such as myself who had a pretty narrow view of the game the chance to catch up on the political manoeuvring that had gone on. ?I find this useful as it added a bit of context to the subsequent map moves and combats. The new venue in Sheffield was pretty much perfect- a working Army Reserve bases based in a stately home style house on the edge of Sheffield.

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I had a pretty busy day- after a few turns the combats ran themselves: the board that the fights took place on was quite straightforward and many players had been in the first game too. A few changes were made to how the game was set up to hopefully generate a few more combats. In the last game many players were content to just sit tight and not attack each other. This worked a treat the game saw everything from bitter urban combat in the ruins of Manchester to large armoured clashes on the outskirts of Leeds and armoured trains supporting militia in the foothills of the Pennines.

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For a strong start the fascists were quickly pushed into a corner, the game turning into a 3 v 1 knockdown, a result of some player deviating from the brief and some fairly unlikely alliances being formed: still that is megagame  players for you… Towards the end of the day the Anglican League were taking to the field with some pretty substantial armies.

 

The most memorable part of the game was the death of Spode (a fascist former March Warden of the North) which prompted this Hitler rant parody video:

All in all the game went well, everybody seemed to enjoy themselves and their may well be a third part next year.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

Popes, Poison and Perfidy: The Megagame.

A few weekends ago I attended the last Pennine Megagame of the Year- Popes Poison and Perfidy run in Manchester and developed by Paul Howarth.

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Set in Renaissance Italy and based very loosely on the old boardgame Machiavelli  (the only real similarity was the map). It was, and still is, a period I know little about but the game was set just as the French were set to invade the Italian peninsular to capture Naples. Players represented either Italian city states of the major powers  (France, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire- aka Austria) that were dabbling in Italian politics. Paul’s design had several sub games to it: there was a trading game very similar to shove ha’penny. A group of grognard condottieri battled it out for money on the military map whilst the usual scheming and politicking went on between the teams. Top to it all off there was a mechanism for city states to commission great works of art- paints public buildings etc. to compete to be the most cultured amongst the city states.

My role in the game was to be in charge of all the spying and assassination attempts, the lovely dark side of politics. Accordingly I had read ‘The Prince’ in the week prior to the game. The regional controls (Jerry taking care of the major powers, Rupert the northern half of Italy and John Moley the southern half of Italy) would come to me with requests for information from their spy networks, or assassination plots that they wished to press forward with. Players could attempt to take out a player’s support base or try to off the player themselves. With this remit I had to keep a fairly good track of the game, fortunately the other control players were really good at passing along any pertinent info. However I was ensconced in a side room without a direct line of sight to the maps so a bit of backwards and forwarding was needed.

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After a bit of a slow start things really started to get busy. The assassinations came constantly. The mechanisms were based on rolling two dice based on the rating of the spy or assassin (the players had a qualitative grading of their asset but not access to the corresponding quantitative value). France’s Cardinal put a hit on the Pope 6 turns running; the Pope only finally succumbing to old wounds after the 6th attempt. The Viennese players ignored the main map and spent the majority of the game trying to assassinate each other. Matt broke away from Naples and proclaimed himself the ‘King of Regusa’; immediately leading to two assassination attempts (one from his old team) and the wrath of the Turks descending upon him.

The game worked really well, the players seemed to enjoy things and it was the most fun I had as control yet I think (at least in somebody else’s game). The pub discussion afterwards continued for a good few hours which is always the sign of a good game.

Cheers,

 

Pete.

 

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

 

‘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.

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 Free  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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Jena Campaign 1806 at Huddersfield- Napoleon’s view.

Last weekend saw Pennine Megagames run their first game in Huddersfield and me take on the role of Napoleon himself. The game was a re- run of the 1806 Jena campaign- the French advanced into what is now Germany to knock the Prussians and their allies out of the war before the Russian could enter the war. I must confess that the Napoleonic period as a whole is a bit of a historical black hole for me which is why I volunteered to be part of the control team initially. However Rupert, the game organiser, was short of players and offered me the top job on the French team; I couldn’t resist giving my megalomania a stretch so said yes.

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The games was played with a hidden map and umpire adjudicated movement, however battles were resolved face to face on hand drawn tactical maps using a combat system crafted by Rupert. Therefore while you were fighting a battle the rest of the players could still manoeuvre around. This meant that desperate holdouts could be reinforced and escapes blocked.

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To quickly gen up on the subject I reached for the wargamer’s standby of the relevant Osprey campaign book and a copy of Haythornthwaite’s Napoleonic Source book that I had lurking around. The biggest difference between the two sides seemed to be that the Prussian command structure was all over the place whilst the French had a tight hierarchy extending downwards from Boney.

My reading gave me a decent idea of what I want to and needed to achieve in the game so when I arrived at the venue early on Saturday morning a look at the map and ORBAT firmed up my ideas. In my experience a simple plan that everyone understands but executed well works better than some convoluted but potential brilliant scheme. Accordingly I arranged my Corps in quite a wide spread, about a day’s march apart as we advanced to the North East from Wurzburg. Going from my left flank I had 3rd Corps hooking round to try to reach Halle, next was 6th Corps, in the centre was 2nd Corps with first Corps in reserve behind along with extra cavalry, extra artillery and Napoleon’s HQ, to their right was 4th Corps while holding the right was 5th Corps with orders to reach Leipzig. This is evidently not the historical arrangement but there was method to it. Having played a fair few of these games I have come to know the idiosyncrasies and styles of some of my fellow gamers so this allowed me to put the best person in the role I wanted. Given I couldn’t reassign players to different Corps (all the casting was done by Rupert pre game) it was the best solution. The general plan was to advance on a broad front with a large cavalry screen until contact with the enemy was made then those Corps adjacent but not engaged would try to catch a flank while the outer Corps would try to either get right behind their back or push forwards to occupy their supply points. I know that meeting on the field of battle and winning a victory there would be more honourable but I wanted to out march and out manoeuvre the Prussians. My only concern was that my plan was a bit too obvious and could be easily exploited.

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That was the plan and we all known the maxim about plans… so it was on to the game. After a few tense early turns to get through some hill ground that would have meant lateral movement would have been difficult we, the French team, got into a good rhythm. Orders were issued for the day, with an opportunity to change them at midday then a night phases allowed for team time and a chat as during the day only written messages could be passed between Corps. Movement rates were dependant on your food- either supply wagons, forage or carried rations, additionally forced marches could be made with the risk of losing some of the divisions within that Corps morale.

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Early contacts with the Prussians seemed to happen with all the French Corps simultaneously, I was quite pleased by this as it meant that they were quite spread out, given the strength of some of the Prussian Divisions I was concerned that they would gang up on one of my Corps and defeat it before I could bring enough reinforcements to bear. 3rd Corps powered through their opposition and blazed a trail to Halle being followed half heartedly by scattered Prussians. John pushed his Corps as fast as possible including an epic 72 hour march. Given I knew John’s style of play and that the longest route was the northern one I knew he was the right man for the job. On the right flank 5th Corps (Kieth and Ian) faced a Prussian players who fought a tough delaying action, however a splitting of the force meant that the Prussians followed the diversion not the main body so the drive to the supply point continued. In the centre things bogged down with all the Corps engaged. Jason commanding the 1st Corps got the chance he was itching for and got stuck into a tough fight on day five, so much so that I personally intervened as Napoleon with the reserve cavalry in an encounter at Kranichfeld. The side effect of this was that I got bogged down in a drawn out three day battle which was decided in the French’s favour. Whilst I was at a tactical map I completely lost touch with the strategic picture and had to rely on Robin to keep things together in the role of Berthier the Chief of Staff. To his credit he made an excellent job of it and held things together after I returned to the table and took a while to get my head back into the strategic picture. By day eight it was clear to me and Robin that the Prussians had concentrated themselves at Jena around the King whilst we had broken through their defensive line, next stop was their two supply points then after that Berlin. I decided to apply a bit of psychological pressure and sent an offer of surrender to King Friedrich Wilhelm.

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This was my reply:

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As I never fought a large decisive battle I took longer than my historical counterpart to reach a victory but my casualties were much less. One thing that I was lucky about was the late arrival of Simon to the Prussian team, he knows how I game pretty well so would have seen what I was doing and been able, possibly, to influence the Prussian King to counter me.

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As far as megagames go this was one of my favourites, easily in my top three as a player. My team was great, a pleasure to play with, once I explained my basic plan they all got on board with it and followed it through with out me having to micromanage any of it all. Jason as 1st Corp commander and Robin as Berthier on my table were great guys. One of the advantages I find of the high level of command in megagames is that you have a more relaxed time of it rather than having to write orders each turn so we had time for a bit of a chat. After a look at the umpires map and a debrief we went to the Grove pub for some beers and a chance to swap stories with the other side.

Cheers,

Pete.

Urban Nightmare and the Control Seminar- Zombies a go go:

Urban Nightmare and the Control Seminar- Zombies a go go:

Pennine megagames hosted a rerun of Jim Wallman’s Ubran Nightmare game in Leeds. A crisis management game where the players run different components of Romero city and its surrounding state (The game is based on the ’60s riots in Detroit, Michigan). With teams as diverse as experimental scientists, Emergency services and Federal level special ops it was a heady mix of teams in a semi co operative fight against the game mechanics.

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My role was to be the control to the rather Gung- Ho National Guard time. They were intent on killing as many Zombies as possible as quickly as possible and certainly kept me busy that day running their orders from the team table to the main map.

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Tim who hran the game did a great job of trying to modernise Jim’s design which I think is coming up for being 20 years old now but there was still some clunkiness in its mechanisms that let the game down. Still all the players seemed to enjoy it which is the main thing.

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Jim ran a quick Control Seminar in Huddersfield as a master class in how to be an umpire/ control. To illustrate this he used a quick little game Folkstone Nightmare. The 15 or so of us there quickly got stuck in and I think we all learnt something that we will take forward to future games.

Cheers,

Pete.

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

http://www.megagame-makers.org.uk/

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.