Last weekend I was in Sheffield city centre bright and early to play my first face to face megagame since pre- COVID 2019. The game was one run by Paul of Story Living Games that was meant to run last year but, for obvious reasons, did not. Paul’s idea was to run a game a year based on the events of 80 years previously, see here and here. For the 1940 game what could be more iconic than the invasion of western Europe?
The game started the mid- week prior to the actual face to face game with both sides being able to spend points to attempt to alter the starting conditions of the game. By using the probability matrix that was designed for the game players would assign changes they wanted to make by impact and likelihood of happening. This was a nice way to get rid of the hindsight problem that can affect many historical scenarios when they are replayed with the same exact starting conditions (I’m predicating this on the fact that the losing side historical can be played differently to correct the mistakes made at the time and thus have an advantage). The only downside was extra work for Paul and his brother Phil running the game as they had only a couple of days to make the adjustments to the scenario. The German team, I can only speak for the side I was on here as I’ve not seen any of the British options or decisions, chose to reinforce our core concepts rather than try to do anything too outlandish. So, we improved our staff work, deployment, air to ground co-operation and river crossings, hopefully things that would be all needed to try and get to Paris.
I was on the high command team and was given the job of running the air war sub game. Split into a northern and southern half we had a game played a turn in advance that would determine close air support, interdiction, transport flights and such like in each half of the map. It is a nice little game that rewards careful husbanding of one’s assets rather than trying to get everything in the air at once. I was familiar with the game from doing the same job at the Czechmate ’38 game. The only downside with the game was that in the Northern sector the mix of allied aircraft was completely overmatched in both quantity and quality by the Luftwaffe my opposite number never really got much of a look in. Most days we never had less than total control of the air and always had air superiority. Given the number of aircraft involved, at least on my side, I did wonder if the upper limit of the game engine had been found.
On the map the German attack in the north quickly bogged down into the Dutch and Belgian defensive line, The BEF setting up quite far back in French territory. In the South the advance through the Ardennes was equally slow but due to the difficulties of the terrain rather than anything else. Gradually the superiority of the German war machine made headway. The Belgians being quite tenacious in the defence, in the south a brief sally on to German territory from the Maginot Line was quickly dealt with. Oddly the mass of the French units, mostly infantry to be fair but still a lot of them, did very little and adopted a very passive posture on their own soil. As a player quipped at the time: they seemed happy to defend to the last Belgian.
The Dutch were proving quite stubborn and rather than going down the route of terror bombing their cities to bring about their capitulation, the sorties were far better spent on interdiction missions, a coup de main mission was planned and launched by a fellow high command player. This proved to be a success, mostly, with the Dutch royal family entering German protective custody but with the regrettable death of the Princess. This action brough the Dutch team to the negotiating table and ultimately out of the war. Retreating north of the Waal, this let our forces have a full run south of it. At this time the Belgian were trying to do a complicated withdrawal and replacement of their units with the advance BEF which mostly succeeded bringing them into the fight. Although the French were still mostly passive. In the south the breakthrough we were looking through happened, and the armoured units drove hard through the French aimed straight at Paris, aided by the tactical paradrop of the Fallschrimjager. One wonders what could have been done on that front had they been given more armour….
Sadly, there was one player missing on the day. John P passed away during lockdown after a short illness, his presence at every game was guaranteed with his usual enthusiasm and great sportsmanship. A thoroughly decent bloke he will be greatly missed going forward. A toast was raised with a glass of his Port to his memory at the end of the game and an award for best sportsmanship during the game given out.
It was great to be back doing a face-to-face megagame again. Given the UK’s vaccine rollout and the space available to us in the church hall we used it felt perfectly fine and the right time to be doing a game. It was great to see people that I had not seen before the first lockdown. I hope this is the start of more games being run in person, they best way to experience them.