The French invasion of Ireland, 1796, a Napoleonic What if? Megagame.

Last Saturday I went over to Leeds for another megagame, this time however I got to be a player rather than acting on the control team. I was looking forward to the game as I really enjoyed the game designer Rupert’s previous Napoleonic outing Jena 1806 (where I got to indulge my megalomania as ‘N’ himself) and in the game, I got to play an intelligence/ political/ counter insurgency role which I knew would be fun. As with the previous Jena game movement was blind, players wrote down their daily orders and the control team adjudicated any moves on a hidden map reporting back any items of interest or when contact was made with the enemy. When two armies met, the players moved to a series of generic battle boards that were used to fight the ensuing battle out face to face. The game however continued around any fights allowing delaying actions to be fought or reinforcements to be rushed up to support.

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Ireland’s long troubled history with Great Britain doesn’t really need to be retold here but suffice to say that a growing nationalist movement, centred around the Protestant Wolfe Tone, wanted to take advantage of Britain’s distraction of the burgeoning Napoleonic wars on the continent to make a push for Irish independence. For the French, an invasion to provoke an Irish uprising would draw British attention away from the continent to ease their strategic situation. A French invasion fleet was assembled and slipping past the Royal Navy’s blockade sailed to the Irish coasts getting as far as Bantry Bay before being hit with a storm that scattered the fleet and ended any hopes of invading. Rupert’s game starts the storm abating and the landings taking place.

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There were three teams on the game, the British, the French and the revolutionary Irish.  On the British team the players were split between the regular units and fencibles, the militia and the yeomanry. I commanded the last group as the Duke of Leinster. Rather than having any units in the game that could stand in open combat I could activate 5 groups of yeomanry across southern Ireland to spy, sabotage, try to drum up support for the British or conversely stamp out any signs of insurrection. I was pleased to be assisted in my task by a young lad on his first megagame that had first been introduced to them at one of the demo games that I’ve helped Pennine Megagames put on at various wargames shows in the North. One area in which this game differed from the previous one was in the intra- team communications. A letter had to be written and placed inside an envelope and handed to control. They would then deliver it, after a suitable amount of in game time had passed, to its intended recipient.

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After a somewhat ineffectual briefing I had only a vague idea of the operations of the British that I was to support so our team had to work on what we thought best.  An initial attempt to get the Irish population on side was met with very little enthusiasm which left us with a bit of a dilemma over how to proceed with the game. Counter insurgency warfare is difficult enough as it is but being faced with a hostile population and no ‘carrot’ to bribe them with we were only left with the ‘stick’. We had to find a path that saw us being effective enough against any uprisings but not so severe that it brought the peasantry out in open revolt. The sectarian divisions in the population just added to this difficulty. This problem would be tricky enough on its own but it was made even more difficult as the revolutionary Irish team had an equivalent team of players trying to ferment the very revolution with were trying to damp down.

 

One thing that became clear quite early on was the postal system between teams was very slow. Information was coming to us several turns after it would have been useful or were requesting information from us that would be out of date after the time had passed for us to collect the information and to dispatch a rider to get the report to them. A lack of direction from the Commander in Chief didn’t help either; we were on our own. It felt a bit like we were playing a separate but parallel game, not a criticism per se rather than it didn’t have the communications that is common in most games. This wasn’t helped by the revolutionary Irish interfering with our mail, we just couldn’t work out if our letters weren’t getting out (which would indicate a problem close to us) or our replies were getting to us (which could be a problem further afield). We did get in on the postal interference act intercepting the French Commander in Chief’s letter. Sadly, our overzealous Yeomanry captured some of our post too so that was sent on its way.

 

The real fun started when I received a letter from someone signing themselves as ‘Celtic Soul’- I wasn’t sure if this was a wind up to waste my time or a player who was going against his team and trying to put out peace feelers. Either way I thought I’d best reply and try to get them onside. This prompted a game long exchange of letters which I kept a record of.

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Later, I got a letter from Wolfe Tone which made me think that ‘Celtic Soul’ was a genuine player going against his team, but perhaps according to his own personal brief? The paranoia was beginning to set in. The Duke of Leinster was a sitting member of the Irish parliament as well as Commander of the Yeomanry so I could offer Wolfe Tone some degree of political appeasement (especially as I noted in my player briefing that the Duke of Leinster had previously supported Catholic emancipation. The letter writing and debating with the two other players whose characters were sitting MPs meant that towards the end of the day I had left the day today running of the counterinsurgency side of the game to my teammate. It did pay off though as an Irish player did swap sides with a large number of troops and took to the field against his previous comrades.

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The politicking and letter writing was good fun and a role that I had not previously done in a megagame. The game ran its course with the French winning every military engagement they fought but unable to provoke a widespread Irish rebellion, partly because their slow movement meant they had to requisition lots of supply from the local population turning them against them. So, it was probably a tactical/ operational win for the French but in strategic terms they failed to create a big enough problem in Ireland for British to withdraw troops from mainland Europe. As with all megagame it is best to decide in the pub afterwards who the real winner was.

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Over a pint in the pub it was good to catch up with my opposite number on the revolutionary Irish, we had a good laugh over similar attempts to steal each other’s letters. The ‘Celtic Soul’ pseudonym was a wind up (still something I couldn’t afford to ignore in game). One bit of gallows humour came from him trying to spread a false rumour in Wexford that protestants were hanging catholic priest at the same time I had sent the yeomanry in to check on seditious preaching, they had exceeded the brief I had sent them with and decide to hang the priests….

 

The control team did a great job, special thanks to Holly for having to decipher my poor handwriting all day. Another enjoyable game and a role that I would like to try again in a later game.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

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

Everybody Dies Harder- the Megagame.

A couple of Saturdays ago I helped control Pennine Megagames’ biggest game to date: Everybody Dies Harder. 90 players and 12 or so control assembled in Manchester for a game set in the world of Game of Thrones.

 

Those of you who know me know that fantasy stuff isn’t always my thing (especially the ‘high’ fantasy end of things) so I am completely unfamiliar with the setting having only watched part of the first episode of series one and having not read any of the books. Still a human based world with plenty of backstabbing and politicking can’t be all bad.

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Players were divided up into regions each one having a ruler and various subordinates, also present were representatives of various religions as well as some mysterious scholars and wandering bards, plus a separate game area for the ruling council. Given my unfamiliarity of the setting I had asked Becky (game designer) for a role that relied more on application of game mechanics rather than knowledge of the background. Accordingly, I was given responsibility of any naval activity at the main map. This basically boiled down to adjudicating any naval combat, resolving pirate raids by the Iron Islanders and checking player character sea movement. After a fairly slow start to the game I was kept busy throughout the day without ever being too rushed. If the game runs again I think that there is room in the game turn to expand the naval combat a bit to make it more engaging, something akin to land combat at least in terms of the time taken to resolve and action as well as the complexity of doing so.

 

The players seemed to really get in to the spirit of things, little surprise given the popularity of the series so the game went rather smoothly, at least from my perspective. Bizarrely it also gave me some insight into running military heavy operational games… Pennine Megagames has gamers from many backgrounds, some of which aren’t into or don’t have the knowledge of the military side of history but still happily control such games. Given that I knew nothing of the background it was the first time I found myself controlling in a setting I was completely unfamiliar with; as such I now have more empathy with those in that situation. I’m sure I can take that forward with how I can approach operational games in the future, especially with regards to the uninitiated.

 

Becky has written lots on her blog about her game which I recommend you looking at here:

 

http://www.beckybeckyblogs.com/

 

As always look at Pennine Megagames on both the web and on Facebook:

 

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

 

Everybody Dies Harder also marked the point where I have now controlled more game than I have played in- I need to do more to correct this imbalance. That said next month’s game I am down to play so I am really looking forward to that.

Cheers,

 

Pete.

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.