Revising WGRG WW2 (North Africa game – for 6 Nov 2010)

Sorry for the rather cumbersome title on this post.  It refers to the revised Wargames Research Group 1925-50 rules that Pete Connew and I are developing over a long period of time for the Abbey Wood Irregulars. It’s a lengthy project, since we tend to bring out the WW2 stuff only twice a year.

So far we’ve played four scenarios:

  • Part of Operation Goodwood, in which in our version the Brits got a pasting from Kampfgruppe Waldmuller of 12 SS Pz Div;
  • German counter-attack around Pegasus Bridge on D-Day – a might-have-been scenario in which 21 Pz Div attacked in some force much earlier than historically and achieved significant success;
  • A small part of Operation Crusader in the Western Desert, in which elements of 15 Pz Div attacked prepared British positions; early attacks were beaten off and we ran out of time;
  • Courland Peninsula in January 1945.  The Russian 1 Tank Corps attacked advanced German positions with a view to pushing through enemy lines and exploiting to the rear.  The Russians put in a creditable attack, bearing in mind the inflexibility of Russian doctrine, but the Germans held their main position; again we ran out of time, unfortunately just before a major tank exchange, but it was an excellent game.

The emphasis in our version of the rules is on simulation of the historical doctrines, rather than simply on WW2 theme.  We’re not too fussed about exact differentiation between weapon systems, but we do care about command and control.  For this reason we attempt to model the formations down to company level reasonably accurately, acknowledging that we have limited sources of information (and some of these may represent wishful thinking rather than accuracy).  Communications are vital, and we model specifically the time delays that come with the changing of orders in response to changes to the tactical situation.  Modelling this aspect, including the time required for companies to react to their new orders, means that co-ordination between arms (for example artillery or air support) is realistically difficult.  We don’t have to resort to command pips or activation rolls, which most modern rules sets use as proxies for the confusion of battle.  With realistic force mixes, command levels and time delays, we find that co-ordination is realistically difficult and doesn’t have to rely on dice rolls.

I find that we prefer to use Division or larger formations, which gives us a bit of difficulty, as players can get overwhelmed. But there’s not a real appetite for smaller battles, and for historical accuracy (and I’m doubtful about that term), it seems to me that smaller scale actions don’t give enough context, particularly in relation to what’s going on to each flank of the battlefield.

For our scale of operations to work, we generally need about 4 players per side and 2 umpires, one to keep the sequence of play flowing and the other to regulate the communications delays and historicity.  For our game in a week’s time we’re in the Western Desert again (Stephen Welford is the main umpire; I’m assisting).  For this we’ll need revised artillery templates (for 1mm:1m scale) and revision of the rules for air power, mine fields and pre-game artillery.

I introduced the concept of Hot, Warm and Cold turns in an earlier game, which helps to speed up movement prior to close contact; I think it’s simpler to restrict this to Cold and Hot (effectively scrap Cold and rename Warm as Cold).  In this game units Shoot first then Move (or Communicate or take a Special action), so the range of shooting and visibility of enemy can be used to regulate the type of turn.  For a Warm Turn (now to be renamed Cold!) the bounds are 15 minutes long.  Movement is up to 5 times the advertised rates, but must only be:

(i)             off-table; or

(ii)            on-table in areas outside 500m range of located enemy elements; AND

(iii)           no new direct fire at or less than 500m (‘new direct fire’ is fire from active elements that did not fire in the previous friendly bound).

A warm bound can be interrupted by direct fire from previously unlocated enemy at or within 500m, in which case active player movement ends immediately, but communications are completed as if the full time had elapsed, so orders, requests or reports can be completed during a warm bound with no delays.  This is intended to make players think about the priorities for movement of their own forces – if they forget, it can lead to nasty surprises, as some units can get left behind – representing delays in orders, failures to co-ordinate and so on.

Additional bits and pieces that are needed for this game include:

  • New artillery templates (I think I have them somewhere, but probably won’t be able to find the old ones!)
  • Sequence of Play reference chart for the wall (never underestimate large visual aids)
  • A table-standing flipchart for each side, so that orders can be posted.  I need to revise this to make it simpler to operate.  (Did I mention never underestimate large visual aids?)

I used to produce large cards for each command with the unit compositions and Move / To Hit for each vehicle and weapon, which could also be used for orders, but it just took too much time; and in any case I’m not certain the players appreciated the effort – few players seemed to use the convenient tables on the cards, preferring to look them up in the rules! So now I print out the full tables, three double-sided large print A4 Play Aids for each player, and they work well. These are traditional board game style play aids that include Sequence of Play and list of Special Actions, so most of the time the players won’t need to refer to the main rules at all.

The game relies on good briefings (no pressure on Stephen then!), relatively thoughtful players and decisive rather than accurate umpiring.  It’s better to make quick decisions that give a believable historical result than to agonise at length about what is correct in relation to the rules.

Two things I’d like to try are (i) suppressive area direct fire onto unlocated enemies (for example in terrain that prevents movement), which could result in the elements being neutralised but not destroyed – this is an idea nicked from Tac: WWII; and (ii) permitting a small number of units to be in ambush – when units in ambush shoot they are not automatically detected until their second shot – this is nicked from Battlegroup Panzer Grenadier.

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