In the Western Desert

Our WW2 game in the Western Desert turned out OK on Saturday.  Some players were a little nonplussed, because we allowed the Brits to carry out an extensive turning manoeuvre that placed them in the Italian rear, through the efficacy of placing some more tables.  This was somewhat unconventional, but I’m hoping that players will get used to the idea that the world doesn’t end at the table edge in our historical games.

Interestingly there was virtually no small arms fire in the game, as most elements were engaging at longer than 250m and often at longer than 500m.  Infantry was mostly smoke shrouded, or in the case of the Italians withdrew before enemy infantry could get into range, in order to avoid the Matildas.  The Matildas were pretty much invulnerable, as expected, except to Italian large howitzers, which could kill Matildas and Valentines on a 6 – quite a few 6s were rolled.

There were a few game design and development points to consider as a result of the game.  The concept of Cold Bounds (15 mins) and Hot Bounds (5 mins) certainly speeded up the flow of game time.  With the game starting well before dawn and the first pre-planned action due at 05:30, we still managed to play till 08:45 in game time, nearly 30 bounds done.  If we’d stuck to the traditional 5 minute turns, we would have completed barely an hour and a half of game time.  I think this worked well, because units at the edge of 500m range could decide not to engage (not firing) and force a Cold Bound; a withdrawal would enable their rearward units to catch up.  In a more traditional game, forward units tend to get mixed up in long range action to little effect but expenditure of time and effort.

However, there were some glitches:

  • As all units can attack twice in a Cold Turn (although I failed to change it properly when I dropped the warm bound concept), artillery were able to bombard twice on the same location.  Nobody queried this, but moving units should only be subject to a single bombardment through a beaten zone.  This would possibly have made the Italian artillery a little less effective, though they did have double the normal allocation anyway.  We also failed to implement drift for newly targeted batteries, though actually most of the Italian fire was pre-programmed map fire so didn’t need it.
  • We need a ruling on what happens if a battalion HQ is hit – this may not directly affect companies, except for disruption of communications.  But this still needs handling in the rules, and similarly for higher level HQs.
  • The current rules don’t have an adequate sequence for air attacks, especially during Cold Bounds, so we improvised, allowing CAP to intercept and flak to fire prior to attack runs.  This was fine, so I’ll work it up to a proper sequence.
  • There needs to be greater clarity in the rules on interrupting Cold Bounds – direct fire or movement within 500m makes it Hot; if the latter, then this will immediately make the Cold Bound into a Hot one, with loss of movement rate if not co-ordinated correctly by the phasing player.  This should reflect friction better in a multi-player game, but will require sensitive or at least firm umpiring.

For the next game, I want to have re-written the whole ruleset and hopefully have changed the dicing, so that we just use d10s for consistency.  2d10 would give a useful % feel to it as well.  This will give us the opportunity to review the weapons and armour penetration stats, as well as to consider our new plans for companies: we aim to reflect a company’s capability within its elements, but not its organisation.  So we may decide to have AT capability as a separate element, even though it might be integrated into platoons.

Previous games I’ve done cards for commands, which is too labour intensive.  This time we went the other way and didn’t have enough information about the commands.  The best solution is I think to have a specific play aid that includes only the weapon systems involved in the scenario, plus copies of the whole command structure of their side for each player, so they can see how it all fits together, using standard NATO symbols.  These could be crossed off as losses occur, or players can just rely on the figures.

More preparation time for players is required.  Perhaps we should have a more explicit lead-up to the day, with all details out to players a week in advance to permit planning and recce.  Both planning and recce, if taking place before the actual day, should be finished 2 or 3 real days in advance of the game, so that umpires can adjudicate and tell players what has happened.  There should only be a minimum of decisions by players for this – umpire it within the broad plans of each side.

It would help to have a complete breakdown of the whole sequence of play in detail (a la FoG).  Plus some areas need a bit more work: minefields, particularly clearing them, effect of artillery on them, time to repair, doctrines for laying and marking; effect of artillery on telephone lines needs clarification – I think Stephen was too generous to allow buried lines to survive artillery bombardment with no effect; combat within area effect smoke screens; conversion dice for well-dug-in infantry in trenches (not just slit trenches).

Just realised that I should really have taken some piccies.  Oh well, next time.

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