Last post focused on the narrative, this post will focus more on what we learned, in particular, tweaks required in the Mission Command: Normandy documents.
As you’ll know if you’ve been following my Mission Command posts, we’ve not yet reached the final version of the game. All sessions so far have been play tests, resulting in various tweaks or more far-reaching changes. I’m hopeful that we’re nearing the end of that particular road, and we’ll have a stable beta version later this year. This session threw up a small number of points.
Artillery control boards worked very well. Jerry ran them for the Germans, John for the Canadians. From their notations and looking over their shoulders during play, the boards helped to ensure that time delays for comms and for prep were appropriately handled. John’s thought was to make sure that the C-in-C was centrally involved and received communications, so he ran the artillery himself. This was particularly necessary for the Canadians, who had 6 batteries each, plus 3x 3” mortar batteries. While we didn’t make inclusion of company level mortars compulsory, we’re coming round to that view, especially with a view to controlling the type of ammunition, and possibly a bit more delay when tubes are not ‘on call’.
There were a couple of “umpire glitches” that I find it worth recording, so it doesn’t happen again. Smoke was used a lot in this scenario (our slogan “smoke is your friend” seems to be working!). I was allowing smoke to lift at the end of a whole turn, which, when you think on’t, gives one side quite a big advantage. Our mechanics actually have each smoke screen lifting at the end of either *turn* (even friendly, odd enemy), so that neither side knows exactly when it will lift. Much more equitable, especially on a calm, still day. Secondly I foolishly allowed German counter-battery fire at a rather long range; it’s quite possible this was beyond the range of the German field artillery, so let’s just say this was a battery of mediums.
It’s probably worth noting the effect of our spotting rules, which rely on distance and circumstances, rather than dice rolls. The Puma armoured cars pre-positioned in light woods near Bretteville were able to see advancing infantry at 500m, whereas the Pumas themselves were only visible at 250m (halted in partially obscuring terrain) – of course, when they fired they were visible to all and sundry. It’s worth remembering this kind of thing for effective recce.
The most major point that arose, I think, was illustrated by Si’s panzer force versus the Canadian Regina Rifles. The panzers had skilfully advanced under cover of some light woods to the west of Putot and were confronted by a company of the Regina Rifles retiring from attacking the village, having just been beaten off by the German recce troops there. As the panzers had just moved up, the tanks couldn’t fire in that bound, even though they were very close to the enemy infantry. The Canadian infantry fell back in their bound. While the tanks could then have fired and advanced, there was a little mix up with movement and spotting ranges, I think, and the opportunity was missed or handled incorrectly.
It seems reasonable to assume that in this type of situation, the tanks would conduct some form of overrun attack (getting in amongst or even through the infantry), but current rules don’t permit any friendly element to move onto or through an enemy element. We don’t have a different mechanic for melee or overrun, largely because at very short ranges the normal firing is very bloody. Reaction tests with close up enemy AFVs (within 100m) are taken at -3, and a Retreat result within 100m of enemy AFVs is surrender instead, so it seemed OK on the surface. However, infantry will normally get to move (possibly using both their action) before their reaction check, so they may well move out of sight, or at least out of the 100m range for the “100m of enemy AFV” modifier. Even if they fail a reaction test, they may simply retire and continue to block AFV movement. So this doesn’t quite work.
We have had many discussions about overrun mechanics now, including at our meal on Saturday evening after the game, when toothpicks were taking the place of infantry and tanks. Our current position is perhaps best illustrated by a couple of illustrations:
This example shows a Panzer IV company overrunning some retiring British, much like our failed op during the game. Here the Panzers are carrying out the proposed new “overrun” special action that enables them to move through infantry in the open, then fire at them with MGs. It’s the rough equivalent of a Move Once action followed by a restricted Shoot action (only MGs and only at the overrun element). The overrun also suppresses the target element and any infantry element behind that might have to be displaced. The Panzers have to survive any opportunity fire from overwatching elements – in this case a PIAT team shoots up the left hand tanks. After this, the Brits have an unenviable reaction test at lots of minuses (that’s -1 for each of 5 suppressed elements, -2 for the element lost (3 casualties), -3 for being shot at by AFVs within 300m (changed from 100m to make it more effective), for a total of -10, though they do get +1 for knocking out the vehicles). In Mission Command you roll a d10, then make adjustments. 6 is Obey Orders, 1 is Halt / move to cover, 0 or less is bad. So the British are going to be in a bad way.
This one is even worse for the British. Here the overrunning force is a mixed group of panzergrenadiers and tanks, utilizing the German joint activation capability. Direct area fire has further suppressed the bottom British element. In this case the PIATs were not on overwatch, so the Germans don’t take fire. The British reaction test is further reduced by enemy infantry advancing within 100m, so Retreat or Rout immediately followed by surrender is the likely result. A couple of useful tactical notes: always back up your infantry line with proper depth, including AT guns, to hinder this type of tactic; also, in attack, you can use smoke behind the target line to attempt to isolate it – co-ordination of planning and implementation is essential though.
Finally, we had another breakthrough on the hidden units front. For this game I provided large printed maps of the playing area, upon which teams were encouraged to place the HQ elements of units not yet visible to the enemy – the HQ representing the forward position of the company. This mechanism (with the printouts oriented the same way as the playing tables) worked very very well to indicate the position of hidden units without having to show every single element. As long as you have a spare table for each side, this mechanism is less cumbersome than using dummy markers, and more efficient and accurate than scribbling on small maps.