Archive for the 'Mission Command' Category

Mission Command: Normandy – tech

One of the criticisms of some wargames, particularly some miniatures games, is the need for look-up tables. Poring through reams of tables can disrupt the flow of the game. However, with a relatively complex simulation game such as Mission Command: Normandy, we do need to differentiate between various weapon systems, as differences did have a profound effect on historical outcomes.

For ease of play, we provide a range of aids for download from our website. But more than that, we also supply a technical means to look up much of the information on your smart phone. Here’s an example of a Command Card:

21into6_Reverse_CommandCard_forBlog

It happens to be a German one for our scenario 21 into 6 Won’t Go. We wouldn’t expect people to remember the stats for the U304(f) variants here. There’s variants with LMG, with 3.7cm AT gun, 8cm Mortar and FlaK 38. If you don’t have the paper Reference Card for the U304(f) printed out, you can simply turn over the Command Card…

21into6_CommandCard_forBlog

… and use your smart phone camera or QR scanner app. Centre the title of the unit you want to look up in the camera, then slide across to the right, and you’ll find in your screen this information…

U304RefCard_forBlog

 

This is a scrollable PDF (2 pages only for each troop type) that gives standard information. Each scenario we publish has Command Cards showing the units involved on each combatant and Reference Cards with the relevant stats. You’re free to download this information, or to use it electronically direct from the website.

In the case of the U304(f), page 2 of the Reference Card shows:

U304RefCard_p2_forBlog

From this Reference Card information, it’s simple to see that, if your little half-track is behind a hedge some distance from that approaching enemy Sherman, you’re OK, because it won’t spot you unless you open fire. But you cannot seriously engage it from the front (it’s Armour Class 5), even if you have the platoon leader’s version with the anti-tank gun, so you’d better get out of there!

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Salut, mes amis!

Last Saturday saw the regular gathering of friends (or, as it’s wargaming, enemies? Nah, we’re all friends here!) at the Salute exhibition in London’s Excel centre. This year, SSG Wargames and Abbeywood Irregulars teamed up to present Mission Command: Normandy, our WW2 miniatures simulation game that we’ve been concocting since 2017.

So, after more than 10 years of exertion, we have the beta version of our Reference Manual actually printed. I should point out that, although it’s labelled as a beta, it’s near-as-dammit final, just it has black and white inside rather than the full colour that I’m aiming for with next year’s 1st edition pack. The panoply of stuff isn’t just the Reference Manual though. We have on our website a draft of the Players’ Manual, scenario packs (many more to follow over the coming weeks), downloadable chits, area fire templates and Play Aids.

MC_CoverPainting

At Salute, we had a fulsome team consisting of myself, Pete Connew (co-author of Mission Command and all-round knowledgeable chap, as well as effectively head of the Abbeywood Irregulars wargaming group based in Frome, Somerset), Ed Gilhead (shipped over from Hamburg!), Lloyd Carey (an experienced player of MC and other wargames) and Neil Ford (photographer extraordinaire and also experienced wargamer). Having both a demo game table and a trade stand, we split into 2 parts: Neil and myself manning the selling bit, and Pete, Ed and Lloyd demoing.

We’d chosen to demo the famous Villers-Bocage battle of 13 June, which, as every skoolboy know, is Michael Wittmann’s Tiger attack on the 7th Armoured Division. Naturally, most wargamers at the show recognised it instantly from the terrain setup .

TerrainOverview
Terrain overview: Michael Wittmann’s Tiger (and rest of 2/101SS heavy tank company) at the top right; A Coy / 1 Rifle Brigade in half-tracks on the road down towards Villers-Bocage; A Sq / 4 County of London Yeomanry out of sight beyond the top of the pic.

OrdersGroup

British advance guard having a jolly orders group just before Wittmann attacks. Unfortunately, this meant the command elements were mostly separated from the troops, leading to, shall we say, “adverse morale effects”. Note that some tanks of A/4CLY are handily deployed blocking the road, and you can also just make out 1RB vehicles handily queuing up on the road further down.

Bang

Speaking of which … bang. 

DoomApproaching

Looking up the road from Villers-Bocage, doom is approaching. However, though 22nd Armoured Brigade did get beaten this day, the German attack on Villers-Bocage was not entirely successful, and several tanks were lost by both sides in the streets, including Tigers.

For our demonstration, we scripted Michael Wittmann’s attack and provided the option of a continuation for a proper game with more or less historical forces. The scenario is published here: http://www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk/MissionCommand/beta-files/Villers-Bocage.zip. It’s quite possible to play it without the script – the starting position suggests strongly what the Germans should do, but of course implementation always throws up its own challenges. It’s important to get the command, control and communications right, because, although the players have a bird’s eye view of what’s coming, the chaps on the ground do not, and our rules take this into account.

Our demo table was almost constantly occupied all day by 2 or 3 groups of discussions, all very positive. We were slightly less active on the trade stand – but the game sold well, considering its relatively niche position as a simulation game.

We also sold quite a few copies of Northampton 1460Graham Evans‘s excellent board game on that Wars of the Roses engagement. Proceeds to Northampton Battlefields Society.

I was particularly happy to meet up with several members of the Airfix Battles Facebook group for the first time in person. Also worth name-dropping Professor Phil Sabin, who stopped by for a chat. As a Kings War Studies alumnus, it’s always a pleasure to meet up with folks from my alma mater!

Neil took a few excellent photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/smudgypixels/albums/72157689939427650/with/41451973832/

Tony also gave a plug on his daily BGG blog: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/75844/irregular-expression

Mission Command: Normandy – mission accomplished!

MissionCommand

Random design lessons from the front: Contrasting views on flank attacks

During Operation Perch, after failing to push the Germans back from Tilly-sur-Seulles 7th Armoured Division attempted a “daring right hook” through a gap round the left flank of the Panzer Lehr Division. The change of direction of the attack took more than 24 hours and was characterised by a lack of knowledge about what was in front and to the flanks during the new attack. Hinde, the brigade commander, issued orders that the attack be made with all speed – this was transformed into “no time for reconnaissance”, so the advance guard of the brigade (A Company, 4th CLY, rather than the recce Stuarts) moved through Villers-Bocage to Point 213 without checking its flanks (in fact, pretty much not checking what was in Villers-Bocage either). During the engagement Hinde appeared at Villers-Bocage, but not Point 213, then went back to brigade HQ. The Divisional commander and Corps commander were nowhere near the action. Owing primarily to slow execution and lack of reconnaissance 22nd Armoured Brigade was ambushed by the Tigers of 101st Heavy Tank Battalion and after a couple of days was withdrawn from Villers-Bocage back more-or-less to its starting positions.

In contrast, Guderian’s narrative of part of his first action in the Polish campaign: “Messages from the 2nd (Motorised) Infantry Division stated that their attack on the Polish wire entanglements had bogged down. All three infantry regiments had made a frontal attack… I ordered that the regiment on the left be withdrawn during the night and moved to the right wing, from where it was to advance next day behind the 3rd Panzer Division and make an encircling movement in the direction of Tuchel… I decided…that I must visit this division the next morning… I placed myself at the head of the regiment… and led it personally as far as the crossing of the Kamionka  to the north of Gross-Klonia [about 15 miles beyond the Polish front]. The 2nd (Motorised) Infantry Division’s attack now began to make rapid progress.”

The contrast for me in these 2 narratives is striking. We have the most experienced British armoured division making an unsuccessful frontal attack, then, as ordered by Corps, changing their action to a flank attack through a known gap, but executing the attack slowly, badly and failing. The idea of the attack is characterised in accounts frequently as “daring”. Senior British commanders seem to have a very “hands off” approach to command. On the other hand, we have a German commander quite naturally and without fuss ordering one of his divisions to carry out a similar flanking manoeuvre, then personally making sure it’s carried out. The German units were all untested in battle at this stage, as was the commander.

3 aspects of this seem relevant and are borne out in some of our historical wargames: (1) Doctrine matters. (2) Reconnaissance matters. (3) Leadership matters.

Random design lessons from the front: troop representation

It’s comparatively easy to put together a vaguely credible way of representing troops at low level for a WW2 wargame. For example, with Airfix Battles we did a 1:1 representation, so each infantry figure or tank model represents 1 infantry man or real tank. As John Salt has pointed out in an earlier comment on this blog, it is not “at all easy to find out how combat really works at the lowest tactical levels”. However, for Airfix Battles, we were aiming at “credible”, not a simulation, and our approach has been well received; there are some heartening comments on Bob Cordery’s blog here: https://wargamingmiscellanybackup.wordpress.com/category/airfix-battles/, and the Airfix Battles Appreciation Group on Facebook gives us a certain seal of approval.

Modelling stuff at a higher level – by which I mean tactical representation, not making and painting figures – has needed more work, especially if I’m trying to capture a bit of the command, control and communications aspects, while ending up with a playable wargame. Taking company level as an example, a primary difficulty is the extent of articulation in a WW2 infantry company. A company might be highly concentrated in one place or spread thin in defence; it might be focused on where to place its mortars and MGs to support a neighbouring unit, or it might be focusing on all-round defence with its rifle components. Some companies might provide components as attachments to other troops, and some might be acting on their own entirely. The platoon and section/squad structure enables these sublties to be implemented. Providing a single answer to this conundrum is problematic.

Some wargame rules get around this by allowing on-the-fly creation of groups. So, you have a “centre” for a specific command function, typically representing an officer, and all or a proportion of troops within a specified command range can be used. I’m not keen on this type of solution, because it gives the player much more flexibility than the commander on the spot would have had. It also concentrates the leadership function on one area, when leadership and the command of sub-components were dispersed via officers and NCOs. Perhaps it’s more playable, but that type of solution loses some of the essence of command and control for me.

Alternatively, you could implement a representation of the internal structure of the company – platoons, and so on. This has the merit of structural accuracy at the expense of greater complexity.

p9-infantry-deployed-c

German infantry company deployed to attack

Our solution in Mission Command was to represent “the group” as the lowest sized unit that would be given orders, with a group in the Normandy incarnation of the game being a company or squadron – less flexible Soviets might have battalion groups. Even though our groups have multiple elements – with an element being the smallest separately movable item – the elements don’t model the internal company structure. Rather we’re modelling the combat capabilities of the whole company, and we try to reflect differences in the capabilities of groups from different armies in different periods of the war.

p10-infantry-in-defence

British infantry company deployed in defence

There are some implications for players, as you might imagine. It’s quite OK for a player handling a lot of groups to manage each company as a unit without paying unnecessary attention to the details of each element. This is particularly true with broad brush deployments. On the other hand, if you’re playing a small German kampfgruppe, where the positioning of heavy weapons is vital for defence, then you can and should focus on the individual elements and how they fit with the wider group – especially as you almost certainly haven’t got many of them. And you need enough players in your team to handle the size of your force efficiently.

Most importantly, the Mission Command framework allows us designers to focus our attention on the composition of groups within the scenario we’re designing. It’s quite rare that a force will have all its groups straight out of a standard table of organisation and equipment. Variation by scenario is vital to model that portion of reality we’ve put under the microscope. For example, a German panzergrenadier company may “normally” have 3 coherent elements (full sized elements with small arms, LMGs and panzerfausts), with a supporting HMG element and a 8cm mortar element, plus its transports, but it’s easy to vary this overall capability to a more realistic field strength. A 17SS group in Normandy would have integrated elements (just small arms and LMGs), because they weren’t issued with panzerfausts. For most scenarios a German panzergrenadier group might have only 2 coherent elements, or even only 1 with a separate command element and LMG support element, representing the normal coalescing of the infantry around their most effective weapons.

We have a lot of evidence from our games that this approach discourages micromanagement. Players (well, good players anyway) tend to focus on how the group relates to other groups at battalion level and above. There is also very much less tendency to intermingle companies, because that leads to realistic confusion, and elements that become separated from their group suffer bad morale effects. In addition, I’ve found it’s very easy to represent the particular effects of Normandy bocage terrain – simply, each element in bocage but not in a prepared position is immediately considered separated, with all the communications and morale effects that entails; this models well the sense of isolation and lack of support reported by all troops in the bocage, regardless of their company organisation.

Random design lessons from the front: figure scales

A couple of months before Salute may not be the time for this, but why do wargamers focus so much on how it all looks on the table? We’re as guilty as anyone else at our group in Frome, and it’s the same at the Huntingdonshire Wargamers too. Big miniatures, so the paint job looks good. Big scenery, so that it looks pretty. Notwithstanding that the scale of both is all wrong. 15mm figures with a typical wargame tabletop game are outlandishly large. For tanks, depths of the units are huge, even if the frontage is correct, because that’s how the models have to be. Houses and trees are gargantuan size. For Mission Command, we have a ground scale of 1mm:2m, so narrow roads are 60m wide and our narrow streams are like the Rhine in flood.

I’ve recently decided, on grounds of cost, to switch to 6mm for some of my Mission Command stuff (not Frome, because we’re committed to 15mm there). I’ve been surprised that the problem still exists here. The figures and models are better scaled, but the scenery is still massively oversized. 6mm roads are commonly 2 to 5cm in width. Just doing the maths: a popular brand has the narrowest road (called a “narrow dirt road”) with a width of 2cm plus a further 1cm of verges. The widest is the “medium [sic] metalled road” at 3.5cm plus 1 cm of verges. As 6mm is 1/300 scale, these translate to 6m carriageway for the narrow dirt road and a whopping 10.5m for the medium metalled road. Bearing in mind that modern lane widths are approximately 3.5m to 3.75m for major roads, making 7m to 7.5m for a standard 2-lane highway (an A road in the UK), these scaled versions are 50% to 100% too wide. Probably more in fact, because WW2 roads (and more so in earlier periods) were not as wide as modern highways. Just checking my own reality, the B1040 outside my house (a 2 lane medium metalled road) is less than 6m across – at a pinch this could be represented by a 2cm wide piece. But this is not a narrow dirt road.

Oversized terrain in 15mm. The road is supposed to be a narrow road, but the infantry element has a frontage of 100 metres. Also the men will have trouble getting into that church, which is far too small for these figures, though it is about 150 metres long (Notre Dame is 128m long for comparison).

Other scenery in 6mm is not much better from many manufacturers. One leading company I investigated advertised 6mm scenery, but the size was effectively correct for 15mm figures, not 6mm.

Why is this a design problem? In my view, it heavily distorts the wargamers’ perception of scale when playing the game. There’s a tendency to assume a tank model represents a single tank or a single figure represents a single soldier – even if we know, intellectually, that the model represents more than one thing (unless it’s a skirmish game with 1:1 representation). So, shooting at a tank model might “knock out” the tank; but it may represent more than 1 vehicle, so you haven’t actually KOed all those tanks. Similarly, eliminating an element doesn’t represent causing all those guys to be casualties – some may have been killed, some wounded, maybe some captured, but many will have run off, helped the wounded back to safety, got lost, and so on. In fact, looking at tank losses during large engagements – Goodwood springs to mind, as I’ve been delving extensively into Normandy campaign materials – it’s clear that a tank unit can be rendered entirely combat ineffective without having all its tanks destroyed. When 1 of our tank models in Mission Command, representing say 4 vehicles, is removed, this might mean that 1 tank was burnt out, another was seriously damaged (maybe requiring 3rd line workshop repairs out of theatre), another maybe was repairable within 24 hours, and another was pretty much fine, except the crew bailed out, or it made tracks away from the scene. In a later loss report, these might go down as 1 or 2 losses only, depending on how that army recorded such events.

That road on the tabletop also skews our perception of distance. The position in front of my troops can’t be very far, because this (overly wide) road my guys are on is only a foot or so away from it! But a foot may not be close at all – with Mission Command, a foot on the table represents about 600 metres on real ground, and in Normandy an advance of 600 metres could take 3 hours of intense fighting, or even more in the bocage.

For an appreciation of what our toy soldiers are doing, if we’re reflecting reality, we need to be aware of the distortions of scale that our “pretty modelling” portrays.

Rather better 6mm terrain. That single storey farm is about right against this Panzer IV.

Random design lessons from the front: air stuff in a land battle

If your focus is on the land battle, keep the air stuff simple! But on the other hand, do include it!

AirRaids

In our fictional Russian assault on Pleskau/Pskov in June ’44 (April 2017), a bunch of Sturmoviks attacked the inevitable Tractor Factory defended by the Germans. It was quickly apparent that actually using 8.8cm FlaK as AA guns was effective – but how many times do we see flak used entirely in AT role in wargames? In this situation, fields of fire for AT were restricted, so 88s in AT would have been very vulnerable (high silhouette and suchlike), but very good for AA, and later for counter-mortar fire.

Our AA rules are pretty straightforward. All air attacks come at the start of the turn, and have dive, low, medium or high altitude. 88s fire out to horizontal range of 150cm and all altitudes (not interested in high flying heavies!). As standard in Mission Command, roll d20 to hit, if hit then roll d20 for effect. Any aircraft not damaged or destroyed complete their mission. Ground attack uses the same templates as guns, but oriented portrait rather than landscape. Roll for deviation, which is riskier the higher up the aircraft. It’s area fire, so for anything with majority of base under the template roll a d20 for effect.

For simplicity we don’t differentiate between aircraft models, just fighter, fighter-bomber, dive bomber, medium bomber, heavy bomber (though really medium and heavies don’t show). A whole air attack rarely takes more than 5 minutes to do, but can be quite exciting and certainly adds a realistic tension, especially if the deviation is a bit wild; blue on blue *has* happened.

The only difficulty we’ve had is reconciling the feeling that Typhoons should be effective against tanks with the reality that they weren’t as effective as the pilots reported. We’ve settled on using values at the edge between player expectation and actual stats – bearing in mind that German tankers were often more scared of Typhoons than they needed to be, we’ve factored in the fact that some crews abandoned their tanks when under air attack, even if the tanks themselves survived.