Archive for the 'Surprised Stare Games' Category

Kingmaker: The Carisbrooke Anomaly

Many older games have little quirks and foibles that would nowadays be smoothed away in the interests of consistency and playability. Kingmaker has some of these. One of my jobs in the re-development of the game for the new version is to identify them and take my knife (and sandpaper) to them.

The Carisbrooke Anomaly: Carisbrooke is a royal castle in the centre of the Isle of Wight. It wasn’t particularly important in the Wars of the Roses, though its existence did discourage French raids. It was held by the Woodville family for Edward IV for a while. It is more famous for its royal occupant at the end of the English Civil War, when Charles I was imprisoned there.

In the original Kingmaker, Carisbrooke was represented by a Crown card with just its name (left), updated for the Avalon Hill/Gibsons version with some graphics (right):

Within the Crown deck, the ownership of royal castles is generally indicated on an Office card, such as the Constable of Dover Castle (for Dover), or the Chancellor of England (for Caernarvon). Except for Carisbrooke. This royal castle, and only this one, has its own specific Crown card with no associated Office. In every respect, except for its picture and fortified location type, Carisbrooke is equivalent to a fortified Town, like, say Southampton. This has the unfortunate side-effect that this type of Crown card cannot be accurately called a “Town card”, because one of them is a castle. As an aside, there’s also Bristol with its own card, though it’s a City not a Town; nothing’s perfect.

I’m experimenting with a resolution of the Carisbrooke Anomaly by removing its current card and introducing a new Office: Warden of the Isle of Wight. This Office would have 50 troop strength and control of Carisbrooke Castle. In addition, it would have a ship, Le Maudeleyn of Newport (Isle of Wight) with a capacity of 150 men. The ship and troops represent the considerable efforts that the crown took to contain piracy in the area, both locally and from across the Channel. Furthermore, to reinforce this anti-piracy role, the Warden of the Isle of Wight is called away by 2 Piracy Events on the South coast.

Here is the new card, not tested as yet:

I’m hoping that this will make Carisbrooke Castle a little more relevant and interesting in the game.

The March of Progress: final artwork

Showing off Klemens Franz‘ artwork and layout!

Rules and scenario booklets

Introductory scenario: hand of cards for Orange player

Age of Marlborough scenario cards

New style of boxes!

Boxes for The Ming Voyages and The March of Progress

From our soon-to-be-finished Kickstarter at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1031232934/the-ming-voyages-and-the-march-of-progress.

There are only 2 Tomatoes…

…and they are Jordi and Alvaro!

Although 2Tomatoes do sell a lot of The Walking Dead products, there is a lot more to it than zombies. 2Tomatoes is a relatively new Spanish publisher based in Barcelona. They have a good range of products, including Belfort, Yokohama and Root, amongst others, mostly localised for Spain and France. We were impressed by their ability to work successfully across companies in different countries with different cultures and to create their own products too.

Our first partnership with 2Tomatoes was for Tony’s excellent Guilds of London, back in 2016.

Cover of the Spanish version of Guilds of London

Then, as with our colleagues at Frosted Games, we embarked on the Pocket Campaigns series, starting with the 2nd Edition of The Cousins’ War. I must admit I didn’t know that the Wars of the Roses would be a popular topic outside the English-speaking world, but it has proved to be welcomed by both Spanish and German players. There is a possibility we may be looking at a French edition too, if we collectively decide to make a third edition.

Now we have embarked on the next phase of the Pocket Campaigns series together, with The Ming Voyages and The March of Progress. Our Kickstarter has funded within 42 hours of its start! This is mainly due to the expertise of Jordi and Alvaro, who have really shown us a thing or two about marketing (not one of SSG’s strong points).

 

2Tomatoes in their own words: “We met at uni and after having adventures more or less all over the world we founded the company with a simple goal in mind: make games that are different, that stand out. We’re very passionate about what we do and we only publish games that we love. It is a lot of work but we can live with the burden. Expect more from us soon…

“We fell in love with The Cousins’ War in the first game. Simple rules yet meaty decisions in a small box for 2 players. It’s not only a great game, but also an amazing product. When we tested The March of Progress & Ming Voyages some months ago we felt the same way. It was an easy decision to make to join SSG Pocket Campaigns series.”

Frosted Games with a cherry on top

As you’ll know from elsewhere in this blog, we at Surprised Stare Games have partnered with 2Tomatoes Games and Frosted Games for our latest presentations, The Ming Voyages and The March of Progress. We’ve had a long association with Matthias and his team. Our serious co-publishing history going back to Guilds of London in 2016, though I think we had some expansions in the inventive Advent Calendar that Frosted produced around that time. Besides their help in bringing our games to the German market, Matthias has also generously helped us, a small UK indie company with no paid staff, to navigate the intricacies of the German VAT system – for which I am personally very grateful!

In 2018, we co-published The Cousins’ War 2nd edition, also including 2Tomatoes, to form our Pocket Campaigns partnership.

CW_gameboard_back_picOnly

More recently, Frosted Games published the German version of:

our solo science fiction game, designed by Tony and illustrated by Alex Lee. But why are Frosted Games special? Well, in their own words:

“Frosted Games is meant to be just that: providing games, that are done to perfection. As you would finish a marvelous cake right up to the frosting. Frosted Games is a small publisher focusing on a select group of excellent games – as long as they are innovative or if their mechanisms are deeply intertwined with their theme. We publish historical highlights like Watergate or expert mindbenders like Cooper Island, but also localize exciting titles like Dawn of the Zeds, Lux Aeterna or Sidereal Confluence. Frosted Games‘ hallmark is excellence in games, both in gameplay as well as in execution.

We love the Surprised Stare Games designs because they combine what we stand for and love: innovative mechanisms wrapped in an enticing thematic coat of history. It is a great way to make history a fun thing and we even have a line for this in Germany called „Playing History“. The Pocket Campaigns are a great addition to this line and we are happy to partner with Alan and Tony.”

Their track record of excellence certainly bears out their aims.

Our Kickstarter campaign for the Pocket Campaigns games The Ming Voyages and The March of Progress went live today.

 

The Ming Voyages and The March of Progress Kickstarter is now live!

It’s the first Kickstarter we’ve done ourselves, so we’re a bit excited!

Here’s the link to the project: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1031232934/the-ming-voyages-and-the-march-of-progress

Additionally, I’ve just updated the online rule books for the games, as an added bonus. These aren’t final layouts with artwork, but they’re very very nearly final text:

The March of Progress rules: http://www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk/MarchOfProgress/TMoP-Rulebook_ForKickstarter.pdf

The March of Progress scenarios: http://www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk/MarchOfProgress/TMoP-Scenarios_ForKickstarter.pdf

The Ming Voyages 2-player rules: http://www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk/Ming/TheMingVoyages_2-playerRulebook_ForKickstarter.pdf

The Ming Voyages solo rules:

Click to access TheMingVoyages_SoloRulebook_ForKickstarter.pdf

Pocket Campaigns in a Can(nes)

SSG is not at The International Games Festival in Cannes in person, unfortunately. However, thanks to 2Tomatoes, our new games The March of Progress and The Ming Voyages are being advertised, so we’re there in spirit!

The Ming Voyages and The March of Progress at The International Games Festival at Cannes. Thanks to 2Tomatoes for being there. And to Bez for the picture.

Our Kickstarter for the games starts on Monday 24 February 2020 at 17:00 UK time.

 

The Ming Voyages: Treasure and Conquest for 2 players

The Ming Voyages is one of our new Pocket Campaigns games. It’s the closest to the first Pocket Campaign, The Cousins’ War. David J Mortimer and I designed it as a different take on the multi-use cards and separate dice-based battle system introduced in the earlier game.

The Ming Voyages box 3D

The Ming Voyages box 3D

The initial idea was that an asymmetric 2-player game would be very interesting, in contrast to simply drawing from the same deck and having identical starting positions. The Ming Emperor starts with 3 cards and draws 2 cards per round creating a hand of 5 cards. The Barbarain Overlord starts with 4 cards and draws none. Players swap hands when each one has played a single card. Then, rinse and repeat.

As in The Cousins’ War, a player can use a valid action in their opponent’s turn, and part of the game is to limit the efficacy of these extra reactions. For the Ming Emperor, the added complication is that only actions keyed to completed voyages – each voyage being numbered – can be used as reactions. For the Barbarian Overlord, the least powerful cards have no useable action at all (they can only be used for 1 Command Point on the Overlord’s own turn), and many reactions are positional, so may not always be available. This is balanced by a number of cards whose power for the Barbarians is increased when the Ming have completed 4 voyages.

Examples of cards from The Ming Voyages, near-final artwork

Examples of cards from The Ming Voyages, near-final artwork

This new system enables each player, particularly the Ming Emperor to seed the opponent’s hand with cards that might contain actions useful to the non-active player as reactions. The thematic background to this idea was that the Chinese, throughout their Imperial history and including during the Ming dynasty, used Imperial personnel, agents, traders, courtiers and ambassadors to penetrate into the ‘lands of the barbarians’ (basically, any non-Chinese was a barbarian). Besides the usual rounds of negotiations and trading relations, the Chinese had networks of spies and gift-giving officials, whose purpose was to discover the aims and intentions of potentially hostile peoples beyond their borders. Gifts of silk and other luxuries were bestowed on chieftains and rulers in order to bind them to the Chinese economy, and thereby ward off aggression; at least in theory. From these historical traits, we developed the notion that only the Ming Emperor draws cards, and they effectively choose within limits what cards the Barbarian Overlord receives. At the least they know what’s in the Barbarian Overlord’s hand. The Ming Emperor can take cards out of the stream of cards given to the Barbarian Overlord by playing cards into their reserve, or by timing the use of cards to minimise the Overlord’s ability to take advantage of actions during the Ming turn. The Barbarian Overlord can also do this, but to a more limited degree, because their hand is only what they’ve received from the Ming.

Although it might seem that the Barbarian Overlord is weaker, in fact, besides the obvious attack cards that enable them to invade and conquer Chinese Borderlands, they have many cards that can impact on the Ming’s ability to set sail on voyages by raiding for gold and by disrupting the ocean-going junks. In addition, only the Barbarian Overlord can use Command Points from their reserved cards to reinforce their normal CP actions. Where a normal CP action can produce an attack of 3 Horde pieces, this can be increased to a potentially devastating 6 Hordes using reinforcements.

The Ming Emperor can win a major and immediate victory by completing all 7 treasure voyages. But pressure from the Barbarians on the borders cannot be ignored, because the Barbarian Overlord can win a major and immediate victory by conquering all 5 Chinese Borderlands. If neither player can achieve their major victory, a minor victory is awarded from the number of voyages completed plus Borderlands controlled (for the Ming Emperor) and the number of voyages not completed plus Borderlands controlled (for the Barbarian Overlord). The Overlord wins a tie, so the Ming Emperor has to be resourceful.

Players operate the battle sub-system with our signature 3 dice each side to resolve invasions and defensive counter-attacks. Rather than bluffing, as in The Cousins’ War, in this version the attacker rolls their 3 dice first, and chooses whether to use reserved cards to re-roll. You can spend each CP on reserved cards for one re-roll of any number of your dice, the target being to get the best triple, double or single that you can muster. Then, once the attacker has finished, the defender rolls their dice similarly, and can also use reserved cards to re-roll. As in the earlier game, a better triple beats an inferior triple, a better double beats a double and a better single beats a single (ties are re-rolled); these result in the loser removing 1 Troop or Horde. However, triples beat doubles, and doubles beat singles – but these are Devastating Blows and the loser removes 2 pieces. Battles continue until only one side occupies the Borderland, so they can be bloody affairs. Of course, as in The Cousins’ War, the luck of the dice can play a part. This wouldn’t be war without a chance element, and you have to take into account in your tactics and strategy that you might unluckily lose or fortunately win.

I hope this has whetted your appetite for The Ming Voyages. If you’d like to know a bit more, Paul Grogan @ Gaming Rules! will be doing a live tutorial and playthrough of The Ming Voyages on Thursday 13 February at 2pm. Please feel free to join us!

The March of Progress: the basics

Here’s a little bit about the basics of The March of Progress, one of our new Pocket Campaigns series games.

The introductory scenario gives you the fundamentals of the mechanics of the game. It’s primarily abstract at this stage; the historical stuff comes in the other scenarios. Each player has a home country card, and between these cards is the neutral country. The maneouvre space is restricted to just these 3 spaces. You start with 1 army each, in your home country, and 2 armies in stock. The neutral country has no armies. Each of your armies is worth 1 combat strength, and your home country can generate 3 VPs whenever you score. The neutral country generates 2 VPs if you control it when you score.

Initial set-up for The March of Progress, Introductory Scenario

Initial set-up for The March of Progress, Introductory Scenario

You have 8 Action cards that enable you to move your armies, attack enemy armies in the same country, recruit new armies, fortify your armies – gaining 1 combat strength in defence -, increase your armies’ strength and finally, score VPs while also returning all your cards back to your hand. Each turn, you each play a card face down, simultaneously reveal the cards, then carry out the actions you’ve chosen in a standard order. Your played cards stay in your discard pile till you play your Score card, at which point you score VPs and get all your cards back into your hand. You can choose when you Score, but you cannot Score unless you have discarded at least 1 other card, so you can’t simply Score every turn.

A key feature of the strategy of The March of Progress is increasing your armies’ combat power. The Strength card enables you to add 1 permanently to all your armies. However, to do this you have to decrease the VP potential of a Country you control. This is a bit like devastating the countryside in order to gain military strength or resources. Ideally, you want to increase your military might by decreasing the VP potential of enemy or neutral countries, not your own, but to do that you’ll likely have to fight, or at least get into the neutral country before the enemy. But you also want to recruit extra armies, which can only happen in your home country, and you want to earn as many VPs as possible from your own and the neutral country, because you win by getting the most VPs. So, there are a lot of choices to make right from the start. Do you advance rapidly into the neutral country with a weak force in order to gain VPs or strength before the enemy arrives? Or do you stay put and recruit, or stay put and strengthen your armies before moving? You only have 1 Recruit card, so before you can recruit your third army, you’ll have to Score – is it worth scoring quickly, but possibly with less VPs, in order to get your third army into play soon? It’s also worth noting that the Strength card that increases the combat strength of your armies only comes into effect after the Attack actions – this reflects the time it takes to deploy new weapons and train with them. So, you might lose a battle with your existing weak army before your new power matures.

A game in progress. As the Blue player has the initiative, they will win the battle in the Neutral Country.

Owing to the multitude of choices that you and your opponent might make, reading your enemy can be a vital part of the game. If you know your enemy is cautious, maybe you can risk a score when they have the option to move, hoping that they will recruit or strengthen their armies, rather than moving into a country you control. But if your enemy is aggressive, maybe you can take advantage by fortifying your armies, and watching the enemy hurl themselves forlornly at your positions. You also need to pay attention to who has the initiative – this can enable you to force the enemy to move first, so you can react accordingly, or even help you to defeat your opponent before they can attack you.

These are the types of choices you’ll need to address in the introductory game. After that, the 4 historical scenarios provide glimpses of the new strategic imperatives from the 18th through to the mid-20th century.

If you’d like to learn more about The March of Progress, Paul Grogan will be running through the game on a live stream video at 4pm on Thursday 13th February. The video will be available online afterwards.

The March of Progress: Marching On!

Thanks to Klemens Franz’s hard work, we now have near-final artwork for The March of Progress, due for launch soon. It’s come a long way since the old days when it was called ‘Politics By Other Means’!

Here’s a picture of WW2 in the West in progress. It’s the biggest of the scenarios, a 2-parter in fact. The Germans start with stronger armies and a better ATTACK+1 card for Blitzkrieg, whereas the Allies can pay to play both their MOVE cards in the same turn, reflecting their potential for greater resources. The Germans have to win both halves to win the scenario, whereas the Allies ‘only’ have to occupy Berlin! The second half of the game introduces German V Weapons and Allied Air Power. This picture includes artwork prior to final layout, so it still has some rough edges – but I hope you get the general glory of it all.

Partly as a result of the development of this scenario, I’m beginning to wonder about the possibility of a World War 2 Total War Pocket Campaigns game!

The Ming Voyages: cards

Some of the cards from Surprised Stare Games’ coming-soon Pocket Campaigns game The Ming Voyages. Near-final artwork.

Size of the cards will be 105mm x 75mm, same as The Cousins’ War 2nd edition.

Artwork by Klemens Franz.

A couple of Pocket Campaigns

Coming soon…

Following on from our Wars of the Roses game “The Cousins’ War” by David J Mortimer, we are continuing our SSG Pocket Campaigns series of small box games with The March of Progress and The Ming Voyages.

The March of Progress (by yours truly) has an introductory scenario The Thirty Years War that sets out the core rules of the game. It uses a limited hand of 8 Action cards per side, ranging from Move to Attack to Recruit. Each player simultaneously chooses 1 card to play each turn, then reveals and carries out the Action. Cards stay discarded until the Score card is played; then, the player regains all played cards and scores VPs. The aim of The March of Progress is to control countries, in order to generate VPs during scoring. The winner is the player with most VPs at the end of the game, unsurprisingly.

There are a further 4 historical scenarios in the box, The Age of Marlborough, Vive l’Empereur, World War 1 in the West, World War 2 in the West. Each scenario changes the set-up and tweaks the rules to give a flavour of strategy in different time periods. The scenarios create a varied and challenging 2-player game with cards, a small number of armies, VP cubes and dice to indicate VP generation and army strength.

The Ming Voyages (by David J Mortimer and myself) is set in the era of the oceanic treasure fleet voyages led by the Chinese Admiral Zheng He. One player is the Ming Emperor trying to complete all 7 Treasure Voyages as well as protecting the Chinese Borderlands from invading barbarians. The other player controls the 3 disparate barbarian factions trying to settle on the Borderlands with China.

The Ming Voyages has a similar approach to The Cousins’ War with multi-function cards for actions or command points. However, it’s asymmetric – only the Ming Emperor draws cards, and the 2 players swap hands at the end of each turn. This means the Emperor knows what’s in the Barbarian player’s hand. The Emperor wins automatically if he completes all 7 voyages. The Barbarian wins automatically if he occupies all the Chinese Borderlands. As in The Cousins’ War, players can exploit out-of-turn actions. Battles can occur in the Borderlands. Here, players use their 3 dice to roll for triples, doubles and singles that are better than their opponent’s rolls. Reserved cards can be used for re-rolls – but if you reserve a card, you don’t get the Action.

We’re currently working on the final artwork for both games. Here’s a sneak peak at The Ming Voyages board (work-in-progress).

Hell on Wheels 2: Frome Big Game for May 2019

Our Frome Big Game for May 2019 was a second version of the Mission Command: Normandy game we ran at Salute – All Hell (on Wheels) Broke Out. It was set in the area south of St Lo on 27 July 1944 during Operation Cobra, the American breakout
from Normandy. The scenario is mostly historical, but simplified for ease of play. The US aim for this stage of Operation Cobra was to break through the German positions south-west and south of St Lo, then strike to Coutances and the coast, thereby cutting off the majority of the German 7th Army and opening the way to Brittany. The German aim was to prevent the breakthrough, and later, to escape the encirclement. In the previous 2 days in the area of the front for the scenario, US 30th Infantry Division had cleared the way for the armoured advance, and the CCA of 2d Armored Division (Hell on Wheels) had broken through due south to Canisy. Now, CCB must create an angle of advance to the south-west and the roads to Cérences and the coast. The scenario starts in the morning of 27 July with leading units of US 2d Armored Division’s CCB advancing from Canisy.

The purpose of the scenario was to set the American players the problem of co-ordinating their forces quickly against a much smaller German force. Historically, CCB more-or-less brushed aside the mixed force of Panzer Lehr that the Germans pushed desperately at them here, then motored forward encountering little resistance for the rest of the day. For our purposes, we modelled the Advance Guard of CCB/2d Armored Division, consisting of a couple of tank companies, supported by 2 companies of armored infantry, 1 of tank destroyers, plus some reconnaissance and self-propelled artillery. It also had fighter-bomber support from P-47 Thunderbolts. To make a game of it, we boosted the Germans a little from their historical forces and gave them a day to dig in – so, only simple entrenchments and a small number of alternative positions. The Americans win if they can exit 3 companies (including 1 of tanks) off the German end of the table within 12 turns (2 hours of game time). This is effectively a 4 kilometre+ advance through the last German resistance and then off into open country.

For the Salute game, the Germans had a few tank obstacles, which had the effect of funnelling the American vehicles. This led to a bottleneck that enabled the Germans to focus their defence. With masterful play from Richard, one of our best MC:N players, the Americans failed to complete their conversion of the breakthrough to a quick exploitation. Holding up CCB would have meant that other components of 2d and 3d US Armored Divisions would have had more work to do. However, the purpose of the Salute demonstration game was to show off the MC:N system and that worked very well.

At Frome, we removed the rather unhistorical tank obstacles, widened the table a bit and modified both sides forces slightly. The Americans gained the rest of the tank battalion – as 2d Armored Div was a ‘heavy’ version, this consisted of a company of Stuarts – and the rest of the Field Artillery Regiment. The Germans gained a StuGIII element.

We had 6 American players, 2 German and myself as umpire. A few players had played at Salute, so knew the scenario. In fact, Richard switched sides to become the American C-in-C, while Lloyd flipped from American to German.

AmericanSetup2

American setup

North is at the top of the board for simplicity! The Americans took note of the cramped nature of their development in the previous game, so their setup involved an infantry and tank company (in MC:N, ‘joint activation’) in the south, a second such grouping in the north, with recce supplied across the full length of the stream, with the Stuarts concentrated also in the north. A second echelon was to be provided by the tank destroyers and various assets of HQ units.

Artillery firepower was concentrated in a regimental force, for smoke (initially) and then for pounding various targets. Though it didn’t cause many casualties during the day, this was because the Germans were not forced to defend in static positions – and the artillery fire did make them move once they had been discovered.

The American recce was extremely unlucky. The Germans had put troops well forward, including their tanks, so some recce were hit as they crossed the stream. Unfortunately, each separate recce group managed to fail their morale tests, so they were largely thrown back and unable to report on the situation till the follow-up troops had already crossed. In fact, this joint infantry and tank group in the north should really have been delayed, owing to lack of the recce information, but it was hit almost immediately by flanking tank fire, so it started to lose Shermans. Therefore, it launched its attack despite the recce failure.

Standing orders from the American players for these experienced troops was always to have significant elements in overwatch to respond to fire. This worked very well and the Germans quickly lost most of their tanks in forward positions… leaving some StuGs as their sole remaining armour component.

Note the knocked out armoured car element in the stream above. In the distance is a knocked out Panzer IV element that had been giving flank fire onto the Shermans, defiladed from attack by the southern group. It was destroyed by the northern group’s overwatching units.

The northern companies ran into entrenched panzerfausts in a patch of brush. Although they inflicted losses, the Germans were relatively quickly overwhelmed. The yellow cubes are suppression markers. Note the empty entrenchment marker next to the panzerfaust element – an HMG element has just legged it, as it could do very little against the armour. The tank destroyer second echelon is just crossing the stream.

DSC_0220

Southern companies advance by bounds

The southern companies advanced swiftly and by bounds against little opposition. The German tanks in the way were fixed on the northern advance and were dealt with by them, leaving the southern units with a relatively clear route.

In the picture above, the 2 leading Sherman elements (representing half a company) have taken up a position on the ridge – they will go into overwatch so the other elements of the companies can pass through to the village just out of shot to the south. Note the mortar elements at the back ready to give support by smoke or HE.

PoundingLeSault

Pounding Le Sault

This is one of my own iPhone pictures to show an overview of the early part of the American advance. Note the good spacing of the tanks in the bottom right of the shot, contrasting with the necessarily bunched up vehicles near the road. If the Germans had had medium artillery, this bunching would have been a problem for the Americans.

The StuG towards the top of the picture has engaged the Shermans with opportunity fire. IIRC, return fire was inhibited, because of the shoulder of the woods. Hence, the importance of supporting artillery and air power – Thunderbolts were used to try to shift the Germans. Although the aircraft didn’t do much damage, they were a concern for the Germans, as it proved difficult to impossible for them to hold their positions. Without time to dig in properly, the Germans were to find it a very hard day.

The village of Le Sault above was being pounded by US artillery. Meanwhile the leading infantry of the southern group was hit by mortar fire – red cube is a casualty, yellows are suppressions. This was a well coordinated advance. If there *had* been opposition here, the Americans were well prepared.

DSC_0232

Another advantage the Americans had was the ever-present Piper Cub spotter plane for the artillery. It was used primarily to continue to report the whereabouts of the StuGs, which therefore had to keep moving (largely back) to avoid reprisals from aircraft or artillery. Under MC:N rules, the spotter plane can stay in the air for 6 turns, so this was half of the game. It would have been vulnerable to antiaircraft fire, but in this scenario the Germans only had MGs and preferred to remain concealed. 2cm auto-cannons would have probably discouraged this brazen Piper Cub.

DSC_0236

Taking the center

Part of the northern group of companies flooded over the raised ground in the centre, accepting some light casualties, primarily from mortar fire. Personally, I would have been a little more circumspect, but fortunately the Germans were unable to respond with an artillery strike (they had only 1 battery of Wespe, and limited ammunition).

DSC_0237

The final ridge

The final ridge contained the main concentrated German infantry force – a single coherent element (in MC:N, this type has integrated MG and panzerfaust – this unit also has a command function).  An attempt to overrun it with half-tracks failed. It might have been better to have simply shot it to bits, but as speed was of the essence, I think an overrun attempt wasn’t a terrible idea. Note that it has now been suppressed thoroughly; each suppression is -1 on its chance to hit. As it is surrounded, it’s likely to surrender (in MC:N, if an element is forced to retire or retreat with no clear route, and enemy is within 5cm (100 metres), then it surrenders).

DSC_0242

Smoke at the enemy position

This smoke (above) was used to prevent the StuGs from engaging the Americans in the centre. It’s good practice to put the smoke close to the enemy position, to minimise their field of fire.

FinalAdvance

Final position

By the end of the game, the American infantry and tank companies in the south had exited to the left (west), to continue the exploitation with no resistance ahead of them. They were quickly joined by the tank destroyer company to confirm the American victory. Only mopping up remains to be done, while the StuGs will pull back north and west to try to fight another day. Note the empty abandoned entrenchments over the battlefield.

The last action of the game was a massive bombardment of the woods to the bottom left of the picture. As luck would have it, this was the exact position of the German kampfgruppe. They managed to flee with only light casualties; it could have been much worse.

For a more historical version of this game, keep the Americans as indicated, but remove the German’s StuG element, give them no alternative positions and no proper tank positions. It’s important then to focus very much on American command control. We now prefer to separate the C-in-Cs from the tabletop, so they have rely on subordinates to tell them what’s going on.

Pictures: mainly from Neil Ford’s excellent work.

Mission Command: Normandy – notes from the front, 5

Blowing Hot and Cold

A key concept in Mission Command is that of a hot situation or a cold situation. Our reasoning is that when it gets “up close and personal”, troops react differently. There’s a strong tendency to keep down, to remain out of sight as much as possible, and generally to avoid being targeted. So, this leads to some changes in actions that troops can take.

A situation is defined as “hot”, if there’s a visible enemy within 25cm or you are shot at within 25cm. This is 500 metres on the ground, so danger is imminent. In some circumstances, you can be shot at within 25cm without being able to see the firing element sufficiently to return fire – you know that they’re “over there”, but cannot pinpoint the fire. You’re still hot. If 1 element in the group is hot, the whole group is hot. Otherwise, the situation is cold.

To understand what this means in practice, it helps to know what you can do with the elements under your control. An element has 2 actions in a turn, unless it’s suppressed, in which case it gets only 1 action. The main actions are things like Move, Shoot and Communicate, and there’s also a bunch of specialist actions like Hedgerow Gapping, Overrun, Demolitions and so on. There are some important restrictions on when an action can be carried out. For example, a Shoot action is only a first action. This means that it’s Shoot then Move, if you want to do both in 1 turn. In this case, the firing element will take a -2 modifier on the firing, representing the reduced time spent shooting because it’s also moving in the time period. So, it’s best to do some forward planning with your elements. Moving in 1 turn, then setting up in Overwatch in the next turn, will enable your forces to immediately engage an enemy group with fire when it comes into view, for example, by moving or by firing itself and thereby revealing its position.

In a cold situation, an element can Move Twice (capital M, capital T) as 1 action. This means it moves up to 2 times its normal movement rate in 1 action. It can then do another Move Twice action as its second action, resulting in it moving 4 times its normal movement rate in 1 turn. An infantry element has a normal movement rate of 5cm (100 metres on the ground), so in a cold situation it can move up to 20cm or 400 metres. This enables us to overcome a common wargame difficulty that troops are fixed to a single, usually relatively low “combat movement rate” regardless of the actual circumstances. As a contrast, in a hot situation, our infantry element cannot do Move Twice actions, but only Move Once actions. It could therefore move up to 10cm or 200 metres in a single turn (2 Move Once actions), half the rate when it’s cold. But doing 2 Move actions in a single turn counts as moving fast, which makes the element more vulnerable to fire, so a more cautious movement is to do a single Move Once action in the turn. Furthermore, if the element has been shot at and suppressed – a relatively common occurrence – it only has 1 action anyway, so can only carry out 1 Move Once action, for 5cm or 100 metres in 1 turn.

Communication is a vital part of Mission Command, and is carried out through Communicate actions. It’s worth noting here that, with only 2 actions, an element cannot Shoot, Move and Communicate in the same turn – you have to choose. In a cold situation, Communicate can be a first action, a second action, or conceivably both. An element receiving a new order as its first action can then start to do it as its second action. However, in a hot situation, troops are more keen on staying alive than communicating, so Communicate can only be the last action of the 2 actions allowed for the element. So, it’s slower to change orders, report back or share information when bullets are flying round your head. This includes Forward Observation Officers in particular, as it can slow down calling in artillery support.

We give numerous examples of hot and cold situations in the Reference Manual and in the Playing Mission Command: Normandy supplement.

p25_tanksSmoke

A bit of a hot situation

Mission Command: Normandy – notes from the front, 4

21 into 6 Won’t Go

hh:mm, 6 June 1944

The evening for the Germans has been unpleasant. Although our weather experts had suggested that the invasion was possible during 5 and 6 June, the weather hasn’t been particularly good, so we hadn’t really anticipated it. Some of our troops had even been on exercises overnight, with blank ammunition. The waiting was expected to continue, and everyone has been enjoying the Normandy butter, cheese, ‘crème freche’ and cider.

05:30 variant: From soon after midnight, local commanders received reports that paratroopers were dropping and gliders were landing in the area of operations. All units were alerted, and local resistance ‘in situ’ was ordered. Very soon the first prisoners were taken. Interrogation has revealed that the British 6th Airborne Division jumped during the night in order to take the bridges over the Orne at Ranville intact. In addition, paratroops have been reported from near Bayeux through to the Seine estuary, with many obviously targeting bridges across the Dives. It’s not yet clear whether this is a raid or the start of the invasion.

It is now 05:30. General Feuchtinger (CO 21st Panzer Division) has been in Paris for a few days and has not yet returned. Unfortunately the Division’s chief of staff is also away, so the Division’s overall leadership has not yet got a grip on the situation. Fortunately Rommel at Heeres Gruppe B HQ has acted quickly, has placed the 22 Panzer Regiment commander (Oberst Oppeln-Bronikowski) in temporary command and given direct instructions to the more junior staff at post. Rommel himself is expected at Divisional HQ in St Pierre sur Dives shortly. Combat formations of 21 Panzer Division have set up all round defensive positions during the night, and have started local counter-attacks. Our standing orders are to go into action immediately in the event of an airborne landing, using all available local forces, and including the whole division. In the absence of Feuchtinger, Rommel, via 7th Armee, has attached the Division to 84th Korps (General der Artillerie Erich Marcks) and ordered it to attack the airborne troops in its area, including in particular those around the Orne bridges to the north and those threatening Caen and the Dives bridges.

10:00 variant: As paragraph 1 in 05:30 variant above, then…

Fortunately, Rommel had managed to persuade Hitler that a face-to-face conference initially planned for early June should wait, so the German high command has been able to get some grip on the situation. Unfortunately, communication with Heeres Gruppe B during the night has been disrupted, and orders for a night attack had not been given. So 21st Panzer Division had set up a defensive front during the night and early hours of the morning, while the coastal division (716) has been subjected to extreme assault. General Feuchtinger has been in Paris for a few days, but has returned immediately on receipt of news of the attack. He has received orders from Rommel to organise an attack by the entire Division against the easternmost beaches and the airborne forces to the north. It is now 10:00.

Historical variant: As paragraph 1 in 05:30 variant above, then…

“Gradually we were becoming filled with anger. The clearance for an immediate night attack, so as to take advantage of the initial confusion among our opponents, had still not come… The hours passed. We had set up a defensive front where we had been condemned to inactivity… But clearance was strictly denied… If Rommel had been with us instead of in Germany, he would have disregarded all orders and taken action… Finally, [we’ve been ordered] to attack at once, with the whole division, east of the Orne…” [from Panzer Commander, The Memoirs or Colonel Hans Von Luck]

But now new orders have come from 7th Armee: “The bulk of the 21st Panzer Division will attack the enemy forces that have landed west of the Orne; only elements of von Luck’s combat group will attack the bridgehead east of the Orne.”

It is now 16:20 (!) and the attack starts.

Frankreich, Rommel bei 21. Pz.Div.

Rommel inspects the 21st Panzer Division

The purpose of this scenario, or rather set of scenarios, is to give some insight into the tactical situation facing the 21st Panzer Division and British 6th Airborne Division on 6 June 1944. As there is more coherent information about what happened on the eastern side of the Orne around Ranville than the western side around Bénouville, I’ve focused most of the action on the Ranville side. With up to 4 players per team, we recommend that the forces should consist of around a Brigade or so; roughly 2 to 4 battalions plus supports. Historically, Von Luck’s kampfgruppe (east side of the river) consisted of:

  • 4th Company, Panzerregiment 22 (Kortenhaus’ outfit, which is one reason his book covers this in some detail; see Notes from the Front 3)
  • 2nd Battalion, 125th Panzergrenadier Regiment
  • 9th and 10th companies
  • 3rd Company, 125th Panzergrenadier Regiment
  • Assault Gun Battalion 200
  • Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion 21 (though this didn’t arrive till after midnight, so can effectively be discounted)
  • Elements of 716th Infantry Division

The British had 5th Parachute Brigade. On the eastern side of the Orne, this consisted of 12th and 13th Parachute Regiments, plus D Company, 2nd Battalion, the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry, who had taken the bridges in the night. Plus supports. This, again, provides a solid set of forces for up to 4 players. With more players, it’s relatively easy to add in a small force on the western side of the bridges; 7th Para Regiment for the British and some companies from 192nd Panzergrenadiers, including their 8th heavy company for the Germans.

Both parachute battalions were comparatively weak early on, but later in the day they got stronger as more paras rallied to the drop zone. Therefore, it’s important to increase the parachute battalions’ starting strengths when playing later variants. For example, 3rd Company of 13th Regiment was dropped wildly astray, so this unit can either be omitted entirely or included as a fairly random late reinforcement.

One of the important things to bear in mind in this set of scenarios is that the British forces here are by no means the lightly-armed troops surrounded by masses of Panzers that legend would have us believe. Supporting forces included a strong battery of AT guns landed by glider that we represent by 3 6-pounder models and 1 17-pounder model. The paras also have access later in the day to 3 25-pounder batteries of the 76th Field Artillery from 3rd Infantry Division, as well as 6″ and 4″ naval gun support from HMS Mauritius. The naval guns are the equivalent of 4 medium artillery models and 2 field artillery models. So, from mid-morning at the latest, 5th Parachute Brigade will be able to use as much artillery firepower as the whole of 21st Panzer Division’s complement. However, in the earliest time variant, this firepower will not be available at the start.

HMS_Mauritius_firing

HMS Mauritius firing

Both the inaccurate drops of the paras and the disparate left behind elements of 716th Division can be modelled by the use of pre-written Event Cards. These can be pre-programmed as timed “injects” into the scenario, or used through the umpires judgement to spice things up. A further fun event that we’ve used is the intervention of the German navy, as depicted in this photo (in contrast to the one above).

GermanNavyInAction

German gunboat on the Caen Canal – 6 June 1944

Details of 21 into 6 Won’t Go are on our website.

Mission Command: Normandy – Update on production

The Reference Manual is now being printed! Copies should be here in less than a week. A second proof of the Playing Mission Command: Normandy supplement is due shortly, then I’ll press the button on that one as well. I needed a second proof because I’ve made a few last-minute additions I’d like to check on paper.

The lead times have always impressed me (I’m easily impressed!) about producing wargames rules, rather than my more usual board games. With the wargames books, once the layout is done, I can have copies here from Lulu within a week (sometimes quicker), whereas making board games – wooden pieces, much cardboard, cards, rulebook, and so on – can take up to 10 weeks from a UK or Europe manufacturer, not to mention further flung factories. Even a small card game can take 4 weeks, though a print-on-demand outfit can be quicker.

What do you get in our Mission Command: Normandy package? The Reference Manual and the players’ supplement are full-colour inside and out A4 paperback books. In addition, we have lots of support materials – scenarios, chits, area fire templates and play aids – available for free download from our website (http://www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk/MissionCommand/).

The Reference Manual is 128 pages long, aimed at umpires, those running or organising games and keen players. In addition to the sections you’d expect about the rules (sequence of play, actions, command, terrain, movement, shooting, spotting, morale and air), it has a section on how to umpire the game, including how to write your own scenarios. It has extensive tables at the back for reference, plus some sample unit organisations. The umpires section has an introductory scenario for umpires to use as an introduction to new players.

Playing Mission Command: Normandy is the supplement for players. It’s 80 pages long and is aimed at introducing the game, but without overwhelming players with the technicalities. It’s focused very much on getting inside the game quickly and easily. However, it’s not absolutely essential to read or own the book to play the game – it’s a helping hand. The introductory scenario in the Reference Manual is repeated here, but naturally only the material for players is included, and there’s a wealth of information about how to get started. The book also has sections on how to fight using the three main national forces in Normandy, the British and Commonwealth, US and German armies. We’ve focused on differences between these armies and how they’re reflected in the command, control and communications setup. The final part of the book is a fairly extensive example of combat, for which we’re also producing a video.

All this means that we’ll be ready for Salute in just over 3 weeks time! Now, where’s that scenario I’m writing…

Mission Command: Normandy – notes from the front, 3

21st Panzer Division, neu

An early part of my research into Normandy ’44 for the game was to look at 21st Panzer Division. As the closest Panzer division to the beaches, I figured it was a reasonable place to start, especially in the light of the controversies  – or discussion points at the very least – about the division’s D-day counter-attack. I thought it might be an idea to present a multi-variant “what-if” set of scenarios looking at this. It also meant I could indulge in getting hold of models of some of those French conversion vehicles produced by Major Becker’s workshop; the U304(f) half-tracks, Hotchkiss tank chassis with PaK 40, the 10.5 and 15 cm guns on Lorraines, and so on. This mini-project was assisted greatly by the publication of Werner Kortenhaus’ history of the division, initially in German and later in English. This source gives authoritative details of the strength and deployment of the division, so could form the basis of the scenario from the German point of view. There are, of course, loads of books in English on the British, Canadian, French and Polish units.

21PzDiv-PzGr-125-1-1Ko-3

Most of a “gepanzert” Panzergrenadier company

Representing these units for 6 June 1944 in Mission Command: Normandy isn’t particularly difficult, though some care is needed in regard to some of the French converted vehicles and the tanks of II/Panzerregiment 22. At this point the division was pretty much wholly up to strength; there’s even a 1 June strength return to refer to. A Panzergrenadier company looks like this in our command card structure:

  • Coherent infantry element with command
  • 2x coherent infantry elements
  • HMG element
  • 4x U304(f) half-track elements
  • U304(f) half-track element with 3.7cm gun
  • U304(f) half-track element with 8cm mortar (with support element for dismount)

The “coherent” elements each have small arms, LMG and Panzerfaust capability and can fire 2 of these 3 weapon systems each turn. Most U304s had a forward-firing LMG mounted on it and a further pintle-mounted one on the back, and this multiplies up the number of MGs in the company considerably. Also, these French conversions (the original vehicles were unarmoured, the German ones are armoured) count as small vehicles, so they’re slightly harder to spot. Theoretically the vehicles can give supporting fire. However, that’s a dangerous practice, because they are very vulnerable. They have only Armour Class 1 (the weakest class) and can be knocked out by almost any AT weapon that hits; even an HMG has a 50% chance up to 300 metres away. The LMGs on the half-tracks were often used to supplement the AA defence of the battalion, which consisted of 3 2cm FlaK 38 mounted on half-tracks. The 3.7cm gun model (at the back in the picture above) represents the platoon leaders’ vehicles. I suspect the 3.7cm gun wasn’t used much at this stage of the war. The mortar could be used from the vehicles, or the element can dismount and use it conventionally.

21PzDiv-PzGr-125-1-1Ko-5

Close-up of the U304(f), converted French Unic P107

The full Panzergrenadier Battalion has 3 of these companies, plus a 4th heavy company with PaK 40 guns on Somua half-tracks, plus the U304s with FlaK 38. Unusually, the first battalion of each of 125th and 192nd Panzergrenadier Regiments was “gepanzert”, the other 2 battalions were lorried. The Regiments also have a 9th company with 15cm guns on the Lorraine tractor and a 10th company with “Reihenwerfer” (20 French mortar tubes on the Somua half-track). The other artillery pieces of the division are mainly 10.5cm field guns on the Lorraine tractor, with a smattering of horse-drawn (!) 122mm Russian guns.

21PzDiv-125-1-advancing

Panzergrenadier Regiment advancing; Reihenwerfer and 15cm guns on Lorraine tractors at the back

The tanks of Panzerregiment 22 are quite interesting. While initially the division wasn’t allowed to have German equipment, hence the French conversions, by June 1944 the division had been strengthened by replacing obsolete French tanks with Panzer IVs (not Panthers and Tigers as Allied intelligence surmised). Incidentally, the reconnaissance battalion was equipped, I think entirely, with German vehicles, probably because there were no suitable or reliable French equivalents. The 1 June strength return suggests that the whole of the 1st battalion of Panzerregiment 22 was equipped with Panzer IVHs, while the 2nd battalion still had only about 40% Panzer IVs, the rest being a mix of Somua S35 and Hotchkiss H38 vehicles. On the other hand, there are references to the rest of 2nd battalion having Panzer IVs “in June”, so I like to think that a couple of companies of Panzer IVs were rushed to the regiment at Falaise still in their factory paint jobs! There seems no evidence that the French tanks of the division were used in anger, which must have been a relief to the crews.

Our representation of Panzerregiment 22 would be as follows (roughly 4 real vehicles to each model):

Regiment HQ: Panzer IVH + Panzerbefehlswagen III (command)

1st Battalion

  • Panzer IVH + Panzerbefehlswagen III (command)
  • 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th Companies: 4 Panzer IVH

2nd Battalion

  • Panzer IVH + Panzerbefehlswagen Somua S35 (command)
  • 5th: 2 Somua S35, 1 Panzer IVH
  • 6th: 3 Somua S35, 1 Hotchkiss H38, 1 Panzer IVH
  • 7th: 3 Somua S35, 1 Panzer IVH
  • 8th: 2 Panzer IVE (with short 7.5cm gun)

Or, replace the Panzerbefehlswagen Somua S35 with a Panzer III and all obsolete tanks with Panzer IVH; for the 6 June scenarios, paint them with the dark yellow factory paint only and no camouflage, presuming the crews had no time to paint them up properly.

More about the scenario next time.

Mission Command: Normandy – notes from the front, 2

Scales

One of the first questions I hear from fellow wargamers is often “What scale (of miniatures) is it for?”

As a member of the “cardboard chits are fine” school of wargaming, I’m not offended by the use of unpainted figures on the tabletop, or the use of a block of wood with “Sherman” scribbled on it for a tank . I’m not really concerned about over-sized or under-sized models, or whether a piece of cloth can adequately stand in for a cornfield. So, as you might suspect, the design of Mission Command is not focused on a particular scale of figures. Instead, it’s basing that is important; not absolutely vital, but important.

We use 50mm frontage bases for full-size infantry elements, and around half that for reduced-size support elements. This means you can use troops from various other popular game systems. The full-size infantry elements have 5 or 6 figures, the reduced-size support elements 2 or 3; these are just for ease of recognition, so you could use other numbers of figures on the bases. With a 1 millimetre to 2 metre ground scale, this gives us an infantry element of 25 to 50 men a frontage of about 100 metres. A closed up company group could have a frontage of, say, 200 metres on the ground, while it could be extended, with up to 5cm gaps between elements to maintain communications, to about 500 metres, and even more with fixed line communications. The important thing is that players can readily see what the stuff represents. Similarly with vehicles. Frontage for vehicle models, each model representing 2 to 5 real vehicles, is 25mm to 30mm. Depth of bases isn’t critical.

Main Attack

The fairly minimalist approach to visuals

We don’t track time accurately. This is quite deliberate, because we were conscious of that “hurry up and wait” feeling expressed by many in combat; not much happens for a long time, then it all happens at once. So, a round (1 turn per side) is a variable length anywhere between 2 or 3 minutes up to a quarter of an hour. If the scenario requires people to know about durations, we use an average of 10 minutes per round. Interestingly, this gives us real time and game time at about the same pace in a moderately sized game with experienced players.

How to model infantry organisation was a bit of a challenge. We wanted to show different weapon types, so that decisions on where to deploy troops was important, but we didn’t want to overload players with micro-management. Our compromise was to make a “group” of elements of company size the smallest unit that would normally receive orders. This meant we didn’t need to model organisational structures below company level (platoons, and so on), but we could show the firepower capabilities of a company, together with its resilience. In addition, players can quickly “do the same thing” with all the elements in a company for speed of play. We have the full-size infantry elements with small arms and integrated LMG firepower (together sometimes with anti-tank, such as bazookas), and the reduced-size with only 1 weapon type, LMG, HMG, PIAT, flamethrower and so on. The larger element has the ability to absorb 3 casualties, then be replaced by a reduced-size element. These smaller “support” elements can only absorb 2 casualties. This means that in total a company group can absorb between 15 and 20 casualties. In contrast, a tank squadron would be about 4 models, each 1 representing 2 to 5 real vehicles. But each hit destroys a model, so armoured vehicle elements have a lot of firepower and manoeuvrability but little resilience, so they can’t really hold ground.

Gun elements are similar to tanks, 2 to 5 real ones per model, usually with separate vehicle tows represented by vulnerable vehicle models. Aircraft too are the same numerical scale as tanks (2 to 5 per model), but pretty much any physical scale will do – they’re up in the air after all.

In essence, the purpose of the figures and models is simply to represent the real thing, such that a participant can recognise what they are (though a German tank can always be represented by a Tiger till it can be seen close-up!). The game is not prescriptive about cosmetics, though we do try to make it look good for exhibition games.

A tanker's eye view from our Villers-Bocage scenario at Salute 2018. Courtesy of Neil Ford.

One of my favourite pictures. A tanker’s eye view from our Villers-Bocage scenario at Salute 2018. Courtesy of Neil Ford.

Oh all right… we normally use 15mm figures, because that’s what our main Frome group of players generally wants to use for WW2. However, I also recommend using 6mm figures, because its much cheaper.

Mission Command: Normandy – notes from the front, 1

The full colour, final published release version of Mission Command: Normandy will be launched on 6th April 2019 at Salute in the London Excel centre. It’s been many years a-coming; my archives go back to 2007, and our first game approximating to Mission Command took place on 5th April 2008. In recognition of this very long gestation period and the release of the final Reference Manual and Playing Mission Command: Normandy players’ guide, I’m writing a few blog posts to describe the game.

Mission Command: Normandy Reference Manual cover

Reference Manual cover

In short, Mission Command is a system for umpired World War 2 tactical and operational level simulation-style wargames using miniatures. It’s designed by myself and my brother-in-arms Peter Connew. Pete leads the Abbeywood Irregulars, a now Frome-based wargamers group. Both of us have been playing and designing wargames for several decades in a variety of periods. Although we’ve played the Mission Command system across several theatres – mainly late war Normandy and Eastern Front, but also dabbling in the North African theatre with our late friend Stephen Welford – when we decided to publish something, we focused on Normandy 1944. This was largely because we’d played more games in this theatre than any other, and we had ready access to figures and interest from our compatriots in the Abbeywood Irregulars.

Part of our reason for starting and finishing this project was that we (and our fellow Frome-ish wargamers) were dissatisfied with the then-existing WW2 miniatures rules back around 2007. This is, I hope, reflected in our stated Mission Command approach, which:

  • captures the essence of tactical and operational combat command from roughly company level to division level without real warfare’s bloodshed, fear, death and destruction
  • models the differences in how different armies fight
  • reflects World War Two practice of tactical and operational command, control and communications.

Looking back at a designer diary I wrote back in 2015: “We favoured gritty realism over slick presentation, and historical authenticity over ‘hollywood wargaming’. We weren’t afraid of weighty tomes (for Napoleonics, our favoured rules were General de Brigade), nor did we shy away from excessive versioning or as some might put it, correcting, of published rule sets (DBM with slips of amendments stuck in was favoured over the more professionally presented Field of Glory).” So, we were prepared to go for more of a simulation approach than most modern wargames, while still retaining the idea of a “fun, but serious” experience.

The Mission Command system is not a “professional wargame”. It’s not been designed with the education and training of military people in mind, nor for the purposes of analysis, and therefore it lacks explicit evaluation and debriefing sections. The game system can, I believe, be readily adapted through scenario design to more educational or analytical purposes, and we do try to “offer a safe, vicarious reflection of some of the situational and decision dynamics associated with armed conflict” (Professor Phil Sabin, Connections UK, 2013). We hope that our umpires and players might learn something, as well as participating in an enjoyable and challenging wargame.

Mission Command addresses a problematic command level for wargames, namely between battalion and division. So, it doesn’t have only a small number of troops, as in a skirmish game, and neither does it go up the scale sufficiently to abstract out the difficulties of different troop types and their interplay. Quite the opposite: we attempt to take on the difficulties of command, control and communications (as well as the mechanics of moving the troops around and shooting at things) at the level where there is immense articulation of units, and where local tactical success might be converted into operational achievement. Regarding the complexity of this task, we worried about throwing the baby out with the bathwater, something that we fear can happen with wargames that over-simplify combat at this level for reasons of playability. On the other hand, we naturally wanted a playable game, so we’ve simplified things where necessary in an attempt to keep the baby in the bath, while reducing the water to manageable levels. Ahem.

In terms of playing Mission Command: Normandy, it’s all about scenarios. While the Reference Manual gives the umpires or other game organisers guidance on setting up and running the game, and the Playing Mission Command: Normandy supplement describes the game for players, the experience of a specific game lies in the historical or pseudo-historical scenarios designed for it. Some of these are available on the Mission Command website, and others will be designed by other groups. Our hope is that the processes of designing, playing and reflecting on these scenarios will lead participants to a greater understanding of combat in World War 2.

Oh, and if you’re at Salute in April, do drop by and have a chat; we’re at GC15 for our demo game, and TC16 for our trade stand.

The Cousins’ War: bigger and better roses

The Cousins’ War is Surprised Stare Games’ 2-player game of the Wars of the Roses. It was designed by David J Mortimer, who showed it to me in 2016. I was immediately struck by the elegance and depth of the game – such a lot of game in what was almost a micro-game format: 18 cards, 3 dice, a small board and 27 cubes. I really liked the theme too, as I’ve studied a lot of military history, and I’m a wargamer. So, I persuaded Tony (relatively easily I would say) that we at Surprised Stare Games should publish it.

The original edition was launched at UK Games Expo in June 2017. It came in a small box with beautiful artwork by Klemens Franz and was printed by NSF in the Netherlands. We weren’t sure how well it would sell, as it was a bit different from, not only other SSG products, but also from conventional micro-games or wargames. The Cousins’ War combines both the depth of multi-use action card play with secondary actions usable by your opponent, as in Twilight Struggle, and also a bluffing dice game – like Liar’s Dice – for the battle at the end of each round. The whole fits together very neatly, providing interesting and challenging decisions and a little dose of luck, with the additional advantage that it takes only about 30 minutes or so to play. The cards are highly thematic and the battles too feel very appropriate to the period with bluff and counter-bluff playing the parts of feint and treachery.

The Cousins’ War proved to be very popular. Not only did we sell large numbers at UK Games Expo, but lots of shops in the UK sold large numbers too. We had multiple re-orders very rapidly from multiple shops. By October we’d almost sold out, and we sold the last copies at Essen Spiel ’17.

Rather than immediately re-printing the original game, we decided to produce a new second edition with our international partners: Flying Lemur Game Studio in the USA, Frosted Games in Germany and 2Tomatoes in Spain. Producing more copies reduced the unit costs and made the game more viable commercially. These savings also enabled us to meet the new market demands: the small size of the original game was not good for the additional markets – a larger-sized box is easier to sell, and it enables us to show off the artwork to much better effect.

cw_gameboard_back_piconly

So, over the next few months, The Cousin’s War second edition was born. We retained all the strengths of the first edition: the artwork is basically the same, the rules in essence unchanged, so it is largely the same game. It’s also larger.

We turned the box art round, so that it is portrait orientation for a cleaner style. The larger box meant we could produce a larger board – much easier to handle the cubes on it; and on the reverse we have space for the full panorama of Klemens’ original artwork. The cards are about 50% larger, so that the text is easier to read, and the play aid card was completely re-designed to make it clearer. While the rules remain the same in principle, we took the opportunity to ask Gaming Rules! expert Paul Grogan to go through them with a fine-toothed comb. Klemens re-worked the layout on the larger pages, so now we have an excellent set of rules with many more examples of how to play. Finally, we could afford to produce better quality dice, so the new game sports 3 white-with-red-spots for the Yorkists and 3 red-with-white-spots for the Lancastrians.

Shortly after the launch of the first edition, we produced the Events expansion – a small number of additional thematic cards to change the game in a minor way each round. For the new edition, we have integrated this expansion into the main game as the Times of Change expansion. The Times of Change adds an extra level of replayability.

The Cousins’ War 2nd edition was launched at Essen Spiel ’18 and has been very well received. We aim to follow up The Cousins’ War’s success with more small games in the future; we have several more little gems in the pipeline.


In addition to Surprised Stare Games for the UK, The Cousins’ War 2nd edition is available from:

 

The March of Progress (was Politics By Other Means): ACW scenario

My 2-player micro-game on strategic aspects of war has changed its name from Politics By Other Means, adjudged too esoteric, to “The March of Progress” (new title courtesy of Charlie, my wife).

In addition, I’m now extending it with another scenario, so that we have a better progression – there was a gap for most of the 19th century. Now we have 18th century Limited War to Napoleonic, then American Civil War (the new one), through World War 1 and finally to World War 2. As there is an Introductory Scenario too, that’s 6 scenarios, which I think is plenty for a micro-game.

Each scenario has various tweaks to make the strategy appropriate to the period. The new ACW one will probably be tweaked so that players start with Economic Points rather than VPs and lose them when they get their cards back by playing the Score card. The Confederacy can start with fewer Economic Points, so they want a quick war (ending by taking Washington quickly), while the Union want a longer affair so their economic muscle can take effect. That’s the overall concept; much work to do on bringing this scenario to fruition.

In the meantime the Napoleonic scenario has been tested a lot more, and is very nearly finalised. Napoleon now gets an extra attack point for each French army he’s using to attack with, in addition to the normal +1 for using the Attack +1 card.

Recent play-testing has suggested that, in order to avoid stalling (a slight problem for a couple of scenarios in certain circumstances) players should earn an automatic single VP when playing their Score card. This appears to be a very elegant solution! As ever, subject to playtesting.

Caen at Last? Mission Command: Normandy at Abbeywood

On Saturday we gathered together again for our regular Abbeywood Irregulars June Mission Command: Normandy game at the Bennett Centre in Frome, Somerset. Owing to unforeseen (and wholly understandable) circumstances, we were light a couple of players, so we didn’t make as much progress as we all intended. However, there were very complementary comments at the end, so, thank you to our Canadians – Mat, Jon and Pete (stepping up to the plate as artillery controller) – and to John, Lloyd and Richard – our Germans. Additional thanks to Neil who took time out from a busy day elsewhere to take some piccies.

I’d decided to experiment with a highly asymmetric scenario to see how Mission Command rules (and players) coped with the extreme stresses of the fighting around Caen in early July. The idea was to see how a thin line with mobile tactical “fire-fighting” panzers might work. Rather than starting at the beginning of an operation, I picked a final push at the end of a day’s fighting. I chose a  nearly but not quite historical setting of 8 July 1944 (Operation Charnwood) when the Canadians of their 3rd Division were trying to force a way into northern Caen via the well-pounded ground around Authie and Buron. Opposition was provided by their most common foe, 12 SS Panzer Division.

By this date the Germans were over-stretched everywhere, and most senior commanders knew that collapse was only a matter of time. Front line forces were ridiculously thin, occasionally down to just some pioneers, scanty recce troops acting as infantry and even security forces acting as the sole reserve in some sectors. 12 SS Panzer Division tank strength was down to less than half a battalion, and without their Panzerjager battalion (still training in Germany) significant numbers of tanks had to be used in the anti-tank role. 12 SS was due to pull out as soon as possible and relocate elsewhere, conceding all the ground they’d been fighting over for the last month in order to shorten the line. However, the withdrawal was supposed to be under the cover of night; without darkness it’ll be a rout and the rest of the troops to the flanks will be overrun, losing their weapons and equipment. The scenario starts early in the evening; the Germans must keep a toe-hold till nightfall, using their scanty mobile strike force to keep the Canadians at bay.

GermanKampfgruppeCropped

Surely enough to hold a 3 kilometre front? Just to show that you can play Mission Command with relatively small numbers.

It was not easy for the Canadians either. Although they had most of 7 Canadian Brigade, plus nearly 2 battalions of tanks, 2 full regiments of field artillery and 2 squadrons of Typhoons, they were up against a highly motivated opponent on ground the Germans were completely familiar with, dug deep into their bunkers, with many alternative positions, fully prepared defensive fire plans, and covered approaches for counter-attacking tanks, not to mention anti-tank mines and wire. Even though the fighting earlier in the day had broken into the main line of resistance (taking both Authie and Buron – or at least the ruined remains of them), the Canadians hadn’t broken clean through. And 7 Brigade’s orders were to follow up by moving through Caen to take the bridges over the Orne.

I had been a little concerned about whether the scenario was too unbalanced in favour of the Canadians. I need not have worried. It’s very difficult to fight an opponent who you can’t see till they shoot at you (and sometimes not even then), who is dug in and therefore difficult to suppress and who also can shoot-then-move-away (out of sight).

Highlights included

  • very good planning by both sides
  • some very adept manoeuvring by Panthers in particular
  • good mobility from the Germans, even their infantry (but Hitler wouldn’t have been pleased)
  • very good use of smoke by both sides
  • company movement by bounds from elements of the Canadians and very great determination to keep going despite discouraging casualties (good work by Mat in particular). Tanks eventually followed suit, as Jon learned the ropes – his pinning job was successful.
  • a couple of notable Typhoon strikes (Hummels knocked out by rockets, Panthers by dive-bombing)
  • Crocodiles smoking Germans out from bunkers (well, they got out just before they were to be roasted)
  • an in-depth knowledge of the rules by some players – Richard in particular (many thanks for the effort there!).

An overview of the Canadian attack, with bunker-busting Crocs. The Germans are still in the woods just behind the burning bunker, and behind the woods is the massively well constructed Ardenne Abbaye (in smoke), long-standing observation post of the Germans since 7 June. Eventually the Allies took it and used specialist demolitions to level it to the ground.Overview

By the end of our real-time afternoon, we’d run out of time for a definitive conclusion. It looked like the Canadians would make it to their objective, as the Germans had only a single Panther element and a Hummel element in the path of the main attack. But the Germans could argue that they might have managed to engineer a counter-thrust as light fell.

I’ll stick this scenario on the website later in the summer.

I’ll see if I can get some of Neil’s pictures soon!

21 into 6 Won’t Go – scenarios for Mission Command: Normandy

10:00, 6 June 1944
The evening for the Germans has been unpleasant. Although our weather experts had suggested that the invasion was possible during 5 and 6 June, the weather hasn’t been particularly good, so we hadn’t really anticipated it. Some of our troops had even been on exercises overnight. The waiting was expected to continue, and everyone has been enjoying the Normandy butter, cheese, ‘crème freche’ and cider.
Standing orders were that in the event of possible landings by Allied commando or airborne troops, our forces were to attack immediately and independently. We heard the roar of aircraft at about midnight – in fact rather lower than usual…

RommelInspects

21 into 6 Won’t Go is a series of scenarios for Mission Command: Normandy. The first one I’ve published envisages an attack by 21 Panzer Division on 6 Airborne Division at about 10:00 on 6 June, rather than in the late afternoon. Rommel didn’t go to visit Hitler or celebrate his wife’s birthday; the situation was too tense for that. Also, 21 Panzer Division’s standing orders were received and implemented by each part of the Division. This scenario pits a German Kampfgruppe against 5 Parachute Brigade in the area to the east of the canal and Orne bridges. There will be future variants for an even earlier attack, and for a later, more historical one.

A scenario pack can be downloaded from the bottom of the Mission Command page on our website.

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!

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

Dolphin Adventures: new prototype

With Gary Hampson and Charlie Paull, new prototype for our Dolphin Adventures game. Now stream-lined & spruced up. Best version yet!

IMG_2299

 

IMG_2298

 

Politics By Other Means: new card designs

Conference of Wargamers is coming up next weekend. I’m planning to run a session with Politics By Other Means, my micro-game based loosely on Clausewitz’ On War.

I played it at the last CoW, but now it’s had a face-lift. New iconisation of the cards will, I hope, make the play a bit slicker. It will at least require less reading, which is a good thing.

3.5aProductShot

Politics By Other Means: now with icons!

Politics By Other Means – a Serious Game for Education?

I’m off to the Glasgow School of Art in mid-week for a Workshop on History & Games. The Workshop has the stated main goal “to give a state-of-the-art picture of Serious Games in Education, in particular in the learning domain of history, and to identify further opportunities of using digital or analogue games as a teaching tool in this domain, but also more widely.”

Although Politics By Other Means wasn’t specifically designed as a Serious Game in Education (and neither was Mission Command, the WW2 miniatures rules mentioned elsewhere in this blog), I wonder if it could be. Previously I said about the game, that it “would attempt to show the tendency to extremes that Clausewitz mentions, and that [it] might also introduce variants to show the limitations of more realistic warfare, such as 18th century so-called “limited” war, Napoleonic wars, even WW1 and WW2″. The current design does a lot of that, I think, though I’m having a bit of trouble with the WW2 variant.

There are two key issues for me with creating a Serious Game in Education. One is the extent, if any, of the compromises within the design that might need to be made to fulfil its educational purposes, and the other is how to wrap any information supporting the educational purposes around it. I am not a teacher.

The first issue is a vital one to me as a game designer. My original design for the Basic Game of Politics By Other Means had a potentially very abstract aim for the players. You won by having the most VPs at the end of the game, but “The game ends when both players agree to end the game.” My purpose in this original version was to get players to engage with the relationship between the end of a war and “winning” a war, particularly by looking at a typical end-state of the game. For example I have occasionally had games with this version, where a peace agreement was suggested on the basis that, although one side had more VPs, the other side had possession of the neutral country, and therefore both sides could claim some form of ‘win’. Or a draw might be offered and accepted, if both sides were under significant doubt about victory. Importantly, in the vast majority of games the end-state was very obvious devastation of each country (usually down to 0 VP-generating capacity) and very powerful armies (usually the ‘winner’ would have army strength increased from the starting 1 up to 5 or 6).

This notion of a messy end condition might work well in a philosophy or war studies class, so might be appropriate for an educational version, but isn’t so great when in a conventional gaming context, where two players are simply playing a “filler” wargame. Therefore, the current version of the Basic Game has more classical, readily understood end game and victory conditions: “The game ends at the end of any turn that both players agree to end the game, or when one player has gained 21 VPs. The winner is the player with most VPs.” The players’ aim in this version is to get the most VPs of the pool of 40 VPs available, so it avoids the messiness about the meaning of winning. The design gains by having a clear cut aim and outcome, which I consider quite important for a “filler” wargame, but loses the potential for discussion about what the aim and outcome might represent, when applied to the real world.

The second issue about the educational wrapping is critical, if I decide to make more progress with the game as a Serious Game in Education. This also applies to an extent with Mission Command. What do I need to put in the “educational wrapper”, and how do I wrap it?

I confess I haven’t got any ready answers yet. I’m open to suggestions and hoping to learn a lot at Thursday’s workshop!

Politics By Other Means – Variants

Continuing on from my previous two posts about my microgame project, based on Clausewitz’ On War.

I omitted to put in a piccy of the Basic Game setup for the edification of potential readers, so here it is.
SetupBasic2
The Basic Game is abstract. It’s all about getting the drop on your opponent, so you can either take their Home Country or ensure you can get more than half the available VPs – although there is the philosophical side to the game too. Once you’ve played the Basic Game, the idea is that you experiment with variants, either by tweaking the rules yourself, or by cracking on with a pre-set variant, as follows.

18th Century so-called Limited War

Here we provide 2 neutral provinces with VPs varying between 1 and 3, representing possible targets for positional warfare. You can’t reduce your Home Country’s VPs dice to less than 2 (king’s tended not to want to devastate their own countries). You can’t score VPs for your home country, if you have no armies there when an enemy army is also there. The intention here is to force players to defend their core logistical area. As it’s limited war, the game ends when the first player reaches 13 points, compared with effectively 25 in the Basic Game. It’s possible in this variant to play a delaying and obstructing game, focusing on scoring points, rather than committing to battles.

Napoleonic Wars

Representing the French conscription and war footing, Blue starts with 2 armies in France, strength of 2 and home country of only 2, as it has already suffered from previous invasions. The Allies (Orange) don’t have their ATK+1 card, representing their lack of tactical flair, but can buy it for later with VPs. However, they have 2 armies in the neutral country, presumably Belgium and / or German states – but these are weaker than the French. Occupation of the capital ends the game, and the French have the early advantage, which may slip away.

World War 1 in the West

Getting to grips with trench warfare and potential stalemate is the objective here. In this variant, you can’t move past an enemy fortified army, so it’s possible to have a war of manoeuvre only until both realise the importance of fortification. The defender can discard a movement card to add 1 to their combat strength – representing reserves moving up to block threatened breakthroughs. In battle only one army is destroyed per engagement. While this looks like less casualties, in fact the dynamic means that armies have to be quickly re-cycled back into the meat grinder. If you score and pull your action cards back to hand without having attacked, you lose a VP – there’s an expectation on both sides that you have to attack the enemy to win. Finally there are game end conditions for a negotiated peace (by agreement), a peace as a result of revolutionary collapse (no VPs), and a peace from military defeat and exhaustion (all VPs claimed, most wins).

World War 2 in the West

This final variant for now hasn’t yet been played, and I’m not yet certain how many of the changes should be in it. Various changes reflect blitzkrieg, the forward defensive of the Allies into Belgium, German initiative, and the gradual increasing strength of the Allies. Using VPs as resources for increasing army strength represents industrial and manpower strength.

Conclusions so far

It’s been a lot of fun so far. I’ve learned that a surprising amount can be accomplished by very small tweaks. I think this shows the framework is robust (at least according to me, and play testing seems to bear it out). I’m hoping that this will be a fun game to play, as well as providing some insights for those that have a more academic perspective.

Mission Command: The Joy of Research

I’ve been reading shed-loads of books and articles about Normandy ’44 over the past few months, as I stumble forward (and occasionally back) with the design and development of Mission Command: Normandy beta version. Sometimes a little snippet of “new” information comes to light that seems to have been overlooked by many a professional historian (or, indeed, gamer). My latest read is Ben Kite’s 2014 book “Stout Hearts, The British and Canadians in Normandy 1944”, now available in weighty paperback from Helion & Co.

For best credibility of scenarios in historical games like Mission Command: Normandy, it’s important to do careful research, lest you get held to account by, shall we say, “gamers who have great attention to detail”. I’ve been researching and playing a set of scenario variants for the 6th Airborne Division’s actions north of Caen for some while. One thing that’s struck me is the amount of firepower available to our paras. Apart from the naval gunfire support from a cruiser and a destroyer for each parachute brigade, they had 9x 6 pounder and 2x 17 pounder AT guns.

It’s often assumed that the AT guns, particularly the 17 pounders carried by Hamilcar gliders, were not available when the main para drop arrived early in the morning, because the principal glider landing was famously at 21:00 in the evening of D-Day. Hence the particular danger of the potential counter-attack by 21st Panzer Division during D-Day.

Ben Kite mentions this in his book: “Sergeant ‘Jock’ Simpson was a second pilot on a Hamilcar which landed on Phase three [the 21:00 landing] of operation TONGA with a 17-pounder anti-tank gun..”. However, a reading of Ben Kite’s quote from Sergeant Simpson shows that he landed with the Phase one gliders in the early morning: “A short time after midnight we rolled down the runway and took off…”. As the crossing by towed glider was only a tad more than 2 hours, it’s clear that Sergeant Simpson was not going to land at 21:00, but round about 03:30.  Moreover, it’s recorded in 5 Para Brigade’s diary that 4 Airlanding AT battery, including attached 17 pounders, arrived safely (as ordered) about 03:30, confirming  its operational orders.  So, assuming it might take a couple of hours to deploy the guns, from around 05:30 in the morning of 6 June, 5 Para Brigade had 11 AT guns, including 17 pounders capable of dealing with Panthers and Tigers, more or less ready for action.  Our Mission Command scenario variants take this into account.

This information is nowadays happily available online, but this type of potential error does show the importance of double-checking the evidence.

Airfix Battles: A sneak peak at Operation Cobra

Airfix Battles, The Introductory Wargame, has now hit the shops.  If you’ve not yet seen it, have a look here: https://www.modiphius.net/collections/airfix-battles.

The basic game has 10 scenarios, many of which are geared to teaching you how to play the game.  We thought it would be a great idea to present a whole campaign of scenarios to test out our more advanced players – enter Operation Cobra, the US offensive at the end of the Normandy Campaign that resulted in the (almost) encirclement of the German’s 7th Army and 5th Panzer Army.

The Operation Cobra Airfix Battles campaign is made up of 10 linked scenarios.  At the end of each scenario the winner earns Cobra Campaign Points (CCPs).  Most points wins at the end of the campaign.  However, you’re unlikely to play all 10 scenarios, because the outcome of a scenario presents some choices about which one to play next.  Some of the scenarios are not necessarily balanced, but rather they might favour one side or the other – or your style of play may suit you to one type of scenario, but not another.  So, if you think the next scenario is maybe a bit too demanding for your side, you may be able to opt to skip it, and move to a more palatable option.  In this way the path through the campaign can be different each time.

We’ve also introduced a few new bits and pieces for building your forces, setting up the scenarios and ending them.  Typically the Germans during Operation Cobra were scrabbling to keep up with the movement and materiel of the US advance.  To reflect the German losses, in most scenarios German squads will start with less than their full complement, but they’ll still cost the normal stars to buy.  Your Grenadiers may have only 7 or 8 men, instead of the normal 10.  Sometimes the German tanks are not fully repaired, so may have to start the game with 1 pip less on their Hit Dice, while at the end “The Last Throw of the Dice”, German tanks cost an extra star each to purchase.  In compensation, and because they’re on the defensive, the Germans frequently get to place terrain where they want it to be, so their relatively smaller force sometimes has the advantage of the ground.

As Operation Cobra was an offensive of rapid manoeuvre, both sides will face having to split their troops.  In Scenario 3, “Armoured Breakthrough”, the US side has a main and a flanking force and tries to take an on-road objective worth a large number of points.  In this scenario the Germans don’t have any tanks, so their problem is how to shift infantry around to block a flank attack, while also parrying a frontal force.  In Scenario 5, “Encircled!”, the Germans attempt to break out or rescue a trapped force by running the gauntlet of the attacking Americans.

We’ve included a lot of variation in the scenario designs.  The number of troops ranges from 10 Stars to 25, and many scenarios use both maps, so you’ll have a lot of ground to fight over.  We’ve also provided some very different end game and victory conditions.  For example, in Scenario 2, “Opening Attacks”, the Americans can choose to end the battle at the end of any round, thereby allowing them to limit their loss, take a quick victory, or go for broke by staying in the fight.  On the other hand, Scenario 4, “Panzer Counter-attack” is a do or die that only ends when one side has been destroyed, routed or withdrawn.

Scenario 10: Allied Briefing – “That’s it, boys, the Krauts are beaten. I doubt they have a single tank left in the whole of France! It should all be plain sailing from here on.”  Or the Axis Briefing – “General, you may demand all you want, but I cannot make tanks appear out of thin air! The whole division is destroyed! What’s that? An order from Berlin? Then I suppose we have no choice…”  Your chance to fight the enemy in Operation Cobra!

The Day After D-Day: part 2

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’.

ArtConBd_Canadian

A well-used Artillery Control Board

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:

Pic7

Overrun!

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.

IMG_1917

Ultimate overrun?

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.

The Day After D-Day: part 1

On 7 May 2016 the Abbeywood Irregulars gathered for our monthly Big Battle – Mission Command: Normandy, The Day After D-Day. For those not in the know, Mission Command: Normandy is a set of World War Two wargaming rules for use with miniatures.  What we try to do is:

  • Capture the essence of tactical and operational combat command from roughly company level to army corps level without real warfare’s bloodshed, fear, death and destruction.
  • Model the differences in how different armies fight.
  • Reflect WW2 practice of tactical and operational command, control and communications.

This scenario pits the advancing Canadian 7th Brigade, 3rd Division, with supports against a hasty attack by elements of Panzer Lehr.  It’s a pseudo-historical scenario, presuming that Panzer Lehr was further forward than it was in reality.  It is designed to challenge both sides with roughly equal forces (though the Canadians have more artillery and the Germans more tanks), and a similar operational and tactical situation to that experienced by Canadian 9th Brigade and 12 SS Panzer Division further east.  This situation has been displaced west, so that players cannot know exactly what will transpire by reading the history books.

The idea on both sides is that their forces are part of broader advances covering their flanks.  The purpose of structuring the scenario in this way was to limit the inevitable nervousness about edge-of-table flanks, which in this game were not compromised.  An additional restriction (unknown to the players) was ‘no air power or naval guns’, simply to limit our attention with literally no overheads.

PlayingArea

PlayingAreaCropped

Playing area looking north to south, with Putot front right, Bretteville front left, and the main Bayeux – Caen railway line bisecting the table.  Above this picture is a larger shot of our hall, the Bennett Centre, Frome.

The area consists of mainly flat fields with occasional villages, woods and hedges.  The terrain in front of us is cut by the main railway line from Bayeux to Caen.  All built-up areas have some 2-storey town houses.  Hedges are all normal hedges not bocage.  Owing to standing corn, and bumps and lumps in the fields, visibility along the flat open terrain is a maximum of 1,000m.  However, from ridges, buildings or trees, you’ll be able to see out to normal distances.  All wooded areas are open woods.  Roads are metalled and are supplemented by tracks that aren’t indicated specifically.  Open ground counts as firm and level.  The playing area is about 3km wide by 3.5 long.

Canadians

CanadianHQ

Canadian 7th Brigade HQ, showing its command card. Non-combat troops not listed.

The orders for the Canadians are roughly historical. 7th Brigade is to continue to carry out its D-Day orders to establish a ‘fortress’ defensive zone around Putot-en-Bessin and Bretteville l’Orgueilleuse, linking up with 9th Brigade on the left and British 50th Division on the right.  Contact was made with 50th Division at Creully yesterday evening, and 50th Division will be moving forward in parallel to 7th Brigade.  Supports are in the form of AT guns, most of which will be coming up over the next 48 hours, and artillery, 2 regiments of field guns being already available.

The Canadians were led by John, a highly experienced player, with Richard, Mat, Pete (resiling from umpiring this time), Toby and Alex.  Both our teams this day were slightly larger than expected, which meant we went with the full regimental / brigade groups, rather than toning it down.  We usually estimate that a team of 3 or 4 can handle a brigade group, but it’s a squeeze, so more is better, especially as most units on both sides were at full strength with a fair few supports.  The Canadians had 3 infantry regiments (note: regiments = battalions) with half a battalion of tanks, supported by  12 and 13 RCA Field Artillery Regiments with M7 Priests (105mm howitzers), plus a battery of Achilles SP anti-tank.

Canadian General Synopsis

3rd Canadian Division has successfully landed on Juno Beach and penetrated inland about 4 kilometres to a line stretching from Creully in the west to Anguerny in the east.  8th Brigade is to the left (east).  According to the Allies overall plan, the division’s fresh 9th Brigade will pass through 8th Brigade and advance to its ‘fortress position’ in and around Carpiquet.  In concert with this, 7th Brigade (Canadian team’s forces) will advance to its ‘fortress position’ in and around Putot-en-Bessin and Bretteville-l’Orgueilleuse to the west of Carpiquet.  The object of the Division’s defensive plan is to prevent the enemy exploiting the open ground to the west and east of the Mue valley, the Mue being a stream that runs south to north, spilling into the sea at Courseulles-sur-Mer, which the Canadian’s own 7th Brigade took yesterday.  9th Brigade will advance today to their position almost due west of Caen, so as to defend the east of the Mue valley, while 7th brigade will advance in line with them to defend the west of the Mue valley.  When in position, the German panzer attack will break on the Canadian’s overwhelming anti-tank and artillery fire power, supported by mobile armoured forces, while strong infantry holds the covering line.

To the right is the British 50th Infantry Division.  The Canadians met up with elements of their 69th Brigade at about 18:00 on D-Day at Creully.  To the left is 9th Brigade, who will be advancing up the other side of the Mue.  Behind are the rest of the artillery and anti-tank supports landed or due to land and come up from the beaches over the next couple of days.

Germans

GermanHQ

Some Germans, Kampfgruppe HQ at top.  M3s substituting for some (unused) Engineer vehicles in the foreground. Note the Pumas and 2nd Ko 130 Recce, deployed prior to game start.

The Germans have a combined force of roughly half a panzer division in size (perhaps slightly smaller) – bearing in mind that Panzer Lehr was missing its Panther battalion and a battalion of field artillery.  The idea is that this force forms the right-hand side of an attack by the whole division, coupled with 12 SS to the right.  So the kampfgruppe’s left is secured by the attack of the other half of the division, and the right by 12 SS. The Germans’ orders are to advance quickly, find gaps in the Allied deployment and penetrate as rapidly as possible northwards towards the coast with armoured forces.  Infantry are to secure the gaps, to mask resistance initially and then to mop up.  The whole corps (Panzer Lehr, 12 SS and 21 Panzer) is being committed, and every unit will have to show flexibility in supporting the most favourable opportunities.

The German team has almost the whole of 901st Panzergrenadier Regiment (2 battalions with almost all of their transport and support vehicles intact), half of 2nd Battalion, 130 Panzer Regiment (46 Panzer IVs – represented by about a dozen models), 2 companies of the 130 Aufklarungs Battalion, a company of 130 Panzerjager, a battalion of Field Artillery (3 batteries), and a flak Battalion.

German Current Situation

D-Day has happened.  The Allies have a lodgement on the coast and a shallow bridgehead.  Little detail is known, except that Americans have established themselves to the west, threatening to cut off the Cotentin peninsula, while British and Canadians have landed north of Bayeux and Caen.  Most of the German coastal defence forces have been wiped out in the overwhelming air, naval and artillery bombardments, and there has been significant disruption to command caused by paratroopers all over the immediate rear areas of the Atlantic Wall in Normandy.  Immediate counter-attack by 21st Panzer Division to the north of Caen has not been entirely successful, but that Division has created the basis of a new line of resistance north of Caen.  The original main line of resistance from the Cotentin to the Orne has effectively been destroyed and overrun, with only some pockets surviving, and the Germans had to put in hasty reinforcements in dribs and drabs from Brittany and even a battalion or two from 15th Army.

Even though the Atlantic Wall has not proven tough enough to stop the Allies cold, Rommel’s primary Army Group B reserves are, except for 21st Panzer Division, intact and in position.  It was fortunate that Rommel was able to persuade OKW and Hitler to move the Panzer Lehr Division forward before the Allies could launch their invasion, so that it can now join with 12 SS Panzer Division in an armoured Corps attack.  Both Divisions have reached their assembly areas between Bayeux and Caen in good time to counter-attack this morning (7 June), utilising the open ground on both sides of the Mue valley, as previously wargamed.  The overall intention is to strike north hard and fast, so as to reach the sea, then to exploit as the situation suggests to east or west.

Plans

Canadians

A classic 2-up 1-back advance with a gap in the centre for the Shermans of the Hussars of Ontario to use and exploit as they came up (they were delayed, so not available at game start).  The Canadian objectives were Bretteville and Putot, with (I’m guessing) permission to push on to give more depth if opportunities arose.  Finally the Canadian Scottish were to push through behind the Hussars of Ontario and move on Le Chateau and Le Mesnil-Patry.  Support from their massive artillery was to be provided at each stage.

Germans

Focused on getting tanks and supporting infantry rapidly down the left flank through Putot, primarily using all the tanks (2 companies) and 1st battalion of the panzergrenadiers, with the 2nd battalion supporting from the centre between Le Chateau and the railway farm.  This rapid advance was possible because Panzer Lehr 130 had a couple of companies of recce at the railway line at game start.  These were able to scout forward rapidly and report back.

What happened

The engagement began at 07:00 with the German recce already at the railway line in the hope of seeing the direction of the Allied movement.  The Canadians started with heavy smoke screens to shield the advance of the Regina Rifles on the right towards Putot and the Royal Winnipegs on the left towards Bretteville.  The Germans put down a brief barrage on Bretteville and Putot, covering the advance of their recce, in case either of those villages had been occupied.

RoyalWinnipegsDeployed

Royal Winnipegs 2-up. Rest are behind the carriers and cannot be seen yet. Smoke has lifted and they’re going into overwatch.  3rd company will deploy through the front 2 companies into Bretteville (or attack it if occupied).

German 2nd company 130 recce (infantry in Sdkfz 250s) pushed into Putot to have a look-see, initially only seeing a smoke screen.  Similarly the Pumas of 1st company, only seeing smoke, took up a position in light woods near Bretteville.  The lifting smoke revealed leading companies of both Canadian battalions (Royal Winnipegs 2-up, Regina Rifles 3-up).  Each German recce company left single elements to cover the withdrawal of their main body.  HE from the Puma damaged the 6 pounders of the Winnipeg’s Support Company, but the armoured cars were rapidly dealt with.  Spotting: Pumas hidden in the woods were able to spot the advancing infantry and AT guns, while remaining unseen themselves, *but* of course as soon as they fired, they could be seen and picked off by the 17 pounders of the supporting Achilles (would have been tempting for the Pumas to simply Fire-then-Move, and reverse out of trouble, I’m thinking).

PumasEngaged

Puma rearguard engages the 6 pounders with HE.  Canadians placed smoke in front of Bretteville, but the Germans are cannily in the woods, and Bretteville is unoccupied.

The Royal Winnipegs used classic fire-and-movement by companies – one on overwatch while the others advanced – and were well supported by properly cautious Achilles SP guns.  Caution was definitely important in this scenario.  Almost the entire ground was flat with occasional open woods and villages, so cover was at a premium.  Standing crops meant that spotting from flat ground to flat ground was a maximum of 1,000 metres, so no long-range sparring here.  With most AT weapons being long 75mm guns, pretty much any hit was a kill – there being only Panzer IVs and Shermans, no Panthers and Tigers.  Despite not having much opposition to start with, the Royal Winnipeg advance to Bretteville seemed very much by-the-book, resulting in complete success and little loss (a 6 pounder, a carrier and only very light casualties, if I recall correctly).  There was some Puma activity, a little artillery fire, but nothing too troubling.

The Regina Rifles, having suffered heavily on D-Day, also suffered today in front of Putot.  Their leading company was beaten off by 2nd / 130 Recce, then subsequently struck by the leading tanks of 130 Panzer Regiment.  Reinforced and rallied, the battalion eventually forced its way into Putot, thanks to its 6 pounder battery, supporting field artillery, and the late-arriving Shermans, who were able to knock out the Panzer IVs.  Smoke played a big part in this action (as did a rules glitch that we’re looking at now).

ReginaRiflesBeatenOff.jpg

Regina Rifles rightmost company beaten off by recce rearguard in the woods in front of Putot.  Red pawns are casualties, purple are suppressions.  The Canadians suffered several Cease Fire and Retire results here, but no Retreat or Rout; they proved to be tough.  Note the smoke, which unfortunately has prevented supporting fire from the centre company.

The fight around Putot was the main battleground of the day.  The Germans had committed all their tanks and almost the whole of the 1st battalion, 901st Panzergrenadiers here.

OverviewOfAttackOnReginas

Overview of the German attack on the Regina Rifles.  Note the Panzer IVs on the right – there’s a company of infantry behind, but not visible to the Canadians yet.  The vehicles crossing the railway line and heading south are the withdrawing recce.  The vehicles on the left are from another company of 1st battalion, 901st. German vehicle by the tree at the top is dropping off a FOO, who stayed up the trees in that wood, giving the Germans a view beyond the northern table edge.

There was some confusion in the attack, and it was not quite clear to the 2nd echelon of 1st battalion exactly where they should be committed.  By the time they’d shaken themselves out to the right of Putot, the tardy Shermans had arrived, and a tank duel around the railway line behind and around Putot ensued.  PIATs from the Regina Rifles also joined in.  The Germans came off badly, as the Shermans refused to over-stretch themselves – Jagdpanzers in ambush behind the railway farm languished with no targets, and eventually came forward into the general attack, only to be knocked out by 17 pounders (Achilles and / or Fireflys).  The German 1st battalion 2nd echelon unwisely moved forward into the open killing ground at much the same time, and the Germans ended the game with only a handful of operational tanks, while the Canadians still had more than half of theirs remaining.

2Co_1_130Pz.jpg

2nd Company, 1/130 Panzers support 1st Company. Just after this movement, most were destroyed by Canadian Shermans and 6 pounders.

UnhealthyForTanks

Burning tanks.  Mostly German, but this pic shows that the 1st Company 130 on the right got past Putot (in fact there’s another wreck further forward to the right as well).  If they’d been able to overrun the Canadian infantry … (of which more later).  Note many casualties flagged up, mostly from artillery – see white and orange 105mm template in the background.

In the centre, 2nd battalion, 901st Panzergrenadiers were unable to develop their attack, in the face of withering 105mm fire directed from Bretteville.  The grenadiers pushed through the shells, but were halted before they could reach the village.  Many vehicles were destroyed, and by the end of the day the Germans here were effectively stopped and forced back towards the cover of Norrey.  Canadian occupation of Bretteville gave them a fairly clear view from the buildings right across the German deployments behind Putot, and their artillery made this very uncomfortable.  On the other hand, a German FOO, concealed in the woods to the north of Le Chateau was making life unpleasant for the Canadians advancing between Bretteville and Putot.

WinnipegsInBretteville

Winnipegs in Bretteville.  Lead units have already pushed on.  This is a great pic of the Achilles that supported the Winnipegs. Shermans (Fireflies with the longer barrels) in the background are winning their tank duel.

Towards the end of the game the German artillery switched from direct support of the German attack to counter-battery fire.  During the day the Canadian field artillery batteries were intent on deploying to their proper firing positions, so they had to move up while keeping guns on call.  The Germans were fortunate to catch a couple of batteries of the Royal Canadian Artillery during a period of heavy supporting fire, which enabled the German counter-battery fire to score some damage on temporarily stationary Priests.  The counter-battery operation did have the disadvantage of denying the Germans artillery support for the last 30 minutes or so of the game.

SmokeCoversNervousShermans.jpg

Smoke covers nervous Shermans facing the remains of 1st Company, 130 Panzers. PIATs of the Regina Rifles helped to finish off the last few, despite German artillery pounding the crossroads.  Note lots of blue overwatch markers – it’s important to be ready!

The final game positions, by about 09:15 to 09:30 saw the German panzergrenadiers deployed in the hedges and woods to west of Putot, resisting the attacks of the Regina Rifles infantry, but with no effective answer to the extensive Canadian artillery.  Hanging on was the best they could hope for here.  The Royal Winnipegs were pushing on towards Norrey behind their artillery barrages, but it was relatively slow progress, and German infantry guns were keeping them in check.  The Germans could hope to hold Norrey, Le Chateau and le Mesnil-Patry, but their attack had certainly been stopped.

NearlyTheEnd

Nearly the end.  Putot has been taken by the Regina Rifles, but the German landser are resisting just to the west.  The Hussars of Ontario have a commanding position in the centre, and it’s difficult to see how they’ll be shifted.  Most of the jagdpanzers in Normandy are currently burning at the top right centre by the railway farm.  Note the command cards in the strip of table to the top left.  We encourage players to put them right in front, because they have relevant lookups for moving and firing on them.

Arty Control

WW2 – it’s an artillery war. And in that light, I’ve been addressing Mission Command’s methods for enabling players to control artillery. Forward Observation Officers, or others, who want to call in shoots of artillery batteries have to communicate (in other words “do a Communicate action”) to make it happen. The time delay between request and shells in the air depends on the efficiency of that communication, and in Mission Command we’ve previously handled it by messages with a delay in turns run by players, umpires or both, often relying on memory and the accuracy of individuals. As you might imagine, this has resulted in muddle, even with our one-message-box-per-turn experiment in our last game.

Now I’ve decided to try a lesson from the Euro game book – a ‘player board’. We have a simple artillery control board for the commander of the artillery. It lists the batteries down the side and the turns along the top, so that a very brief order can be written straight into a cell. Each battery has a wooden cube on the left hand side of the board to indicate whether the battery is Moving, Preparing or Ready/Firing; and these must be carried out in that sequence.

Arty_4

In this example 12th Field Regiment (Self Propelled 105mm guns, known as Priests) started the game On Call to the FOO of 11th Battery. It’s now Turn 3, so the turn at the top of the board is circled. 11th Battery has been directed to fire at 026040 with 11th and 16th batteries. This order will have come in, and been written on the board, on Turn 2 at the latest, as artillery cannot fire on the turn the order is received (in Mission Command, a Shoot action is always the first action of the two actions an element does). The shoot is planned for 2 turns duration, then the two batteries will prepare for fire elsewhere. 43rd Battery has been ordered to prepare to bombard the same target. Bombarding is the most intensive, highest rate of fire and takes 2 turns to prepare. When the other two batteries Prep on Turn 5, 43rd will bombard the same target. Meanwhile the medium guns of 5th Battery, 15th Regiment have been carrying out a rolling barrage close by.

If desired, you can also control battalion mortars through the control board, as shown. Mortars don’t need a turn to prepare, so the player has crossed out the Prep box for the mortars.

The current status cubes give a quick overview of what’s happening now, and they also remind you that you have to Prep after Moving the battery.

My plan is to use this for our game on 7 May to see if it works ‘live’.

Testing times in Normandy

On Thursday Pete and I had a quick play test of the proposed new group activation rules for Mission Command (see the previous post).  We each had about half a battalion of infantry with supporting tanks, AT, and artillery.  We played fairly slowly to make sure we had the mechanics of communications and control correct.  Even so, we managed 9 turns in an hour and a half of play, which is roughly game time = real time, so good pacing.

The Germans (Pete) had the first bound and advanced rapidly to the cover of a wood in the centre of the area of operations.

GermanAdvance

First Panzergrenadier company is in the woods, second panzergrenadier company is forming a single group with the Panzerjager on the German right (our left), while the Panzer IV company (with HQ company in the rear) takes up a wedge formation by a hedge for partial concealment.  Note the tank formation – owing to the 1 model = 3-5 vehicles scale, the front 5 models represent a standard wedge formation, albeit they are too closed up; an artillery strike would possibly kill more than one model if they’re this close together.  Width of the this tank wedge is rather less than 200m; better if it was 250m, and it could easily be double the depth for ease of later deployment.  Panzergrenadier vehicles are also very vulnerable here, but then again, it does mean they were able to move up quickly.

The British advanced from the other side of the table, using the right hand side.

BritishAdvance

I also used a wedge, and mine also are rather too close together!  The infantry are two companies with some depth.  Note that an infantry element in a company group has to be within 100m of another group element chaining to the command element, in order to be in command.  As this was a play test, I deployed from a random part of the base line, when I should have gone for the cover of the ridge (top left).

The Germans develop their position. The tanks halt and go into overwatch (they can’t see anything for the moment).  On the German left, the FOO with 1st company prepares to call in artillery on the village.  On the right the jagdpanzers initially form up across the ridge with 2nd company infantry, but as they see Shermans advancing just under 1000m away, they take up hull down positions at right angles to the infantry instead.  Unfortunately for my Shermans, I can’t see them, as they’re partially obscured by the ridge – if only I’d had some scouting Stuarts!

Jagdpanzers!

I made the mistake of leading my tank squadron with the command vehicle (which was a very stupid mistake!).  As I came round the right side of the village, I spotted the enemy tanks at under 500m (fortunately they weren’t yet in overwatch).  My command vehicle was forced to use its second action to reverse back out of sight.  Unfortunately this meant that the commander couldn’t use a communicate action to inform or re-deploy the squadron quickly, nor to inform the overall commander straight away.  We’d also not seen the jagdpanzers on the ridge, and soon lost several tanks (the rear smoking turret being my sole Firefly model).  Then the artillery came down on where the German FOO thought my tanks were going to be, but of course they’d backed off.

You can just see the little blue marker between the right hand Sherman and my bottom infantry element.  This marks that this infantry element was separated last turn, as the infantry advanced into the Sherman company’s area splitting the infantry company.  Fortunately we were able to regroup the company quickly with no particularly bad effects, as the company was not closely engaged.

The action continues.  British artillery puts in a smoke screen against the flanking jagdpanzers, though it comes down a bit too far to the left and I have to supplement it with the company’s 2″ mortars.

My second (left) company had nearly reached the village, but mortar fire from the 2nd panzergrenadier company hit and destroyed the 2″ mortar element.  This element had been linking to the company HQ in the rear, and the separated forward elements failed a reaction test and fell back.  The leaderless Shermans meanwhile have tried to rally back to the second company HQ, but lost more tanks, this time to the Panzer IVs at just over 1000m.  The few remaining Shermans call it a day, because it’s just too open to deploy here.

SmokeButTooLate
Meanwhile the German FOO moves the German 10.5cm artillery barrage forward in 100m steps, and my 1st company manages to advance through towards the woods, taking some casualties from the artillery.  These are veterans, so they don’t give up easily.

At last my infantry have closed up to engage the enemy in the woods.  The German FOO drops the artillery back onto them, so it’s not going well for the Brits.  Finally the tanks move forward, and it’s beginning to look like my 1st company will be overrun (though I do have a PIAT element in the right place).

German strength isn’t going to be broken this day, so we call the game at this point.  I never brought on my 17pdr battery, because I needed to possess some cover to put it in.

Denouement

I’m very happy with this play test.  It shows that a relatively clumsy British advance without good co-ordination and reconnaissance has very little chance against a well co-ordinated opposition.  In fact, the Germans would have won (on this showing) without any tanks at all.  The key was to take up good positions and not get carried away.  Pete, quite correctly, spent a lot of time sitting on his hands, on the grounds of “don’t interfere when the enemy is making a mistake”!

The joint group activation wasn’t crucial, but could easily have helped the Germans if I’d attacked on the left.  Also the disadvantage of mixing up companies came out in the delay to 1st company and slight confusion in my 2nd company area when the Shermans fell back.

Thanks for the game, Pete!

 

 

The Day After D-Day

Not a zombie game, but a new scenario for Mission Command, to be played on 7 May 2016 at Frome, Somerset.  It will be a psuedo-historical affair, so that reading up on the history won’t be relevant.  Set around Caen it pits the Canadians against the Germans.

Since the Canadians have more or less the same lack of doctrine as the British in this period, it’s an opportunity to see how British and Commonwealth forces and Germans fight differently, and of course, how that’s reflected in the game.  The basic smallest ‘unit of command’ in Mission Command is the company-sized group, and we describe command and control via orders of battle that specify which company-sized groups are within which battalions, etc, going up the hierarchies to brigade and division.  Generally each company has its own command card with details of the elements in it, plus their capabilities.  Where units are within kampfgruppen, combat commands or regimental groups, these are specified in the command cards, and players have these in front of them as they play.  Control on the table-as-battlefield is exercised through the activation of each group, one after the other.  So, for example, a battalion of infantry may have an HQ company and 3 or 4 rifle companies, represented by 4 or 5 groups, each successively carrying out its actions during a side’s bound (or turn).

A new restriction that we’re testing is to limit company operations, so that random or convenient mixing of groups has bad effects. If a player moves one company into a position occupied by another company, some elements in the line are effectively put out of command, because their normal voice and runner communications are disrupted by the new unit.  Once the offending company has gone, the company in line will have to spend actions to re-establish the normal communications between the rifle elements and their command element.  Of course if these companies should be attacked while this confusion is on-going, bad stuff may well happen.  What we want players to do, is to keep their companies organised and separated, as they would have been in reality, so as to avoid confusion.

Doctrine and experience affect these command and control issues.  The advantage the Germans had was their more integrated combined arms training and experience within their panzer divisions in particular.  So German kampfgruppen can arrange for 2 groups to work together with no penalty, typically panzergrenadier and tank or assault gun companies.  Also these jointly activated companies take reaction tests (morale checks) together, ignoring the worst result.  This reflects the advantage of fighting alongside familiar partners.

British and Commonwealth troops learned these practices very much later, so do not gain these advantages.  I suspect, and hope, that the need to keep the companies organised and separated should focus the minds of our players on maintaining battalion and brigade-scale overviews of the fighting, rather than the minutiae of each element.

We’re also testing out a new method for handling artillery, involving simple planning sheets.  Previously we’ve tried to get players to remember things and scribble notes, but using artillery requires some planning and integration with the rest of the combat – particularly for the Canadians, who’ll typically have more resources than the Germans.  We’re testing a planning sheet that  lists the batteries, which FOO they’re allocated to, and their planned fire by turn (if any).  This is a bit like a simple Eurogame player board (yes, with black cubes!) for the artillery commander to use.

Although these developments look like added complexity, I think they’ll make the game management (by umpires and players) more streamlined.  Speaking of streamlining, we’re amending armour classes, so that each vehicle element has one AC only – side armour is simply front armour -1.  This reduces the need to look things up in tables and fits in better with our scale (1 vehicle equals 3 to 5).

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be finishing off all the briefings, command cards, etc for the scenario.  It’s definitely flesh on the bones time!

Helion & Co – a quick plus plus on customer service

Many thanks to Helion & Co for their great customer service!

Helion & Co Ltd is a military history book publisher here in the UK. I approached them on Friday about whether I could reproduce a map from their book “The Combat History of the 21. Panzer Division” for one of our Mission Command scenarios. Not only did I receive permission on the Saturday morning, but also today I received high quality images to use. So within 1 working day of the request, I have all the material I need!

A huge thank you to Helion (www.helion.co.uk)!

The relevant image now forms part of the “21 into 6 won’t go?” scenario at http://www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk/MissionCommand.

Mission Command: Scenario 1 – 21 into 6 won’t go?

At long last, I’ve produced the first “proper” scenario for Mission Command.  This is now an addition to the Introductory teaching scenario in the Umpire’s Manual.

This first scenario is one of a set called “21 into 6 Won’t Go?”.  The set presents some “what if?” situations on D-Day 6 June 1944 in the area around the bridge over the Orne canal that came to be known as Pegasus Bridge. The Abbeywood Irregulars wargaming group has played variations of this several times over the last few years, taking advantage of the relatively easy availability of British paratroops (thanks to Pete) and 21st Panzer Division vehicles (thanks to yours truly), supplemented by the many extras in the collections of our players. I like to think we’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with timings and sizes of the opposing forces, and no doubt we’ll continue to experiment in the future.

Historically the British 6th Airborne Division’s role was to protect the left flank of the invasion beaches. Specially trained elite British glider troops captured the Orne canal bridge and the Orne river bridge via a coup de main (Operation Deadstick). The major part of the division landed by parachute or glider to the east and south of Caen as well as at the crossings over the River Dives further to the east. The main opposition to the 6th Airborne was from elements of the German 716th Infantry Division, a relatively weak “static” division, and the 21st Panzer Division, both of which were not concentrated and were hampered by a combination of parachute landings over a wide area, German command confusion, Allied air supremacy, Allied naval gunfire and determined fighting by 6th Airborne. The Germans were sufficiently disrupted – partly through enemy action and partly through their own failings – that they didn’t carry out a large scale counter-attack until late in the afternoon. Although part of the counter-attacking forces reached the coast at Lion-sur-Mer at about 19:00, the main armoured components of 21st Panzer Division attacking to the west of the Orne were beaten off by the 3rd British Division, and the German troops at the coast were withdrawn when further British airborne landed in the late evening. 6th Airborne was reinforced by commandos and by elements of 3rd Division, and the Germans were never to see the sea again.

What if the German 21st Panzer Division had launched a major attack on the British 6th Airborne Division during the morning of 6 June? This was after all the expectation not only of the British high command but also of many of the senior officers of 21st Panzer Division at the time.

The first scenario, now available for download at http://www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk/MissionCommand, suggests that a Kampfgruppe of 21st Panzer Division was able to attack at 10:00 on 6 June. The sequence of events as a result of the airborne landings shows that the Division was formally alerted at about 02:00 and that most elements, including its tanks, were ready to move by 04:00. An examination of the pre-invasion deployment of 21st Panzer Division and its routes of march suggest that a 10:00 start time for an attack towards the Ranville area would have been very reasonable – if anything, rather late. The first scenario is restricted to the area to the east of the Orne, so that the size of the forces on each side and the area of battle can be handled by relatively small teams of players. The second scenario is intended to cover both sides of the Orne, and includes larger forces on both sides, together with British reinforcements from the invasion beaches. The third and final scenario suggests that the German concentration was very rapid, so that an attack can happen very early in the morning before the invasion itself has started.

Researching this particular scenario has been a fascinating exercise. The major source for 21 Panzer Division (“neu” as the re-built division was known) is Werner Kortenhaus’ book “The Combat History of the 21 Panzer Division”, initially available only in German.  Having acquired this excellent publication a few years back and made use of my limited knowledge of German, I made a reasonable (with a dictionary!) stab at the historical reality, as far as one can go, and reinforced by other less detailed sources. Then the book was translated and published in English by Helion & Co, so reference became a lot easier!  Herr Kortenhaus was in 4th Kompanie of the 21st’s Panzer regiment during the invasion and supplemented his own personal recollections by collecting unpublished accounts from other survivors.  Exact details of equipment and numbers of soldiers are, of course, impossible, despite the publication in the book of the 1 June 1944 monthly strength report. Interestingly there are some differences between the monthly report and the equipment inventory for 5 June also published in this volume.  For a wargame designer this is a bit of a relief, because it means that many of the potential factual errors in the listings that we use in our scenarios are at least defensible.

One specific detail of 21 Panzer’s equipment is the situation regarding French tanks in its second tank battalion.  About half of the battalion is listed as Somua S35 and Hotchkiss conversions.  However, I’ve not found evidence of them being used in combat (if anyone out there has evidence, please let me know).  Kortenhaus, being in the first battalion, may not have known, and he suggests that second battalion was in the process of converting entirely to Panzer IVH.  I rather like the idea that a couple of companies of II Abeilung Panzer Regiment 22 had Panzer IVHs straight from the factory with no camouflage paint and untrained crew – truly green!

Of course a major point of interest in 21st Panzer division is its reliance on Major Becker’s French vehicle conversions. This scenario allows you to deploy the Unic P107 (f) half-track and the assault guns made from old Hotchkiss tank chassis, as well as SP artillery mounted on the Lorraine Schlepper.  It’s also worth bearing in mind that this “fully mobile” Panzer division had a battalion of horse-drawn guns.

On the British side we engaged in extensive research on the composition and orders for 6 Airborne Division.  Much of this material is available on the web from the excellent Paradata website (http://www.paradata.org.uk/). This huge body of information enabled us to confirm what landed when, and in particular that 5 Brigade had a strong battery of AT guns from 03:30 onwards, including 17 pounders.  One of the advantages the paras had was the availability of heavy weapons, certainly unexpected by the Germans. Support included not only the AT guns to add extra punch to the usual PIAT, but also a dedicated battery of 25 pounders from 3rd British Infantry Division (with the rest of the regiment in extremis), and importantly the dedicated support of significant naval gun assets.  This is by no means to denigrate the performance of 5 Brigade, which accomplished its tasks on the day (pretty much the only brigade to achieve all its D-Day objectives, I think).  It helps to explain why 21 Panzer Division had such a hard time against the supposedly “lightly-armed” paras.

We hope that this set of scenarios will shed some light on why events unfolded as they did, and some understanding of what might have happened if the actors had made different, and still very reasonable, decisions.

Mission Command at Frome, Somerset, 7 Nov 15: a brief write-up

Well, that was fun! Thanks to all the participants. As usual, we had a good turnout, 12 of us – 6 German players, 4 British, and Pete and I umpiring. The group included a fair smattering of players new to Mission Command, but now they’re proper vets!

We started just before 10:00 with a brief briefing from yours truly. This was intended to give an overview of the terrain and the game mechanics. We played on 2 tables with a nice split in the middle that allowed everyone to get at the troops easily. In this scenario it was relatively easy, because it split naturally between the Orne Canal and the Orne River. For the very knowledgeable that comment confirms the location, we were at and around Pegasus Bridge on 6 June 1944.

The East Side
East Side

The West Side
West Side

By about 10:30 we were into the planning phase. This is an important component of Mission Command (and any significant wargame, I feel). Both sides had a moderately extensive written background sheet, but hadn’t been given material in advance. This was deliberate, because we wanted to put some time pressure on. So the longer their planning, the more time the other side had to prepare!

The British paratroops are basically defending the bridge area on both sides of the waterways, with D Coy, Ox & Bucks, in reserve after their heroics of taking the bridges. The rest of 5 Brigade have arrived, but the game starts at 05:30 before they’ve had long to prep the positions. The British team established the locations of their elements, we then photoed them and removed them, so that the Germans couldn’t see them at all, till spotted. This mechanism worked really well – the British commanders could easily refer to their smart phone pictures to see exact locations and inform the Germans when they were spotted.

The scenario assumes that, contrary to history, 21 Pz Div has moved out very quickly and a sizable Kampfgruppe (reinforced panzergrenadier battalion, half a tank battalion, plus lots of heavy weapons, supports and artillery) has been assembled to attack northwards, primarily on the East side of the waterways. This is before there is a clear indication of the invasion, using standing orders to attack airborne troops vigorously.

The Germans quickly identified the bridges as their ‘schwerpunkt’ and indicated a focused infantry attack on Le Bas de Ranville, with the tanks swinging wide to the right bypassing Ranville to attack the bridges from the East and North East. The infantry advance was covered by a smoke screen from the German artillery Regiment. The artillery was later switched to a general On Call stance in response to FOO requests.

On the West Side the Germans pushed through the open woods close to the canal, but unfortunately led with their vehicles. These were engaged by concealed PIAT teams and several were lost. There seemed an undue concentration on using the gunboat on the canal as a recce vehicle – it was of very limited effectiveness, only having a 3.7cm gun, and it did find some British positions, coming under fire from most of a company at one point. On the West Side the opponents became rather bogged down, but it seemed like the German artillery pressure would eventually tell.

The German Navy is beaten off!

German Navy

The German infantry attack was pushed in, but only after the smoke screen had lifted, exposing the attackers to considerable mortar and small arms fire. Again the Germans led with their vehicles, losing a high proportion of them by the end of our game. The infantry, with 3 lines of one company each fairly closed up, were repulsed several times. German artillery was the main killer of the British defenders of Le Bas de Ranville – the paras morale was high, but firepower eventually routed the company out of its position with high losses. The German advance here was also put under intense pressure by naval gunfire (leading the German commander to inform Rommel that it seemed likely a prelude to the real invasion).

German infantry attacks despite heavy losses.

German infantry attack despite heavy losses

On the right flank the German panzers moved out in two fairly closely arranged lines and attempted to push round Herouvillette. Just after they’d passed the village they were engaged by PIATs from the hedgerows and also by longish range AT fire from both 6 pdr and 17 pdr guns. The lead company was wiped out in fairly short order, largely because the Germans were relatively slow to use their own firepower in response. The AT guns were knocked out by artillery (bravely staying put rather than bugging out?!), so the remaining tanks were able to continue ‘on mission’. The PIATs were very effective at close quarters, “PIAT Pete” making something of a name for himself, and a likely posthumous VC.

Panzer, marsch!

Panzer, marsch!

By the end the situation was still very much in the balance. The British were desperately trying to redeploy their remaining 6 pdr to the east bridge (having moved it over to the West Side), having very little to resist 2nd Kompanie, 22 Panzer Regiment. It seemed likely that the Germans would also eventually penetrate to the bridge to the West of Ranville – I suspect the paras would have had to counter-attack here to stabilise the position.

I’d said at the start that we should take it slowly, but I’d anticipated rather more progress. We called the game at around 16:30 (real time) having played 10 turns. With the planning phase this meant the game ended at about 08:00 in game time – not as much as I’d hoped. However, we did gain a great deal from the play test, including further insight and testing of new methods for communications mechanics (particularly for calling in artillery), clarification of how to fight at night and in smoke and some additional points of detail.

PBI re-write

Mission Command Designer Diary Retrospective: 4

Although Pete and I were very happy with the experience of our Eastern Front Big Game, we were conscious that the infantry side hadn’t gone particularly well. That game had been focused on tanks (which WW2 gamer doesn’t like a tank-heavy game?). But we also knew that WW2 armies were based on the PBI, the Poor Bloody Infantry, and we’d more or less fudged the modelling of this side of the coin.

Our infantry had the same 1:3-5 ratio as the tanks, took a hit to kill, and were crudely represented as large bases or small support bases. They noticeably melted away under fire, so that unlike their historical counterparts they couldn’t hold positions very well, and they had no stamina in a fight. We also had the movement rates all wrong for our rather lengthier turns, so that the infantry could scarcely make it to the fight. The last thing players want is to spend all day moving up shed-loads of infantry bases to no apparent purpose.

Bullet points

Our basic assumptions for the new infantry rules were covered in a few statements. We wanted to represent the command, control, firepower and morale effects of a company, not individual figures or individual elements. Using individual figures and elements provided far too much detail and was terribly time consuming. Our game covered company up to division sized units, not smaller. Therefore we had no need to model the internal structure of companies, but only its capabilities and to show any differences in doctrine. So an element didn’t represent a platoon, but instead part of a company’s capability.

It was expected that a company (or in some armies, possibly Russian, a battalion) would be expected to remain close together, or at least in some way in direct communication, and would suffer casualties and morale effects together. The company was the smallest unit to which players might be expected to give separate orders (with some exceptions, such as designated support elements from higher up units). This had the added advantage that we didn’t have to track losses at individual figure or at element level; it could all be done by companies.

The scale of the problem

We standardised on 1 millimetre to 2 metres ground scale instead of our original 1 millimetre to 1 metre, which gave us more room to work with on a standard 6’x5′ table. We also adjusted the figure scale, so that 1 infantry figure was roughly 10 men, 1 vehicle model was roughly 3 to 5 real vehicles. These figure scales were very approximate and referred to combat capability rather than actual numbers – so we could happily claim slightly larger or slightly smaller companies without having to add more figures. An extra element would only be needed if capability increased. Our large infantry elements therefore had 100m frontage, using 50mm bases, while small elements had about half that. Depth was not so relevant, so we allowed pretty much any depth.

Modelling company capabilities

Constructing an infantry company was then a question of modelling that particular company’s capabilities. WW2 infantry companies varied considerably in terms of numbers men, of MGs, rifles and sub-machine guns, as well as portable AT weapons, such as AT rifles, and later, PIATs, bazookas and panzerfausts. We were designing a method to cover all the war and each nationality. There was also variation in their flexibility and resilience. To enable modelling of these characteristics, while giving players the means to use existing basing systems, we decided to limit the ‘essential basing’ to just full sized elements with 50mm frontage, with the option of 40mm + space, and small elements with 25 – 30mm frontage. Full sized or ‘basic’ infantry elements came in 4 main flavours:

  • Coherent elements – 6 figures of which 1 is a LMG gunner and another an AT weapon (both LMG and AT may be depicted as the team rather than single figure). Otherwise rifles.
  • Integrated elements – 5 figures of which 1 is a LMG gunner, and the rest rifles.
  • Assault elements – 4 figures with SMGs
  • Bare elements – 4 figures with rifles only

Any of these basic elements could also have a command function depicted by an officer figure.

Coherent and integrated elements could shoot twice, once with small arms and once with one of their specialist weapons. This gave the basic elements a lot of flexibility and a considerable firepower. Later in the development we gave assault elements the ability to fire their small arms twice to reflect their specific training and weapons.

Even later on we added an enhanced assault element type to represent MP44 armed German infantry, British Commandos and US Rangers. Enhanced assault elements can fire as assault elements at short range and as integrated elements at longer ranges to reflect the effect of automatic assault rifles and the wide variety of weapons acquired by commandos particularly (sometimes unofficially).

While a full sized infantry element might represent around 50 men, the small sized ones were designated support elements with specialist weapons, such as MGs, HMGs, mortars, AT weapons like bazookas, and also specialist command elements with no combat capability. In keeping with our vehicle scale, support elements represented 3 to 5 support weapons, so we modelled the infantry figures for these as 3 to 5 too, rather than the approximately 10 per figure for the full sized elements. So a small element might be about a dozen soldiers. Again we’re stressing capability not headcount.

BritParasCutWithBorder

Here we see a late war British Para company deployed for all round defence. It has two full sized assault elements plus 4 support elements – its company HQ, two LMG elements and a PIAT element. Frequently it would be reinforced by a second PIAT element attached from battalion HQ.

Casualties

The figures on the bases were purely illustrative, not definitive, because casualties were to be taken at company level. After multiple casualties were inflicted on a company, we chose to consolidate them down by removing elements from the company (owner’s choice) to show reducing capability. 3 casualties kills a full sized element, but it’s replaced by a small one from the specialists on the base. For example a coherent element could be replaced by an LMG element, an AT element or, if it had the command function, by a command element. A further 2 casualties kills a small element. In a final relatively recent tweak, we permit players to allocate 2 casualties to a full sized element, reducing its firepower to one rather than two shots per turn. This standardises the concept that 2 casualties has a perceptible effect – it will reduce the company’s capability.

This method of creating elements had two key capability effects that were vital to our infantry model. It gave them resilience in combat – no longer did we just kill off a unit if it took a casualty. And it tended to concentrate the support weapons as the company took losses, as happened historically. As the company numbers decline, the riflemen get fewer, but troops elect to keep the LMGs and AT weapons. It also gave players interesting choices; for example, do I keep the panzerfaust or the LMG? It also meant that players could use their already based figures simply by designating the meaning of the figures on the base – it’s not essential to use our configuration of figures, as long as the players know the type of element each base represents.

Architecture

Now we could construct companies, taking into account the period in the war, the nationality and its methods. A late war German infantry company ran out as 3 coherent elements, one with command, plus an HMG support. A late war British rifle company was 2 integrated elements, a command element, a PIAT, a 2″ mortar, an LMG, and some trucks for transport. These differences reflect the continued presence of the light mortar at company level in the British Army, while the Germans had mainly moved to 8cm mortars concentrated in heavy weapon companies. The Germans had more generalised training and more blanket use of the Panzerfaust than was typical of the PIAT in the British company, the PIAT being a notoriously temperamental weapon. A panzergrenadier company had an additional 8cm mortar element, plus a light AT gun and PaK 40, with appropriate extra MGs on half-tracks (if armoured), and trucks if not armoured.

In contrast, early war Russian companies would be primarily bare elements, and we represented their smallest ‘commanded group’ as the battalion rather than the company. Russian companies in the same battalion therefore had to stick relatively close together to avoid adverse morale effects, reflecting their lack of radios and the lower level of initiative of junior officers and NCOs. Late war British paratroopers (see picture above) became 2 assault elements, a command element, 2 LGM elements and a PIAT; nicely different from the standard British infantry and very different from the Germans.

Deploying a company for attack, you close up the main elements with little or no gaps and have a second line of supports. This gives historically realistic company frontages of 300 to 500 metres in attack, but enabled companies in defence to spread out to 750 to 1,000 metres while still maintaining command ranges. Of course with wired telephones and fixed positions defensive positions could be much wider.

InfantryDeployment

Infantry company deployment example

Next: Researching Mission Command

Let’s write our own rules!

Mission Command Designer Diary Retrospective: 2

Our experience of replaying WGRG 1973 in 2008 and ’09 was only moderately positive. Not because we didn’t respect the rules, but because we became convinced that the scales were wrong for our purposes. We were more interested in tactical / operational play over a larger combat area with game time of up to a day, rather than 30 second turns with a whole game running for 15 to 20 turns. The time scale, ground scale and figure scale meant that the rules were designed for skirmishes, rather than for full scale battles. We were feeling a bit cramped.

Scales

As an experiment, we decided to address the scale issues. We replaced 1 millimetre = 1 metre with 1 millimetre = 2 metres and radically reconsidered the length of a bound. I was already conscious that in many traditional wargames, troops ‘do stuff’ all the time, whereas actual combat tends to consist of “long periods of boredom where not much happens except fire from known positions at known positions, interspersed with intense, brief activity during which a great deal happens” (quoting from our 2009 draft rules). Movement rates in many games are determined by theoretical maximums or theoretical averages, or even rely on an element of randomisation through various dice rolls dependent on troop type. However, it struck me that movement rates and other activities that expose men to fire are often a function of how close the men are to the enemy. Up close and personal to enemies with small arms was bad news and tended to enforce restrictions on movement (‘keeping your head down’ was a good idea), and even at slightly longer ranges, say within range of direct fire from MGs or other support weapons, activities might be more circumspect than when the enemy was a long way off or using area fire, particularly indirect area fire. We introduced the idea of a variable length bound: 5 minutes for a ‘hot’ bound within 500m of known enemies, during which movement was at ‘normal’ rates; 15 minutes for a ‘warm’ bound, outside 500m range (potentially off-table), and no new direct fire within 500m, during which movement could be 5 times the normal rates; and 30 minutes for a ‘cold’ bound outside 1000m of known enemies, during which movement could be 10 times normal rates. Cold or warm bounds could suddenly become hot if the enemy used close up fire revealing themselves within 500m. We had the advantage that the umpires could keep track of the passage of time and control the type of bound in operation. At this stage we didn’t use the concept of opportunity fire in an opponent’s bound, but more simply would end the bound and start a new one if new short range fire changed the circumstances.

Bounds

There were many advantages to the new types of bound. Warm and cold bounds enabled very quick (in real time) sorting out of orders, requests and reports, whereas previously we’d been tied to very short turns, which bogged players down in detail even when the enemy was a long way off. This way, the attacking side could ‘go cold’ and carry out a lot of activity at the start of the game, until the enemy was encountered within 500m. This could even mean vehicles travelling several kilometres, or carrying out reconnaissance over large areas very quickly without players becoming bored. It also meant we avoided a problem in earlier games whereby infantry were only allowed to move 100m per turn, so could take an age to cover basically uncontested terrain (or even terrain behind their own lines). If the bound was cold, the foot-sloggers could slog along at 1km per bound; though of course they’d be vulnerable to ambush if they did that in areas that hadn’t been cleared of enemy. Here we had some naturally emerging friction. A player might want to move his troops fast, but if he did, there was a significantly increased risk of losses, so players would be very reluctant to do it, unless convinced there was no enemy around.

We also changed the number of men and vehicles represented by a single figure or model, settling on a ratio of 10 to 1 for most infantry, and between 3 and 5 to 1 for vehicles and heavy weapons. These ratios were by no means strict, so we didn’t envisage people counting up the figures and multiplying by 10. Infantry stands were approximately 6 figures, but could readily have just 4, with support weapons such as MGs or mortars separately depicted on smaller bases. Our elements used pretty much the same frontages as Flames of War, as these base types were readily available, with the main infantry base having a 50mm frontage – representing 100 metres.

Our next couple of play test games were very different. For June 2009 we decided that a D-Day game would be appropriate, while for October we scheduled a Western Desert game.

“Hold until relieved!”

I blithely asked Pete if he could supply any British paratroopers for D-Day – only 1 division was the answer! So we had almost the entire 6th Airborne Division available, complete with Tetrarch light tanks, 75mm pack howitzers and little red berets. And the piece de resistance: Horsa gliders. We decided that the whole division might make rather too big a game for a play test, so we opted for 5 Parachute Brigade and the area around the Orne bridges. Opposition was primarily elements of 21 Panzer division with minor supports from 716 Infantry Division. Unbeknown to the British, this was not to be a true-to-history scenario, but rather, a what if 21 Panzer Division had been committed earlier, as a whole division? The scenario focused on the eastern supporting German forces, while the main Divisional attack went in off-map to the west, which was perhaps a bit of a cop-out, but had the merit of a smaller area of operations.

Period maps are pretty easy to come by, so for added realism and immersion, we used the historical recce maps and a large aerial recce photo. In addition the British briefings for the “Hold until relieved” scenario were based on the historical briefing for the Brigade. The German briefing had the merit of simplicity, in that their objective was to take the Orne bridges in support of the main attack, and to secure the eastern flank of the division.

A further innovation was our introduction of Event Cards as a method of injecting semi-random happenings to enrich the scenario. These helped to cover things difficult to model through conventional mechanics, such as snipers, cut off sections of 716 Division, arrival of lost paras, and air support. There was even a German gunboat on the Caen Canal to contend with. I created a small pack of 13 event cards, and we drew about 1 per hour, so using perhaps half of them during the game. An advantage of this idea is that players can take actions that might mitigate against adverse events, for example, it’s worthwhile sweeping an area in detail, as you’ll likely prevent snipers or infiltrators from umpire-controlled event cards. This mechanism worked very well, and we’ve used it many times since.

EventCard

 

Event card example

As I recall, the Germans eventually overcame the stubborn paras after a tough fight. More importantly, the rules had worked, if a bit clunkily. I recall that the hot/warm/cold idea worked reasonably well, though it was a little complex to implement, because we hadn’t nailed down precisely enough all the conditions and implications of changing the type of bound. We put this down to unfamiliarity at the time, and the umpires smoothed out some of the rough edges. The infantry movement issue was partially resolved, particularly in the ‘move to contact’ part of the game, but bogging down and lack of sufficient player decisions cropped up when things got close up. Communications in relation to artillery strikes worked well, though new players didn’t quite understand the time lags imposed. We felt that even though the game was supposed to be umpired, the pressure on the umpires to move the game along was more than expected, and players tended to wait instead of helping the game to progress.

Sidi Rezegh

I felt that “Hold until relieved” had been inconclusive, and we needed a different test to prove the rules or to stimulate more development. Our next major game, based on part of Operation Crusader in November 1941 around Sidi Rezegh, was indeed a different test. We had to have more space for a desert game, we had less cover, more tanks and far more manouevre.

I was against the idea of PIP dice or other artificial fog of war mechanisms that tried to restrict the numbers of troops that could act in a given turn. These, in my opinion, seemed to rely on dice rolls as a proxy for friction, whereas I felt that friction should be built into the game system, or more properly should be an emergent property of it. Therefore, as I’ve noted earlier, we kept the idea that troops should be given orders and report what happens. I see that we’d implemented this to an extent via this briefing to the German commander in the desert:

“You have all your regimental/battalion commanders with you and therefore should brief them accordingly on their tasks etc (including order of march/attack, objectives etc).
How you go about your task is your decision…at this point you can talk directly to your commanders; once they return to their units then all messages will be by radio communications.
As CinC you have the option of operating independently or attaching yourself to a unit (this should be clearly stated /identified) at will.”

SidiRezegh

Sidi Rezegh umpires map

Our Sidi Rezegh game was especially interesting for me. The game was organised by Stephen Welford, who masterminded all our North African theatre games, so my original role was to help with umpiring. Best laid plans failed however, and our German commander couldn’t make it, so I took over the German C-in-C role a few days before the engagement.

Fortunately this isn’t a session report blog, because I can remember little about this game other than the design decisions that sprang from it. Both sides learned about the power of artillery, particularly as the main British assembly area came under massive indirect fire controlled by a well-concealed German Forward Observation Officer whom they never tracked down. We also learned how difficult it was to mount an infantry attack on a prepared position, as an attacking German regiment suffered heavy casualties due to the lifting of a smoke barrage too early. We also had a couple of swirling tank melees that gave the right feel of the desert fighting. And we capped it with a more or less historically accurate outcome: indecisive at the end of day 1!

A key design and organisation feature was how to handle ranges for spotting and firing. In the desert, you could have visibility over several kilometres, and effective direct fire range in the open could be over 2 kilometres, for example with a battery of 8.8 cm guns. As we have the advantage of a large church hall, we’re able to have a very extensive play area, and we decided that we could simply put out more tables if the fighting spread. For the 8.8 cm battery initial position far to the south, we used a separate card table, which we could move in towards the main playing area as it re-deployed. Direct fire at more than 3 kilometres was quite practical.

To help players with the game flow, we put the sequence of play on a poster on the wall, and we used a flipchart with numbered squares to act as a turn counter. This very much helped to give the players a good impression of the passage of time.

These two play tests convinced us of two things. First we definitely wanted to continue with this development, and second we were writing big chunks of changes to WGRG 1973. Sooner or later, we thought, we’d be writing our own rules.

Next: PBI re-write

A new problem and an old solution

Mission Command Designer Diary Retrospective: 1

The year was 2007, the place was Frome, Somerset, United Kingdom, the group: The Abbeywood Irregulars (AWI), and we had a problem. AWI was, and is, a very experienced bunch of wargamers – not yet oldies, but perhaps an emerging trend towards grey amongst some (myself included), and perhaps an air of tradition amongst others. We could, some of us, recount stories from the mists of time when Donald Featherstone was in his prime. In this blog series – a restrospective designer diary for Mission Command, Surprised Stare Games’ new World War Two miniatures rules – I will mostly avoid naming names (except for myself and Pete Connew, brother in arms), both to protect the innocent or guilty, and because I don’t have many authoritative notes, so I might blame or credit the wrong individual. I’ve also no idea how it’s going to pan out, so I ask your indulgence.

The problem was: we’d tried a fair few of the published WW2 miniatures rules and rejected all of them. None of them fitted the needs of our group of recalcitrant and fernickety players. We favoured gritty realism over slick presentation, and historical authenticity over ‘hollywood wargaming’. We weren’t afraid of weighty tomes (for Napoleonics, our favoured rules were General de Brigade), nor did we shy away from excessive versioning or as some might put it, correcting, of published rule sets (DBM with slips of amendments stuck in was favoured over the more professionally presented Field of Glory). What to do?

Consideration fell to myself and Pete Connew, being the two players primarily organising our WW2 games. The first idea was to return to an old favourite – Phil Barker’s 1973 Wargames Research Group “Armour and Infantry, 1925 – 1950”.

cover1

A paper copy (how quaint!) was dug out from the archives. Our intention was to uprate the rules in the light of our own researches and ideas, and to cover perceived weaknesses, bearing in mind the progress in wargames rules over the past 35 years or so. This short, snappy process would result in a set of rules that our group would be happy to play with. We hoped.

Looking back at the earliest version of our partially upgraded WGRG rules, we retained 99% of Phil’s original, and gave it an outing in April 2008. The scenario was called “Advance to Contact”, and it was a historical one from Operation Goodwood, so already Normandy was uppermost in our minds.

“It is the closing stages of Operation Goodwood. Guards Armoured Division having fought through and occupied Cagny has ordered 1st Coldstream Armoured Battalion and 1st Welsh Guards Infantry Battalion to advance through the village of Frenouville to their final objective the Bourguebus ridge. A Canadian Battalion (Lord Strathcona’s Horse) is in reserve. Unknown to the Guards and blocking their path was Kampfgruppe Waldmuller of the 12th SS Panzer Division. Historically, once engaged the fighting lasted well into the late summer evening. One point of interest was the arrival during the fight of a kette of Luftwaffe Me110s armed with bombs.”

This last provided Pete, if I recall correctly, with an opportunity to put some aircraft models on the table, even though the air rules amounted to less than 200 words.

A significant addition to the organisation of the game was our first use of what became the ‘command cards’ of Mission Command. I decided that it would be easier for players if they had the order of battle broken down with relevant movement and fire data immediately available on cards. Each player would have the cards for the troops under their command, and it might save them from looking everything up in the various tables in the rules. I was aware that this wasn’t a radical innovation, as the idea has been used elsewhere, but it may not have been used before with WGRG 1973 rules.

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The main rule changes were to permit German units to ignore some reaction test triggers, thereby making them a bit less liable to fall apart. We also considered, but didn’t fully implement, an idea that all reaction tests would be taken at company level. Apart from that, our approach was highly comparable to WGRG: we kept the IGO/UGO sequence of play for the stated reason in the WGRG rules – to speed up play and ‘capture something of the flavour of a fast moving tank battle’ without imposing strict written orders and simultaneous movement, or a more complex turn sequence. IGO/UGO has the merit of simplicity, a major factor we wanted to retain. On the other hand, we wanted players to give their troops orders, so we also kept the WGRG notion that command elements should be ‘given realistic orders couched in fairly general terms’. We’ve retained this concept throughout, with the more explicit idea that the main purpose of orders is simply to enable your plan to be carried out, not to restrict what players themselves can do. More on that later, I mustn’t get ahead of myself!

We also kept the now archaic term ‘bound’ to mean a player or side’s turn, and the rough time (30 seconds per bound) and distance (1mm = 1 metre) scales. We were less convinced by the one-to-one figure scale, so instead used 1 figure = 3 to 5 real men or vehicles.

Our philosophical approach was:

  • Use WGRG 1973 as a starting point.
    We expected to simply modify the WGRG 1973 rules to our taste – this was to change!
  • Umpire moderated, not player argued!
    We weren’t that interested in the points values for troops, having no intention to run tournament games, though I notice that I suggested we might put points on the cards, so that players had an idea of the relative values of groups. We weren’t interested either in excessive arguments between players about what could and could not happen. We kept to the no points values approach, but stopping the arguments proved harder. Player enjoyment within a historically realistic game was our objective, and our advantage was that both Pete and I (with the addition of Stephen Welford later) were happy to umpire rather than to play.
  • Use historical data where we could get it, and best guesses where we couldn’t.
    We were placing this at the simulation end of the wargame spectrum, but short of ‘professional wargaming’, even though some of our players were military or ex-military.
  • Play test and refine till happy.
    We had no particular time scale in mind. AWI has monthly meets, and we were happy to commit 2 or 3 sessions per year to large WW2 games. Finishing wasn’t a particularly important objective at the start – in fact, we didn’t have an idea what ‘finished’ would look like.

The briefing for the players in “Advance to Contact” was very brief, and we relied on our very large table to show the terrain, rather than having anything like sketch maps. However, my order of battle notes show a reasonable sized British brigade group of the Coldstream Guards (Shermans), Welsh Guards (infantry), a reserve battalion of Shermans, with appropriate artillery and anti-tank supports, versus a Kampfgruppe of 2 fairly weak panzergrenadier battalions, with a couple of companies of Panzer IVs and a couple of Tigers due to show up later. Outnumbered Germans was to be a feature of most of our late war games, as we would expect with a historical or pseudo-historical approach.

I can’t remember much about what happened in Kampfgruppe Waldmüller versus the Guards, except that the Welsh Guards infantry learned the hard way that a cavalry charge in Bren carriers wasn’t a good idea. And the ever recurring lesson that you shouldn’t forget to use smoke screens.

Next: Let’s write our own rules!

Mission Command: Alpha version now available

The alpha version of Mission Command, Surprised Stare Games’ new World War 2 miniatures wargaming rule set, is now available :). We had a great time at Salute ’15 last Saturday, where we introduced it to an unsuspecting public. To download a copy, or just to read more about it, go to: http://www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk/MissionCommand/. I’d love to have your feedback!

WHAT DOES ‘ALPHA VERSION’ MEAN?

The current version of Mission Command is the alpha version. In essence this means that it’s still under development, but we’ve reached a stage where we’d like some comments from potential players and umpires wider than our own design and play test team. We’re very conscious that the game isn’t yet entirely finished, there are many rough edges to smooth off, and we’ll need to improve the presentation of the written materials.

BLOGS AND SUPPORT MATERIALS

We’ll be supporting the Mission Command development over the coming months in several ways. First I’ll be writing some regular blog posts about it, in the nature of a Designer Diary. We’ll also be publishing scenarios on Surprised Stare Games’ website page for Mission Command (http://www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk/MissionCommand/), which also contains the alpha manuals and supporting materials. Current support materials are the Intro Scenario, Area Fire Templates, Chits and Play Aids, all as PDFs. We’ll be treating these materials as online ‘living rules’ that we’ll update as new material becomes available.

We very much appreciate any feedback. This can be about any aspect of the game, including whether or not our research is accurate, how the game plays, ideas for scenarios or comments on the manuals themselves.

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UK Games Expo 2013, Mission Command and Carrier Strike

First a massive ‘thank you’ to all those excellent people who stopped by to play the Mission Command and / or Carrier Strike prototypes at UK Games Expo on 25-26 May 2013. It’s an invaluable experience for me as a designer to hear what players think of the games, albeit within the confines of a noisy hall and often a constrained time scale. I was gratified that so many were able to devote a significant part of their Expo visit to my latest wargames design attempts! I will try to give out information on this blog as both games develop in the coming months.

For readers who know not of what I write, there’s a brief introduction to each game on the Surprised Stare website at www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk/MissionCommand and www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk/CarrierStrike. UK Games Expo is the premier ‘all-about-games’ convention in the UK, an annual event on the last weekend of May, now relocated geographically to the Hilton Metropole by the NEC, Birmingham. For more on this event, have a look at https://www.ukgamesexpo.co.uk/. It covers the whole gamut of gaming (except video/computer games), and I’m usually there with my Surprised Stare Games hat on with my wife, Charlie, and fellow SSGer Tony Boydell. This year Vicki Paull, my eldest daughter and excellent games illustrator, also had a stand, presenting her brilliant artwork.

For the first time SSG had some wargaming goodies on display as well as our more regular fare of card and board games. We always try to bring out something surprising (it’s our own version of branding!), and a line of wargames may be our biggest surprise to date. I guess it’s especially surprising since we’ve been highly successful with our most recent board game, my colleague Tony Boydell’s very excellent Snowdonia, now the subject of a Kickstarter campaign for the 2nd edition. Additional thanks to honorary SSGer Richard Dewsbury for his massive help this year with demoing Snowdonia.

Owing to a stand size limitation and of one table for Mission Command and Carrier Strike, and there being only one of me, I decided basically to demo the former on Saturday and the latter on Sunday, while of course being able to talk about and show a bit of the non-demoing product willy-nilly.

I’d developed a simple Mission Command introductory scenario for the Expo. Set in post-D-Day Normandy this consisted of a player-run British reinforced paratroop battalion (thanks, Pete Connew, for loan of troops and terrain) versus, according to intelligence and recce reports, ‘a limited company of Panzergrenadiers from 21 Panzer Division’, the latter preprogrammed and run by myself. The idea was that visitors could turn up and play just a bit of the game to get a flavour, continuing on from where the previous player had left off. It worked pretty well, even though Mission Command is a complex simulation at tactical / operational level – largely because it’s designed as an umpire-driven game, so only the umpire (me) needs to have a good handle on the detailed mechanics. I had somewhere around half-a-dozen actual players during the day, and in addition a much larger number of interested visitors who stopped by for a chat and an investigation of this curiosity. It seems that a small wargaming table in the midst of Euro board games and such like is quite striking and attractive to many gamers. Fortunately there were no rules problems unearthed, and the players performed well, teasing out the German’s forward outpost position, and forcing them back onto the main defence on the final ridge. There wasn’t enough time to make the push onto the final ridge, but almost a dozen turns were played (that’s about 2 hours of game time), and players seemed to enjoy it.

My current plan with Mission Command is to complete the text for a Normandy ’44 version within about 3 months. This will involve the rules, a scenario booklet (3 to 5 scenarios) and supplements for late war British and late war Germans (and possibly late war Americans). Mind you, 3 months is an aspirational target more than a firm commitment, and we’ve not decided how to publish yet either. Watch this space for more info!

Carrier Strike (aka 16 card Carrier Strike) is very different. It’s a honed down model of WW2 carrier battles, focusing on finding the enemy’s carrier group and sinking it before they do the same to you. It has bluffing, recce, manoeuvre, mostly dice-less combat and little complex detail. I want to make sure I get the basic game mechanisms right before adding in more flavourful details. For example it only has two combat roles: Fighter and Strike, with no differentiation between torpedo, level or dive bombers, and all combat aircraft are assumed to be multi-role planes. Cards are used to represent the carrier groups and squadrons, supplemented with a fair few dice; primarily for squadron strength and location on the ocean (reducing the number on the dice representing using fuel). My original minimalist approach has been corrupted by incremental addition of various markers for ease of tracking the game state, player screens for hiding the squadron cards (in earlier versions we just kept them out of sight from each other on a couple of chairs!), and finally for demo purposes I now use 1/3,000 scale miniatures, including aircraft.

I had 20 prototype sets of rules and cards printed, so that I could give them away to folk who were interested enough to provide comments and maybe even play it separately – a bit of blind playtesting can’t hurt, and at least I am available for email queries, or even on the end of a phone; not a luxury that players have with a full production run. Over the weekend I handed out two thirds of the  sets; so either people thought it was potentially a good game or were attracted by the £0 price tag. As with Mission Command I was pleased with the good reception from the audience, and I’m hoping to get back some useful and critical comments. There was plenty of aggressive flying and no holds barred attacks in the introductory scenario. The other scenarios perhaps require a little more subtlety – we shall see over time.

The current plan with Carrier Strike is to have something definitive in a few months time. I have a major play test session at the Conference of Wargamers in July, so it’s not yet certain that SSG will have this particular game ready for Essen 2013; it’s possible we may have a limited run (100 or 200 copies) at that point, or for UK Games Expo next year. Watch this space!