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Archive for the ‘Op 14’ Category

Op Boxes 05(NQM Squared: the armoured thrust at El Alamein)

Over the Summer a lot of thinking has gone into the Operational Game and into grids – squares and hexes.   I have long advocated that Chris Kemp’s NQM might gain something from the structure grids are able to offer (who is – or is not – in contact with the enemy … who likewise can contribute or support etc.) …

Meanwhile, Trebian has been exploring the Great War, in part, through recreating campaigns using Op 14 by historian and wargamer Richard Brooks (whom many readers of this blog will know through Wargame Developments and his many contributions to the Nugget).

Then, whilst these options were in our minds, Bob Cordery published Hex Blitz (a variant of Megablitz played on a hexagon grid with a card driven unit activation mechanism).

We ran a couple of playtests … we used offset squares rather than hexes … they have exactly the same effects but they aren’t hexes (and Trebian has cloths already marked up in offset squares) …

Personally I think offset squares look a little less ‘star wars-y’ than hexagons – but that’s mostly a taste/style issue.  Board gamers seem to love the little six-sided thingies.

Op Boxes 01(Offset Squares: Hex Blitz on the Eastern Front)

Op Boxes 02(Offset squares: Hex Blitz Spanish Civil War)

I have to say that, for me, the 20th Century seems the age in which most military operations were planned on maps that had orthogonal grids on them … so my top candidate for a grid system to apply to a ‘modern’ wargame  (with inverted commas as we’ll get to a time when WWII etc. is no longer considered ‘modern’) would be orthogonal squares.

In Burma, of course, they fought in an Admin Box … and I can’t help thinking there’s a way, somehow, of translating the Admin Box into the Operational Square.

Op Boxes 03

But I think that’s a bit of literate candy-floss which would only go over a set of robust mechanisms.   So where have we got to?

So far, in all honesty, I don’t think we’ve quite reboxed the fluidity and simplicity of either NQM or Megablitz into the gridded wargame.

Op Boxes 04(Royal Artillery 25pdrs bombard Italian positions in a night phase of CK’s prototype Alamein game)

Op Boxes 04a(NQM Squared – El Alamein: the ‘crumbling’ attacks grind down Axis positions)

I think we have succumbed to the temptations of too many toys and/or of squares that are too small and try to do too much.

Using a large number of models apparently ups the scale of the game … and smaller squares enables more real ground to be scaled onto the same table area.  Both these seem to be win-win choices … but if the battle area becomes confused – and difficult for players to manage easily … then the primary benefit of shifting to the grid – clarity – is lost.  If the umpire is going to have to arbitrate positional and orientation issues then you may as well revert to NQM’s freewheeling style of active umpiring.

Op Boxes 06

I think the looser, less cluttered style of the first experiments with NQM Squared (above), or the simpler figure numbers of Op 14 (below, in a Russo-Polish battle recreated in Jockey’s Fields a while back) can be played more quickly because the table space can be understood more easily.

Op Boxes 07

Some things are not really working for me though … card activation and the unit by unit activation that goes with it … well these are tools to do a job.   I’d argue that whilst they suit a small game … solo game or similar, they are not solving problems you have if you play with a larger number of players and an umpire.

Further, unit-by-unit activation brings a whole host of other problems along with it – as units may end up sequentially attacked by a number of enemy actions in a temporally inconsistent pattern during a phase of otherwise apparently simultaneous action.

Being more abstract, this methodology can allow the resolution of a lot of complex interactions in a series of simpler small phases … but it can equally lead to near surreal episodes of play that defy the willing suspension of disbelief.

Op Boxes 08

If this post seems to have failed to get to an eloquent conclusion that may be a fair impression.  I did get to a nicely worded and coherent conclusion on my laptop – and then the unresponsive page gremlins failed to save any of it … so I am trying to rebuild the thoughts on my phone (which doesn’t just ‘break’ the way PCs and laptops seem to in the age of Windows 10).

So I was arguing for simultaneous action in big games and umpire resolution.

I was arguing against troop positionings straddling square boundaries and intersections … there are many ways of breaking the apparent limitations of the grid  but in breaking the limitations there is a significant risk of also breaking the gains in clarity and legibilty that were the reasons for turning to the grid in the first place.

I think I’m arguing for embracing the grid’s advantages rather than constantly butting against its limitations.

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OP RCW 01

Op14 is an operational style game of WWI and interwar conflicts by Richard Brooks … it uses a grid (each square representing 2 Kms) and playing card activation/control.

Here are some pictures from this week’s game hosted at Trebian’s shedquarters …

OP RCW 02

OP RCW 03

OP RCW 04

OP RCW 05

OP RCW 07

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Lodz 01

The Battle of Lodz, seen here from the Southern aspect, was fought in 1914 on the Eastern Front … or refought in London (just about) on the 100th anniversary using the Op 14 operational level rules by Richard Brooks.

It was fought in ever harsher conditions as the Germans attempted to destroy the Russian 2nd Army and headquarters in Lodz (while the Russians attempted to encircle the Germans and trap them in a freezing vice).

Lodz 02

Here’s the view from my end of the table – I took the Reserve Corps of XXV and III Guards, turfing the defenders out of the Northern villages and completing the encirclement while XX and XVII Corps annihilated the trapped Russians.

We did not know the Russian plans, and I  had the unenviable task of closing around the position … leaving all that empty space (the whole near, left quarter of the table – around which several unarrived Russian players would deliberately hover) to my rear.

In truth, there was nothing I could do about it: I did not have the resources to police it all, and we did have to crack the enemy position.   Whilst not being naive, I had to run a race against time and hope to get into the position before unseen enemies could trap me against it.  Or so it seemed.

Lodz 11(another depiction of the battle as temperatures drop)

Op 14 is played with 4 stand brigades in 2 Km squares organised around Divisional HQs and artillery support.   If all are in contact then command is a good as whatever is normal for your forces.  For effect, you roll =< than the number of figures in your brigade (so as you lose men your chances of hitting diminish).

Some of your losses are recovered overnight but otherwise accumulate and trigger morale issues at higher levels.

Lodz 03

Anatomy of XXV Res. Corps … 3 4-stand Brigades, a Field Gun support battery (3 figures) and a Divisional HQ with some cavalry attached for liaison duty.   All ‘in command’ (all in adjacent squares).

In the background some outlying Russian units fall back on the main position.

Lodz 04

XXV are gradually sucked into the cauldron … the force is now spread out, using the HQ and cavalry to maintain command integrity.   With just the one battery in support, the chances of these attacks prevailing against men in villages and/or dug in are low – but the actions are necessary to draw troops and support away from the main attacks in other sectors.

The troops activate in card order – so in this sector XXV will go first.  The cards limit what actions are possible.  Hearts are good, but those enemy on clubs would be stalled if they were out of command (and e.g. not dig in) …

I like the simplicity of Op 14 as it lets you get on with the ‘big picture’ … however the squares do allow tactical modifier such as flank and enfilade bonuses which are too often missing from operational level games.  So there is subtlety as well as the grand sweep.

Polen, Lodz nach deutscher Besetzung(Lodz in 1914)

Tape rivers form on the boundary between squares and e.g. affect artillery movement …  and toy town buildings create the convincing illusion of built up areas once you are inside the abstract bubble of the game.

Lodz 06(Traction engines and draught horses bring up the German siege artillery)

As the battle developed the Germans were able to bring up some typically massive siege guns.   They took rather a long time to set up (hence the counting down D8) … the shell holes in that corner square come from the howitzers … they will be resolved when someone assaults the position.

In the example above, the square is likely to be attacked from both directions, giving the attackers extra dice.  Up to 2 of the defenders might be removed when the attack goes in as a card will be turned for each bombardment marker (shell hole) – red is dead – but as the defenders are in permanent trenches (extra dice) the attacker will still probably need the pummelling to have paid off (the defenders still get their extra dice, but, 2 bases left, would need 2 or less for hits, rather than their establishment 4) …

Lodz 07(Spotter aircraft flying over Lodz)

Little by little (square by square) the defenders were squeezed into less and less of the city … Unless spotting is available, artillery is by support only and requires line of sight (so the guns were being pushed through the streets) …

Lodz 08

The game gave one of the better – fluid and dynamic – city battles I have participated in … it felt gritty and brutal but progress was made (though not without reverses and losses) … Meanwhile Russian 5th Army was closing around us …

Lodz 09(the battle for Lodz city centre)

Lodz 10(action to the South of Lodz)

By the end of a day’s wargaming we had pretty much taken Lodz (at least that was what was being said in the German HQ … ) and our flanks had held out … just about (actually a number of divisions were in a mess and my reserves were on the brink of heading home – but don’t tell the Russians that).

We had 8 players in the game running from map moves to table top, including resolving a multi divisional city fight in a single afternoon (whilst allowing a good amount of socialising and a buffet lunch as you go) – yet at no point did the game really feel either rushed or simplistic.  I think that speaks highly of Op 14 for games of this sort.

Op 14 was published in Nugget 236 (June 2010) – the journal of Wargame Developments.

The figures and components were mostly supplied by Ian Drury and include a number of veteran Minifigs plus anything else that suits.

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Warsaw 1920 01

Warsaw 1920 was a higher level multiplayer wargame of the defence of Poland’s capital.    It included Operational Level command (Bob and John with maps and messages downstairs) and tactical resolution (6 players with toy soldiers on a big table upstairs) …

Ian Drury and Richard Brooks umpired and were kept busy all day.

I took the role of Franciszek Latinik in command of Polish 1st Army, tasked with holding Warsaw and somehow tying the Russians down on the Narew/Bug line so that Nigel (as Sikorsky/5th Army) could counter attack round their Western flank.

My Eastern flank was secured by Alex (Roja/2nd Army).

Warsaw 1920 03(The Horror!   Somewhere out there lay Tukhachevsky’s ferocious Red Legions – and I had just a strung out line to stop them)

The game started with map moves on a pin board in headquarters until active umpiring identified that formations were hitting contact ranges – and then, one by one, we were called up to the tactical level and started putting toys out.

Warsaw 1920 02(here is the map to table interface … most of my units/flags are in Warsaw – the Western sector was very thinly held)

The line of the Narew/Bug could only be crossed by marked bridges or in the BUA squares – and although most of the Russians threatening the sector were the other side of the line, there was a weak point that I had to keep control of, stretching me forward.

These three bridges were key in stemming the flow across the Narew (as although there are plenty of the lighter blue rivers, they are not going to hold the enemy up).

Warsaw 1920 04(you can see how Warsaw is defended to the north by the Narew and Bug rivers … the game map shows how this requires me to hold the three bridges – and the gap between my flags which shows that I don’t )

Once the game goes tactical, it is very hard to plug these command gaps and I never did manage to concentrate the troops defending my sector.

Indeed, the movements that called me to the table were precisely against this sector, as occasional over flights confirm … 1st Army is in a lot of trouble.

Warsaw 1920 05(contact!: 4 figures represent a typical brigade)

My game quickly degenerated into a dogfight for this sector with a seemingly endless flood of Russians.

Two things saved me … the action in the game is card driven and the Russians stall on some cards (although I couldn’t stop them, ‘friction’ could)  … and there was no threat directly from the North (so as Roja’s North Eastern defence collapsed back into the City’s entrenchments, it freed me to feed my reserve units in North West of the City to bottle the enemy up on his bridgeheads).  Nice one, Alex!

Warsaw 1920 06(the blast markers show where the Russians have burst through the centre of my sector defence – but you can see a line of 3 brigades who have come out of Warsaw trying to drive them back to the bridges)

This is pretty much how the game ended … we had planned another day’s action (in which an Eastern counter attack would match our Western encirclement, so trapping Tukhachevsy’s armies) but the pace at which we completed the 2 hr turns was never quite brisk enough to take us to the final day.

We played enough to decide the the Poles had held Warsaw but not enough to see if our plan to win the Vistula campaign would be decisive.

Warsaw 1920 07(some more general shots of the toys on the table 15mm, mostly Peter Pig … the plane is a 1/144 from Shapeways)

Warsaw 1920 08(2nd Army falls back into Warsaw drawing the Russians into our trap and relieving 1st army’s reserves so they could be feed into the Western sector)

I think, as a muliplayer game bridging the Operational to Tactical divide, this game would have worked perfectly had we all been familiar enough to churn through the turns quick enough – as it was, some players (me included) needed a little too much Umpire engagement and so we were left just short of a conclusion when we needed to debrief.

But it was clear enough what would have been achieved had we been as adept at the beginning as we were at the end (isn’t that so often the case …?) ..

Nevertheless, this game ticked a lot of boxes and I appreciate all the work that went into staging it.

As a biographical note, Latinik was one of the few survivors from this war, most of the officers on both sides falling to the grim policies of either Stalin or Hitler.   RIP.   I hope we honour them by remembering their part in the history of their countries.

Warsaw 1920 09(Polish 1st Army counter attacks in the River Narew sector)

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