Archive for the ‘Operational Games’ 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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Engineers come in all shapes and sizes, militarily.   We often use the term for assault troops armed with specialist weapons such as flame throwers or who are equipped to break through hardened defences or clear mines … or built positions and/or lay mines.

Engineers build bridges, fix things (and break things) manage decontaminations and of course deal with wire … emplacing or removing …

Not all of these are strictly engineering … but are all part of a range of technical support services that expand or enhance what the basic soldiers can do.

For operational games it is useful to have markers or distinctive figure groups that show which troops can employ these extra technical skills and perhaps have access to special equipment.

My ‘go to’ figure for engineer capabilities in 15mm is a stormtrooper carrying wire from Peter Pig’s WWI German range.  With a suitable head swap.

Sov Eng 03

(Red Army engineers on a stick for painting … and finished: the men with wire are bottom left and 4th from the right)

The other figures are adapted to be carrying tools … axes, spades etc.

These figures are mostly to make up 4-figure ‘work parties’ …

Additionally, I want some motorised engineer battalions to add into mechanised divisions and I decided to represent these the same as I have represented similar German formations … in a truck with an extra base available if necessary to represent them deployed as fighting troops.

Sov Eng 02(work parties and trucks)

I decided to make the engineer’s trucks distinguishable from other generic trucks by adding the frequently seen A-frame hoist on the back of the vehicles …

Sov Eng 04(hoists made from alloy tubing and brass wire being added to Peter Pig resin Gaz AAA trucks)

This simple bit of modelling was finished by using modelling putty to indicate the brackets and rollers etc.

Sov Eng 05(finishing details and adding figures)

Sov Eng 06(trucks, work parties and combat-deployed bases textured in and ready for the vehicles etc. to be painted)

Prominent amongst the figures are some of Peter Pig‘s new Assault Troops in body armour – a very welcome addition.

LMGs in body armourflame thrower team in body armour(Soviet Assault Troops in body armour)

20180810_111915_resized(Peter Pig Assault Troops in body armour)

I think they look the part.

Anyway, here are some photos of the finished figures and trucks





The final batch of work parties:


The guys at the front are a work party for a trains unit (hence carrying a section of rail) and the chaps with blue trousers are to go in the cavalry division.

I either made the added tools or raided them from a pack Donnington do as part of a Medieval camp.  Whether you can get the pack of tools separately I don’t know (maybe try having a nice word with Damien).


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NQM Squared (1)

I put (1) after the title as I’m sure there is going to be more to come (however this post ‘is it’ for now) ..

This was a trial game set up by NQM Chris to see how squares (similarly to my ideas in Megablitz Squared) would help simplify the movement and real estate issues of large operational games.

My project was a mix of Megablitz and NQM methodology applied to gridded battle space.  Necessarily Chris’s experiment was significantly closer to NQM.

(over the battleground: a Soviet ground attack mission is driven off by German fighters)

Scales apart (because scales can always be adjusted) the key difference between the two related operational games is in orders/status and combat.  NQM uses die rolls that are varied in value by the weight of attack and defence values.  Megablitz uses strength points (which give you the number of dice in combat and hits that can be taken) varied in effect by the order status of the units.  I like both approaches.

(NQM Squared: a Soviet assault bridge aids a river crossing)

You can have a look at the ideas Chris was resolving here: Novgorod: NQM Squared

How the squares actually work is clearly a key aspect of the approach … how do you treat diagonals?  How do you handle ‘corner to corner’ contacts.  Using orthogonal squares, how do you do ‘2 up/1 back’ deployments (and, then, who supports whom?) …

(NQM Squared: 3 Red Army battalions plus some Brigade HQ assets advance through an area)

Then again, these are questions that come up without squares – just squares make you answer them and give some structured definition.

Squares can make it imperative and advantageous to occupy ground and (for defenders) to hold a coherent line in a way that is sometimes lost in a more free roaming game system.

Whenever we use squares, of course, players will always ask about hexes, and their elegant relation, off-set squares.

This can be a thorny issue for some periods – but I think orthogonal squares are the obvious solution for a period where officers used gridded maps.  They thought, planned, and moved in a squared world so no harm will result if we model it that way.  The same cannot be said for hexes.

(NQM Squared: German Parachute units dug in)

A thought provoking session which I hope will bear fruit.

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As we entered the main phase of the operation, Chris gave me a fairly open approach to reinforcements – so, concerned by the scale of the task, I called up more artillery, the Red God of War … indeed, I employed all the heavy artillery the front could muster.

(B3 Howitzers on the road up to Leningrad)

(Ski troops, supported by air, move around the frozen Northern flank)

The old front line gradually became a vast artillery park, ready to reduce the city.

(Gotterdammerung: the Red Army’s guns prepare to reduce Leningrad)

(a TB3 provides air support in the frozen North)

The Russians enjoyed almost complete air superiority for this campaign and it’s elderly supply fleet, reconaissance planes, as well as ground attack wings could operate virtually unchallenged.

Had the Germans put much into the air, they would have found daunting concentrations of ground AA …

(rail artillery defended by a light AA battery and searchlights)

Given these conditions it is perhaps unsurprising that the dive bombers were (finally) able to deliver a shattering attack on the Southern flank which had – until then – managed to hold up the advance on Oranienbaum.

(Heavy v Light dice for the dive bombers … n uncharacteristically hammer blow rich in sixes)

From the North East, the Ski troops were able to enter undefended areas evacuated under the heavy artillery bombardments …

… although stiffer resistance was maintained in the leafy Eastern suburbs and broken bridges slowed progress on the main line of advance.

(Leningrad NQM: Peter Pig Soviet Scouts making hard work of the garden suburbs)

Here’s a look at the situation as the Red Army retakes the city …

Despite stubborn success in some sectors, the German commander had recognised that the city had become untennable and began a pull out before getting cut off.  As the Germans raced for the roads, Russians flooded through the city and swept around the Southern flank …

(Motorised troops snake through Leningrad)

(Heavy resistance to the attempt to cut the road)

This was a race against time determined by local firefights.

(Trapped!  Or not?  … the fight for the line of retreat)

Tactically dominant, at the sharp end, the cavalry again proved unable to press their advantage (game note: bad dice, really ...) … and, beaten off by desperate firing, allowed too much to get away towards Oranienbaum and Kronstadt.

A doomed pocket had been left in the docks, and no more Germans were able to escape from Leningrad.

Final situation …

It was time to dismantle the game and put away the toys.

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This is the first part on a big WWII Operational Game being fought out over a number of evenings mostly between myself and NQM’s Chris … I’ve titled it the retaking of Leningrad because that is what we must do.

It’s a long way to the Front but these wastes will fill with men and materiel as the operation evolves.

There is a lot of kit being directed at this task.

(First contact …)

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If you follow Chris’s NQM Blog (and you should) you will have seen all the technical details of the Battle of Vyazma.  This grand operational game saw the first action of some of the snow soldiers I have been tinkering with of late* – so here is their photo story.**

In still freezing conditions, the Red Army was heading West …

Minefields took a toll but the Scouts pressed forward

… onwards …

… as resistance stiffened, the Sturmoviks screamed in, following the road …

The first wave of reinforcements pushed North around the Viazma pocket …

… and now an armoured column appears on the road West ..

… and crashes straight into the main defences …

… not without losses …

Although the centre of Vyazma holds til the last man, armour quickly bursts through defences to the South ..

… and more armour streams to the front …

The Battle for Vyazma is fully committed when a German column crshes into the flank of the offensive.

But not early enough to stop the Northern encirclement …

As Vyazma finally fell, way to the rear German stragglers are brought into a Soviet aid post …

For them the war is over.

Kudos to Chris for managing such a mass of material in such a compact space.  It all made sense at the time.

*objective 1: get them painted; objective 2: get them into a game!

** as I suggest, for the narrative details, see Chris’s post.

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Moscow 2016 01

So after a short gap whilst NQM Chris has been building his new wargames room (see the NQM blog, various entries), action around Moscow 1942 has resumed (you can imagine there has been desultory fighting since the last episode while the forces regroup …) …

This was very much a leisurely picking up of threads but we got some sharp actions fought through as the snow camo Russians pushed in on the outer zones of their capital …

Moscow 2016 02(15mm Russians … Peter Pig, Battlefront and vehicles by mixed manufacturers … assault the outskirts of Moscow)

Shrewd observers will see my recently acquired and reviewed Zvezda T60 getting its tabletop blooding, middle shot, driving in over the anti-tank defences in the first close assault of the game.  Getting new toys into action is always a pleasing moment for me as a collector/player.

Moscow 2016 05

Of course these winter warriors were fairly light and mobile and against dug in defenders, the fighting was slow and attritional (and by the end of our session, only the outer trench lines had been cleared out) …

We did get some proper NQM mobile warfare, however, as some outlying formations were encircled and overrun …

Moscow 2016 03a(NQM: tank divisional action in open country)

Moscow 2016 04(contact!)

Moscow 2016 04a(encirclement!)

We were also able to pick up the attacks on the city from the previous game so, as befits NQM, got 3 or 4 actions running simultaneously in a fairly fluid treatment of the battlespace.

I will be following the NQM blog as Chris has planned running a few more days of action on the board before boxing the kit back up – so watch this space …

Moscow 2016 07a(NQM Moscow: as the collage shows, Chris gave the chance to sprinkle a few new accessions around the table which all adds to the effect)

So, Divisional artillery and motorised infantry next … and my operational level Russian forces will be nearing completion.  And good to get some motivation from playing the game.

Look forward to a number of new completions featuring here shortly.

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