Archive for the ‘Wargame Developments’ Category

Yes … somebody parked a tank on the lawn. Well, lots of tanks .. just another day at Knuston Hall.

Well, how wonderful to be out wargaming again … meeting people many of whom you’ve only seem via Zoom since more than a year ago … CoW 2020 got cancelled. This one went ahead with limited numbers, Social Distancing, sessions outdoors where possible. But it was still great and still packed with games, toys and bright ideas.

(just a sample of the wide variety of sessions at CoW … tabletop games, committee games, skirmishes and pirates … )

The plenary game was a fast and furious look at the machinations in Hungary in its last days as part of the Axis: I was the Hungarian Foreign Minister, looking to open a channel to the Soviets whilst hoping I wouldn’t end up on trial for the government’s evident war crimes. Sorry, that was Magyaria, of course … a fictional country …

On Sunday morning I was in a reconstruction of a wargame originally played in the Cabinet Office in 1975, called WintEx ’75, an excercise in thinking through the transition from peace to war in the event of a Soviet invasion in Eastern Europe. Actually, the game’s precepts reflected classic 70s establishment paranoia, and was mostly about controlling and combatting the enemies within, than about taking on the Warsaw Pact.

Some of the paranoia would have been eminently justified, I’m sure. An illuminating and well-prepared session. Lots of paperwork.

The game on the lawn was based on the attack at the second battle of Villers Brettoneux. I volunteered to command a British tank as my Grandfather had done it for real.

Firing was adjudicated an an adjacent range using toy canon and matchsticks

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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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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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Malta FP 01(The Fletcher Pratt naval game: ignore the leaflet boxes – they are just helping keep the blue sea flat)

The Mediterranean Fleet (Malta) puts to sea.   There is a high level air attack from the Regia Aeronautica incoming … we drive it off and suffer no damage …

And so it begins …

This was a critical phase in the Mediterranean as Italy prepared the way for a possible assault on Malta.   We have been here before (Malta) megagaming the whole campaign in celebration of the pioneering contribution of the late Paddy Griffith.  This game we played part of the war at sea, and were using the system devised by an earlier pioneer, Fletcher Pratt

Malta FP 02(opening shots on the Regia Marina … red tees are hits, blue are misses – unfortunately for the photographer they sometimes topple over)

I am sure most readers will be familiar with Fletcher Pratt’s rules, even more so its celebrated core mechanisms … but as a reminder, the game assumes you play with ship models on something like a ballroom floor and the key gunnery is by guesstimating the angle (using a pointer marker) and the range (in actual inches) – if you get hits, the value is multiplied up from the weight and number of the guns and that much ‘tonnage’ is crossed off the target ship reducing speed and potency proportionally until the ship limps away or sinks.

Malta FP 03(umpires at work adjudicating British gunnery)

This game is a scaled down version using 1:1200 ships and a very large floor.

This was also the first outing for a splendid blue groundsheet – it really enhanced the game but increased the disturbance risk of the light markers compared with playing on a bare laminate floor.

Malta FP 04

As players we would manoeuvre our ships then place those arrow shaped post-it notes (indicating the azimuth) with the range (in inches) marked on … once all the moves and markers are done, the players retire to the fringes and the umpires measure and adjudicate the hits.  If successful they call out the damage equation, if not then a blue marker is placed so the player can see the ‘water spouts’ and get an idea of how far off the shot was.   More guns spread the shots and increase the chances of hitting.  Bigger guns do more damage.

Malta FP 05(Good shooting!: long range British gunnery scores 3 direct hits on the Vittorio Veneto)

Torpedoes are shown by placing pipe-cleaners which then speed along  for a few turns before sinking … and do huge damage to anything unable to get out of the way.   For Destroyers, torpedoes are the main offensive weapon.

Malta FP 06

It is as simple as that … the down side is you need a lot of space … the upside is almost anyone can play and very few rules need to be grasped.

The methodology is, of course, entirely abstract … the game system does not mimic the science of target acquisition in an age of precision instruments and mechanical calculators – however, for many players, the combination of a ‘fun’ bit of skill with about the right level outcomes makes the system preferable to rolling dice and complex charts.

Malta FP 07(sometimes the destroyer battle can get complicated: spotting and avoiding all these torpedo tracks was a challenge)

I am working on some solutions of my own to aspects of the 20th Century Fleet engagement (kaboom! near the bottom of this COW report) but it was highly entertaining to have another go at the FP game so well put together.   My thanks to all involved.

we had a few destroyers (Italian) blown out of the water, and a number of capital ships quite badly knocked about (including the Warspite) as a result of which both fleets needed to recover.

Operationally, that was something of a result for the Regia Marina and they were confident that had achieved enough to green light the invasion fleet ..

Well … that’s another story.   I am told this encounter was, of all things, an ‘equal points’ encounter – and it certainly felt a close affair.

We finished the day with some airstrikes … here one of my torpedo bombers gets through and drops its fish within a turn’s run of the target (the ship would not be able to move before the hit slams in!

Malta FP 08

A good point to wrap up my report.

You can get the Fletcher Pratt naval wargame in John Curry’s reprint

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CoW 2014 00a

Or, better, pictures from this year’s Conference of Wargamers with relevance to warfare in the mechanised age

I was busy with a number of ancient and medieval projects, so there is a main report on Ancients on the Move.   So I got so see very little of the modern stuff …

CoW 2014 09(Doodlebug down! The WDDTN ADG Doodlebuggers sees another threat neutralised)

The plenary game was a live kamikaze attack in the Pacific, and later, I got to shoot down Doodlebugs – I got the highest tally but had a lot of trouble flying through debris and getting out of my burning Spitfire.    Back gardens in Kent and Woolwich were cratered and Southend Pier was blown to smithereens … but I reckon between us we saved London.

CoW 2014 10a(we had 5 minutes in which to clear the skies of  evil Nazi wonder weapons)

You can have a crack at this at a show later in the year … The Other Partizan, next, probably (look for Wargame Developments) ..

Here is more of the death struggle between Hitler and Stalin …

CoW 2014 12(A senseless waste … German bitter enders scurry through Berlin Station to confront the invader)

CoW 2014 13

… and here is the 21st Century equivalent of a cardboard simulator (the toy-shop plastic and foam rubber simulator?

CoW 2014 14(Lawn Game Simulator: pneumatic anti-tank missile system readies) 

… and it can be beguiling how convincingly the mown grass camouflages 1:32 scale toy tanks …

CoW 2014 16

CoW 2014 17(Little Cold Wars: French ground attack mission)

CoW 2014 18a(Little Cold Wars: taking hits – the T55s attack)

CoW 2014 19(fire in the hole!: Nick Huband demonstrates the anti-tank targeting system)

Mid evening on Saturday we broke for a trip down memory lane … Jim Roche reminding us of the calendar of events from 1914 and 1944 interspersed with morale boosting or iconic songs and anthems from the war years …

IMG_7899(Just in case you didn’t know the words to the Marseillaise … ) 

… and I found a window in which to ski off piste with my pop-up Naval Game, Big Ship Battles (Kaboom!) inspired by some inexpensive ships that became available in a Pound shop

CoW BSB 02(Kaboom! with Chris K … 3 hits on my Battleship … and a level bomber coming my way …)

The game takes around half an hour at most and has none of those traditional naval game mechanisms – it did, however, work (and I am inspired to push it along another level … say, maybe a quick participation game?)

CoW BSB 03a(Kaboom!: a 2mm Bomber from Irregular Miniatures about to complete its mission)

Along with all the ancient and medieval games, that was it for my CoW 2014

2015?  Well, I hope to see you there – CoW is unique for all the right reasons, so a big thank you to all the enthusiasts who make it work!

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IYTT Road to Madrid

Since Christmas we have managed to brave the hostile weather and play a few games in Trebian’s new wargames facilities ‘the Shedquarters‘.  We have been revisiting Civil War Spain, and playing through some connected contact scenarios with Graham’s higher level rules, ‘If You Tolerate This …’

Although there are smoothings out that any game experience generates, the rules are basically those played at COW last year and published in issue 257 of ‘The Nugget’.

Before moving on, I hope you will permit a quick plug for WD … If you are the kind of wargamer that likes looking at new ideas, often picks up new rules to try out (maybe you spend a few pennies here and there on sets or download PDFs …), you get all that, plus associated feedback and commentary in the Nugget – 9 issues a year, incorporating several complete sets of rules, all for £20 (£10 if you just take the online version … easily worth it just for the games content it will open up).

Have a look at Wargame Developments.

IYTT Road to Madrid 01

(looking down the table in the ‘Road to Madrid’ game)

In the game, 4 bases make up a battalion, and we have been playing with around, say, 3 brigades plus some vehicles and artillery on the march – against a few battalions plus variable surprises defending villages, sunked roads and ridge lines.   Allowing the leisurely style of social wargaming, we get 2 to 3 hours wargaming out of the scenarios ….

The games have been played in 15mm on a long table, but as everyone knows, wargame rules are not size specific, and the rules would work for any figures from micro to lawn games (just adjust the movement/ranges as appropriate).

The table is divided up into offset squares or hexagons (either will do) representing around 500 metres across.

if you ... 02

(armoured cars approach a village in part 2 of our second game … )

Turns sequence is driven by unit-to-unit activation … shooting and resolving assaults as and when they occur.   Units can make up to two activations (you can do both together, or do a bit then come back later in the turn – assuming the dice favour your second go) … and there is a die roll to switch from unit type to unit type.   If you fail, the other side gets a go (and you are back on as/when they fail an activation, assuming they have something to activate).    If an activation is failed and the other side has already activated everything, then the turn is over*.

It runs pretty smoothly, and activations seem easier to achieve than in some of the similar games.    However it is neatly pitched to disrupt co-ordinated actions (infantry/armour, anarchist/communist … that sort of thing): with me rolling the dice this usually means … the infantry move up expecting to be covered by the tanks … the dice give the enemy a go who dump all their available resources on the exposed infantry … then the tanks finally move up, wondering why everyone is lying in a ditch …

IYTT Road to Madrid 03

(a Renault FT detachment is blown apart by determined infantry on the road to Madrid)

Shooting takes the form of potential hit damage which builds up until the unit gets activated or engaged by the enemy … at that point resolution dice are rolled generating morale drops and bodycount.   This means you never quite know what state the enemy is in when you do the shooting – and sometimes heavy preparation followed by a bayonet charge can find the enemy surprising up for the fight.   Generally, however, troops in buildings are much better off than troops moving in the open, say … just you never really know whether enough is enough.

Assaults are resolved in one turn by rolling dice (1 to 3 depending on unit quality) and applying modifiers … the modifiers generally outweigh the basic scores … although by throwing 3 dice, elite/determined troops always seem to have a chance, while on 1 die, poor troops really do have to have everything stacked in their favour.  

if you ... 03

(Republicans successfully swamp a BUA in part 2 of the second game)

These games have been very successful, allowing us to get together and play through a game that reads well and flows well … Same time, the games have had a good deal of ‘exploring the history’ about them.    Having played a number of Treb’s rules, I think this one balances well the historical content he wants to include with the easy game play needed to get through a relatively rich narrative in a single evening.

The mechanisms are by no means derivative and have a rewardingly different feel to them.   The grid scheme allows quick and simple play without all that measuring and annoying in/out debate (and as offsets, will switch straight over for players using hexagon terrain components) …

I’d give these rules serious consideration if you are looking for a higher level SCW wargame.

You can follow these battles in more detailed AAR’s on Trebian’s Wargaming For Grown Ups blog ( try the Spanish Civil War label) …

*any activations left to the player who failed are lost.

Note: the photos show Treb’s collection .. Peter Pig figures, mostly on 30×30 bases, with Piggie/QRF /Zvezda armour …


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