Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Rommel versus de Gaulle

Our Christmas Wargame this year revisited an idea I'd first explored about twenty years ago. What might have happened if Rommel's 7th Panzer Division had encountered Charles de Gaulle's 4th Division Cuirassée de Reserve in France in May 1940?

As we couldn't gather in person, I decided that we'd have a try at gaming by Discord. I set up a server with separate spaces for the French and German commanders and recruited four players; Andy Sangar (de Gaulle), Phil Gray (Rommel), Rob Connolly (Rothenberg - commander of 25th Panzer Regiment), and Richard Phillips (LtCol Sudre - commander of 6e Demi-brigade de Chars de Combat). In addition, Jamie very kindly assisted with moving the models on our table using the TacWW2 rules.

I knew we'd be playing out an encounter battle; something I generally try to avoid because they can be rather one dimensional. So often they degenerate into a race to occupy key terrain at the centre of the table. I thought we could get round that to some extent, though, by careful design of the terrain and by starting some elements of both forces on the table quite close to the enemy.

I set up terrain that used models I already possessed and then converted the table layout into a map (created using Paintbrush on my Mac):

The locations are fictional - justified by the fact that the two formations were never in a position to encounter one another in real life. The Germans entered from the east (top of the map) and the French from the west (bottom). The long axis of the table represents about 7.2km.

The French force consisted of:

  • 10e Cuirassiers - recon battalion (one company of Panhard 178 armoured cars and one of motorcycle infantry)
  • 4e Chasseurs Portées - a battalion of motorised infantry in civilian buses!
  • 6e DBCC - two tank battalions (19e with Chars D2 and 46e with Char B1 bis)
  • 8e DBCC - three tank battalions (2e, 24e and 44e) with Renault R-35s.
  • Plus half a dozen 75mm artillery batteries.

Of these, 10e Cuirassiers could start on the table anywhere up to the line railway-works-Ferme-de-Mesnil.

The German force represented only a portion of the assets available to 7th Panzer. I omitted three motorised infantry battalions, partly because I didn't have enough models and partly because their presence would have slowed the game down. The full force totalled:

  • 7th Motorcycle Battalion
  • 37th Reconnaissance Battalion 
  • 25th Panzer Regiment (mostly Pz38(t) but also some PzII and Pz IV)
  • I battalion 6th Schützen Regiment
  • Divisional assists in the form of six 105mm artillery batteries and two platoons each of 37mm AA guns, 88mm AA guns and 37mm AT guns.

Historically, 7th and 37th battalions were used by 7th Panzer as a forward detachment so I allowed these two to be deployed anywhere as far west as the Chateau St Juste.

I had intended that at the end of each game turn we would use die rolls (Tac rolls) to determine which companies had managed to communicate to their battalions. A second set of die rolls would then determine which battalions managed to send reports to the player commanders. Reports would be sent to the Regimental or Divisional commander depending on who the battalion in question reported to.

In the end we decided on the fly (a) to drop the company level reports and (b) to send all reports to both players of the appropriate side.  The requirement for a Tac roll provided for considerable friction. 10e Cuirassiers, for example, failed to get any communications off to 4DCR HQ for a good half of the action. 

Because the recon units started on the table, Jamie and I were very quickly in action. The French had decided that the 10e Cuirassiers would immediately attempt to occupy Sery l'Etang and their armoured car and motorcyclists quickly did so. The Germans on the other hand decided to advance on both flanks to screen their main force attacks.

Stukas attack Sery l'Etang (a Hungarian 
Air Force model standing in for my damaged
Luftwaffe Ju-87)

Both main forces were a little slow in getting forward. The most aggressive French advance was on their right flank where 6e DBCC pushed forward through Ferme du Mesnil and drove towards Sery. The Char D2 battalion would go on to engage the German 37th battalion's armoured cars.

19e BCC's Char D2s approach Sery.
4e Chasseurs' buses can be seen on the road.

46e BCC's Char B1s pass Ferme du Mesnil

Another early on-the-fly adjustment to our approach was to use 3"x5" index cards to represent the locations of as-yet-undeployed battalions. We also used business cards to represent independent companies - the one in the picture below represents de Gaulle's command elements.

Sery l'Etang rapidly became crowded with
French units.

7. Kradschützen Bataillon passes the 
Chateau St Juste

The Sery l'Etang traffic jam developing

Part of 37. Aufklärungs Abteilung moves
to pass Sery to the south

Unknown to their Division commander, the men of 10e Cuirassiers were staunchly defending Sery L'Etang. The German recon troops got to within pistol shot and one Cuirassier platoon was overrun and surrendered. However, at that moment the order came through for the German recon troops to turn left and move around Sery to the south. The town would remain in French hands throughout.

44e (nearest camera) and 2e BCC R-35s
(near the green die) approach the works

A view of the table circa Turn 5

A word about air support. I gave the Germans 6 Stuka and 9 Me-109 sorties to call off as they wished. The French would get random air support if a 10 was rolled on a D10 at the start of any turn. This never happened. Shame as I'd rather have liked to get my Fairey Battles onto the table at last!

4e BCP enters Sery

In the foreground the Char D2s of 19e BCC
clash with armoured cars of the 37.AA

I/6. Schützen Regt backed up by the
Panzer Is of 66. Panzer Bataillon

Here come the Panzers!

Towards the end of the game, the 25th Panzer regiment was passing north of Sery. Their two battalions were up against two Renault R-35 battalions of 8e DBCC (near the rectangular walled field on the left in the picture below).
The final positions seen from the west end of the table
over de Gaulle's HQ

The German battalions were considerably stronger than their French counterparts and the quality of the tanks was superior too. A German victory in the north was very likely.

Success to the south would depend on whether the Luftwaffe 88mm FlaK guns supporting I/6. Schützen Regiment could be got into action.

We got to 1730 real-life-time and about 0900 game-time and decided that we'd better stop and have something to eat. A debrief using Discord's voice channel revealed that the players had found the experience "equal parts boredom, frustration and annoyance" but none-the-worse for that. I get the impression that they thought the experience was probably very like the real thing (albeit without the ever present risk of personal injury or death)!

We all concluded that the Discord and remote commanders approach worked well. Jamie's now considering if it could be adapted to ancient warfare.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Discord game tomorrow

 I'd normally be hosting a couple of games in person over the Christmas period but that's obviously not going to happen this year. 

So in lieu I decided to have a go at running a game by Discord. Rather than playing a conventional game with the players able to see the events on-table via webcam, I having another go at the remote-commanders-giving-orders-based-on-a-map-and-reports-from-subordinates approach. I don't think I've done one of those in about twenty years!

We're exploring what might have happened if Rommel's 7th Panzer Division had encountered de Gaulle's 4th Armoured Division in 1940.

We'll be using the Tac:WW2 rules but these will be pretty much invisible to the players with just Jamie and I needing them to work out what happens.

I'll report later on how things go.


Saturday, December 26, 2020

Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus everybody!

That's "Merry Christmas" in Latvian, for no particular reason. I hope everybody's had a suitably indulgent day?  

Traditional display of wargames-related presents received:

I'm really pleased with all of this. The L-shaped ruler is something I've seen terrain-builders using online and thought "Oh that'd really help with marking out walls for scratch-built houses". 

The Copplestone Future Wars miniatures are to form a new gang for Rogue Stars. It'll be fun to paint them up and then stat them for the rules.

Finally, the small ziplock bag is African native accessories from Foundry - baskets, jars, statues, bunches of bananas, and skulls on poles among other items. Great for detailing Woebetideus villages. Some of them may also see use in the Pavis project. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Sun Domers vs Wolf Pirates

Diego and I played another game of inter-continental Hordes of the Things on Saturday.  He again chose the Sun Dome Templars whilst I decided to go back to using my favourite Gloranthan army - the Wolf Pirates.

I'm afraid I didn't get a full set of pictures to document the battle but here are the few I did take.

The Wolf Pirates were defending. Their Stronghold, the beached ship, can be seen above. Diagonally, between the two areas of Bad Going, you can see Argrath (Hero) and a Warband unit positioned to hold off an attempt by some Zebra Riders to threaten the Stronghold.

As with the previous battle, Diego seemed determined to avoid Bad Going. This probably wasn't unreasonable as his force of mostly Spears and Hordes is far better suited to the flat plains of Sun County.

He put his Spears, Hero and Paladin in the centre whilst his Shooters, Riders and Hordes formed a right wing that would advance to threaten my left.

The battle was bloody one. Both Paladins (Vega Goldbreath for the Sun Domers and Gunda the Guilty for the Wolf Pirates) were killed early in the action. Harrek the Berserk(Hero General) killed the Champion of Garhound (Hero) to give the Wolf Pirates what I thought would be a game-winning lead but then a 6:1 roll saw me lose two Warbands.

I thought the battle was won when Harrek managed to kill the Sun Domer General Solanthos Ironpike thanks to having turned the flank of the Spear unit immediately behind him and then forced him to recoil.  

But I'd forgotten that Diego needed to have lost both is General and more Army Points than me to lose the game. We fought on for one more turn before another 6:1 put paid to the one more Spear unit needed to break the Sun Domers' morale. 

That was a really enjoyable and hard-fought game. I think it was a mistake on Diego's part to strand his Hordes out on the right flank where they were always going to struggle to get into the action. 

I took a calculated risk and threw the Wolf Pirates forward hoping for a quick victory before he could threaten my Stronghold. I should have committed fully to that approach and gone with the full two-Heroes-and-a-Paladin front rank but at the last moment I decided to keep Argrath in reserve to keep the Zebra Riders away from my ship. As a result the big fight in the centre went on longer and was more bloody on my side than maybe it should have been.

Quote of the Day come from Diego: "Strongholds are pretty tough, otherwise they'd call them Weakholds".  


Thursday, December 17, 2020

Crisis Point 2021

Covid-19 population dynamics allowing, Crisis Point 2021 will take place on the 17th and 18th April 2021.

It was a great disappointment to have to cancel this year’s event. Obviously picking a date this coming Spring is something of a hostage to fortune but I’m hoping the availability of a vaccine will have started to lessen the need for isolation.

Crisis Point 2021 sees us return to a single, large game with everyone involved together. We’ll be exploring the “history” of the fictional Woebetide Islands in the Indian Ocean in the early 1700s. There will be the chance to play  fierce pirates and privateers, cunning captains of the English and French East India Companies, dastardly Arab slavers, and fierce native chieftains.

If you take Pirates of the Caribbean, filter out the supernatural elements, lard heavily with The Last of the Mohicans, swirl in the grandfathers of Richard Sharpe and Horatio Hornblower, add a dash of Carry On Up the Khyber, and serve it all with suitably outrageous French, Arab and Indian accents, you’ve probably got a feel for where we’re heading.

As usual you don’t have to bring your own armies, though we’re very grateful to those who do, and knowledge of the rules (Sharp Practice by Too Fat Lardies) is helpful but not necessary.      

The usual structure of the weekend is planned:

Friday 16th, afternoon - take possession of the hall and begin setting up tables and terrain

Saturday 17th - start about 10am and play through to about 5pm (please bring your own packed lunch)

Saturday 17th, evening - for those staying locally a trip to the Royal Hotel for pies and pints will take place

Sunday 17th - again starting about 10am, breaking for lunch at the Royal and wrapping up about 3pm to allow time for packing away and getting off to our respective homes.

If you plan to attend this time, please let me know as soon as possible so I can allocate you a role.  Likewise if you can’t make it, please do let me know early as this will really help with the organising.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Cargo sleds

One of the things I like about Rogue Stars is the scenario generation system.  Before any game you roll three d20s. The first determines the mission, the second the location, and the third adds a complication. That's 8,000 potential combinations. Great for replayability!

However, it does also mean you potentially need a lot of terrain if you're going to cover all the bases (some of them actually bases, if you see what I mean). If you roll Mission 18 - Ice Planet, you'd better have suitably snowy terrain!

Of course in reality we won't have all of the potential terrain so I'm sure I'll re-roll sometimes. However, I have found it quite inspiring to take the random rolls as inspiration to build stuff. In a recent solo game I rolled Mission 4 - Smuggling, which requires that the attacker "must carry three containers of merchandise to the other side of the table". 

It being a solo game I was able to pause and create something for my smugglers to smuggle. Rather than placing boxes next to the characters carrying the merchandise I decided to go for something like the beasty (I believe it's called a hover sled) used to transport Han Solo's carbonite-frozen form in The Empire Strikes Back.

A couple of hours' work with some cardboard of various thicknesses and a few pieces of clear plastic rod gave me these three:

They aren't marvellous bits of modelling but they'll do.

One of the other possibilities is to roll Location 5 - City, civilised world. In this case 1d5 vehicles will be present, some of which may have civilian drivers. Today's weekly shopping trip to Morrisons got me three modern-style plastic sports cars, a little larger than the traditional Matchbox/Hot Wheels size. The pack of three cost £1! Pictures when I've got them suitably prepped for gaming.