Tuesday 27 February 2018

Simulating War and Fire Move with the Seven Question Appraisal

The British Army applies a "Seven Question Appraisal" format to planning military operations. Would it help me to understand the underlying game principles if I tried to describe the FireMove game in such a manner? (See below, my attempt after half a dozen battles under my belt): 

  1. What is the adversary doing and why and/or what situation do I face and why, and what effect do they have on me? 
    • The Germans are adopting an uncharacteristic passive posture in this sector while they seek to regroup and consolidate from their recent losses in the Normandy battles. Their higher formations and command structure have been noticeably dislocated by the Allied advance and renewed constant aerial attacks. This is evident in their lack of combined arms operations larger than company battle groups (kampfgruppen). The defending German Infantry is now believed to be strung out very thinly, typically two companies to the usual three to a battalion frontage of approximately a kilometre length. The Germans are trying to hold back various probing attacks in this sector with very limited resources, primarily by adopting battalion blocking formations covering key areas of terrain. The Germans are therefore very much on the defensive but have been known to launch small localised counterattacks. The Germans possess only limited artillery assets, those encountered so far have been predominately their attached battalion mortars which they have used to good effect, albeit with limited ammunition. These Germans mortars will be most probably used to try and suppress the deadly Vickers HMG platoon (so early phases of the battle may see the Vickers HMG suppressed and unable to give covering fire). Each German rifle platoon's fire and battalion mortar defensive barrage can cover a 300 metre by 150 metre rectangle. It is therefore important not to bunch and unduly concentrate infantry together when exposed to German fire. There will be evolving opportunities to exploit local weaknesses in the German line particularly if the terrain suits infiltration and the ability to overwhelm local pockets of isolated Germans. Given the fact that this is "an advance to contact probing attack" the British infantry will be subjected to "defensive first fire" by any German infantry platoons not suppressed in the opening British artillery barrage. Careful consideration will have to be given on the "company orientated" avenues of approach to the German front line as to avoid too wide an advance that would serve to activate too many German platoons. While the German platoons are static and dug-in they remain invulnerable to taking casualties from direct fire (bar those taken in the opening barrage) and require a "close assault" by British infantry. If the German player moves out of the dug-in positions then they are as vulnerable as the British platoons. The German Commander will remain static for as long as possible and only move out of those prepared positions in dire emergencies. By the nature of the operation the British infantry will be at a disadvantage moving up (out of cover unlike the static Germans) so suppression on a "moving" platoon will also cause physical casualties; an "hour [six hits]" of sustained fire from a German platoon will remove a British Platoon for play (every six hits, which counts as a VP for the German player). Multiple German platoons firing will increase the casualties. Excluding the mortar, the two German rifle companies could remove a British platoon per turn by rifle fire alone. A broad front approach against active German infantry would be murderous. In the initial opening phase of the battle the British player may have to endure up to two/three turns where the German player is dominant, but will slowly achieve a local area of success (particularly as the German mortar ammunition becomes scare) to exploit. [A good artillery 'stonk' is the best tonic for the attackers!]
  2. What have I been told to do and why? 
    • The current operational situation gives the British a great opportunity to exploit weaknesses in the German lines and to pursue limited offensive actions to keep the Germans unbalanced, possibly turning a flank or breaking through weakened isolated positions. Your Battalion has been ordered to undertake such a limited offensive against one such weakened German battalion and push them out of their current positions. Intelligence believe ours is one of many weak German sectors that can exploited. Taken together we can crumble their line. Little or no German armour is in the area so it will be an infantry affair.Tactically this means an advance to contact operation with the full battalion after a preliminary barrage from the attached regimental mortars on known enemy positions. The force ratio  is believed to be 2:1 in our favour. The Germans are in hasty dug-in defensive positions without the means to consolidate their positions with more permanent works such as minefields so speed is of the essence. The objective is to penetrate the enemy lines to capture German baseline hexes (1 VP each) as secure jump-off positions for the next phase of continuing operations. By eliminating German rifle platoons (1 VP each) we will  make the current German front yet more untenable. It is also important to avoid unnecessary British casualties (-1 VP each British Platoon KIA) The British manpower reserve is limited. Likewise German platoons (-1 VP for each German Platoon) remaining in play at the end of the attack will slip away and therefore will have to be "fought again" on another day. 
  3. What effects do I need to have on the adversary or situation and what direction must I give to develop the plan? 
    • The battlefield is rural. There will be areas of open ground with limited cover. This will have to be crossed before the main enemy defensive line is encountered. Low Hills, Woods and isolated Farm Buildings will offer opportunities to provide limited cover. The key to success is to identify avenues of approach that conceal and protect from German defensive fire. It is critical to suppress the known enemy positions first by effective "fire" so that this forward "movement" is not punished (aka taking casualties) and that "reserves" pushed forward at the appropriate time to keep the offensive moving. The battalion mortar platoon and an attached Vickers HMG platoon are the critical weapon systems that need to be used to their full effect for the attack to be successful; they do this by suppressing the most dangerous German rifle platoons. (Note: At least these supports have their ammunition is stock-plied and can be utilised over the whole two hour attack period.) The Mortar and Vickers HMG have statistically the best chance of suppressing German platoons. Rifle fire is most effective from 450 metres and below (3 hexes), but note that sustained fire will reduce a platoons fighting potential as all ammunition has to be carried (for every nine [Note: In this scenario] phases of rifle fire, a British platoon will have to retire to re-stock [outside the scenario time frame to return the assault]). As the German platoons are dug-in even a successful suppression will not serve to inflict a casualty. Dug-in troops need to be "close assaulted" by infantry to be affected and removed from play. It is highly dangerous to move next to an active German platoon as they are likely to close assault fist or suppress the British infantry platoon with very effective rifle fire.  The goal if for the British to advance on an isolated German platoons, keeping them suppressed by British mortar or Vickers HMG fire. There will be eleven opportunities to perform movement actions (in game terms on turns 1 to 11), requiring a minimum of six actions to get to a German Baseline hex. Any unit therefor committed after turn six cannot gain the German Baseline VPs. 
  4. Where and how can I best accomplish each action or effect? 
    • The organic British infantry platoon comprises of three platoons. This allows in principle the company to perform a "fire" action with one platoon and move with another platoon, while holding a third platoon in reserve in case of KIA elimination or withdrawal through ammunition expenditure. A company corridor/avenue of advance needs to be a width of 450 meters to allow sufficient spacing to avoid the adjacent fire (300 metre width German rifle platoon fire) to possibly suppress both British platoons which would disastrously pin the advance. If a compressed avenue is chosen (300 meters or less [150 meters]) then complete suppression of German defensive fire is required. The critical weapon systems to suppress German fire are the British battalions organic 3" mortar platoon and the attached Vickers HMG platoon from regimental asset pool. Given the fact that this is "an advance to contact" the British starting point crucially depends upon maximising any German disruption caused by the opening artillery barrage (Note: The "heavier" the barrage the better). Any disrupted German platoons from this barrage are obviously a 'high priority' to advance against as they can be kept silent with effective use of the mortar and Vickers HMG. Forward momentum must be maintained with at least one platoon in a company advancing per game turn, otherwise the German Baseline hexes will become unobtainable. The British platoons will have to "close assault" the German platoons to remove them (gaining 1 VP) and in the final run up to the assault (i.e. moving adjacent to the German platoon) either the Vickers HMG or another British infantry platoon [ideally from the same company] should be in position to suppress the German platoon (otherwise the moving British platoon could be on the receiving end of a vicious German close assault instead). The Vickers HMG must be carefully placed to have clear lines of supportive fire, however as noted earlier the Germans will actively seek to neutralise the Vickers with effective use of the German 81mm mortar barrages (likely to be called 4-5 times during the course of the attack). Likewise the British mortar platoon must have at least one active British infantry or HMG platoon that it can use as a spotter to bring fire down on German targets. It is noted that if the British player seeks to advance down both flanks then less fire will typically drawn than an advance down a central corridor and could potentially draw 3:1 (or more) localised odds (three British platoons against one German platoon), noting the "width of the avenue of advance" caveats mentioned earlier. Effective use of terrain (particularly blocking line of sight and dead ground so that the German platoons cannot fire) needs to be skillfully navigated and can provide sate "massing points" for British infantry to safely 'stack' without fear of excessive casualties. Farmhouses do provide effective cover but could inadvertently cause the troops to hunker down, however a British Baseline farmhouse would be a seductive place for the Vickers HMG platoon if it afforded an acceptable field of fire.     
  5. What resources are needed to accomplish each action or effect?
    • Free movement of British infantry platoons down their avenue of advance requires the suppression of German infantry platoons so that they cannot deliver defensive fire on the advancing British infantry platoons. This can be achieved through the indirect artillery barrage on the first turn, followed by the indirect mortar fire on subsequent turns, supported by direct fire from the Vickers HMG (when it has not been suppressed by the German mortar). When the British infantry get to within effective range (three hexes or less) they too can support with rifle fire and retain a high chance of success (fire at ranges of four hexes and over [450 metres plus] typically waste ammunition and stop platoons from a more worthwhile advance). 
    • Removal of German Platoon requires British infantry platoons to move adjacent to the enemy position (see the above "free movement" point). The supportive fire can not longer be mortar (danger close) and is best delivered by a "close by" [2 or 3 hex from target] British infantry platoon (ideally from the same company to avoid a -1 to hit DRM) or the Vickers HMG (which while suffering a -1 to hit DRM still has a high chance of success). Two successful assaults will be required to remove the German platoon, ideally hitting on the same turn to remove the German platoon immediately from play. As stated earlier any German platoons not removed from play will have to be "fought again" at some point in the campaign. So all effort should be made to engage disadvantaged German platoons as it is far easier generally to kill the platoons than reach the German baseline Hexes.   
    • Attaining German Baseline Hex requires at least six actions moving forward. Given that there will be probably two turns spent in combat plus the likelihood of two to three turns either "spent" unable to move or waiting for the ground to clear ahead this is a tight schedule. Movement down one flank, associated with a successful attack is likely to obtain three German baseline hexes (3 VPs) [potentially at 3:1 odds]. To attain the whole baseline requires two successful flank attacks [dropping to 2:1 odds on each flank]. There is little margin of error for the British Commander as he has to keep moving the attack forwards. A wise commander may probe the flanks before with a British company and committing the remainder to the flank most likely to success (reinforce success).The risk of losing men has to be weighed against the opportunity to rupture the German front.
    • The imperative of not taking excessive British casualties means restricting the frontage to as small an avenue as needed to restrict the number of active German platoons in play at any one time and likewise maximise the number of British offensive actions against them.  
    • For a successful attack the whole battalion will need to be committed in company groupings. The expectation is that four companies will be committed, a between 2-3 platoons will be removed from ammunition depletion and between 3-5 platoons removed from play by German action. The two remaining companies would be needed to cover the German Baseline Hexes.  
  6. When and where do the actions take place in relation to each other?
    • "Fire" comes before "Movement" then infantry platoons are subsequently "Refreshed" at the end of the player's turn.
    • Attaining the suppression of German platoons before movement is therefore a key tactical element in the plan otherwise the British attack would get pinned down with suppressed infantry.
    • Mortar fire comes in first from a designated "spotter" stand, which itself cannot move but can fire. Note: The Vickers HMG platoon (if situated correctly) could be an ideal choice for this role - although any stand in the battalion can equally "call fire".
    • The Vickers HMG should them deliver its fire next
    • Non-moving rifle platoons fire next if they are within effective range (3 hexes or less range)
    • Perform close assaults 
    • Note: All the above must be part of a "designated fire plan" before any results are rolled for; ;the British Commander has to commit to where he wants his fire to go for maximum effect. This may well mean that multiple suppresses are achieved. This is not necessarily "wasted effort" but rather viewed as pragmatic  "insurance" on winning where he needs to. 
    • German casualties are removed after the British "fire phase" is complete. A German platoon is removed for every six hits attained. 
  7. What control measures to I need to impose? 
    • British Infantry platoons should be positioned as not block Line of Sight (LoS) to the British Vickers HMG platoon unless a "dire necessity" (closing into a close assault position). 
    • Always keep an "active" British platoon to be on hand to call the British Mortar Platoon in, as it is arguably the most effective British weapon available and should "fire each turn". Ideally on a fixed position which means reducing the "jump around" for new targets as there is a -1 DRM for this re-targeting exercise.
    • British infantry should be committed in Company avenues of advance so that platoons of the same company can provide mutual assistance (not be affected by the -1 DRM) in supporting fire when shooting at a German platoon with a friendly platoon from the same company adjacent to it. Platoons from the same company can also shoot or close assault the same German platoon. 
    • Restrict the assault to the minimum frontage needed otherwise you increase the risk of drawing in additional German fire unnecessarily.
    • Sanction British infantry platoons only to fire at German platoons when within effective range as a general principal (there may well be circumstances when long range shots are worth while, but the norm is that they are generally not worth it). 
    • The British player should hold at least a reserve of one infantry company back to see how the battle develops, committing the last platoon by turn six, as this is the latest if their is a chance to get it to the German baseline.

    Note: Alternatively you could just "Get their firstest with the mostest." [Nathan Bedford Forrest]

Monday 26 February 2018

Simulating War: Fire and Movement - Closing Time - Extended AmmoVariant (Part 4)

It is the German player phase but "with a twist", as he can perform no actions. All the German platoons were "spent" from effective British fire so there is no movement, no firing, the dreaded mortar is silent, as even though there still is potentially 'one left in the tube' [if the German rolls a six calling fire in] the German Commander needs a "fresh" platoon to call it in (see below, this will be quick):

The end of the German phase of Turn 9 the British Battalion Commander has seven infantry platoons active (three removed from play by enemy fire and two from ammunition expenditure), plus a Vickers HMG and mortar barrage to call in - nine actions all told. With only two possible moves left it is a priority for the British units breaking through on the German left flank to reach the baseline, capture the hexes and claim British VPs. The remaining four platoons plus HMG/mortar supports have to focus on suppressing (or killing) the last three German platoons as the German will be able to claim a VP for every remaining platoon at the end of the game - potentially three more VPs, so the game is by no means over (see below):     

The British player succeeds in his objectives. Two German baseline hexes are now under his control and three casualties are accrued via a successful close assault on the right hand flank German platoon, so not yet removed but close to it! (see below, Germans 3 (with a possible 6 if the last three German platoons survive ): 5 (with a possible 7 up for grabs [an additional German baseline hex plus a German platoon KIA])):

Again nothing for the German player to do on Turn 11 except wait to recover his "spent" units (see below, another quick time):

The last active turn for the British Battalion Commander (as the Germans player gets one last defensive phase on Turn 12). It looks bleak for the Germans as two British platoons are stacked up against the German right flank bastion. The last German baseline hex is also within easy exploitation so it looks like it is heading towards a British win (see below):

The British player elects to mortar the central German platoon, fire the Vickers HMG against the "last redoubt" along with a rifle fire from the nearest German baseline unit and close assault the right hand German flank bastion with two platoons. The extra firepower from the British rifle platoon is put in as insurance just in case of "jamming" problems with the Vickers, which as it turned out was well it (any ammunition platoon withdrawals could be made from British infantry in non-German baseline hexes). If the German player made a British unit "spent" on the German baseline hex, then it would no longer count towards a VP. The close assaults are successful and another German platoon is removed and the Germans (see below, German 3 (soon to be 5):7 British VPs):

All done now by the British player, Turn 12 and the German player can just remove the "spent" status (see below, German 5:7 British VPs):

The end of game situation, a British breakthrough, deemed a 'marginal' tactical win (5:7) although on the board it looked far better. As only light-to-medium casualties were struck on the British battalion it still has some fighting potential, depending what it will run into. The Germans however suffering over 50% withdraws shattered for consolidation with its Regiment base and possible sister battalion or into reserve. The Germans did however delay the British for several hours so the German higher command would have enough warning to react,perhaps with a local counterattack, with maybe even a tank or two! (see below, the final state of play):

As mentioned earlier one of the hardest things to do is keep track of all the details as they happen. For a long time I have meant to put together an "easy to fill in" log sheet of "all possible actions and states" that can happen in the game. Akin to my software background training, a state table for all the variables was used (which turned out to be harder than you think) and allowing a possible replay/re-cock of positions. A computer system would have a database or at least text diagnostic dump to analyse (see below, bottom of the sheet is my 'back of the cigarette packet' thoughts on the bidding system for artillery - increasing the barrage should cost you a VP for every level of +1 to kill from the base value of 2) :

The audit function is slightly easier for the German platoons as they tend to be static (and I also didn't not the "killed" and by whom statistics which could be interesting). Never the less the motto should be "leave yourself plenty of scribble room for unexpected things you didn't think would be important but were" (see below, the German side - note they still had "one mortar barrage in the barrel" that they didn't manage to use):

Well this was a turn up for the books, a "British Win" (my first)! The lucky streak of wins also continues for the "oldest" newbie in town, first leading the Spartans over Argos, then travelling forwards in time to the blood soaked battlefields of WWII France with the British Army fighting the weary legions of the Reich! It was good to get a FireMove game played where I thought the rules were played correctly (bar one mistake which I don'r think adversely affected the outcome). More worryingly it that it is "hard" to win as the attacker and that is something I would like to explore with alternate rules sets across the same scenario. Yes the Portable Wargame beckons, but more so Command Decision, Spearhead, Great Canadian Battles of WWII, Battlefront and even Advanced or Basic Squad Leader. A comparison of weapon effects at distance between the rules would be interesting. Watch this space.

Another interesting exercise would be running through the scenario using the British Army (modern) "Seven Question Estimate" to see if slightly better planning could assist the attacker in a more formalised approach to the battle (see below, the British Army's Seven Questions):
  1. What is the adversary doing and why and/or what situation do I face and why, and what effect do they have on me? 
  2. What have I been told to do and why? 
  3. What effects do I need to have on the adversary or situation and what direction must I give to develop the plan? 
  4. Where and how can I best accomplish each action or effect? 
  5. What resources are needed to accomplish each action or effect?
  6. When and where do the actions take place in relation to each other?
  7. What control measures to I need to impose?

Sunday 25 February 2018

Simulating War: Fire and Movement - The Crux of Battle - Extended Ammo Variant (Part 3)

Game Rules Note: A quick note on te extended ammo variant rules. As the game is described in Phil Sabin's book, every sixth British infantry fire a platoon is removed. As a result of discussions with various members of the Wargames Development group, quick addendum to exclude the British 3" Mortar and Vickers HMG from the equation and concentrate of "rifle ammunition" . However after play testing further even this restriction still seemed to penalise the British unduly. So in this game the ammo parameter is raised from every six to every nine. This still removes the temptation of the British Player to "blaze away" without restrain but gives a logistics factor nevertheless. The original value of "six" was chosen for ease of use, something to count "up to" on a spare dice. In this particular game, at this point there have been relatively few British infantry attacks so the rule has only now to come into play and a "C Coy" platoon [that had fired the previous turn] is removed from play. This is good for the British as they need every spare platoon they can get their hands on to press home their advantage.

Situation Review: The German left flank if of concern for the German Commander as it is only a matter of time before it unravels (see below):

Turn Eight's German defensive fire is particularly effective, bleeding the British troops attacking the German right flank. A combination of effective mortar fire and rifle fire "silences" the attack, even subduing the dangerous British Vickers HMG platoon (again). In fact the British lose anther platoon through casualty attrition (see below, success on the left but painful casualties to the British on the right):

The British player chooses to lose a baseline British infantry platoon to keep the momentum of the attack going forward (see below, Germans 3:1 British VPs):

That leaves the British Battalion Commander with the imperative need to attack the German left flank with his active troops. The German platoon in the wood is the target. One platoon from (lucky) "B Coy" flanks the position, another from "C Coy" moves behind in breakthrough support. The two remaining platoons attack striking hard with six causalities. [Note: Here as player/umpire I made a mistake as the British platoons are from two separate companies and should not have been able to support each other .. my bad (although being the German Commander I hurt myself). Instead of six it should have only been three casualties. Some form of "Computer Aided Assistant" would have been helpful here!] The German Commander knows he is really in trouble on his left flank (see below):

The German platoon in the wood is removed [Erroneously, probably a turn too early .. but it would have been suppressed for the next turn because of the combat results] from play (see below, Germans 3:2 British with respect to VPs):

The overall position for the Germans is of growing concern verging on disaster, looking particularly bad because of the British breakthrough on the German left flank. "Night may fall" ["Give me night or give me Blucher" seems unhistorical but appropriate] and yet save the German Commander. The German certainly needs to pin down the British on his right flank and contain the incursion (if at all possible) on his left flank from gaining German baseline hexes and thus attaining vital VPs  (see below, just before the British remove their "spent white counters"):

The German defensive phase on turn nine is key, but calamity strikes. No mortars are called in  and the German platoons can only suppress one British platoon (albeit the one about to close assault the far right German platoon. The German Commander chose not to close assault and inflict three casualties and suppress one British Platoon, but rather attack two and try and cause two casualties and make two British platoons spent and therefore inactive). This again leaves the British player with a mass of potential, having nine active platoons, including the Vickers HMG, plus a mortar attack (see below, that means a lot of "incoming" for the German defenders to face):

The British mercilessly advance on the German left flank [Note: In all probability this turn would have seen the demise of the German platoon and the lead British platoon would still be as advanced due to the overwhelming local superiority of the British on the German left flank .. so therefore I think the 'rule mistake' did not matter in the mix]. The three German platoons on the German front line have all been successfully suppressed which means it will be a very short turn for the German Commander next go. The British Battalion Commander certainly has the Germans within his OODA loop" (Observe Orientate Decide and Act). This is the critical point of the battle as the German player only has the "last redoubt" far away on the German baseline in play (see below): 

The long range German rifle fire from the "last redoubt" fails to suppress the British infantry attacking the central [red company] German platoon (distance and the hill cover saved it, the fact that the German was supporting his company [no negative adjacent minus] and the target was on a hill thus not stopping LOS made it possible). Worse still the German Commander failed to get the last of his mortar barrages in, thus meaning the British player has eight active platoons, two of which will be performing close assaults and the Vickers HMG and 3" mortar in play (see below):

For some reason (and I must confess not to be entirely sure of "why") another "C Coy" platoon was removed from play. I don't this was due to casualties taken but more probably because of the ammo rules for logistics as the British platoon did not end up in the "dead pile" counting for German VPs, and to be fair the British have been doing much more "rifle firing" in the preceding turns. All I know for sure is that I recorded the event in this sequence (see below, three British platoons "sniffing" as German Baseline hexes and possible VPs become tantalisingly close):

The British Commander chose to keep mortaring the last remaining German platoon from their "Blue" company and HMG the German "last redoubt", close assault the other two German platoons and move everybody else up, eyeing up those German baseline VPs (see below):

A spectacular result. All German platoons are spent, one German baseline hex captures, six more casualties on the Germans means they will lose another infantry platoon and most importantly of all all they can do is remove the spent status from their troops - effectively "missing a go" (see below, Germans 3:4 British VPs): 

The important thing now for the British Commander is to ensure the German player's platoons all  remains "spent" and he can then roll-up their position, if time permits.

Next: Hard Rain To Keep on Falling

Friday 23 February 2018

Simulating War: Fire and Movement - The Battle Turns - Extended Ammo Variant (Part 2)

The British Battalion Commander needed to force the "big push" forward. Using the quiet calm of the sheltered terrain before the ridge line of the German left he mustered as assault company (platoons elements from "B Coy" and "C Coy" in reinforced company strength). If the Vickers HMG or the 3" British mortar could suppress the German platoon in the wood they were going to "go for it". To keep the pressure up the fourth platoon of "D Coy" was committed (the final British infantry platoon) to the opposite flank to take advantage of the suppressed German position. This meant clustering them horribly but the advantage was deemed worth the risk of exposing three platoons to extreme range rifle fire (see below):   

All moved, the British await the German response, at least three German rifle platoons have "shots" and there is always the depressing thought of the German 81mm mortar potentially being called in (see below):

"Holy mother of mysteries, they missed!" No being shot didn't win the war in itself but it sure boosted player morale. For what seemed the first time in a long, long time the Vickers HMG was free to play its part on the attack alongside the 3" mortar. These two important weapon systems were called on to suppress the end German bastions to keep the attack momentum going  (see below, potentially eleven British actions this turn! An unheard of bounty!):

Both outlying German bastions were suppressed. Though looking back at the pictures the British Battalion Commander placed an enormous amount trusted in his weapon systems, just as well they didn't "jam" or "disappoint".  Closer examination sees a potentially better move; rather than sending "B Coy" [red markers] over the top, one platoon could have laid extra suppression on the farm "just in case" and still achieved the same result with a platoon from "C Coy" [yellow marker]. The "B Coy rush" gave the German Commander a fire targeting dilemma, does he try and suppress both platoons or close assault a single platoon and cause more casualties which would remove another British infantry platoon. On the German left the British push forward. Note: One platoon stayed behind to be able to spot for the indirect mortar support (see below): 

The British spent counters are removed revealing for the first time in the game a quite "open" board with the British Infantry half way to their objective. Will this be a turning point or rather the high point of something akin to Picket's Charge? (see below):

The Germans retaliate with yet more defensive fire. However just when it seemed highly likely that "B Coy" is pinned on the wire in gory WWI fashion, the marginal advantage that the hilly terrain afforded comes to the British salvation. Neither British infantry platoon is suppressed. Elsewhere the German mortars and rifle fire take a murderous toll, suppressing the Vickers HMG (again) and making good use of what could be the last rounds of the German 81mm mortar the British take more infantry casualties on the German fight flank (see below, the price being paid is high .. the current score being Germans 2 VP to the British 0):

Despite the suppression counters on four of his platoons, the British Battalion Commander has seven offensive actions to juggle. Plenty of scope for offensive action. There will be two close assaults going into the German left flank by "B Coy" [red counters] and follow up moves two moves by "C Coy" [yellow markers] behind them and one 'fire to suppress' and 'mortar spot' on the central German platoon (five actions). On the German right flank there will be one fire for suppression attempt and one move to be adjacent to the enemy (two actions). There is a sense that this is a "make or break turn" for the British. If all goes well the majority of German stands could be suppressed at the beginning of the next German Turn and perhaps one platoon even removed (see below):

The British comes in trumps. Two close assaults are successful and cause six German casualties (that will be a German platoon and 1 VP for the British player) with the mortar suppressing the central German platoon, the only miss being the rifle fire failed to suppress the right flank German platoon (see below):

A close-up of the close assault and luck "B Coy" [red counters]. The German player has to chose which platoon to lose. He decides to retain the platoon in the wood as it gains a +1 defensive Dice Roll Modifier (DRM). Although its long term prospects look poor (see below):

The situation at end of the British phase and completion of Turn 7. The Germans have three actions and possibly a mortar attack to make but the British have eleven platoons in play which means  the Germans have eleven targets. With the Germans only having three or four shots the British will be able to attack no matter what. The German left flank looks particularly tenuous (see below):

Nothing has been decided as the score is 2:1 to the Germans. A bit like a World Cup score, still all to play for ;)

Next: The Crux of the Battle

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Simulating War: Fire and Movement - The Push Forward - Extended Ammo Variant (Part 1)

Once more unto the breach. The battlefield (see below):

My fascination with a small game called Fire and Movement from Phil Sabin's Simulating War book continues. To me it epitomises the "battalion push" over a broad front, The strategy that seems reminiscent on France 1944 Normandy+. A hasty German defense is strung together covering the "battalion frontage of 1200 metres" of two under strength companies with little or no reserve, with depleted mortar support. The goal of the British player is to dislodge the German front line by (a) killing Germans and (b) capturing baseline German hexes. The terrain is generated randomly as per a little JavaScript program I wrote for Connections UK 2016. The Germans have "choice" of with baseline to defend - so the program allows it to flip the board accordingly (see below the generated terrain) :

The German player chose the "hilly" side of the board. The terrain is not ideal as the British left hand flank has a potential blind spot caused by the ridge of hills near the German held wood. The Germans scan deploy up to three hexes in from their baseline. The British will deploy on their baseline.

Note: I will "flip" the generated map to align with future photographs (see below):

The "map" is transferred onto the terrain of the game board (see below, van you spot the six "hill" and two "wood" hexes? ):

As the German player I set-up the defense in a line across the board half way in to maximise the firing line but at the same time avoid bunching in consecutive hexes. In this game rifle, machine gun and mortar effect all the enemy units in two adjacent hexes. It really does pay not to bunch if (and it is an "if") you can be fired at. The only problem (as in a defensive weakness) is that I have is the low lying hills to the German left flank. I don't want to move forward and occupy them as that would lose my precious dug-in status  but I want to protect my German platoon in the central woods. I decide to lay in ambush in the adjacent hex which allows me to ambush any "Tommies" (Canadians, Scottish, Welsh or Irish, even Free French) that dare to come 'over the hill'. Almost "guaranteed suppression" by the Germans I think. The other option would be to hang back to the German hill in the rear. Taking General Slim at his word, when choosing between two plans of equal worth chose the bolder! The final platoon is a "tail-end Charlie" guarding the baseline as a final redoubt (see below):

The games then commences unceremoniously with a light British Artillery barrage, the regimental mortars plastering the Germans in "Line Of Sight" from the British baseline. The barrage will suppress and cause one casualty on an unmodified roll of 1 or 2 (this is as per the base rules, Phil via the Simulating War Yahoo Group suggest increasing the "ho hit" range in a bidding war with the player with lowest artillery score 'winning' the privilege to play British.) The rolls are poor and only the German in the "last redoubt" is suppressed. This means there will be a 'hot' reception for the attacking British infantry. The British battalion commander moves his HMG into the wood to get the defensive modifier and decides to probe the German right flank for a weaknesses by bringing on two platoons from "A Coy" (see below, position after the end of the first turn): 

The Germans send a welcoming torrent of fire down upon the advancing British. Three rifle platoons and the hated 81mm mortar [which to some epitomises the battle for Normandy through the hedgerows] open up. The two British infantry platoons take casualties and are suppressed. The HMG survives intact (See below, please note I had to swivel the photo 180 degrees to maintain the British top Germans bottom orientation so the perspective is different in this picture):

Note: The right German flank platoon has also fired but I was snap happy and took the photo before the white suppression counter was in place! A thing I noted about this game is that although there were two of us, so much was happening that despite all the photographs lots of small details were missed. In "professional wargames" along with computer audits of moves there are dedicated scribes furiously making notes for the "After Action Review" (AAR).

Flipping onto the next British turn, "B Coy" moves onto the German left flank as the right flank is bogged down. Don't reinforce failure. The British HMG and mortar fail to suppress any German stands. (How many times game you draw a one? perhaps a "bag of numbers" would be a better random control! That way extreme variances could be taken out of the system.) At the end of the British phase (and the end of Turn 2) the British suppression markers are removed (see below): 

No German movement (other than shuffling in their trenches) and the defensive fire silences the British Infantry attacking the right hand side of the German line. The British casualties are slowly mounting but have not yet reached the point whereby a platoon is removed from play (see below):

The British Battalion Commander (whose wargaming lineage can be traced back to the Spartan King in  the Sparta v Argos game in the previous series of posts) commits "C Coy" to attack the German left flank. The attack on the German right flank seems stalled and something needs to be done to generate impetus. "Am I being aggressive enough?" is the British infantry officer's mantra, so on cue he launches his third company forwards. At the end of the British phase all their suppression markers are removed. Turn 3 draws to a close (see below, 25% of the way through the battle and the British are barely off the baseline):

Turn Four starts with telling German defensive fire (again). The British attack on the right is pinned, including the useful Vickers HMG platoon (Note: A key British weapon system: the British need the firepower but as soon as it is on table it becomes the primary German target for their 81mm mortar. In practice (and when or where possible) the British used it in an indirect role, thus not exposing to 'direct fire' retaliation). The only good news being that the Germans have used a lot of their stock of 81mm mortar ammunition as part of their early success on the PBI of "A Coy". However "B Coy" are all still fresh and in a position to advance further across the board (see below):

The British player brings in another platoon from "C Coy" attacking the German left flank, he snakes two platoons of "B Coy" up to the low hills on the German left flank (in preparation for an 'over the hill assault'), using the third platoon to spot for a mortar attack on the German wood and fire at the central German platoon (hence the name Fire and Movement, or as the sequence of play has it Move then Fire; the ones that didn't move are critical for suppressing the defenders- as per Captain Ed Farren's quote at Connection UK 2015 "Movement without Suppression Fire is disastrous"). The result being the central German platoon is (happily for the British player) suppressed. At last there is some leverage and perhaps slackening of German fire for next turn [5] (see below):

Turn 5 starts with the familiar German LMG and rifle chatter. The mounting British casualties draw  blood and a platoon from "B Coy" is removed from play as a KIA (1 VP for the German player), but for the first time the British player options are starting to open up with four fresh platoons that could advance (see below): 

The British player is stoically "hanging in", perhaps playing Sparta in the last DBA game helped and has already picked up the 'good' wargaming habit of playing through until the end. A well respected wargaming friend once pointed out that "someone had to be under the guns" for things to work on another part of the battlefield. Not a pointless useless sacrifice but getting the "friction of war" to work in your favour. Can the British Battalion Commander get something going, the German lock down seems to be slipping slightly?

Next: Starting the push (to Berlin)!

Monday 19 February 2018

Labyrinth: Family Game

This is a particular family favourite of mine, Labyrinth (see below):

I like thew quirky way the board terrain 'transforms' by the players sliding the tiles as part of their move. Wargaming designers take not of the interesting concept of the player transforming the terrain. Another point to note, I lost my "champion's crown" as my daughter won the last game!

Friday 16 February 2018

Book: Small Wars (from The History of Wargaming Project)

Courtesy of John Curry's History of Wargaming Project subscriber email and Bob Cordery's (Wargaming Miscellany) post this little tome caught my eye (see below, and it's a beauty!):

It concentrates on asymmetrical wargame and fills a gap I have in COIN games (or could be seen as a starter into this area). The figure count required is low and te ingenuity level is high. Having read each section you want to play.
  • ISAF Operations
  • Colonial Foreign Legion
  • Afghanistan (Soviet Era)
  • Bush Wars (Africa) 
  • 1920's Ireland: The Flying Column
  • Vietnam
Note: I am not on commission but it is a little gem, see link below (Note: It is in the Solo Wargaming Section although I think the games would be best run with an umpire and group of players over a pint).

Small Wars

Thursday 15 February 2018

UK Connections 2018 Itinery Released

Coming in September 2018 the Hottest Wargame Show in (London) Town: UK Connections 2018

Note: Sadly the 2017 event coincided with a significant birthday of mine [I have to realise I am getting old as I am now looking forward to Saga priced holidays] so I "missed" the 2017 Conference. Looking at the 2018 line-up I am so sorely tempted to "go again" primarily because the event is focused on the "very practical" side of "doing wargames" (even being in the 10% hobbyist minority this should make it very interesting). However seeing as I am already committed to going to CoW2018 this year would this be simply too much for me to go to two mega events in a year? The horns of a terrible dilemma. 

Let the invitation email speak for itself  from Graham Longley-Brown
PS If this post looks "ugly in its pasted from email format" Rex has "done it very professionally" here 

Hi All,

Many thanks to everyone who completed the Connections UK 2017 feedback survey, and a warm welcome to those who have expressed an interest in finding out more about professional wargaming.

The Connections UK 2018 conference will be, as far as we can make it, a precise reflection of your views and requests in the 2017 feedback survey. The resulting conference outline is below. If this is of interest, please note the dates 4 – 6 September 2018 in your diary. I will send you registration details presently. More details of Connections UK, including all previous presentations, can be found at http://professionalwargaming.co.uk/index.html If you do not wish to be on this email distribution list, please let me know and your name will be removed from future announcements relating to Connections UK.

Connections UK 2018

If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. 91% of survey respondents found the 2017 conference useful or very useful; 85% said you would attend a future Connections UK; and 91% thought the conference was the right length. Some survey comments:

  • ‘An excellent event, a great opportunity to meet professional wargamers and those crossing over into the hobby side. An invaluable experience for the UK wargaming community.’
  • ‘Overall this was an excellent and extremely encouraging event demonstrating the high international standing of UK wargaming.’
  • ‘Looking forward to 2018!’

However, as the comments below illustrate, there are compelling reasons to go into more depth at Connections UK 2018. Answers to the question ‘How do we make the event better?’ included:

  • ‘More on practical approaches, case studies and insights.’
  • ‘Deep dives on game design and data capture, versus ‘we did this.’
  • ‘More emphasis on lessons learned from developing and delivering wargames.’
  • ‘Intellectual depth into the art and science of wargaming.’
  • ‘Methodology and best practice for analysis in wargames.’

Adopting a ‘deep, not broad’ approach accords with the Connections purpose, which is to advance and preserve the art, science and application of wargaming. So, this year we will concentrate on the ‘how to’ of wargaming, from design through execution and analysis to refinement. Expert speakers will talk in detail about the practicalities of designing and delivering wargames, and will include best practice and lessons identified, both positive and negative. The Games Fair and various breakout sessions will give you a hands-on experience of a large number of game designs and tools, and there will be plenty of time to network with many of the world’s best wargamers.

Three points the organisers would like to add:

  • The ‘High North’ was briefed last year by the UK MOD’s Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC). This remains a topic of interest for Defence. Games that feature the ‘High North’ would be most welcome at the Games Fair. DCDC’s presentation is at http://professionalwargaming.co.uk/20170906-High_North-Cole.pdf
  • There were a number of requests in the survey to feature the psychology of wargaming, human decision-making and such like. Rather than try to squeeze that – large and significant – topic into the 2018 conference, we are considering devoting most or all of Connections UK 2019 to this.
  • Games selected to be shown at the Games Fair will qualify for one free place per game. Conference fees for all three days will be waived.

Connections UK 2018 details

  • Connections UK purpose. Advance and preserve the art, science and application of wargaming.
  • DatesTuesday 4 – Thursday 6 September 2018.
  • Venue. Kings College London, The Strand, London, UK.
  • Cost: no change from 2017 (and 2016!): £60 for the megagame/Introduction to wargaming day; plus £135 for the two main days. Connections UK is not for profit; the cost covers administration and food, which is provided.
  • Themes. ‘How to’ wargame. Best practice, in-depth insights, and lessons identified in the wargame ‘steps’ below. You will note a striking resemblance between these and the MOD Wargaming Handbook, which can be downloaded at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/641040/doctrine_uk_wargaming_handbook.pdf
    • Design.
    • Development.
    • Execution.
    • Analysis.
    • Validation.
    • Refinement.
  • Key note speakers: Volko Ruhnke and Brian Train. We are extremely fortunate that Volko and Brian, two of the world’s leading wargame designers, have agreed to help us. Straddling recreational and serious gaming, and with decades of award-winning and high-profile game design behind them, they will participate in multiple plenary sessions, as well as deliver the key note address. For any who don’t know Volko and Brian:

Volko Ruhnke is a game designer with three decades of experience in the US intelligence community. He most recently served as an analytic instructor, making extensive use of boardgames in the classroom. He also is an award-winning creator of numerous commercial wargames, such as GMT Games’ COIN Series about insurgency and counterinsurgency.

Brian Train has been designing conflict simulation games for the civilian market for over 20 years, with over 45 published designs to date. His articles and games have been published by a wide range of large and small firms. His special interests in game design are irregular warfare, "pol-mil" games, concepts of political influence in games, and asymmetry in games generally. In his spare time, he is an Education Officer in the Ministry of Advanced Education of British Columbia, Canada.

  • Outline. Some details remain to be confirmed, but the conference structure should look like that shown below. The left-hand column includes the themes, or wargame ‘steps’, mentioned above, and shouldn’t change much. The right-hand column includes topics drawn from your feedback survey suggestions. These will be refined as we confirm speakers and chairs.

Day 1. Tuesday 4 September
Introduction to wargaming for newcomers
This will be an entirely separate event to the megagame, with a series of games interleaved with talks
This will be an engaging and fun ice-breaker on a serious and contemporary topic.
Component production
Informal evening session.
Day 2. Wednesday 5 September
Relating the conference structure to the MOD Wargaming Handbook wargame process.
1. Dilemmas and Trade-Offs in wargame design.
2. Serious wargame design.
3. Design factors and choices.
1. Game mechanics and processes.
2. Play-testing and Test Exercises.
3. Scenario development.
(Look forward to Execution)
Scenario execution.
Games Fair session 1
Key note address
Volko Ruhnke and Brian Train.
Games Fair session 2
Day 3. Thursday 6 September
1. Wargaming uses.
2. Wargaming Case Study.
(3. Facilitation will be covered in a grand finale; see below).
4. Adjudication.
5. Automation – break out and demonstrations.
1. Analysing wargames.
2. Data capture.
3. Lessons identified from the analysis of the 2017 Dire Straits megagame.
1. Validating wargames.
2. Applying wargaming lessons identified to the real world.
1. Making wargames better.
2. Sharing best practice.
Facilitation (from Execution)
Hands-on learning experience.

 Please reply to me with any questions. Registration details will follow presently.


Graham Longley-Brown
Connections UK Co-organiser