Tuesday, 27 December 2005

All Quiet on the Western Front?

On December 26 I organized a full-day World War 1 game. 4 players (Vince, Frank, Dominique and Brendan) showed up, and all were eager to take part in some trench-raiding action. Since it was 2nd Christmas day, quite a few people still had some family obligations, so the turn-out was a little bit less than expected, but 4 players was enough after all to create some good action.

Everyone gathered at 10am in my house, and the first part of the scenario started. The big picture was that German troops wanted to storm a British trench-system. However, the trenches were not fully finished yet (this was early in the war), and were still incomplete in some parts of the battlefield. Since the Germans had no idea what parts of the position would be fully defended, some reconnaisance patrols had to be sent out.

Every player (2 British, 2 German) got a secret mission for his patrol, and they had to come to the gamesmaster one by one to give their orders. Movement was on an individual map for each player, and during each order, each player was told what he could see or hear in their immediate vicinity. Since the weather conditions turned out to be misty for most of the game, visibility was extremely limited, and all players were moving around very cautiously. All the players were physically also in the same room (the gm being in the next room), and initially did not know who was playing British or German. This created some good tension in the beginning of the game. Of course, after a while, the clever players had figured out who was playing whom by the reactions of some of the participants, and linking it to their own actions just their turn before.

Typical orders included to do a recon of some part of the sector, or to intercept enemy patrols, to go to a specific sector and cut wires, to deploy mines etc. Since the movement axis of each patrol (start position and designated end position) was usually diagonally across the battlefield, a good number of interactions happened. Some patrols opened fire without a positive ID of what they saw or heard, and sometimes there were a few lucky breaks. One patrol got very lucky when a random artillery starshell exploded nearby, illuminating the entire sector that was supposed to be mapped out. Another patrol survived with 1 member, barely enough to bring all information back to HQ. Other patrols succeeded in laying mines, although they sometimes decided that they had gone far enough and deployed their mines some distance short from their designated objective. A German patrol ran into an ambush set up by a British patrol, decided to storm it in close combat, and won! I stressed to all players that their mission had to be obeyed, and this was played out very well. Every side got a total of 5 missions (once a patrol came in, the next one started), and after 2 hours of playing the Germans had gathered a lot of info about the British defences, while the British managed to lay some extra minifields and intercept some German patrols as well.

Then it was time for some lunch, and we headed into town to get some pizza.

When we started again around 2pm, the Germans had the choice of flying a recon mission by aircraft over the enemy trench lines. If succesful, this would mean that the Germans would see the setup of British forces in the next game before having to come up with their own battleplan. We used the Wings of War rules for this game (see www.boardgamegeek.com for a more complete description of this game). This a WW1 aerial warfare boardgame, that plays very smoothly and has a very clever movement system using manoeuver cards. The British started with 4 patrol aircraft, the Germans with 3 fighter aircraft and a 2-seater who had to take the photographs of the enemy trenches.

Sadly, the German 2-seater never made it to the objective. Due to critical damage, its rudder got stuck. First it couldn't turn left anymore, a few turns later it got another critical and could only fly straight. So the mission failed, despite some good shooting by the German pilots.

Then it was time for the big game. This was played out on the big gaming table using 20mm WW1 figures and with a full trench system as scenery. Based on their recon information, the Germans had to come up with a plan, dividing their force over 4 attack groups. The British could deploy any way they saw fit.

I used some house-rules for this game, and the Germans started with twice as many units as the British ( since they were all hiding in trenches ...). The Germans started to move across the battered no-man's-land, units taking hits from artillery and mortar fire, morale dropping, officers trying to rally scared troops ... The British defended really well, but couldn't cause enough casualties to stop the attack wave once the first German lines reached the trenches. German trench raiders jumped into the trenches, and some tough fighting ensued. After a few turns, the British surrendered, so a German victory! By now it was a little after 6pm, the planned ending of the day.

Overall, I think this scneario using 3 linked games worked very well. Once the main game began, the Germans still had some blank areas on their map of which they didn't know anything about. As a result, they lost some troops to minefields. On the other hand, they managed to clear some barbed wire during the first game, and this created a big open field for a German attack wave (although this wasn't the sector were the final breakthrough happened).

The dogfighting game didn't produce extra information for the German players, but it could have, and the British had every incentive to stop the German planes to avoid having to give their troop dispositions to the German side.

During debriefing the players agreed the miniature game worked very well as, but probably the German players had too much machine guns available, and this created some unbalance, especially since MGs caused morale to drop very rapidly.

So, to conclude, a very good gaming experience, and it has encouraged me to set up similar full-day games in the future.

Sadly, no pictures ...



  1. Phil, sounds like a great game, with your usual interesting and innovative ideas. I'm sorry I missed it. How did you find the link between the three games? Presumably the info gathered by the players in game one influenced their approach rote, shelling patterns etc for the third game?
    Didn't know you had WW1 figs by the way.

  2. Yes, it did have an influence. The Germans started only with a rough map of the battlefield, only hills showing, and 2 buildings. The didn't know anything about bushes, ruins, trenches, minefields, barbed wire, etc. So it was vital for them to gather as much info as possible, and yes, this influenced their allocation of forces on different parts of the battlefield.
    I avoided having too much bombardments and big off-board artillery, since otherwise it would turn into something very static, and I wanted it to be an infantry game, sort of the very last stage of an infantry assault on a defended position. The players did have some random event cards though. They started the game with 3 cards, and had 1 chance in 6 to get another one every turn. These cards did allow for off-board heavy artillery bombardments, reinforcements, morale boosts, etc. So yes, there was some really big artillery, but it was not very prominent in the game, it was merely there to add some flavour. My rationale was that this was more a battalion-scale action; if it would have been on a divisional-scale, pre-bombardments and artillery should have indeed played a much bigger role.
    As for the WW1 figures: I recently acquired them from Bart Dils. These were the figures we used before in our Raid On Zeebrugge game during various conventions.

  3. sounds indeed as a nice gaming experience. I always like those linked games and I hope the next one will be great fun too!