Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Opearation Gericht - The After Action Report


After all the planning, blogging, frantic activity and late night terrain making, I finally got to Operation Market Larden on Saturday in Evesham. I ran two games of Operation Gericht on the day, making that four games in June, and six of the game overall including the playtests in May.

Before I move on to the game itself, allow me to say some thank you to some heroic endeavours. To Ade, Paul and the rest of the Wyvern Wargamers, thank you for arranging such a great day’s gaming. 


To the players who participated in the game (Paul and Dane, Paul (Pingu) and Dave, Bob and Phil, and Paul and Ralph), thank you all so very much for taking part. Eight finer players for the game I could never have imagined.  

Thank you all for making it such a pleasure to umpire for you – you can all come again, anytime! And huge thanks to everyone who made the trip to Evesham for the day, and for the great curry afterwards. The day of wargaming with friends by far made up for the disappointing footie result!


With thanks to Phil and Paul and many others who stepped into the breach when my iPhone’s battery died at 11am, I’ve posted below some pictures from the games. Both of the games were finely balanced right up to the end. I’ll post the full player briefings later this week, along with the additional rules and rule adaptations for the game which (hopefully) bring out some of the unique challenges of wargaming Verdun.


In the first game, Dane and Paul as the German Stosstrupp slaughtered the French defenders of the Bois de Chapitre in a massive close assault, but then found it hard going through the wood itself. The French defenders, Pingu and Dave, carefully nurtured their forces in Fleury itself, making it near impossible for the German attackers to obtain even a small fingerhold in the village. The result was a notable German success, although falling short of a German triumph.









In the second game, the German forces of Bob and Phil opted for a bold plan. Unlike all of the German forces in the three previous games played (and the two playtests), they decided to surge around the Bois de Chapitre and attack the village of Fleury outright. In doing so, they opted to try for an all-out victory, denying themselves the possibility of a notable success by taking the Bois de Chapitre. It was a bold plan, made workable by a very imaginative artillery fire-plan. Instead of barraging the entire width of the table with the German supporting barrage, the German players opted to barrage in two stages: the first on the Bois de Chapitre only, the second on the base line of French defences in Fleury itself. The overall plan was certainly bold, perhaps even slightly reckless. However, the German players appreciated they had good German troops and they carried their plan out with great determination in the face of very skilled French opposition from Paul and Ralph.




For 90 minutes, I thought Bob and Phil had made a mistake. They seemed to be bogged down in No Man’s Land, their formations suffering dislocation from French fire. However, their main artillery barrage, timed for the seventh turn, came in at precisely the time when French defenders at Fleury were redeploying to fire on the German forces. The French suffered two turns of artillery barrage in which they could do nothing but take cover in their defences. 



This gave the German Stosstrupp just enough time – and I really do mean just enough time – to rush forward and contact the French defenders in Fleury itself. In the last turn of the game, the Germans won the close combat for the Cordwainer’s House, bolstered by choosing an “inspiring speech” from their commander as a pre-game option. The French fell back, and the Germans took the French strongpoint on the edge of Fleury for the first time in six games.











In short, it was a German triumph, and very pleasing to watch unfurl. The French defenders were magnificent (and very magnanimous) in their game-play, but ultimately had no answer to a perfectly planned German assault driven home by an inspiring German tabletop commander.


So, the Knight’s Cross gets awarded to Hauptmann Ulrich von Bek (who we found from the “Big Man German Exits” remained in the Heer after the end of the Great War, suffering the slight indignity of going on manoeuvres on bicycles while awaiting the whirlwind of the 1930s), and no doubt a consolatory cognac for the French defenders as they fell back to their main line defences around Fort Souville.

I thought it might also be useful, after four participation and two play test games, to set out what I feel I’ve learned from the games.
  • Trying to recreate Verdun on the wargames table in a historical manner at a small is very difficult. The strength of the artillery and off-table machine guns, firing on fixed lines, makes assaults murderous. Attacks will fail if not well supported. Attacks will also flounder in bad terrain.
  • The French, as the defenders in the early part of the battle, face a herculean task to hang on. Staging these games has made me respect to an even greater degree the titanic sacrifices of the French army and French nation in just holding on at Verdun.
  • On the tabletop, fighting “down the table”, as opposed to “across the table” is a big challenge in a 2 – 3 hour game. It looks better, and plays more sensibly, but the attackers need to have markedly stronger forces, and some compensation for the distances they need to travel and fight. (I added in an extra, second, Sturmabteilung Vor! card into the deck for the German forces in Evesham to compensate for the Bois de Chapitre, but not at Partizan. I should have done the same at Partisan.)
  • Single mounted figures take too much time to move. I’ve since ordered some figure movement trays from Martin at Warbases to speed the movement phase up.
  • Operation Gericht was a large game, and the card deck was considerable. It contained seven Big Men for each side, plus three additional support weapons cards. I thought this was right on the edge of what was workable. I’ll slightly reduce the size of the game for the next participation.
  • Players seemed to like the background I had created on-line. I didn’t have as long as I wanted to get this up and running. A month, and a slower burn, would have been better.
  • Organising artillery fire-plans in “Through the Mud and the Blood” is a lot of fun, but does take some time and planning. We ran a bit short of tabletop gaming time with the second game because we spent longer in the artillery planning phase. That being said, I thought the introduction of the fire-plan and artillery barrage improved the games immeasurably, and was (at least for me) critical to trying to create an atmosphere of the battle we were trying to recreate. Both the French and the German players used their fire-planning as a significant and valuable tool, and this really added to the game. Watching the French defenders’ faces as the “French SOS Artillery” card finally arrived in the second game was a real treat.

As mentioned above, I’ll post the player briefings over the next week or so. Until then, it’s a short hiatus in the Verdun/ French project while I gather breath. Then, in July, I’ll look a little further towards the Nivelle Offensives of 1917 and the first deployment of the Artillerie Spéciale. Hope you can join me for that!

32 comments:

  1. This project has been an absolute delight to follow and I am thrilled that you've had such a positive experience running it - it was clearly well received. Well done to you for all the effort, thought and considerable skill that you have invested into making it such a success.

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    1. Michael, thanks very much. That's incredibly generous of you. I'm currently thinking about the next game, and building on the lessons learned. So hopefully this will be the first of a number of projects like this.

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  2. Spectacular success Sidney, one of the most impressive projects I've seen and enjoyed looking at too!

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    1. Fran, thank you very much. I am very pleased you've enjoyed it.

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  3. Looks brilliant.

    As an aside - the maths of big card decks is interesting, particularly when you go from a deck balanced one way and then the other. My Bloody Omaha deck goes from all the German cards plus one or two US platoons, the tanks and a Big Man, to all the German cards plus potentially TWELVE US platoons and half a dozen or more Big Men. Part of the German aim almost has to be to get cards taken out of the deck by destroying units :D

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    1. (oops, hit return too soon).

      Given any random pair of cards, it's 50/50 which gets drawn first. But as the US card density grows, it becomes more and more likely that more and more US units will be unpinned when their turn comes...

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    2. Mike, thanks so much for the comment. I fully agree. There's also a psychological swing which goes to the side which feels that their cards are coming out of the deck. They feel as if they have the momentum, they feel as if the battle is heading heir way. When your cards seem to be submerged in the cards drawn by your opponent, there's a creeping feeling that this may not be your evening....

      Probably not true, but its funny how the cards work like that sometimes.

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  4. What a great report, really enjoyed following this project and wished I could have been there to see it all roll out on the day. The German plan in the second game was certainly audacious, definately a case of who dares wins. Look forward to the Nivelle offensive posts and builds.

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    1. Thanks Phil! The Germans certainly deserved their hard-fought victory in the second game - who dares, wins, indeed! My ideas on wargaming the Nivelle Offensive are a bit experimental at present, although Berry-au-Bac is very interesting as an action, and parts of it look gameable. I might see if I can come up with something from Craonne, although its a grim memory for the French...

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  5. So realistic and so spectacular...congrats!

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  6. Wow! This clearly must have been a fantastic game. One can only gratulate to running such a great game.

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    1. Moiterei, thanks - you'd have enjoyed the game, I'm sure!

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  7. Simply superb; terrain, minis, concept and so on - amazing.

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  8. A fascinating read and great tabletop to look at!

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  9. Great read, always interested to see the lessons learnt ,and improvements. Well done to Phil and Bob.

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  10. Brilliant looking game and great report!

    Christopher

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  11. A real triumph Sidney! Congratulations to all the participants and a hearty well-done to you in organizing such a wonderful event.

    I have to agree on your comment about playing down the length of the table. The extra depth really adds an interesting dynamic to most games. The timing (and placement) of reserves are critical, good fire-lanes essential, cover from both spotting and fire has to be well considered, and the list goes on.

    I very much look forward to your upcoming Nivelle Offensive!

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    1. Curt, thanks so much. I knew you'd be interested in this game!

      The table length really gave the French a chance to stop the high quality German force. Playing across the table would have been very hard on the French as the Germans can strip the French rear line with a barrage and move up far more quickly over (effectively) half the distance they covered in the games we played.

      The alternative I did consider was using a nine terrain board table (6' square), which gives the Germans more attacking options and is difficult - but not impossible - for the French to defend. But that means more terrain boards in the car, and (probably more importantly) historically more troops on the table. I was really up to the limit of cards in the deck/ troops on the table and the game would probably have slowed on a 6' square table without another umpire. But certainly, perhaps, an option for future games.

      I'm currently doing a write up for the TooFatLardies on the design of these games (how it worked, what could have been improved, how it might have been different, etc), after which its on to the Chemin des Dames!

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  12. Great game Sidney and an honour and a pleasure to play. You're most welcome for the photos.

    Looking forward to the next stages of the project.

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    1. Thanks Phil. You were very welcome as a player. Thanks so much for all your help and great support!

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  13. For more french forces here are a few figures including some "big men" with head swaps for Chasseur Alpines and Tirailleurs Senegalais besides the regular ones with adrains. could add some flavor

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    1. Will, thanks so much for dropping by!! You are clear a gifted clairvoyant, Sir!

      On the painting table this very minute are a couple of sections of Tirailleur Marocains, which will add a little colour. These were constructed using Gripping Beat/ Woodbine torsos and Woodbine heads and should look quite smart. They are more of a left over group of spare figures, but they can fit into a lot of scenarios (as you'll see!)

      There is also a full platoon of Tirailleurs Senegalaise up for painting in the summer/ early autumn (using Gripping Beast/Woodbine bodies, and Forgotten & Glorious heads). I am very keen indeed to get both of these units on the table. I don't want to give too much away at present, but the use of the Tirailleurs Senegalaise formations in 1918 by the French High Command was very interesting. There are some original sources in French from 1917/1918 (as well as Charles Mangin's "Le Force Noire") which describe how these units were to be deployed in combat, which I think will be of interest to a lot of people. I'm hoping to stage a couple of games using these troops towards the end of the year.

      And the final French unit of the whole project will be another famous French formation which, let's say, was not unfamiliar with North Africa!

      I very much agree with you that including the non-Metropolitan forces on the tabletop is not only fun, but a great tribute to their massive contribution to French history and modern-day France.

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  14. Well done sir! I true treat for the eyes and interesting read. Thanks so much for sharing.

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    1. Thanks Jason. Really pleased you like it!

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  15. Catching up now the full project as I've been out of action for different reasons lately.
    It's been a Titan's work but it seems to have really worth the effort. As usual a great amazing work.
    As I'm travelling frequently to the UK folr business reasons, I'm hoping to vist you guys at St Alban's sometime in the near future

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    1. Benito, that's very kind indeed. It took a little time, but not as much work as it might appear. (Of course, there was still THAT last minute rush over the last few days before the games, but nothing too bad). Let us all know when you're in the UK - it would be splendid to meet up in London or Hertfordshire!

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