Monday 23 September 2013

Chain of Command Campaign: Game 2 – “Probe”

Morning. Early. Normandy. Late June or even July 1944.

He really had no idea of the date. He’d stopped trying to remember. The grey numbness at the back of his head halted the effort as soon as he started to think. He knew it was early, though. Definitely early, even without looking at his watch. He checked it, reassuringly, all the same.

Second Lieutenant Sandy St Clair stared at his watch longer than most men would. While his bloodshot eyes registered the seconds ticking past, he realized this was one of the few moments when his hands had stopped shaking in the past month. Maybe that was why he looked so often. Maybe there was another reason.


2nd Platoon under Second Lieutenant St Clair will advance up the road to Aurade, moving at all times to outflank enemy forces and infiltrate through the light woods north west of Aurade (Map Reference: N427604). Enemy forces in this area are currently reported to be determined but potentially short of ammunition and falling back to the Aurade/ Aubigny defence-line. 2nd Platoon will be reinforced by a company bren carrier commanded by Sergeant Hodge. 


As ever, he could smell the battlefield before he was there. The days old scent of dead cattle and horses, still heaving with flies. He didn’t look in the ditches any more. He knew what he’d find there. His hands shock as he took the field glasses out to scan the rising downland before him. He knew his men were watching. He moved his arms, circling widely to advance. Maybe they would not notice his hands, white knuckles gripping just that shade too hard.

5.17am . But his knew his watch was a liar. It really couldn’t be that time. It was wrong. Look again.


2nd Platoon is to press aggressively through Enemy resistance and infiltrate Enemy defences around Aurade. This task is critical to the success of the Company’s mission this morning.


Somewhere someone whispered to him. “They’re off Sir”. He looked, hands less shaky now, watching the first section running across the open field, the chemical smoke dropping neatly as planned. It was like an exercise on Nomansland Common the previous year, without the crowds watching and the horses stacked in the paddock by the side, smiling faces admiring the discipline and precision. Another lifetime ago, when it all seemed so far removed from the real fight.

They’d seen the first section. Of course. They always did. He almost smiled. How familiar. Almost predictable. The rasp of the MG42 ripped the air and he saw his men fall. He screamed. He wanted to shout “Smoke””, but it was a howl, half ruptured by his bone dry throat.


Our forces are expected to press hard this morning, as it is reported by Brigade that Enemy morale is fragile and may be close to collapse.


The field was carved by ploughs and old shrapnel. The gullies and troughs made good cover. He crawled, slithered and crouched to the opening in the stone wall, jabbing constantly for his men to follow him. His head was flooded with a white noise and he could hardly see as he made it to the far wall. He stared at his watch, spattered with blood flung randomly through the damp air, spattering his skin. His section’s bren gunner, McKie, was dead. McKie’s death-pale white face slumped down beside him, eyes wide open. McKie stared back at him, and it was all that Second Lieutenant St Clair could do to focus on his watch and scrape the blood flecks away.  The blood left a smear on the face of the watch.

As the MG42’s bullets wheezed and threshed into the stone wall, splinters whickering into the still-damp morning air, Hodge’s bren carrier moved haltingly down the road, accompanied by the crump and thud of the mortar shelling the Enemy’s position in the orchard. He waved them up as best he could, limbs numb and hands shaking. He even managed a grim smile to Hodges as he clattered past. See...SEE….he was still fit for duty.  He could still face his friends in the battalion.  His "moral fibre" was intact.

The Enemy had ghosted away, leaving a litter of ammunition, explosives and 12 crumpled dead bodies. Two of them looked almost like children, sleeping, face down in their camouflage smocks, helmets tilted at an angle, necks cricked awkwardly.

He didn’t want to turn over their dead bodies. He looked at his watch, wiping the remnants of McKie’s blood smear from the dial.  Still fit for duty.

5.32am. Still early. The day had just started.


This was the second of our campaign games of Chain of Command set in Normandy 1944. It turned out to be a tough affair, in which the losses of the previous, first, game were sorely felt by the Germans. The British were tasked with probing up the road to Aurade, having a full platoon and a bren carrier (chosen from their force support list). The Germans, with fewer men after their previous defeat, only had two sections, although they commanded the high ground and a strong position.

An early British assault over open ground (resulting from a Chain of Command roll offering a second phase on two “6s”) led to disaster with the section being slaughtered without being able to reach the protection of the stone wall at the top of the hill. Following the setback, British forces were more cautious, pinning the remaining German forces and outflanking them in a cautious manner. The Germans’ lack of troops made the position untenable, their forces stealing home and leaving the table to the British.

That leaves the British having infiltrated the German outpost line and ready to concentrate their attack against more formidable German defences in this week’s game.

We also tried out a new possible feature for the Chain of Command campaign supplement. The 5-second elevator pitch is “a system for Leader Morale which complements the Force Morale system in the rules”. It’s early days yet, but I’ve been working with Rich on a set of very simple amendments to try and replicate the effect of building combat stress, “shell-shock” and disorientation on one leader on each side in a game. While this very much fits the context of the First World War, I think that it’s application can extend to the Second World War as well. The Chain of Command level of games is perfect for this type of (completely optional) detail. The mechanisms need some tweaking, but I think we’ll persevere with this in later campaign games.

Monday 16 September 2013

Colours 2013: Show Report

I made the trip over to Newbury racecourse this weekend for the annual Colours wargaming show. Besides being a good chance to catch up with friends (Rich, Rob, Matt, Rob and Kelvin) it also gave me the chance to have a look around the games on display and pick up a couple of items. After all, what would a wargames show be without some loot to take home.

The show was pretty packed on Saturday as you can see from the following snap. The traders were doing good business, but manoeuvring around the trading floor took some patience and dexterity. Even without moving a few inches there was a fair chance of bumping into folk busily purchasing or chatting. Luckily, patience seemed to be in good supply on Saturday morning.

I managed to pick up some 10mm Pendraken Great War figures for the Indian Army and Cavalry, which I’ll paint up next year when I finish of my 10mm British forces. Three years on since doing the 10mm Germans and most of the 10mm French we still have not graced the table with them, mainly since we’ve been knee deep in either Dux Britanniarum or Chain of Command at my local club. Hopefully he advent of the Great War’s anniversary will spark some games, as I think 10mm is a perfect scale for First World War Brigade and Divisional sized actions.

I had a long hard and loving look at one of the fantastic modern Afghanistan ranges on display.  These did look super figures, although we’ve now plumped for Afghanistan 1919 with Empress Miniatures for the St Albans wargames club's foray into Afghanistan, Waziristan and Baluchistan next year.

Turning to the upper floors of the venue, there was a good leavening of re-enactors in the building, as well as outside. I know some people have mixed views on whether re-enactment and wargaming go together. Personally, I like the interaction between the two. Talking to any re-enactor always gives me an insight into a living part of history. And I don’t think that can hurt when you’re trying to create an atmosphere and a context for any wargame.

As for the games, there was a very splendid game depicting Thapsus, which was card driven and featured some wonderful troops, including elephants. The waterways at the end of the board, with the boats drifting by, really caught the eye.

Next up was a brilliant little participation game of Pickett’s Charge, by the Staines Wargamers. It was so crowded that the game was very difficult to photograph – proof of its well-deserved popularity and skillful design. 

There was a very clear introduction to the game on the display board, setting the scene for the action on the table (which I think was actually a folding board optimized for carrying and transport). The Union defenders were run by an umpire, while the participants played the commanders of the confederate battalions charging from Seminary Ridge. The aim of the game was simply to get to the stone wall defended by the Union troops, the first confederate commander doing this being the winner. 

As a game it looked simple, imaginative and a whole lot of fun. Players advanced through the turn of cards and dice.  I particularly liked the way the whole game was optimized for a wargames show:  easy to pick up, play and enjoy, but with a great feel of the history of the engagement itself.  I thought it was a great example of how to put on a top class game for wargamers and public alike at a leading wargames show.   

Other games catching the eye were a beautifully presented game from Russia 1944 by the Loughton Strike Force featuring some excellent destroyed buildings and terrain….

……a snowy Fraustadt 1706 board caught the eye and looked very fine indeed, the bight uniforms showing well against the snow…

……a very fine demonstration game using the Battlegroup Overloard rules, presented by Warwick Kinrade who very kindly answered all our questions…

….but the crown jewel of the show for terrain and presentation was Bruce Weigle’s wonderful game of Rossbrunn 1866.  Bruce’s terrain is well known for its high quality and it was a great honour to see it here in the UK. How Bruce got all that through customs and across the Atlantic is one question I didn't ask him about, but it was great to see it (and him) in person. 

As terrain goes it looks very effective, catching the undulation of ground through carved expanded polystyrene, a layer of felt and a cloth airbrushed on top. The trees are sponge, dipped in PVA, flocked and pinned on the board. It all sounds straightforward, but it takes a real craftsman to get these results. The figures are all 6mm Heroics & Ross, and complemented the game perfectly. Here’s a shot of the terrain, the players, part of the accompanying display and Bruce umpiring the game. My photos which really don’t do justice to what an excellent all-round presentation it was. 

So, all in all an excellent day out. 

Thanks, as ever, to the Newbury and Reading Wargames Club for hosting another top-notch show.
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