Wednesday, 1 July 2015

DO PANIC: DON'T PANIC TOO (2), UK Mega Gamers After Action Report from Manchester

I went over to Manchester this past weekend, a tree fell on my motorbike and knocked out the low beam (high beam still works fine though weirdly), but more importantly I joined in with an invasion of blighty.

Kriegsmarine and Royal Navy make moves as the game designers and control team look on.

Mega-games have become a bit of a bigger deal over the past year. The London based organisers, centred around a Jim Wallman, have come up north twice now, I played in the Italy campaign game in Leeds a few months back (I will throw together an article on this at some point) and now I served as the German 8th corps operations officer for an invasion of Britain in 1940. Operation Sea Lion was planned by German high command after the campaign in France but never launched. This game looks at a what if, with a few historical realities papered over a little to make the invasion a little more feasible.

The game involves about 60 players in two teams, who have to essentially learn in one day what a real military staff learns in several years of training. Each side has commander in chief, the able Field Marshal von Rundstedt for the Axis, and an army group HQ of ~5 players around him. These guys never see the map the game is actually played on, but they are responsible for the main plan that everyone else will follow. On this day the plan was pretty simple two pronged attack, the 9th Army would land in a swamp just west of Folkstone, snatch the port and sprint through Ashford and on to London, the 16th would land somewhere between Brighton and east of Portsmouth and slog it in land (my account of the 16th is sketchy as I was in the 9th). It was known one attack would be the sacrificial lamb but not which. In practice the 16th found the majority of the brits around the New Forest and between them and London, and the 9th found the channel ports poorly defended.

End game positions with some labels

Once the main plan had been hashed out, a two hour meeting at the start, the army command staff (4 players) dished out supplies and landing craft to the corps staff and gave more detailed orders. Our commander in the 9th wanted Folkstone by turn 2 (got it about 3 or 4 I think) and Ashford by turn 3 or 4, (we eventually got this, much to wrath of army command). After this, the plan fluctuated between turns but ended up centring on an armoured drive by the 38th corps through a defensive perimeter held by the 8th.

Each corps (2 per army, 4 per side) is a team of 4 or 5 people 2 of which play the actual game, the divisional commanders. The 9th armies divisional commanders were ace, two ladies ran the armoured force of the 38th, after being frustrated for the first 3 turns (we completely missed the landing phase in the 2nd turn) and having to deal with us in the 8th taking longer to get out the way, stormed off, took Ashford and hustled up toward Maidstone. In the 8th our veteran John steadied the whole ship at the table and secured both channel ports and our novice proved good against a British armoured counter attack.
The other three players were an Intel, operations and command staff. Unlike the Italian game I played previously there was almost zero down time, but constant panic instead. In our corps I was operations and basically approached my role as a hustler and spent the whole day conjuring up supplies, trucks and landing craft for out little operation, or passing on information to the army and army group staff. Our Intel officer basically solved the huge problem the divisional commanders had; zero time to do anything other than rush to the map to move stuff. He kept all our resources catalogued and positions detailed on white board, our commander worked out details with the div staff and made all the opportunity decisions, like snatching a poorly defended Canterbury opening up a 2nd road for advance.

8th corps command table with map. Our colouring in and electronic tank commander hard at work

In addition to all this, each side had an air force and navy command who between about 4 players had to run half the operation. The key game mechanic is really poor communication. If this was a two player game with no time limit it would run like a pretty sound hex and counter war game and be fairly calculated and more chess like. With 60 players most players have no real idea as to what is happening and it becomes more about making a simple plan work at 50% efficiency. From the 8th corps perspective we missed one key landing phase, a reserve tank division (7th) ended up having its units split between 4 different divisional commanders and the whole thing was absolute chaos with units and supplies ending up all over the place. The chaos is what makes the game really fun.

close up of end game positions in Kent

Highlights of the game;

  • German spies in police uniforms.
  • The RAF bombing Brighton out of existence, and unfortunately the Germans within it.
  • Ashford finally falling.
  • The Kreigsmarine beating the Royal Navy – this was insane, I think the RN struggled with the rules around mines and Uboats but a nod to the Kreigsmarine player.
  • 116ths ability to live off enemy supply points when they really should have been wiped out.
  • The performance of the seven control players, who ref’d the game at the map and all around.
  • The quality Journalism of the New York Times, lots of good words from 2 players.
  • The Luftwaffe dropping enough bombs to secure our flank for most of the game

  • Missing the landing phase on the 2nd turn
  • Everyone who lived in Brighton
  • The 16th army HQ getting sunk and their players having to go to Tesco to take a selfie.
  • 9th army HQ nearly going Patton on us for failing to take Ashford for so many turns.

If you get the chance I highly recommend playing one of these games.