Sunday, 16 October 2016

The Chosin Few, a Post Mortem

Pete and I ran our megagame on the Chosin campaign this weekend and things went well for the most part. Here are some post-mortem thoughts

 - we lost about 30% of our bookings in the week running up to the game. From our experiences across Pennine Megagames this year, this seams to be about par for the course. There is a good reason that many Megagames have reserve lists, unfortunately the Chosin Reservoir campaign in North Korea was not quite a big enough draw to warrant a reserve list.

- The game itself ran pretty smoothly, relatively simple mechanics, good game materials and a very experienced control team facilitated this.

- Having fewer players actually benefited the game, the UN players lost all but one of their executive officers (XOs) meaning that it was one player per Marine regimental team. This actually helped as the game was streamlined enough that two players were not really required to write 3 sets of orders. The Chinese Commissars had a bit more latitude but even this was a weakness in the game. With this experience I would say that one player can easily handle a dozen or so units or 3-5 orders a turn if the system is easily understood. Only in games where players are restricted from talking to each other or some players are required to go to a main map are multi-person teams really necessary at this level.

- The combat system worked. We took the OPCOM system by Jim Wallman and modified it heavily for this game. I had two main worries; first, that it would be either too deadly or not deadly enough, or second that it would be too complex for control to resolve in time. The both sides suffered somewhere in the region of 50-70% casualties. The Chinese suffered more (and in terms of actual men, a lot more) but given that the historical casualty ratio was in the region of 15-25 to 1 this felt reasonable. Neither side ran out of men at 1pm and both sides were able to have a major impact on the game. That being said it could have been improved, the Chinese divisions did loose their potency a little fast for my liking, whilst the UN could still hit quite hard late on due to their air support. Control did an incredible job turning out turn 1 through 9s orders within the 15 minutes allotted. Late on we did over run by 5 minutes on a few turns, but this wasn't an issue as the game had some time to spare at the end. If I were to run a bigger game with more units, or try and reduce the number of control the system would need further simplification, but around 20 order sheets for 6 control was workable in 15 minutes.

- things I would improve:

  • I tried to keep a company level game fairly abstract on the map. This benefited the UN a little as they were able to dig in a little easier than they were historically. I kept things simple for control by only allowing digging in (read take defensive position) anywhere which wasn't at the bottom of a valley/road/pass. In reality the Marines were able to heavily defend certain key hills and points. I did consider covering the map in strong point markers but decided against it as I didn't have the terrain mapping to find all such locations, perhaps I could have given different zones a defense rating or something that would have been a halfway house.
  • The Chinese briefings were probably a little light. In part this is due to a lack of sources, but I could have given out more game pertinent information. For the Chinese there is a race against the weather as their troops are heavily attritioned from frost bite. Whilst the players historical counter parts did not anticipate this, keeping the players in the dark here added a bit of confusion. As such many Chinese divisions waited a little to long before launching really heavy attacks. As such they had already lost 10-30% of their strength already and had less impact than expected. There is always a difficult dilemma for the megagame designer on how much information to give the players. Too much and it becomes a calculated boardgame rather than an immersive experience, too little and it becomes a guessing game that can feel rather random and unfair.
  • The mini map could have covered Wonsan. Once we put Hamhung on the main map it was always likely that the Chinese would try and take it, so we made a second smaller map zoomed in on Hamhung for city fighting. This worked really well and the Chinese 58th battled the US 3rd Infantry around the city. But given the close proximity of Wonsan I could have added it to this map and potentially even had a battle over the UN beachhead/port.
  • One Chinese Commissar suggested that he should have a spy network, given the allegiance of North Koreans to the communist cause. This was an excellent idea, it gave the PLA an intel capability to rival the UN air recon and created a great interactive side game. Pete drew up lists of informants and rated them for reliability, loyalty eagerness etc and had them submit conflicting reports to the Chinese. We both agree that this added a lot to the game and would considered adding something like it in future games.
  • As already stated, I would have each bottom level command team ran by one player and either increase the number of teams or have the support players have other problems to solve in addition to assisting in planning.

Ms Higgins made a short appearance in the game as she interviewed the unflappable Oliver P Smith around turn 9.

- In general the players seem really engaged. Interesting strategies were played out, gambits were taken and great stories generated. There didn't seem to be much of a lull in the game and everyone seemed happy at the pub afterwards.