Monday, 3 June 2013

A not-so-new idea for wargaming

A grunt's eye view of the Pacific war.
I had a bit of an epiphany on the war gaming front yesterday. It occurred to me that I might be missing a trick here, with figures gathering dust due to lack of opportunity to play. I can fit painting in around my other duties, as 30 minutes here or there is easy to spare, but an entire afternoon/evening  is harder to come by at the moment.

However, the Warhammer for Adults blog has inspired me to try an experiment, and it goes something like this: war gamers have constantly striven to deliver a more realistic experience to commanders - the average tabletop general enjoys a 1000 foot view of the battlefield coupled with a high degree of information on and responsiveness from his units. He has information and capabilities at his fingertips which historical commanders could only dream of. How then, to provide a player with that ground level experience that eludes them in a conventional war game?

Having played a lot of RPGs, it then struck me that an interesting format might be one in which each player controls one unit or command on the same side, while the umpire manages the opposition. I once read a starter set of miniature rules in the late Paddy Griffiths' Sandhurst Wargames volume which suggested a one sided scenario with players controlling US Marines attacking Japanese positions in the Pacific. The umpire ran the Japanese. This scenario works quite well because the Japanese were often on the defensive in the island battles, waiting for the Americans to come to them. They were in dug in, static positions, making them easier for an umpire to control.

Some of the scenarios I already own would, I felt, work quite well as one-sided games, with the umpire programming the enemy. I was thinking initially here of WW2, with each player taking on the role of a single squad. One player would take the HQ section and be responsible for the overall direction of the platoon. Enemy units would only appear if they were spotted or fired on the players. Even when shooting at the players, they might not necessarily appear on the table - in the Vietnam War rules Charlie Company (RAFM), only muzzle flashes appear on the table until soldiers can get 'eyes on' an enemy. Vietnam is, in fact, an excellent conflict for such an approach, as the opposition was frequently hidden and adopted a hit-and-run strategy to fighting.

Take this a step further. I enjoy the luxury of having a dedicated gaming space where a table could be permanently set up. Here I can remove the 1000 foot general element. By having the players not in fact present at all, I can provide the platoon commander and squad leaders only with the information that they could see - three or four digital photos per turn taken from the eye level of their miniature should be sufficient. This would limit a squad leader to a ground zero view point. Players would base their orders to their men on what they could see and hear and nothing else. Similarly, the platoon commander will have to rely on runners bringing in reports from other squads out of ear shot to get an idea of what is really going on.

Players will not even need to know the rules of the game, as all this will be managed by the umpire. They will just need to email their squad orders to the umpire every turn, and dispatch written orders by runner to their CO. Similarly, a radio or runner to company HQ becomes vital if the platoon is to tap into off-table artillery support (and those who have seen the excellent Russian film 9th Company will know about the sort of disasters that can happen when radios get hit). This whole approach injects that critical element of fog of war into the exercise which is missing from a conventional table top game, and delivers a much more 'ground zero' experience of modern infantry combat than Warhammer 40,000.

I'm going to mull this over some more, including looking at some possible rules and scenarios. The other item that occurs to me is that players probably ought not to be able to communicate with each other during the game, as this would undermine that vital 'fog of war' ingredient, hence requiring a team of players who may not see each other regularly. Ideally, players would not even email each other, as in WW2 communications would be via runner and runners can get hit / pinned down.

One final word on this: I may inject more of a roleplaying element into the game by using Platoon Forward from Too Fat Lardies to help populate our fictional platoon with personalities other than the players themselves, particularly if I don't manage to recruit the full complement of three or four players to the project. More on this as it develops and if it gains traction.

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