Friday, 13 February 2015

Remembering an old wargame

When looking back to my early days of gaming, some specific game moments stand out as being particularly memorable against a background of otherwise hazy recollections.

Interestingly, not all of those wargaming moments were necessarily good from the point of view of accuracy, simulation or any level of the sophistication that we typically seek today in our terrain layouts, rules and figure standards. In fact it is difficult to put my finger on exactly why they stick in my mind or strike any sort of nostalgic chord - perhaps they were just fun, plain and simple and perhaps in our strive for the professionalisation of everything these days, we have lost something along the way - who know's?

This post is just going to look at one of those early games, with an attempt to have another go at the same engagement and then to look at some possible tweaks. It has paratroopers and jagdpanthers in it and ..... well that's about it really!

Please press 'read more' for the rest of this post.

At this point I should mention that on the face of it, this is simply a terrible scenario, magic to me at the time (early teenage years), but not one that would stand up to muster these days (or even then probably!).

I had not yet been introduced to the pleasures of 'Battle' magazine, which would become a formative source for scenario layout and more importantly illuminating a corner of the wargaming world that revealed what others were doing in the hobby (just like the internet does today). At that time, I would have been a fan of Don Featherstone's Newsletter and have a growing collection of his books and those of Quarie and Grant.

My set-up in those days comprised of four lots of 2' x 4' wood panels that could go onto the family dining table to give a 8' x 4' gaming area (I would now consider that a luxury). A large dark green cloth went over it and then whatever sparse terrain items I had in my collection could dress it.

For World War Two games, I was using 6mm micro armour from Leicester Models and also using their armour rules, which had graphs at the rear of the book that showed the decreasing penetration value of tank guns in millimetres as the shot travelled over a distance. I am tempted to think that it may have been from this early exposure to gun penetration charts that my fascination in gun / armour relationships grew. Everything was bought as 'pocket money' buys, often with postal orders (remember those).

The original terrain layout (map below). The road was formed simply from a packet of light grey fine stone chippings from the model shop, sprinkled along the cloth and the woods from bits of that rubberised lichen ...... which look nothing like woods, but must have looked fabulous to my eyes in those days. The rubberised woods were in fact a step-up from my previous effort, which had been matchsticks with cotton wool balls glued on top for foliage, which were painted green with very thin green poster paint (sprayed on using my parents potted plant water sprayer!) and then given a plastercine foot to stand on.

Reconstructed - the cotton wool tree stands up against todays foliage!

I seem to remember there were a couple of buildings at the far end of the road. I have no idea why, as they played no part in the game at all. On reflection, it looks like only a third or less of the board was really being used.

Yes, there really was all that open space in the game - like a billiard table

The forces. The Germans had two Jagdpathers - that's it!

The British had several bases of paratroopers. There were not many, but likely more than three. As I would have been thinking in terms of platoons, then there were either three or six paratrooper sections. Three seems mean, so let's go with six.

The scenario. This must have been inspired by the Market Garden campaign (late 1944). British paratroopers had landed and occupied a wood. Their task was to move off the table along the German edge of the board, which was guarded by the two jagdpanthers....... yes I know, it's all a bit dire, the forces are probably about 1000 metres apart, there is no real story, no real cover, no real tactics, just a moving and shooty thing based in lucky dice rolls - great stuff though! or at least I obviously thought so.

I simply cannot remember anything about the flow of the game - just the situation. And looking at the above plan, I can't help but wonder why it has stuck in my mind so much in a positive way. It could be that it was played on one of those idyllic old fashioned Sunday afternoons (in those days all the shops etc were shut on Sundays) that was seen as family time. My parents would have been sat in their respective chairs on either side of the fireplace, one reading and the other doing the crossword. So perhaps it just harks back to that sort of thing, or maybe I had just bought two Jagdpanthers! - who knows?

The Jagdpanther was primarily an anti-tank platform and training emphasised the need to engage the enemy at ranges of around 2500 metres and that infantry targets were not a priority, unless there was a specific need and sufficient ammunition existed - we must assume that this is the case here and anyway, we are starting to get serious and that is not the point here, or perhaps it is! perhaps that just highlights the difference between then and now for me.

Lets play it anyway! I no longer have the Leicester rules, the luxury of an 8' table or even the correct units involved ..... but that shouldn't stop us from having a bit of fun.

A much reduced area of the original battlefield will be used

The original idea was to help this scenario stay simple by using a simple set of rules. The first consideration was to try out the new book, One-Hour Wargames (by Neil Thomas), particularly because his scenario's are quite light on terrain features. But I doubted that they could work for this particular scenario set up (I will explain why in another post).

Next up, my new flirtation with the Bolt Action rules gave cause for consideration. They are currently on my  Kindle and have not even been fully read through once. So in the first instance I have fallen back on my own Tigers at Minsk rules, for no greater reason than familiarity and an understanding that the pace of advance onto the self propelled guns might work.

The playing area uses a hex field. A pattern of 6 hexes wide by 9 hexes deep was chosen, with the hex flat sides running with the narrow edge of the board. The battlefield has been cropped down to just the significant area of action.

Play with the hex grain going across the narrow board edge

The Tigers at Minsk rules are available as a free download (see 'free rules' under labels in the right hand margin). The game clock will be set to 12 noon and the game will last for 1 hour and 15 minutes, this puts some pressure on the paratroopers to keep up the momentum of moving forward. The British player is player 1.

The German morale level will be 1 and they have 2 jagdpanthers that set-up first in hex H5, facing the woods.

The British morale level will be 4 and they also have a PIAT availability rating of 4. Once the Germans have set up, the British can deploy 6 x SMG sections to any of the woods hexes. Reminder - hexes containing more than 1 infantry section will be target rich.

Our cotton wool tree makes a guest appearance!

Victory conditions - The British get 1 VP for every unit exited of the German table edge, 1 VP for each Jagdpanther caused to retreat off the board and 2 VP's for each jagdpanther knocked out. The Germans get 1 VP for every British unit removed from play due to casualties or retreat off the table. The side with the greatest number of VP's once 1315 hours has passed, wins. A draw counts as a German win.

Special rules - the British have an inherent 2" mortar capacity that can fire smoke (only). Whenever a Random Event is generated, the British will not refer to the Random Events table - instead, they will simply place 1 smoke marker in any one hex within 3 hexes of any one of their sections. It will disperse under the usual rules of the game.  The Germans roll normally for their Random Event.

Not having the correct units in my collection, I will use two panther tanks to represent the Jagdpanthers and Russian SMG armed infantry to represent the British Paratroopers. The correct unit stats will be used, so the panther models (Jagpanthers) will not be classed as turreted and will be armed with the 88/71 gun etc.

The terrain hexes are by Kallistra and the units are 10mm figures from Pendraken.

At Start

AAR - Opening turn. It is 12 noon. British Morale is 4 and German Morale is 1.

A British Para section throws out smoke and moves into the smoked hex. They pass a smoke retention roll, so the next squad throws out smoke into another hex and also advances. Again smoke is retained. The rest of the British sections follow up by moving from the rear of the woods into the front edge of the woods. These units only have a fire power range of 1 hex (as does the PIAT) and since their only chance of knocking out a JagdPanther is with either a PIAT shot or by getting into the enemy hex and close assaulting, they are under pressure to get moving forward quickly, without bunching up and providing a target rich opportunity for the German player.

The German Jagd's are armed with 88mm guns with a good high explosive capacity, plus they have a bow machine gun, so they get to roll 3D6 against personnel, hitting on 6 at targets in cover (woods and smoke) and 5 and 6 on units in the open.

At the end of the turn 2D6 are rolled to advance the game clock. Doubles are rolled (causing an event), so the British get to place a mortar fired smoke marker (into F5) and the Germans get an event that they can't use.

The Brit's are getting plenty of smoke

1208 hours. British Morale is 4 and German Morale is 1.

A para section throws out another smoke and advances, but this time they fail their smoke retention die roll and so for the remainder of the game, the British sections cannot create smoke - except via their special 2" mortar rule when an Event is called for.

The Jagd's fire on the lead unit and get a single pin result.

1217 hours, British Morale is 4 and German Morale is 1.

One para section lagging behind in the woods goes out of command (OOC) and cannot do anything. At their front edge, the pinned unit recovers and two sections break out from the cover of smoke to widen their front on both flanks.

A para section in the woods is out of command

This is a serious moment for the JagdPanthers as a further advance by those units and a widening of their front will put them outside the frontal firing arc of the self propelled guns, which will be forced to pivot to fire, bringing fire penalties. They manage to get a pin on the British right flank, but the left is unscathed and free to move forward and out of the enemy frontal fire arc.

The clock dice again get doubles (an event). The British mortars drop smoke in G5. The Germans get an infiltration result. this allows one of the German Jagdpanthers to relocate 1 hex. They pull back onto their baseline, putting distance between itself and the para section and also bringing the enemy back into its frontal fire arc .... a very lucky free move.

1221 hours, British Morale 4 and German Morale is 1.

One British section goes OOC. The smoke has continued to hang around so far, but this turn, the smoke in two of the smoked hexes disperses. One section is critically close to a JagdPanther and must be stopped. Both Jagd's fire. The first is ineffective, but the second scores three hits (only needing two hits to remove a section) and the section is removed from play. The British morale drops to level 3 due to the loss.

Hmmm, unusual - the clock dice produce doubles again! The British place smoke into G5 (again). The Germans roll 'Men of Action' which allows one unit to both fire and move in the same turn, this will be very useful.

1227 hours, British Morale 3 and German Morale 1.

The foremost section goes OOC (ouch, ouch, ouch!), though the one on the right flank recovers from pin. Everything else moves up through smoke to keep the pressure on.

The forward Jagdpanther uses the 'Men of Action' event to move backwards and to fire. Now both Jagds are on their baseline. Their fire this turn removes two exposed sections and British morale tumbles to 1 (Oh dear!).

1232 hours, British Morale 1 and German Morale 1.

The British must risk breaking cover from the remaining smoke to get closer to the self propelled guns, it is the only way to winning. The remaining smoke continues to hang around, giving comfort to two sections. The exposed section just takes a single pin and feels lucky for that!

1242 hours, British Morale 1 and German Morale 1.

Both self propelled guns are now on their baseline

One section gets into H6 and only one Jagd can fire at it without having to pivot. But it's fire is devastating and the section is removed from play. The British morale crashes to zero and the remaining two sections must test for fall back. Both fail and both fall back 1 hex. It is difficult to see how they can still prosecute this attack any further.

Doubles again !!! this is very unusual and the resulting Random Events have had a big impact in this game. The British put down smoke in H5. The Germans get an intensive fire result, which is actually a recovery action that they will not be able to use.

1246 hours, British Morale 0 and German Morale 1.

The British know they should actually pull back and cancel the attack, but the arrival of new smoke encourages them to push on - if only they can deploy a PIAT and knock out a Jagd, the German morale would crash and the other SP gun would stand every chance of failing its fall back test and retreat of the board (sitting on the baseline is a dangerous position to hold once morale gets low). But the advance was folly, the section takes very heavy casualties and is removed from play. Morale falls to -1 and the lone surviving squad fails its fall back test and retreats 1 hex (which it is more than happy to do).

Doubles on the clock dice! (get those dice tested, I have never seen so many clock dice doubles in a short game). The British drop smoke into H6 to help cover their retreat by blinding the Jagds.

The big cats can't see!

1252 hours, British Morale -1 and German Morale 1.

The British section recovers from a pin and the self propelled guns advance to break through the smoke.

1257 hours, British Morale -1 and German morale 1.

The last section almost makes it back to the cover of the woods, but is lost due to excessive casualties as they move in the open.

The result is a total German victory.

Thoughts on this replay.

There were two significant influences in the game. Firstly smoke - the British got a lot of it. You could re-run the scenario and find that the British get just one infantry generated smoke and then they fail their retention roll and do not get any events at all. That is actually quite likely.

Secondly, through those Random Events being called. The Germans managed to fall back 1 hex to break contact with the enemy, while not having to give up any of their fire to do so. By just keeping the British at arms length they survived and continued to harm the attackers. There were a couple of moments in which the paras got adjacent to the jagdpanthers and had they survived, their very effective firepower in close combat would give every chance of knocking out a vehicle, causing a morale crash and a subsequent retreat off the board by the surviving vehicle.

If I were to re-run the scenario, I would add in one more special rule, to reflect the limited amount of High Explosive ammo  carried on these tank hunting vehicles and to dampen down the fire effects. Each time a Jagpanther's fire dice roll includes any doubles, for the rest of the game, their fire strength is reduced by 1D6, so the first time a vehicle would drop to 2D6 and then again to 1D6, after which time of course it could not roll further doubles, so it can never drop below 1D6. That might just put an nice touch of stress into the scenario.

Redesigning the scenario.

If I wanted to flesh out the scenario, I would add some fields and a drainage ditch to run alongside the road. A small woods would also go on the German part of the board.

British forces, morale levels, PIAT levels and set-up would remain the same, except another special rule would be added. Every para section can fire at ranges of 2 hexes and above with just 1D6, this is to represent the rifles and Bren gun that were carried by a section. At 1 hex or in close combat, the section instead uses its normal 4D6 value. The British would get 1 VP for each German rifle squad removed from lay, either by casualties or enforced retreat.

German forces would at start of play gain a rifle section in the ditch at H3 and a rifle section in the woods at H2. Their Morale Level would be increased to 2. The new rule for the JagdPanther fire ratings to be reduced if doubles were rolled would also be used.

This might hopefully produce a bit more of a dynamic scenario, with the ditch becoming an important feature.

The ditch - counts as open terrain if fire comes from an adjacent hex or from within the ditch and with a clear line of sight along the ditch, otherwise it counts as cover. Stacking is 1 section per hex (per player) maximum. A Jagdpanther cannot enter a ditch hex. To move along a ditch, the moving infantry unit rolls a D6 for each hex it wants to enter. On a 5 or 6 result it cannot move into the next ditch hex that turn. Instead it stays where it is and its movement immediately ends, though it counts as having spent an action.

The road has a drainage ditch running alongside

Conclusion - the scenario gave a fun hours game and it was nice to revisit something that my mind has often wandered to. Whether it worked or not as a scenario hardly seemed to matter.


  1. Thanks for posting Norm. It is good to re-visit games from the past, even if the do not necessarily live up to expectations, I think that is part of the joy of the replay. I have the Leicester Model rules, on my list to play them but man other rules in front of them!

  2. Thanks for the post. Some of my fondest games were back in high school.

  3. Well done finding and revisiting that old game. Sadly I think mine are lost in the mists of the past which is a shame as I'm sure there are gems like yours lurking there.

    Love your WWII rules as well; been reading them this afternoon and they look like a fine excuse to invest in some 6mm WWII.

  4. Thanks all, its quite enjoyable to do a bit of reminiscing. Shaun, I don't remember too much about the rules (other than I used them a lot), but those charts at the rear, with the massive projectile arc of the German 88/71 seem imprinted on my mind. Mind you, even in those days, with my good young eyes, it was sometimes a tough test to to precisely interpret the charts as those squares on the graph are VERY small.

    Chris, I think the post probably chimes with a sentiment that most of us share.

    Kaptain - welcome, thanks for having a look at the rules. If you have a tactical boardgame in your collection, you could probably use the counters and map from it and test out the rules that way - just keep the playing area to something like 8 x 6 hexes to 10 x 8 hexes.

    I am going to be looking at the 'One-Hour rules' for ACW, but would like to have a go at trying to shape this scenario to use the WWII rule section as well - though I think the rules system and ethos gets a bit stretched as they enter the WWII era. Hopefully they will surprise me.

  5. good stuff. I'll have to check out your rules. It reminds me that I found most of my old Squad Leader stuff just recently in a box. For pure nostalgia, was looking thru it. The Guards Counterattack was one of my first battles over thirty years ago!

    I did a detailed post on my RAW playtest of the NT One-Hour Wargames rules. Maybe it'll help you discern what use - if any - it can be. I like them, but there's certainly some things to add per scenarios. Also, the scale is a Unit is a Platoon.

  6. Hi, I actually did a scenario for my rule system based on The Guards Counterattack - it is under the pinboard posts (look in labels on the right margin).

    I enjoyed your blog post and agree that you have to think of the WWII rules at least as being platoons (since the tanks can accumulate hits!!!). NT's 1 Hour wargames emphatic suggestion to use 1/72 scale does not aesthetically feel right. using a smaller scale and having multiple vehicles per platoon (as you have done) does at least feel right for that kind of casualty counting.

    If the HMG's are inherent in the infantry unit, then there needs to be a closer range bonus and I agree - an assault capability.

    On initial reading, the WWII rules feel like the ones that need greatest 'house ruling' to make them fit the individuals perception of what needs tweaking, but your observation that in play - there is this 'revelation' that a lot of what we add into rules perhaps does not matter that much in terms of outcomes, is striking the same chord with some other reviewers - it is a very interesting subject.