Saturday, May 23, 2015

Catching Up: A Miscellaneous Sort of Post

Hello!

It’s been a good week since my last post and I don’t really have a reason for that, just a reflection of a somewhat unsettled state on the home front as we get ready to move in a month or so.  Time for a bit of a catchup.

A week ago I had the chance to play with our friend MikeyB’s (aka Weirdy Beardy) 15mm Western Desert toys.   Mikey’s been collecting WD stuff for some years and we persuaded him to haul it all outout.   James and I took the Italians (I’m a noted Italophile) and Barry and Mikey played the Brits.   We used I Ain’t Been Shot Mum v. 3 as the rules.

Here my fearless Italians advance on the British left flank, after taking out an unfortunate pair of 2pdr ATGs with a barrage of HE tank fire.   Everyone’s had their double espresso and almond biscotti and are feeling molto avanti.

Doesn’t he have some nice kit?

Autoblinda armoured cars race at the village, but are driven off by a platoon of Vickers guns.   Driving an up-engined tin can into a hail of .303 lead proves too much for the heroes of Italy.

James sends his force at the British centre, unlimbering his AT guns to hold the flank against the British armour we suspect is lurking in the sand dunes.

Surprise!   There’s a battery of 25pdrs in the British centre.   Having uncloaked this Death Star, the British proceeded to smash two of my poor little tanks and drive off the third in a somewhat less than functional state of repair.

Another surprise!  Barry’s infantry come charging out of the village to rip into my advancing platoon.   The melee goes for badly for my latter day legionaires and the survivors are sent packing.  Nice offensive spirit by Barry.

Andiamo!  Let’s get out of here!

In other gaming, I’ve been enjoying a chance courtesy of tireless painter and blogger Jonathan Freitag to play in a Play by Blog version of the Battle of Raab, an epic Austrian-French punch up in Italy.   I’m playing the part of Prince Eugene.   I give my orders to my divisional commanders via emails to Jonathan who compares my orders with those of my Austrian counterpart and then plays out the tactical consequences on his tabletop.   If you have some time, it’s worth checking out the ebb and flow of the battle here.   Feel free to give me some advice.   I’m trying very hard to punch a way through the Austrian lines on the far side of the Raab, but it’s proving a tough go.

Mayhem along the Pancza courtesy of Jonathan F.

This is the second such game I’ve played lately.   Conrad Kinch ran a very exciting game along similar lines, emailed orders from myself and the other player which he worked out on his tabletop, a very interesting combination of kriegspiel and roleplaying set in the Peninsula War, in which my gallant redcoats fought off a dastardly column of Frenchers to secure a vital bridge and village.   CK’s emailed updates and quick videos of the tab;e, with the terse “Your orders, sir?" came once every few weeks and kept me sane while I was ploughing away on my thesis this winter.   Both these experiences have given me much food for thought on how I might improve on an ACW game, the Bluffsburg campaign, which I ran here several years ago.

Speaking of young Kinch, I was also pleased in the last week to have played a small role in inspiring his “Victorian Volunteer Regimental Name Generator”, a useful sort of tool for naming fictitious units in Her Majesty’s far flung dominions.

The Kars Light Industrial Volunteers, useful chaps for skirmishing or for making decorative biscuit tins, as required. 

Finally I’ve been slogging away on getting more 6mm Napoleonic scenery finished.  Here are the finished bases for the Timecast bridges I showed in progress in my last post.

A quiet stream flows under a rustic bridge somewhere in central Europe.

Goes well with my Baccus rubber river sections, I think.

I’ve also been working on some 6mm buildings suitable for Italy from Paper Terrain, including a rather spiffing monastery on top of a small hill, which will be a useful terrain piece as an objective maker (seize the wine cellars!), an army HQ, or just a decorative bit on the side of the table.  It’s almost done so I’ll save that for another post.  Likewise, James and I had another go at Longstreet last night, and I’ll save that for another post as well.

Hope you’ve all had a good week and that I can catch up with your blogs in the week to come.

Blessings to your brushes and die rolls!

MP

Monday, May 11, 2015

Over the Bridge and Through the Woods: Some 6mm Scenery

It’s been a good week.  Madame Padre has been home since Thursday last and is getting stronger every day.   I finally spoke to my military career manager today and the posting message, without which nothing happens, arrives tomorrow, so we can finally begin the relocation process and finding the right new home with the right wargaming space.

There’s been precious little figure painting accomplished of late.    Since my last forays into Blucher and 6mm Napoleonics, I’ve resolved that I want my battles to look good, which means I need more scenery and terrain finished.

To that end I’ve finished several small projects, including painting two river sets from Baccus, their GSC2 River Straight Sections and GSC3 River Curved Sections.  These sets are composed of rubber components, the longer ones of which are about 4” long.   Here’s what they look like on the table, with some of my infantry bases for scale.

I washed them in soap and water, primed them in flat back spray paint, then dry brushed the edges.  The water is a Vallejo 70.979 German Camo Dark Green from their Panzer Series, treated with Vallejo 76.512 Green Wash.  Once it dried, I brushed on Woodland Scenics C1211 Realistic Water to get a glossy look.

Here are the contents of the two Baccus sets.   I didn’t measure the total length but the two packs provide a satisfying amount of stream for a reasonably sized gaming table.

 

Of course, one needs bridges.   I had already painted three Timecast resin bridge models, but decided I needed to base them so they would integrate with these river sections.  Here’s that work currently in progress.  For the first two bridge models, I decided I would build up the river banks using strips of rubber (from a kitchen shelf liner product) covered with plastic wood.  

Then I wondered if I was overthinking the problem, and if I simply needed to represent the banks using model railroad ballast.  I think it looks just as good.

Once everything dries I need to paint and flock.  I’ll use the same colours for the water that I did for the river sections, and I think it should all go together well, as follows.

 

Finally, my friend James is of the opinion that one can never have enough tries.  I’ve already made several small stands of woods.  I wanted a larger one and had the idea of road running through it.  The base is MDF, painted and flocked, and the road is textured from plastic wood.  I left convenient gaps in the trees to allow a stand of infantry to be placed on either side of the road to show possession of the wood.

Austrian grenzers stalk their foe.

One of the things I’m enjoying about 6mm is that it doesn’t take a huge amount of money or time to create good looking terrain features.   I can feel the larger scales calling me back to them, but for now I want to bear down and get some more scenery finished for my next Napoleonics battle.  

Blessings to your brushes and die rolls!

MP+

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Hospital Tradition

Twice now in our twenty years together, Madame Padre has had to spend a few nights in hospital.

The first time, early on in our time together, she was working in a garden centre and was required to wear steel-toed workbooks.   Her hastily purchased pair pinched her toes, a problem she solved by wrapping her blistered toes in tape and gauze and soldiering on, without complaining.  She’s a trooper, that girl.   However, I was increasingly concerned and on day four, noticed first that she was acting erratically, and second that her feet smelled brutal.   I rushed her to hospital and the verdict was compression gangrene.   Miraculously, she met a doctor who was willing to throw a broadband of antibiotics at her rather than consider amputation, which was a very real possibility given that she is a Type 1 Diabetic.   After a few days, things got under control, but for the next six weeks she took the drugs through an intravenous line, or PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) that ran through her arm and up into her chest cavity.

Despite this impediment she sneaked out of hospital to sit an exam at the local college for her Landscape Design diploma, and afterwards, basically ignored her doctor’s warning not to do any lifting because the line in her chest could be disturbed and damage her heart.  One day I came home from work and found her moving 20 pound rocks to relay a garden bed.   Perhaps those sorts of antics are why I love her.

The first time she was in hospital, I would bring the Scrabble game and we would while away the evenings.  Scrabble is our favourite game, though neither of us is very good at it.   We have siblings who memorize ten words a day and play competitively.  We’re not like that.  We muddle through at between 200-300 points each per game.  I won all those hospital games, though she claimed the medicine made her lightheaded and she was at a disadvantage. I say I won, fair and square.

This week we had the chance to play Scrabble again in hospital.   Madame Padre had been experiencing cramps and pains in her nether regions form some time, and an ultrasound led her doctor to believe that the culprit was an ovarian cyst.   Best have the lady bits out, he told her, since you’re not really using them anymore.  It was a longer and more complicated operation than we had been led to believe, which meant an incarceration of three days and nights.   She felt up to a scrabble game on the second night.

Madame Padre’s game is not off to a good start.  Here she adopts the post of Rodin’s “Thinker” to intimidate me.


Here’s the reason for that furrowed brow.   What a terrible set of tiles to draw!   I almost felt sorry for her.

Madame Padre is home now and getting stronger and peskier by the day.  The surgery discovered a few more problems than we had been led to expect, and the way ahead will be arduous, but I have no doubt that my girl will push through in her own stubborn way.    I would be grateful if you would keep us in your thoughts.

Oh, I almost forgot.  I won that scrabble game, but in the words of the Duke, it was a damned near thing.

Blessings to us all.

MP+ 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Tuesday Night Boardgame: Berlin '85 Update, CCN Napoleonics Wertingen, And A New ACW Game

Hello all!

It’s Tuesday and that means, in my fitful, irregular sort of way, a board game update.   First, an update on the SPI Berlin ’85 game I mentioned here a month ago.  Sorry to those who were awaiting more updates.  That game ended on Day 3 of World War Three as a NATO marginal victory.   Most of the US and British units had been eliminated and the survivors, along with a handful of remaining WG police and militia, were pushed back to the city centre.  The British suffered badly when the American flank collapsed and the East German division got behind them, cutting off their retreat routes.  The lavish amounts of Soviet artillery in the south make it very hard the for Yanks to hold their ground, but they did it long enough for a tiny US battery to shell the key rail line at the south end of the map.  As long as that unit is protected by NATO Zones of Control, it can rack up an impressive score of victory points by interdicting the Soviet supply line to the main front, so it did its job beautifully until finally hunted down and eliminated.  The Soviets never committed their Airborne division, since that comes with a steep cost in VPs.   Berlin ’85 has some interesting optional rules, including the use of Soviet chemical weapons, which would make it much harder for NATO.  The design notes admit that this is a pretty dire advantage for the Soviets, but speculates that the USSR would likely not use chemical weapons in an urban context, given the terrible toll on civilians and resulting propaganda costs.  Fortunately this was never tested.  I’ll put Berlin 85 back on the shelf,as it was one of the better games to appear in Strategy and Tactics in the late 1970s (and there were some bad ones - remember Armada?), and it would be fun to use the unknown strength counter sides of the units in a two player game.

 Last week I had Command and Colors Napoleonics set up on the games table.  I chose the first official scenario from the Austrian Army expansion,  Wertingen.  This battle (8 Oct 1805) came in the opening phase of the Ulm campaign, and saw Murat’s cavalry and Oudinot’s grenadiers crush an isolated Austrian force.  I played it solo and the French won it easily, 5-2.   

Starting positions (sorry for those of you bored by photos of blocks.  Not very sexy, I know).  The Austrians outnumber the French, but the French have 2.5 times as many cavalry units, and a big chunk of the Austrian army is sitting on the right wing, whereas the French are massed against the weaker Austrian left.  

While the Austrians did well early, knocking off a heavy French cavalry unit and killing its leader (sorry, Murat fans), the  French cavalry ground away at the Austrian left, while a timely Flank March card allowed the French to get the grenadiers forward early on.   While bloody for both sides, the end was not long in doubt.  Here’s the view at the end.  The Austrian Left has been entirely eliminated.

I want to go through the Austrian scenarios and see which ones lend themselves to interesting miniatures games.   I have enough 6mm figures to do Wertingen, but I’m not convinced it would be an interesting battle.   The consensus on CCNaps.net is that this is almost an impossible scenario for the Austrians to win.

I can say though that the Austrian army in CCNaps is interesting.  The big 5 block Austrian line infantry units can put out some fearsome firepower, and the Battalion Mass rule allows Austrian line to go into Square without giving up a card, which seems very handy.   I’m looking forward to dipping into more of the scenarios in this Expansion.  Speaking of CCN Expansions, is anyone else excited about #5, Generals, Marshals and Tactics?  

In a future Tuesday Boardgame, I’ll talk about a game that just arrived in the mail, Huzzah!: Grand Tactical Battles of the American Civil War, from One Small Step.

 The designer, Richard A. Dengel, has done at least one other ACW game, Rebel Yell, which I don’t know.  However, the fact that the four battles depicted in this game (Belmot, Newbern, Iuka and Stephenson’s Depot) are fairly obscure, and the small tactical focus of this game, promised to scratch a number of my itches.  There’s a review by Paul Comben here, and a spirited response from Dengel.

Here some quick impressions from my unboxing.  My heart sank as I picked up the shrink wrapped box and heard individual pieces of cardboard rattling around inside.   That didn’t inspire confidence.   Here’s the reason why I was hearing that sound.  Almost half of the counters had detached from the two counter sheets and were rattling around.  Some had infiltrated the folded maps, others had made their way into the rules and scenario booklets.  I tried to be careful not to lose any, but I think sorting the counters out is going to be a bit of a chore.

Speaking of counters, it would have been nice of the publisher, OSS, to have at least included a handful of ziplock plastic bags to store the counters once punched and sorted.  GMT does that, and while it’s a small thing, I think it goes some way to making up for the lost golden days of plastic counter trays that SPI and Avalon Hill once routinely included in their boxed games.

Huzzah! comes with four separate, quite small maps.  Here’s the map for Belmont, which I’m going to try first.  Belmont was US Grant’s first battle, and not his best by a long shot.    The map seems a little dark but it is rich on geographical features and has a pleasing number of charts printed on it, which may make up for the absence of a graphic player aid card (the one reference chart in the box is all text based).

So watch for news of the Battle of Belmont in a future Tuesday Boardgame report.

Before I sign off, I note that today is the anniversary of  the Wilderness, another US Grant battle, and a much bigger one.   I recently read Gordon C. Rhea’s book, The Battle of the Wilderness: May 5-6, 1864.   I know SPI did this battle years ago, perhaps in one of their quad packs, but I’m not aware of anyone who has done a board game treatment since.  It’s a battle that would lend itself well to partial treatment on the tabletop, and I’ve given that some thought, but I’d need a lot of trees.  Lots and lots of trees.  I don’t think one could do the whole battle unless it was in 6mm, as it was a huge, sprawling, confused engagement.  Whatever one thinks of Grant as a commander, and he didn’t exactly shine at the Wilderness, at the end of May 6 he turned his army south, and that was the beginning of the end for Lee and his army.  Not every general would have made that commitment after two days of bruising and mauling battle.  Good fellow, Grant.

Well chaps, it’s past my bedtime, so that’s all for now.  Blessings to your die rolls!

MP+

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Back to Blucher: Trouble Along The Pukenbruch

-0Last night I tried my second game of Blucher, only this time, instead of playing it solo, I took it to the lads in our group.  Marshall Patrick took the French, while James and Mike spilt the Austrians and I helped everyone through it, though sadly, as noted below, made some mistakes.

We used the random terrain setup from the basic rules, with each side having a dozen terrain choices.    For some reason the chaps decided to put a stream in the middle of the table, forcing us to play from end to end.   I chose the armies since we didn’t want to waste time explaining the army builder rules.  I rolled a random spread of numbers, giving the Austrians a small advantage, 300 points to the French 260, or 22 Austrian units to the French 19.  The Austrians had three corps of infantry (one grenadier, one line, one mostly conscript), a corps of heavy cavalry, and four unattached units of hussars.  The French had two corps of infantry (elite and line mixed), a corps of heavy cavalry, and a corps of light cavalry.    

All corps entered the game on blinds.   I adapted the recon rules from the Scharnhorst campaign rules at the back of the Blucher book, allowing both sides to choose how many light cavalry brigades they will allot to pre game recon.  The Austrians put 4 to the French 2, for which I allowed them to spot two French blinds.  One was the infantry corps at the top left of this photo, the other was a dummy.  In retrospect it would have been more interesting if I had allowed the Austrians to use this advantage to try and bring one or two corps onto another table edge to represent a grand flanking manoeuvre.Austrian objectives are the two hills shown on the left side of the river, which was christened the Pukenbruch.  The towns on either side of the river were Fahrtompuken (right) and Neuefahrtompuken (left) and the key hills behind were the Klompenbergen.  Yes, we are easily amused in our little gaming circle. 

We took units off blinds when they came within 8 Base Widths of enemy.  Here the French heavy cavalry (three brigades of dragoons, two of cuirassier, with horse artillery) face off against the Austrian grenadier corps (four brigades of grenadiers and heavy artillery).   The river was fordable but difficult terrain, and would prove a hard barrier for the Austrians to cross in the face of opposition.  I chose to put the artillery into units rather than parcelling it out among the brigades, to give the players a sense of how artillery works.

Opposing infantry corps square off in the centre, each putting one brigade into respective halves of the town as garrisons.   Not much happened on this front.   One of the French brigades got chewed on by artillery but both sides made their main efforts on the flank.  At the top you can see Patrick’s hussars and infantry crossing the stream to fight the Austrian conscripts, who would give a surprisingly good account of themselves.

A furball at the bottom of the table, as Patrick’s heavy cavalry kept pushing the grenadiers back across the river.   Since they were crossing the stream they were unable to go into square (Prepared in Blucher terms) and would be at a significant disadvantage in combat with the French horse.

The final battle.   The Austrian heavy cavalry corps push across the stream, and the French heavy horse are too depleted to oppose them as the Grenadiers continue to batter them.   By this point it was after midnight and we were on the last Austrian turn.  Hey, look at those sexy measuring sticks!

We declared the game a French victory, but that may have been an injustice to the Austrians.  After checking the rules and the Blucher rules section of the Honour Forum, which is an excellent resource, I found five rules that we were not using properly.

 
1) All infantry units can employ skirmish fire.  Units with the skirmish trait just do it better (getting the count one 5 as a 6 bonus).  Unfortunately, we weren’t allowing the Austrian line and grenadier units to use skirmish fire.   Only two units in the Austrian list, Veteran Grenz and Avant-Garde Brigade (a mix of light artillery, infantry, grenz and cavalry) have the Skirmish trait, but all Austrian infantry units can use skirmish fire (dice = 1/2 of élan rounded up) at 2 BWs.
 
2) Any attacking unit that loses a melee combat to a defending unit that does not break loses 2 fatigues (meaning it drops 2 élan levels).  We were playing it last night that attackers which lose a melee and have to retreat only lost 1 fatigue.   This would have been true in the event of a tie, but not if the attacker loses.   Both players actually benefitted from this misunderstanding, though it may have worked to the French advantage in that their heavy cavalry were pushed back several times by the Austrian grenadiers but took fewer fatigues than they should have.  
 
3) Infantry in combat with cavalry NEVER retreat, provided the infantry does not break.  Sam’s rationale for this is as follows: “Infantry either holds, or it dies.  But it doesn’t retreat or fall back in good order after being charged by cavalry, because that would be an invitation to be slaughtered.” http://www.sammustafa.com/honour-forums/rules-questions-32/infantry-vs-cavalry-no-retreat/?PHPSESSID=9b289e8d65980185091a4320c3bb2cc0  This misunderstanding probably worked more against the Austrians last night.
 
4) In the comments on my last Blucher post here, I got some terrific advice on how to handle the MO dice when playing solo.  I confess though I hadn’t really thought it through when we were playing face to face.  What developed during our game was a dynamic where the Active players were asking the Passive player if they still had MOs left to move certain units.  That was wrong.  I hadn’t realized that it is permissible to move more units than you have unit MOs left, but that ends your turn.  So, say the Active player activates a Corps with 6 MOs.  After this move, he only has 2 MOs left.   The Active player then wants to activate another Corps with 5 MOs. He CAN do this, but that’s it. The Passive player would note that he only has two MOs left, and allow the Active player to move his corps with 5 MOs, but then he would lift the cup and say, “you’re done”.  This means that the Passive player NEVER tells the Active player how many MOs are left.   Provided that the Active player has even 1 MO left, he can activate a Corps of any size or activate an individual unit, but upon finishing either of those Moves, he is told by the Passive player that he is done.   I was wondering why this process was proving so difficult, resulting in several partial Corps activations, and this explains why.  This error no doubt hurt the Austrians more since they were the attacker.  I apologize to those who tried to explain this to me in comments to a previous post here.  I’m a bit of a thick sometimes.
 
5) Finally, here’s a use for the CinC that didn’t occur to me to tell the players.  The CinC can move ANY friendly units within 2BWs of his stand REGARDLESS of how many MOs the active player as left.  However, once the CinC moves these units, the Active Player’s turn ends, EVEN IF the active player still has MOs left.  So, using the CinC figure is a bit of an insurance policy if you think that you might not have enough MOs left to accomplish your goals.  
 
Even with these errors we had a good game played to a conclusion, and I think everyone felt that Blucher has a lot of promise.  My chum James has already posted his thoughts on last night here.  With two games under my belt, I think I understand the basics pretty well, and see tons of potential.   Hopefully soon we can try the Scharnhorst campaign system, on one of the campaign maps available here, and then graduating to a larger project I am just starting to pencil out.
 
That’s all for now.  Blessings to your die rolls, mes braves!
MP+
 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Worst Range Day Ever

I’ve been dropping off library books as I prepare to leave university and go back to work, and one of them was Charles Esdaille’s The Penninsular War (Palgrave 2003), which is a grand and detailed reference that I’d love to have in my collection.

I couldn’t drop it off without re-reading my favourite paragraph, in which Esdaille describes the particularly bad quality of the troops that Napoleon had on hand when he first invaded Spain in 1808.   Max Foy described the army as being thrown together of inexperienced men and bits and pieces of units.  “Unacquainted with each other, unknown to their officers, whose names, even, they knew not, taken little care of, badly subsisted and irregularly paid, [the soldier’s] existence as fluctuating and precarious, like that of the ephemeral corps of which they formed a part”. 

It was a dangerous army to lead, as Blaze (Memoires d’un Apothecaire sur le Guerre dEspagne) described.

“On the fifteenth of March, we held exercises on a plain outside the town [of Valladolid], and General Malher was killed by a ramrod that a soldier had foolishly left in the barrel of his musket.  An immediate inspection was carried out to discover the … culprit: eighteen ramrods were missing from the section of the line the shot had been fired from."

The unfortunate General Malher.

This story is especially tragicomic because Jean Pierre Firmin Malher was, by all accounts, a distinguished soldier. Here’s his bio from the Arc de Triomphe website.

 Jean-Pierre-Firmin Malher first enlisted in the army in 1777, and then two years later he served on the ship La Couronne. After the Revolution began, in October of 1789 Malher joined the National Guard of Paris. In 1792 he joined the 14th Battalion of Light Infantry, served with them in the Army of the North, and was commissioned as a sous-lieutenant. The next year he was promoted to lieutenant and became an aide-de-camp to General Queyssat. Malher continued to serve with the Army of the North and in 1794 he was promoted to chef de brigade and became the chief of staff to General Bonnaud's division.

Malher's next major command came in September of 1799 when he became Vandamme's chief of staff in the Army of Holland. The next month he served at Castricum, was promoted to général de brigade, and joined Boudet's division. In 1800 General Malher joined the Army of the Reserve in Watrin's division, and that May he seized Aoste and fought at Montestrutto, Ivrée, and Chiusella. In June he fought at Montebello and then was wounded at Marengo. That November Malher returned to Paris.

During the years of peace that followed , Malher was employed in the 24th military division and he received a promotion to général de division in 1803. In 1804 he went to the camp of Montreuil and took command of the 3rd Infantry Division that would become part of Marshal Ney's VI Corps the next year. Malher led his division throughout the campaign of 1805 and fought at Gunzbourg in October. On Christmas Day of 1805, Malher was made a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor.

The next year, a few weeks into the campaign in Prussia, General Malher was replaced in his command by General Vandamme. In 1807 Malher was employed in the interior and then given command of the 13th military division at Rennes. That November he took command of the 3rd Division of Dupont's II Corps. Traveling with the army into Spain, Malher and his men were at Valladolid in March of 1808. Malher was participating in a training exercise when a soldier fired his gun but had left his ramrod in the barrel. The ramrod flew out of control and through Malher's skull, killing him.

 

Where’s your ramrod, son?  It’s in his head, innit?

 Poor man, he deserved better than a ramrod through the skull.   One wonders what happened to those eighteen soldats who had fired off their ramrods.

I might have caused a similar incident at a range day.  On my first field exercise as a padre to my first regiment, the troops were working in pairs firing live ammunition with the C7 (Canadian version of the M16 assault rifle) while working through a course with pop-up targets.  The Major in charge wanted me to take a rifle and go through the course with him.   As a chaplain, I am strictly required to be a non-combatant, and it had been many years since I had handled an FN rifle, the predecessor of the C7.   It would have been so easy for me to accidentally kill the Major or someone else, so I politely declined.  I also declined his suggestion that I serve as a Range Safety Officer, for similar reasons.   That Major was fortunate not to share the fate of poor General Malher!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Problematic Political Games

Game designer Brian Train is a guy I have a lot of time for.  I’ve mentioned his epic board game on the contemporary war in Afghanistan, A Distant Plain (ADP), here previously.    Another of his titles, Fire in the Lake, on Vietnam, is on my shelf waiting for a chance to get into it.  Both titles were designed by Train and Volko Ruhnke, and the two bring a ton of real-world and gaming knowledge and experience to the table.

On his blog recently, Train points to an article in the UK newspaper The Guardian which includes ADP within the subject of political games.  Unfortunately the article gives about as much coverage to a complicated subject as one could expect from a mainstream media piece - too little.  The Guardian reporter, Matt Thrower, has an angle he wants to take on the subject, and it’s clear from his first paragraph, where he talks about playing a terrorist faction in another Ruhnke title, Labyrinth, the War on Terror (GMT 2010).  Thrower describes playing a card, “Martyrdom Operation”, and then realizing that the card’s “clinical euphemism” simulated the killing of “dozens of innocent people.  I felt so sick I had to walk away.  A physical reaction from a mind game”.  

It doesn’t help that the article begins with a stock photo of a game of Risk and a caption describing Risk as a game that “gives players a chance to affect world politics”.   The article goes on to shoehorn in another “game” designer, Brenda Romero, whose “Train”, about the logistics of transporting people to Auschwitz, is to my mind more a piece of performance art than it is a conflict simulation.  As Brian Train notes in his post, the Guardian article shows the limits of media in a soundbite culture, where the focus (and I find this especially maddening listening to radio interviews by BBC journalists especially) is on the reporter’s own gut reactions to something.

Interestingly, Richard Clarke of Too Fat Lardies posts some related observations on his blog after debuting his new Afghan miniatures rules, Fighting Season, at Salute.  As Clarke notes, one punter felt that Afghanistan was not a suitable subject for wargaming, whereas a senior British Army officer felt that the rules would be useful for training platoon leaders.   “Square that circle if you can”, Clarke says.  I recommend Clarke’s post as a thoughtful defence of why someone might want to game this aspect of modern warfare.   

Personally I find the idea absurd that gaming modern warfare is any more ethically questionable than gaming wars of past centuries.  I don’t see how simulating a roadside IED going off is any more horrific than simulating the effects of canister on formed infantry.   If the argument is that gaming modern warfare might offend living veterans (and I have yet to hear of a veteran being offended by an Afghan game), I think it’s odd that we don’t mind simulating the experience of dead veterans.  We don’t worry about the sensibilities of Roman legionnaires, since they aren’t around to register their offence.   It seems more than a little hypocritical to me.  For my own tastes, I would rather play Train’s A Distant Plain, since I find it has more to teach me about contemporary warfare than a skirmish game like Fighting Season where ISAF is dodging RPGs and hunting insurgents.   The former is interesting to me, the latter, not so much, but that’s just my mental wiring.   Horses for courses and all that.  For folks who want to play games like FS or Skirmish Sangin, like my friend Rabbitman, more power to their arms as long as they do it thoughtfully.

It seems to me that as war gamers, whatever the medium of gaming we favour, we have an opportunity to go deeper into our subjects and think about them from a variety of levels - tactics, strategy, history, politics, ethics.   All of those learning opportunities are there if we want to pursue them.  It’s a pity that the Guardian article missed this complexity.

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