Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group

Terror at Torzhok, 11 October 1941

A pre game report

The German Army has ripped a huge hole on the road to Moscow. What is next, they decide to rip out another hole on the northern flank of the Moscow road.

My inspiration was the very good book “The Defence of Moscow 1941: The northern Flank.” I presented a classic big map operational type game at the club. Didn’t really work. 2nd bit of inspiration from Jim Wallman’s Arnhem game last summer 2019?

And then covid19 happened. I thought originally it would all be OK by now autumn 2020, Well I was wrong. Probably wont settle down for 5 years I guess maybe even never. So I had to adapt the game for the internet. So I had a design chat with CLWG and got some really good ideas which I was not fond of, but I had to bend. Strip it back, and keep it simple. So I went with just one side, the Germans. Simplify the command structure, so just one team at Corps level, not quite a Corps simulator, as I’m not so sure how a Corps works. Simplify the map not quite point to point but much much clearer to use. Organise the German units in Divisions into their operational groups such as Eckingers detachment of a tank battalion schutzen and artillery battalions as a single group. This greatly reduces the number of units that a single umpire has to track and is a little more simple for players. Don’t go to regimental level for Soviet units, keep it a divisional and again reduce the number units on the Soviet side from 40 to 17.
Shorten the supply rules, this was the hardest bit but there was no way as a single umpire I could implement my original thoughts. So one supply type has no difference between ammo and fuel. Reduce the number of units that I need to monitor fuel and ammo for, from all of them to just tanks, trucks, half-tracks and artillery. Don’t bother tracking supply for soviet units.

I wanted to try and show players the map from a webcam and got hold of a terrific thing called a document camera, but my upload speed is bloody useless on the internet so that didn’t work. So that meant I had to simplify even more, as I could only give verbal feedback. I simplified movement not point to point but still all motorised stuff moves at one rate and all foot and horse moves at the other rate. I have tried to take fiddly stuff out of the game, probably reduced the odd incidents that could occur and keep it simple.

The biggest thing I had to figure out is probably the simplest thing. Players will do things very differently to the history and my combat model and movement models don’t reflect history so don’t worry just go with the flow and hope they enjoy or find interesting the game.

One day I want to do the scenario from the Soviet side. But the next game is seeing if I can do game Eastern Front Aerial combat.

A post game report

How did it go?

The map

Ahh well the players did spot at least one spelling mistake on the map Rhzev instead of Rzhev a city got absolutely levelled in 1942 and the centre the tragic “sorrow offensives” 1942. I felt having distances between towns really helped me as an umpire. Much much less measuring than traditional maps and still less than hex maps. Worth considering again. I had a couple of breakout maps for certain locations for when I thought things would get congested and this was useful. But forgot to use one, because I was a bit blinkered by hindsight.

Hindsight – Railroading

Well as alluded to in the pre game report the players did some things very differently and I was glad they did. They stretched my understanding and challenged me and came up with some good decisions that would have very interesting ripples. It was really very informative listening to the players make their decisions and how they did that of course they were a bit rushed and could not consider everything; but they did great. It reminded me of a Jim Wallman starship marine game, in which a training mission was set up and instead of playing or umpiring I simply sat, listened and took notes, a bit like a lurker. Well worth listening to how people make decisions. I am very very glad I did not try to railroad them into history, a thing I have finally learned after a very long time.

Help from design sessions and previous runs

I think the game really benefited from the design session we did 2 or 3 months ago. I don’t think I would have been able to do this game without that design session. Incredibly useful suggestions options were given to me, that at the time I was not very accepting of and and even in denial about. But I was given time to think about what was said and that proved more than useful. Also very useful was listening to peoples feedback on a previous run at the subject, and honestly I did listen. Well worth listening to other people.

Movement

The simple movement system worked OK. Mostly players stuck to the road net and it might have been useful for me to have on hand the poor dirt road map when they did cross-country movement. But it would have been a nightmare for the players. There were a huge number of poor dirt roads. One or two towns would be useful. Another option could be if they want to go cross country is to email a piece of map that shows those dirt roads from the original US army map.

Player roles

I was not really very sure of what I wanted here. I definitely needed a commander of the corps, who would oversee the whole operation. Who could receive reinforcements and push supplies forward. I got lucky with Trevor who had read the briefing and ran the team very well. I think I really wanted a player for each of the two divisions. Even with very few units to oversee they still had stuff to do. A fourth player to help the commander and fill in as needed. So not really a proper Corps simulator and not really a proper tree like vertical hierarchy with limited communications but something more flatter.

I got lucky and had very good players do their jobs very nicely and Nick Luft as fourth player filled in excellently as supply officer which probably is a full on job, but Nick had thoughts that the system I used was too simple, I will come back to that. I think with a smaller team of two players my system as written would have been close, not quite overwhelming for players.

Numbers of units

The very few units the division players had were not a problem.  For instance Jon Casey had 6 units to handle, if this had been split this into battalions the number would be 15. Fifteen units I think it would have been a bit overwhelming to look after. This was something that I had not thought about pregame and again got lucky.

Combat system

The combat system worked OK-ish. I made a couple of errors even with the very few combat factors I had. I did issue the rules including combat factors and starting status. I was hoping that this would help players feel more in control, but maybe that bit did not work. Perhaps also I was trying to do the combats too fast, and need to give myself a little more time.

Supplies system

Ahh with Nick “loggie” Luft on the job surprised me. I had a very simple system and Nick said afterwards it could have been a bit more technical and less abstract and more difficult for the players. I am a bit scared to do that as it will make my life as an umpire more difficult. I also fear players who are not as organised as Nick will find it much more difficult. It’s one to think about.

Running the game.

It helped that players had read their briefings beforehand. I know it was quite a lot but honest I had tried to streamline and cut it down and organise the material. Players relied on feedback that was almost like 99% verbal. It seemed they had a good grip on that. The document camera that could have provided very decent graphical feedback needed a decent uplink speed and when i tried it last month it didn’t work. So I was mentally prepared to give verbal only feedback. It seemed to work OK-ish.

The counters and tinkering

The counters cost a lot. They were mostly 5ps with little stickers, decent handling, decent size and bloody easy, very quick 10 minutes with a brio and a coloured pens and pencil. I didn’t want to endlessly tinker with the briefings. I am good at tinkering aimlessly. So to avoid tinkering, once I had written a section I sent it off to the group to make sure I could not tinker further, that felt good.

The scenario

The setting and scenario was actually more interesting than I thought because the players changed history and I did not railroad them. After reflection it could be reasonably said they posed more challenges with greater logic and reasoning, I think, than the Germans did at the time.

The future – as I am fond of saying, not written down in any book

The next step is, perhaps, to continue the game from when we left off? I actually stopped the game, as Andy said, just when it just heating up. It’s actually quite strenuous to run the game in the way I did. So next time I think I might take a time out. It’s also just not going to fit in a 2 to 3 hour time slot. I would also love to do a game from the Soviet side. That would require a little more help from the club at the design session.

Thanks for playing Trevor, Jon, Andy, and Nick. Thanks to those that helped a lot at the design session, also a great thanks to the original fab 4 who endured a much cruder fiddly version 3 years ago? At a spring CLWG conference.

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5 Comments
  1. Andy Grainger

    I really must apologise for the delay in getting back to you; I simply overlooked your e-mail.

    I found your onside report very interesting and can imagine that it must have been quite a lot of work to umpire the game as you did.

    As a result of the game I ordered Jack Radey’s book – I had to really since Jack Radey was the designer of the Kirovograd boardgame and a number of other Eastern Front games. He should really be up there as a key inspiration at the beginning of megagames as we used his game map and counters to run K1!

    I have not quite finished the book but I thought your game really captured the problems with which the Germans had to grapple. Their combat superiority is massive – but only if they have supplies. In recent years military historians have noted particularly the low priority the Germans gave to logistics whether on the Eastern Front or in North Africa and that is very evident at Kalinin. I remember criticising the German players in my Op Crusader megagame for ignoring their logistic situation and trusting that something would just turn up. I was unfair. Radey’s book shows that the Germans, at all levels, in your game had the same attitude. They did not regard logistics as key but as an add-on; they took them for granted and if you got mega supply then that was a bonus. Thus their combat capability falls and losses increase not just in personnel but also materiel. The allied armies of 44/45 could replace all their materiel to the extent that it did not really matter how many tanks or trucks or aircraft they lost. Not Germany in 1941. Even in this small battle 1st Pz Div loses most of its tanks and vehicles because they get cut off and have to abandon them.

    It is a great scenario. The book brings out a myriad of interesting factors reflecting the Russian situation. By just playing one side we were able to get through five days in about two and a half hours which was a good pace. Once the Soviet counterattacks had started to bite then you would have had much more work to do and so the pace would probably have slowed, not least because each side is bringing in more units.

    If the pace can be kept up then there is plenty for the German Div player to do. On the Soviet side I guess you would play at Army level as they deploy a force of about four or five divisions plus other units. Again, if the pace could be kept up I think daily turns would work.

    Thanks again for a great game.

  2. Nick Luft

    Thanks for the game Mukul.

    One of my lessons from this online gaming malarkey is that the Umpires are a lot more stressed than the players. They have to process all the usual decisions, plus all the map movement and combat resolution that an Umpire can often delegate to the players.

    As for my comments about the Logistics. My issue was that there were no real decisions to take for a logistics commander. Once I had got to grips with the game system it was just a matter delivering the right amount to the places as required. There were no angsty decisions about should I send supplies to one unit over another. All units were getting just enough to enable them to fight.

    However, after the first few turns I suspect I might have changed my mind. Once the units started getting more than one or two days trip from the Corps supply dump, then I was going to have make difficult decisions. I think that given the awful conditions of the roads these difficult decisions should have come right from the start of the game.

    My surprise as an “experienced” gaming logistician was that I had no restriction on my “lift capacity” as I had no supply columns / units to manage. Nor did I have to use fuel as I travelled. If I did, then I would have to make decisions about who to supply and when. Maybe a random fudge factor would have made the supply problems a bit less predictable – all those traffic jams, wandering bodies of Russian troops etc. .

  3. Some great comments from Nick. Having finished Radey’s book I think I would say that the question of ‘lift’ can be abstracted. The Germans did not have much supply because it had to be trucked nine days from Smolensk. Once it gets to the area of the game the main constraints are Soviet units blocking roads and muddy roads. You could just move blocks of supplies a certain daily distance. The only exception would be giving some lift for German air transport which might have been limited but was quite important.
    It’s important to say that the Russian forces are on their uppers but their numbers grow and they gradually sort out their command arrangements. It is a great scenario. The real one lasted about 20 days and we did five in about two and a bit hours. As the game develops it would need at least one other umpire and players at a similar scale for new units. It would be possible to play both sides or, as Mukul did, just the Germans.

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