Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group

Seize Warsaw! Offside Report – Andy Grainger

Many thanks to Nick Luft for putting on his game about a battlegroup of the 4th Panzer Div attacking Warsaw on 7 Sept 1939.

I found it rather spooky in a couple of ways and they affect my initial impressions of the game as well as reflecting my status as an old person. Back in 1980, yes, forty years ago at Paddy Griffith’s Wargame Conference at Moor Park someone had expressed surprise at the idea of a game about France 1940 – who would be interested in playing the French? Plenty, as it happened but this is certainly the first game I have played on Poland 1939.

The second spooky element was the use of a Discord server to replicate the comms nets between the different sub units and give different roles to Commanders (giving orders) and Chiefs of Staff (organizing the information flows). As I logged on to the dashboard with essential assistance from Jim and Nick I was transported mentally from my draughty house in snowy Nottingham 2021 to a draughty derelict building in another part of a snowy Nottingham c1984 and an Army Command Post exercise ‘against’ the Warsaw Pact. The main difference between the two ‘games’ was that in 1984 the participants had undergone significant training in the use of the communication nets whereas their 2021 equivalents had not. The 1984 gamers also possessed a detailed knowledge of their own and the enemy’s capabilities and of the relevant military bureaucratic procedures which unsurprisingly those in 2021 lacked. It is no reflection on anyone involved in the 2021 game that the command and communication outcomes were a shambles but that was inevitable since they lacked any instruction in those elements that were deemed essential for the 1984 players.

My first impression of the game therefore is that while I enjoyed the game – and is just me or did the internet connections hang together better than on some previous occasions – I did wonder if the Discord server is a solution in search of a problem. Perhaps it can be set up to replicate the features of a particular command and control system but without training it seems to me that the players will tie themselves in knots additional to those which they would create for themselves anyway.

Mukul’s Terror at Torzhok game, whilst admittedly with fewer people, presented the players with a similar range and pace of problems but without imposing comms problems – there was plenty to deal with without having to learn how to use a comms system on the hoof at the same time.

Admittedly, my question about the value of Discord is rhetorical since from the post game discussion it is clear that several of the participants use it or similar technology to handle communications in bigger games. Indeed, we have discovered in the pandemic that such technology offers an opportunity to host games to a more dispersed audience. I simply suggest that there is no need to impose complexities in the comms technology since if the game is properly designed the players will have plenty to do. As it was, the players were tasked to attack a major city off the line of march without any knowledge of the capabilities or doctrine of their forces and without even a proper map! The surprise war crime sub plot could have become the main game with the boring military stuff being handled in the background though the players would have required some briefing or role play material.

As ever, there is always a game to be found even in one where the overall scenario has no specifically military balance. In the last year or two a number of works have appeared covering the Polish campaign specifically. I have not read any of them but am now encouraged to do so; I believe the one by Roger Moorhouse ‘First to Fight’ is very good.

Many thanks Nick for a thought provoking game touching several aspects of this little researched campaign.

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4 Comments
  1. Pingback: Seize Warsaw: Onside Review - Nick Luft - Military Muddling

  2. Peter Merritt

    Thanks Andy,

    Interesting and thought-provoking as ever… As a non-participant, my comments are perforce restricted to Andy’s piece:

    I think as gamers we cannot bring full skill-sets to any event – for the most part, we’re not trained/experienced (let alone brave/foolhardy enough). That’s where the game design/systems must come in, allowing one person to run the Eastern Front, mount a hideously complex Pacific island assault, move a couple of hundred people from a Napoleonic column into line, fly a B17 etc etc.

    Putting any sort of ‘real world’ friction into a game has always been problematic, at best (hands up those who loved using the dear old intercoms – and laying the cable net?!), disastrous at worst (near-mutiny in Paddy’s U-Boat megagame with the water-pistoling of surfaced commanders standing in cardboard boxes… while the strategic bit fell to tatters [in our room anyway]; one of the giant stakes in the PG meg era). BTW, I only heard about Moor Park after the event, but my limited experience with Paddy was as a ‘tour de force’ (or stampede) when it came to ideas/design – great if it was going in the direction you wanted, but not open for discussion, certainly with ‘lesser beings’.

    Interesting comment about the software. In the ‘day job’, I see lots of this, but without direct experience I will hold fire. What I would say is that, while the meeting s/w may have helped a bit during the last year, in less disciplined meetings it is very problematic, as the s/w tries to mute non-speakers, or blocks comments from people etc, so the ‘shouters’ tend to win. At least face-to-face you can usually physically interject the ‘biggest moose’ interplay, or make your frustration obvious. On more than one occasion with even a small group, I’ve been reduced to sending text messages to try and add a comment…

    I am still pulling together ideas about incorporating logistics problems into games in fun ways for players. But what it won’t involve is huge amounts of form-filling, stock-taking, arguing on phones or loading box after box from one table stack to another!

    Yes, the Moorhouse book is interesting. Once I get past my latest projects with the ACW Seven Days campaign and Tunisia 1942/3, I may have a look as there is plenty of scope for organised chaos on both sides…

  3. Andy Grainger

    Hi Peter,

    Your point about the need, in effect, to use voice procedure for Zoom meetings is very well made.

    I have attended one University webinar where the chair informed the audience of how he would handle the questions i.e. he muted everyone, they signalled via chat and he selected and unmuted the questioner but this is unusual. At my wine group virtual tasting the chair asked people to speak in rotation but yes, you are quite right, in even a smallish room of about ten there has to be a chair and there has to be some control or procedure laid down.

    On logs I still remember Tom Mouat’s Lego bricks at Kirovograd. Problem was, it was a complex system, he made it work and I think everyone enjoyed it so my megagames had over-complex log systems thereafter!

    Andy

  4. Peter Merritt

    Hi Andy,

    Logistics systems – actually ‘Kirovggrad’ is one of my honourable mentions! With coloured markers as an option on POL, ammo, food. However, if any system takes the designer to run it, then it needs more work or at least a training session….much like the Army?!

    Peter

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