Chris Kemp's Not Quite Mechanised
1. Getting Started
Wargaming is an affordable hobby - if you exercise restraint. You do not have to start your collection with all the latest, most expensive models. Start off with small forces, and make do with what you have in your toybox. Have a look at my camouflaged artillery pieces in the gallery section to see how simple it can be to knock up a rough and ready wargames marker.
2. A Small Game at Home
What Does a Game Look Like? r
It is all very well reading through the rules, but what you really want to know is, "how does the game play?" I have described a small game below between my nephew, Ben and his friend Adam. It was their first ever game of NQM, and after 30 minutes or so of being shown how the game mechanisms work, they were happily committing their very own military blunders, without any interference from me!
Ben is studying Russian at school, and Adam, German, so there was no need to choose sides! We played on a blanket spread out on the floor, as the table was not quite big enough. All the scenery fitted into a 30cm x 40cm Curver Unibox.
The Battle was part of the Axis drive SW towards the Caucasus of Army Group South in early summer 1942. A German Pz Div met a Soviet Infantry Div in a prepared position astride a regionally important road. To win the game, the Germans had to clear the road and exit at least one Battalion off the enemy end of the board.
Panzers Marsch! W
The Russians elected to defend well back in the area allocated to them, but with recce thrown well forward, so the two opening moves were taken up with German recce casting down the road followed, some 2Km (20cm) back, by the rest of the division.
You can see the road, a recce unit (the motorcycle on the round base), a Panzer Bn of 3 stands, and behind them the rest of the Division. Those wooded areas may contain enemy, but they are being bypassed.
Aufklarung Vorwarts!1 S
The recce pushed on until it contacted the main Soviet positions by move four. One of the Panzer Bns on the left flank took casualties to improperly recced minefields, but pressed on, looking for the flank of the position defending the road.
Here we see the recce unmasking the main Soviet position. Four Bns of dug-in infantry behind minefields. In addition, the defenders have support from Regimental Guns, and anti-tank artillery. Time to Shoot and Scoot! The sock belongs to Adam!
Klotzen, Nicht Klopfen!2 w
The two panzer Bns conducted a pincer movement to cut off the road behind the Soviets. It fell a little short and attacked the Soviet rear echelon positions, counting on Tank Terror to break the position. Things were looking tense, but the troops in the village held their nerve. On the front edge of the battlefield, the first (armoured) Bn of Panzer grenadiers deployed to attack the Soviets frontally. On the road, the divisional AA Bn brought the central position under fire without waiting for artillery support. General Adam was certainly slogging away with his troops. Would his aggressive handling pay off?
Note the way that for an attack on a narrow front, we deploy the infantry behind their halftracks. They could equally have been laid out in front - it doesn't really matter. We build villages from 1/300th houses on Squares of thin marine ply. In the background is a plywood box built to fit my Ikea bookshelf. When not out fighting, my troops hang about in barracks there, talking about their last battle.
Achtung, Kosak! D
At this point of the battle, as the Germans were swinging their artillery into action, and the Soviets were beginning to crumble, the German rear echelon received a nasty surprise. Their failure to recce the woods earlier was repaid by a cavalry recce troop bursting out to attack the fuel train. This could have dire consequences as the panzers would be out of supply in a move's time. No logistics, no Fuel, no hope! The Divisional Engineers and Signals rushed to the aid of the Fuel Train and saved the day.
This is possibly the last place that a fuel bowser would want to see a Cossack with a box of matches and a Russian Sobrani Cigarette.
Na, was ist Los?3 F
Soon it became apparent that the Soviets were not going to give way today, and the Panzers pulled back to regroup and reorganise. This position would have to be bypassed and left to the following infantry. Already the recce were looking for side-roads.
Here is a birds-eye view after a few rounds of heavy fighting. The two Bns of Pz Grenadiers have taken heavy casualties, as have the defenders. The green pins show hits prior to reorganisation, and the black pins after reorganisation. I know that the rules say red pins, not green, but who ever follows rules to the letter? Oh look! is that a burning AA unit in the centre?
Fuer Uns, der Krieg ist zu Ende!4
We decided that this was a good point to end the game. The Russians had held the road for long enough for a KV1 company to arrive, so a Russian win then, but a close run thing!
This game was fought from setting-up to packed-away in a total of three hours. The fighting took no more than two hours, and the extra time was spent talking about history and the bizarre Cyrillic alphabet.
Generals Adam (L) and Ben (R) do impersonations of startled badgers caught in car headlights. All the essentials for a civilized wargame are to hand; toys, rules, dice, a box to roll them in and a cup of tea (thanks Carol).
3. How to put a Big Game on in a Church Hall
Design the Game
First decide which battle you are going to fight. Is it a historical one or one made up? A popular device is the "disguised scenario". Perhaps a battle in the Western Desert may be disguised by setting it in a different part of Africa, and calling the sea "impassable mountains" to throw players off the scent.
You will need to make sure that you have enough toys to fight the battle. Players may want to bring their own armies, in which case you will need to issue a list to them of what to bring. You may find that you only need to make special items of scenery or equipment. In one of Tim Gow's Megablitz games, we used cardboard strips as minefields for the first game, but I built the textured hardboard strips seen in the game above, for the second.
Give some thought to the physical size of the venue: This is normally what limits the size of the game. Tables should be no more than 6ft (2m) along their narrowest side, and there should be space in the isles for two people to sit comfortably back to back, and still allow space for your average generously-proportioned wargamer to slip between them on his way to the loo, or the bar.
Now you know how big the hall is, how many people are coming? Is there enough car parking space? Can people find the venue? Will you need to make an attendance charge to cover the cost of hiring the hall for the day?
Give your players plenty of notice. Give them an idea of their role. Make sure that you cast your player roles appropriately. More experienced players will probably want the higher command roles, and less experienced ones will probably want to push toys around at the front. Try to give players tasks within their capability. You will need to be flexible enough to cope with no-shows on the day, or even, if you are lucky, the odd extra attendee.
The commonest mistake is to provide too few umpires for the size of the game. You will need at least the following:
One Higher Control Umpire per side.
One Lower Control Umpire per Front engaged in battle.
Someone to organise teas and coffees, and lunch if it is not in a pub.
You can double up roles, but the umpires will be running around and the players may be idle as a result. Make sure that you have briefed your umpire team before the day of the game. Make sure that your umpires know the rules at least as well as the best players. If they don't, then have some practice games beforehand.
The main task of the Umpire Team is to make sure that the players enjoy the game. Even a catastrophic defeat can be a mildly enjoyable experience in the hands of a good umpire. Remember that the players are doing you a favour by turning up to your game. Try to reward them by making it an enjoyable experience.
You will need to cover more terrain than is normal. We have found that dyed tablecloths with masking tape stuck on them for roads works pretty well. You may be lucky and have access to a club with its own wargame scenery. Another good wheeze is to allocate one table per player. Give each one a plan and ask him to provide the scenery with, perhaps a small prize for the best table. This works well at the AK47 day at Brixworth.
You should know in advance how many moves you expect to complete in the day. Double the time that you think it will take. If you don't know how long it should take then run some practices with your umpire team.
By far the simplest arrangement is to find a pub large enough to fit everyone into for lunch. If you are ambitious however, you could follow Paddy Griffith and provide, for example, a Pirate Feast complete with cocoanuts, barbecue and rum! Try to keep drunken pirates away from cars, anything sharp, and the debrief at the end!
Post Game Debrief
Summarise the course of the game briefly. Allow the two Supreme commanders a brief say, and their teams if time allows. Have some paper medals prepared in advance to award for victory and heroic actions. Now is your chance to tell everyone about the particularly amusing events that may have otherwise passed unnoticed. Did I remind you to be brief?
Allow time at the end for clearing up before people begin to leave. You do not want to be left on your own doing something that 30 people could have finished in ten minutes! Fortunately, most wargamers are well aware of the need to tidy up afterwards, they just need to be directed, so tell them where to put tables and chairs away, and they will usually happily oblige.
4. My Own Campaign
What Have I Been Doing With My Life ?
Wargaming, whilst affording many hours of harmless pleasure, is not the sole focus of my life. Consequently, I have been fighting the Eastern front since 1985 and have not got nearly as much done as I would have liked. Recently, I started to write up the War Diary from its original rather tatty exercise book to an electronic format. I do not imagine that this will be of much interest to anyone other than me and other direct participants, which is why it is buried away here. You have been warned! In My campaign, the Germans concentrated on the Drive to Moscow and took it. They are currently having a hard time keeping it though - the war goes on.
Thanks are due to the following who have all played in the campaign over the years:
Chris Agar, Phil Barker, Paul Brannan, Bob Cordery, Graham Evans, Paddy Griffith, Ben Kemp, Ian Lowell, Peter Rowe, Graham Sergeant, Phil Steele, Anjim Syed, Chris Willey, Will Whyler,
(Please email me if I've missed you out)
1. Recce to the Front!
2. Knock, don't Tap!
3. What's up?
4. The War is Over for Us