Lessons Learnt

Somewhere In France.

This was a WWII early war game we played recently using our familiar ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ rules which we wouldn’t normally blog about but it became a bit of a new learning experience regarding the rules so we thought we’d share our experience.

The game was a platoon level game so there were 4 squads per side plus a small HQ section each and some light armour – mainly because Dave had painted some!

Normally we play one player per squad, because that’s how we originally designed the rules, so this would have meant at least 8 of us playing but we didn’t have 8 and Dave and I wanted to see if two of us could cope with a whole platoon each. The objective was simple; advance from opposite ends of a town that had seen a train derailed in an air attack on its outskirts and occupy said town. The table was 6 x 4 but the fighting was aimed at being in the inner 4 x 4.

Dave took the Anglo French and spread out along the railway line with the single French squad on the right with the objective of taking the church, the Scots squad out on the left hoping to use the cover of the downed burning plane to flank the Germans, while the two English squads were tasked with taking the town itself; the two Vickers light tanks were out on the left where the ground was a bit more open.

I took the Germans and spread out across my end of the town also hoping to seize the church with it’s high roof so as to dominate the town while the Panzer I’s came down the street supported by 2nd squad & the HQ element and 3rd & 4th squad spread out to the right.

This was the first outing for armour proper (rather than be fixed or be the objective of a raid) so we were keen to see how the basic rules we had written originally for armour would cope in what are very much an infantry action set. It was also a means for us to start actually using our extensive collection of vehicles rather than them sit on the shelves – curse of the wargamer!

I’m not going to bore people with a move by move narrative but rather offer a general flow of the action and comment on how ‘real’ it felt and where the rules worked well and where they did not.

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An easy narrative is the French who through the course of the days action achieved absolutely nothing! Their route of choice slowed them from the off, scrambling around, through and across the box cars split the squad, then across a ploughed field, then climbing the six foot church wall was an effort followed by navigating the graveyard until finally they were in a position to move to flank the pinned down German 2nd squad (see later) when a flurry of shots from an occupied house in the German zone killed the sergeant outright. Their resultant morale test was a complete bust – surprise fire, no visible support, dead non com – you get the picture.

To make it worse their next test to try and get going was equally bad and they withdrew ignominiously which effectively ended the game for them. We discussed this in our after game analysis to see if it was ‘realistic’. The French morale was no worse than the British, who generally acquitted themselves quite well but the French did lose their only leader to shots from nowhere and couldn’t see anyone else due to the high wall. The Germans who shot them were extremely lucky, they were looking in the right direction from upstairs windows and got a kill despite the hard cover we gave the French. Yep, happy with that.

The two English squads operated in what we thought was appropriate for the scenario; both crossed the track using the wreck as cover, the 1st squad got into the house by the track without being seen and split into two sections, the sergeant and his boys in the house to cover the road and the corporal and his team at the hedgerow to cover the approach to the church – it was this section that cut down the German 2nd squad as they moved into the church lane (the ones the French were sneaking up on), the 2nd squad used the derailed wagon as cover to occupy the central ruin to command their end of the town. The actions of these two squads did highlight for us how its not all about the rules; obviously as the opposing player I could see what they were doing but at no time could my troops claim to be able to see so they had to advance in accordance with my original plan hence the 2nd squad getting into a bit of a pickle!

But what about the armour?

This was where we learnt a lot (most of it obvious once we thought about it) and where I’ve been given the task of updating the rules. As it was early war we assumed the tanks were in radio contact with each other but not the infantry and that the field of view was very limited so they could only react to what they could see or hear. This resulted in the Vickers out on the British left acting as mobile machine gun support for the Scots until one of the Panzers actually came into view and they could take ineffective pot shots at each other. The other Panzer I in the town protected by infantry was a bit more effective, shooting up the allies when they revealed themselves to fire on the Germans and then being able to whizz through the town and end up behind the Scots and the HQ to create a bit of chaos – this was the decider in terms of the game. Did the rules work though? Well we made it work but the thing I need to fix is the fact that the chart we use for damage gives a level of damage based on a die roll (assuming you rolled successfully for a hit) but that damage is not cumulative so a vehicle can end up in a permanent loop of the same damage but never get any worse. Also we realised that the level of armour a tank has isn’t taken into account when adjudicating a hit or not; it didn’t matter in this game as they’re just glorified tin cans on tracks but for later stuff it would very much matter. How to fix it? First stop was Bruce Quarries Airfix book which is great on detail but the purpose of these rules is to be quick to assimilate and play without going into too much detail and they are primarily an infantry skirmish set so back on the shelf for Bruce! What I’m actually going to try is designating each type of tank (in a very general sense) as a type of cover – Heavy, Full, Partial etc, all of which already exist in the rules so instead of a target which is behind say Heavy Cover having a large penalty against the firer a tank classed as Heavy Armour will give the penalty and so on down to Light Armour – this is all so bloody obvious now! Then all I need to do is a little tweek to make damage cumulative which would be an improvement on the rules for structures and inanimate objects anyway.

Did we learn much else? Well yes. Two players can conclude a platoon level game in an evening (around 3 hours), you don’t need written orders just an honest commonsense attitude to what the little men can see and hear and the rules do seem to reflect back what we perceive to be the essence of a WWII infantry skirmish so smiles all round.

Thanks for reading and happy gaming.

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