Experimenting with Kriegsspiel

A year ago, I ran a freeform map Kriegsspiel (inspired by Paddy Griffith and Verdy Du Vernois) for my mates Sigur and Virago. The game went on for several months and was fun, although it had some problems – one of them being that it petered out without a real conclusion.

Now the fascinating and for me central thing about Kriegsspiel is that it is double blind, the umpire being the only person who has complete knowledge of the positions and actions of both sides. It’s fascinating as well as entertaining to see players act with a limited knowledge of what is actually happening, something that is hard to model in conventional in tabletop wargames.

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The umpire’s set-up.

So I wanted to try Kriegsspiel again, but in a more streamlined form. Mark Backhouse did some very interesting Twitter Kriegsspiels, so I decided to try this route – a game that would only take an evening, with orders being received and transmitted via Facebook Messenger. I wanted to have structured rules for a change, so I wrote a quick and simple game that fits on two pages.

The setting was a fictitious American Civil War battle, set during the Shenandoah Valley campaign in 1862. Sigur played Stonewall Jackson and had to drive the Union troops, commanded by Virago, out of the town of Turvington. I drew a map on an A3-sized sheet of paper and used the Kriegsspiel blocks I got from Command Post Games. The map as well as the rules and the mission briefings were sent to the players. Both printed the map and made their own counters to help them visualize what was happening.

This is what it looked for Virago and Sigur:

And this is what it looked for me:

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The game was great fun, at least for me. Here is a short video documenting the movements of the units on the map: https://spark.adobe.com/video/EjkkhcyXOdaTJ

We had some really great moments: Right at the beginning, Virago redirected a couple of his units to the east, but seems to have lost orientation, as he was pretty surprised when he got the reports of where he and his units where. Well, a little friction while maneuvering several brigades along country roads is actually pretty realistic! Later, one of his brigades, while still in column, stumbled into the flank of a Confederate brigade. While the Union troops formed line of battle, Sigur swiftly pulled his men back and saved himself from what could have been a very bad situation.

In the end, Sigur managed to achieve a substantial local superiority and hammered the Union troops into submission.

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I’ve already asked two other friends if the want to try out this game, as I’d be interested in how different players approach it. I’m also motivated to make more experiments along that line. I’ve also learned a couple of things: First, it took longer than I thought it would. Perhaps I will make the combat mechanics a bit more decisive. Also, despite having structured rules, there were more situations than I thought in which I had to make a quick decision as an umpire. I don’t want to make the rules more water-tight, as I think that it is paramount that the game moves along at a brisk pace, so I will got with it and embrace this (without being arbitrary). And the last thing I noticed is that, in the heat of battle, it is easy to lose track of things, such as the turn sequence, all the players’ orders etc. And this is only with two players! As much as I’d love to try a game with more players, I’m not sure how I would manage it.

Missin’ in Action 2019

After last year’s success, we had another gaming event with friends. This time, the weather was friendly and we could set up in the garden.

The main attraction was a game I had been working on for quite a while (not continously, though): namely a tavern brawl based on the old Brewhouse Bash rules from White Dwarf #223. I collected figures in brawling poses, which were harder to find than I thought, and built some terrain. The main headache proved to be the playing surface. After several aborted experiments I had to make a last-minute compromise and take a sheet of unpainted PVC floor coating. It looks ok, I guess.

Here are some impressions from the game:

 

The game was simple fun. We had eight player, but it still moved along at a good pace. Austrians of a certain age grew up with Bud Spencer & Terrence Hill movies and the game conveyed the feeling of those comic scuffles pretty well.

Afterwards, we played two parallel games of Sellswords & Spellslingers, which is aways a fun game, especially for events such as these.

Thanks to all the players, it was great to spend an afternoon and evening gaming with friends!

A New Blog

I’ve been very lazy with blogging lately, but I had quite a number of games. You can find AARs for two of them on a new blog:

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Tabletop Stories was created by my mates Virago and Sigur. Sigur is posting some old articles of his which hitherto had been hosted on the now defunct Skirmish Wargaming site. He also posted two AARs of games with me, namely

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The blog also contains other AARs and reviews of rules. Sigur spares no efforts, as all of his articles are available in English and in German – just click the tiny flags in the upper left corner. Be sure to check Tabletop Stories out and to add it to your blog reader!

A Dark & Stormy Night – Sharp Practice AAR

On July 4, 1863, the Union cavalry was in hot pursuit of the Confederate army retreating from Gettysburg. Judson Kilpatrick’s division had information about a rebel wagon train making its way through the South Mountains and set out to capture the wagons. Due to a rainstorm, the Union troopers arrived at the approaches to Monterey Pass in the evening. When they slowly made their way up the pass road, a lone Confederate cannon opened fire.

Thus started the Battle of Monterey Pass, one of the most dramatic small cavalry actions of the Gettysburg campaign. The unusual circumstances – a fight at night, in very difficult terrain, while a torrential rainstorm was raging – made this “a night never to be forgotten”, as one participant in the action later wrote.

For Sharp Practice, I have decided to divide the action into three parts. This was a playtest for the first part, the approach to the pass road and the Confederate ambush. The results of the game will have an effect on the next scenario.

The Union had four groups of well-trained cavalry, armed with breechloaders as well as sabres and revolvers. The Confederates had three groups of cavalry and a single light gun. They also had three deployment points, two of which were hidden (marked in a map), and the ‘tactical’ characteristic, which allowed them to make ambuscades with two command cards.

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The Union command approaches to road. A narrow road, heavy woods to both sides and reduced visibility due to it being night, as well as the driving rainstorm make this a dangerous looking place.

Nevertheless, K., who plays the Union commander, pushes on and deploys her cavalry in column on the road.

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Suddenly, a cannon opens fire! However, due to the difficult circumstances, the firing is less than spectacular (distances were halved to account for the weather and I was unlucky with the dice…). Although slightly shocked, the cavalry immediately charges the gun.

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The gun crew breaks and runs into the woods. Now this was quick! Buoyed by their success, the troopers push on.

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A lone group of Confederate cavalrymen decides to mount a desperate charge to hold the Union column. However, after a short struggle, they are pushed back. The Union immediately countercharges and in the resulting melee, a sabre hits the Confederate leaders, who drops from his horse and lies dead on the ground. Things do not look good at all for the Confederates.

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One of the Union groups dismounts and heads into the woods to catch the gun crew, which is milling about. The rest pushes forward.

Suddenly, a salvo erupts from the woods – finally, a group of dismounted Confederate troopers had managed to lay an ambush. The Union troopers in front are dazed, but one group from behind charges forward at a canter and crashes into the rebels. Now it’s their turn to be surprised, and completely overwhelmed by the relentless horsemen, they throw away their arms and surrender (we have a house rule that, if one side in melee has four times as much dice as the other, the side with less dice immediately surrenders).

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With the Force Morale down at 1, I concede defeat. K. has lost a couple of men, but not one single point of Force Morale! An overwhelming Union victory, which will make if hard for the Confederates to save their precious wagon train…

This was a fast and furious game. I have to admit that K.’s aggressive attack caught me on the wrong foot – I had thought she would dismount and methodically work her way through the woods, giving me the chance to perform an ambuscade or two and get my gun out in good order. Let’s see how the story unfolds – the Confederates have a second line of defense at the pass’ summit near the Monterey hotel.