Sunday Summary – Too busy to play but NEVER too busy to dream about new #wargame & #boardgame arrivals @FoundationDietz @msiggins @HABA_usa @compassgamesllc @gmtgames @Academy_Games @LeeBWood @Hobiecat18 @SchilMil @Bublublock

Like the title says, didn’t get much gaming in this week as I return to basically full-time in the office. After a year of semi-telework it’s a bit of a shock to the system but, honestly, I love to be back at the grind.

Wargaming

Ended up doing a deep-dive of Fifth Corps: The Soviet Breakthrough at Fulda (Jim Dunnigan, Strategy & Tactics Nr.. 82, Sept/Oct 1980). There is alot of “professional” in this “hobby” title! I also had a real fun trip down memory lane with the accompanying magazine.

Boardgaming

Supercharged (Mike Siggins, Dietz Foundation, 2021) raced to the table. Also gifted (and taught) Dragons Breath: The Hatching (HABA, 2019).

Incoming!

It’s been awhile since I looked at my preorders. I presently am tracking 27 titles in my preorder GeekList. Here are some highlights:

Kickstarter

After complaining a few weeks back about the sheer number of Kickstarter campaigns and their costs I have not been doing a very good job controlling myself since. So far this month I added:

Rocky Reads for #Wargame – Strategy & Tactics Nr. 82 (Sept/Oct 1980) -or- Grognard nostalgia (with a mention of @markherman54)

I recently acquired Jim Dunnigan’s wargame Fifth Corps: The Soviet Breakthrough at Fulda, Central Front Series, Volume 1 (Strategy & Tactics Nr. 82/SPI, Sept/Oct 1980) in a trade. This is the magazine version which came in the subject issue. As I was reading the rules for the game (still stapled inside the magazine) I started thumbing though the rest of the issue. Very quickly I found myself waxing nostalgic at much of the content. I stopped thumbing and started reading.

In late 1980 I was in 7th grade. I had been playing wargames for less than a year at this point and was heavy into my very first wargame, Jim Day’s Panzer from Yaquinto Publishing (1979). By this point I probably had the second game in the series, ’88’ (1980). I also surely had started playing the pocket edition of Star Fleet Battles (Task Force Games, 1979). This was also the start of my “serious’ military history reading, especially since my neighbor worked for Ballantine Books and monthly would throw a box of history books over the back fence into my yard. So when I open the pages of this issue of Strategy & Tactics it brings back many great hobby memories.

At the time this issue was published, I was just starting to read wargaming magazines. The $5.00 cover price for the issue was a bit steep for me. It would be another few years until I started making enough of my own money in chores that I could afford luxuries like an issue of Strategy & Tactics.

Full page ad on page 3 for Dallas: The Television Role-Playing Game. Was this really a thing? I was huge into (now Classic) Traveller RPG but what was SPI thinking?

The feature article in this issue is “The Central Front: The Status of Forces in Europe and the Potential for Conflict by Charles T. Kamps, Jr. Mr. Kamps wrote more than a few articles for wargame magazines back in the day and I always thought they were well researched. The main article is rather short (four pages) but the added text boxes that follow are awesome and include:

  • Skeleton Order of Battle, Fulda Gap Battle Area
  • The Airborne Threat
  • Air Support (with an interesting aircraft readiness chart…boy those high-tech F-15s were difficult to maintain!)
  • The Big Picture: A Scenario for Invasion
  • The Miracle Weapons (TOW, other ATGMs, FASCAM)
  • Nuclear & Chemical Operations
  • The Prophets (with a shout out to Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War, August 1985 which I read religiously)

The last text call out box is “The Wargames” where Mr. Kamps relates results from “professional” wargames. The author lets us know what he thinks of these wargames when he concludes:

Having participated in Command Post Exercises in Europe wherein general officers and senior field grade officers accomplished their objectives by fraud, (e.g., map movement of mechanized units through impassable terrain; ignoring or defying umpire rulings on combat resolution; etc.), the author issues a caution to regard all “official” results with a degree of circumspection.

Charles T. Kamps Jr., “The Wargames,” Strategy & Tactics Nr. 82, p. 14

Hof Gap: The Nurnburg Pincer, Volume 2 of the Central Front series for only $9.95!

On page 17 is Volume 1, Number 1 of “For Your Information: A Wide Ranging Survey of Historical Data and Analysis.” This column would be one of my favorite parts of S&T in the future. These little factoids, an early version of a wargaming wiki, were awesome for me to read and store away. “FYI” contributed much to my military history historical knowledge.

I can almost remember looking at ads like the full-page spread on page 21 with wargames shown. To this day I still want to find a copy of NATO Division Commander: Leadership Under Fire (Jim Dunnigan, SPI, 1980). I would end up with a copy of Air War: Modern Tactical Air Combat by David C. Isby but it would be the 1983 TSR version. Likewise, the full-page spread of SPI science fiction/fantasy games also brings back memories, like playing my friend’s copy of Greg Costikyan’s 1979 game The Creature that Ate Sheboygan (near where my father grew up). I also see Commando (SPI, 1979) and StarSoldier (SPI, 1977) listed on these pages, both of which ended up in my game collection around this time too. Jim Dunnigan’s The Complete Wargames Handbook is also available for only $7.95.

I was surprised, but not surprised, to see the secondary feature article, “Across Suez: The Battle of Chinese Farm, October 15, 1973” was written by Col. Trevor Dupuy, USA, Ret.. Dupuy founded The Dupuy Institute and is the paragon of an operations research specialist. I would read several of Dupuy’s books through the years but I was not aware of this connection with SPI. In retrospect, it should be obvious to me. Christopher Lawrence, who worked at The Dupuy Institute with Col Dupuy, writes in War By Numbers (Potomac Books, 2017) about Dupuy and combat models in the 1970s:

By the early 1970s the models were being used to war game a potential war in Europe for the sake of seeing who would win, for the sake of determining how we could structure our forces better, and for the sake of determine what supplies and other support were needed to sustain this force on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

This development of models created a need to understand the quantitative aspects of warfare. While this was not a new concept, the United States suddenly found itself with combat modeling structures that were desperately in need of hard data on how combat actually worked. Surprisingly, even after 3,300 years of recorded military history, these data were sparse.

It was this lack of hard data on which to base operational analysis and combat modeling that led to the growth of organizations run by Trevor N. Dupuy, such as the Historical Evaluation and Research Organization (HERO). They attempted to fill the gap between modeling communities’ need for hard data on combat operations and the actual data recorded in unit records of the combatants, which required some time and skill to extract. It was an effort to integrate the work of historians with these newly developed complex models of combat.

Lawrence, War By Numbers, p. ix-x

Interestingly, the advertisement for the related wargame, Across Suez: The Battle of Chinese Farm October 15, 1975, shows it is designed by some guy named Mark Herman. I have to wonder what sort of conversations Mark had with Col Dupuy when designing this game. Seeing how Mr. Herman went on to lead a major defense contractor’s wargaming effort (not to mention all the wonderful games he has designed) I am interested as to the degree of influence the Colonel had on him.

I really enjoyed the “Gossip” column and all the name dropping. There is talk of the new and amazing Ace of Aces (Gameshop, 1980) with “no counters and no map.” I remember this game very fondly as my friends and I would play endless rounds on the school bus going to to/from middle school. Star Fleet Battles also gets a mention along with the forthcoming Federation Space (Task Force Games, 1981) which I would purchase.

Then there is this little snippet—”In the role-playing corner of the world, Chaosium is working on a role-playing game on H.P. Lovecraft’s work.” How little did we all know that Call of Cthulhu would still be going strong 40 years later!

I even found some early Satanic Panic reporting in this issue:

“These books are filled with things that are not fantasy but area actual in the real demon world and can be very dangerous for anyone involved in the game because it leaves them open to Satanic spirits.” Guess what they are talking about. Right. Dungeons & Dragons. It seems there is trouble in Heber, Utah. The Mormons are in an uproar over the game and, in fact, the state legislature is debating banning the game. “D&D banned in Utah” read the headlines next week, and up will go sales again. It is also rumored that a Christian organization forced a Phoenix store to withdraw D&D from sale. Something about it coming from Satan and working with the Anti-Christ. It’s probably all a Communist plot anyway. Oh, they said that too?

“Gossip,” Strategy & Tactics Nr. 82, p. 35

I was surprised to find David C. Isby reviewed Warship Commander 1967-1987: Present Day Tactical Naval Combat and Sea Command: Present-Day Naval-Air and Anti-Submarine Warfare. Both games were by Ken Smigelski and published by Enola Games in 1979 and 1980, respectively. I have these two books and for a while they were a direct competitor to Harpoon (now from Admiralty Trilogy Games) in my collection. I like how Dave Isby characterizes Warship Commander; “This book presents a study of modern naval surface combat set up in the format of wargame rules, aimed primarily at miniatures play but easily adaptable to boardgame format.” He goes on to say, “The book is a thorough, detailed simulation of a fascinating subject, and is worthy of comparison with the best boardgames.” On Sea Command he states, “Sea Command is an eduction in modern naval combat in wargame form.” Yes, I know!

Looking across the “Games Rating Chart” I find several games I either owned or would own in the next few years:. As much as we talk about the Golden Age of Wargaming being dominated by SPI or Avalon Hill I see more than a few other companies listed here with Yaquinto being a personal favorite:

The back page of this issue has an advertisement for For Your Eyes Only, a military affairs newsletter I actually subscribed to for a while. There is also an advertisement for a new bi-weekly newsletter by a guy named Richard Berg who was starting a new publication, Richard Berg’s Reviews of Games.

In many ways I feel lucky to find this particular issue of Strategy & Tactics. There were so many great games talked about within these pages that I am personally associated with. It’s great to see where the wargming hobby was in late 1980 when my hobby journey was just starting.

#Wargame Wednesday – Alternate Stalingrad on the Mississippi with Mississippi Banzai (XTR Corp, 1990)

Alternate History is a finicky genre of fiction. There are a few titles out there I like such as Fatherland by Robert Harris or SS-GB by Len Deighton. Wargames are a form of alternate history fiction in that the historical outcome of a battle is not always the result. In my collection, I have several 3WW and XTR Corp titles that went deep into an alternate history setting for their wargames. Tomorrow the World (3WW, 1989) by designer Ty Bomba was set in an alternate 1948 world where the Nazi’s and Imperial Japanese won World War II and uneasily divided the world and especially the defeated United States (very Man in the High Castle-like). In addition to the strategic wargame Tomorrow the World, XTR Corp (publishers of Command Magazine then associated with 3WW) published several other magazine/folio games in the same setting. I have three of the games, Seven Seas to Victory (1992) which is naval combat around the Panama Canal in 1945 (US vs Nazi Germany), Black Gold (Texas Tea) (1990) recreating a 1948 offensive in the Middle East, and Mississippi Banzai (1990). Thanks to a random number generator, the operational-level Mississippi Banzai (XTR Corp, 1990) landed on my gaming table recently.

Reverse Stalingrad on the Mississippi

Mississippi Banzai envisions the opening offensive of the 1948 war against Nazi Germany by the Imperial Japanese with a strike in the heartland of American. Imperial Japanese forces, attacking out of western Missouri and Iowa, try to surround the German 6th Army at St Louis and secure the strategic towns of Ft Madison and Burlington to the north as they need to eventually march on Chicago. Designer Ty Bomba and developer Chris Perello are very up front that they wanted to design a game with lots of maneuver. Although the Mark Simonitch map looks more like a desert than the wheat fields of the American Midwest, the game design achieves what the designer wanted—lots of maneuver across a relatively open map with low counter density. The combination of maneuver and “elastic combat” in Mississippi Banzai make this low-complexity game, darkly themed game a rather enjoyable thinking challenge.

St. Stalin-Louis-Grad?

Small Game – Big Battle

Mississippi Banzai is physically a small game. The actual “map” of the battlespace takes up 3/4 of the 22″x34″ map with the remaining area dedicated to various game tables and charts. There are 300 counters of which about 20% are markers—not combat units possibly appearing on the map.The 16-page rule book is actually only 11 pages (triple column) of rules and five pages of front/back matter, setting background, and Designer’s Notes. Rules are not very complex with very simple movement and combat. Supply effects are determined at time of movement and combat. All told Mississippi Banzai is a rather small, uncomplicated game.

The real treat in playing Mississippi Banzai is in that simple play. The game last at least 8 turns after which a random roll determines if Winter Rains end the Japanese offensive. The game will automatically end after Turn 12 so time is not really on the Japanese side. The Japanese player also has limited reinforcements as only once PER GAME the Japanese player may Petition the Emperor for more units.

The German player in Mississippi Banzai starts with a smaller force but has access to reinforcements every turn. Once per game, the German player can Appeal to the Fuhrer for extra reinforcements. The German player is going to need every reinforcement they can get because they start off with fewer forces on the board and must rush in new defenders to stem the Japanese offensive. This dance between a juggernaught with nothing behind it and a defender desperately rushing in new forces to stop the rolling giant is what makes Mississippi Banzai an interesting, challenging game.

The New World Order – How Retro

The rules of Mississippi Banzai are in many ways built upon basic, even classic wargame mechanisms:

  • Air Power is abstractly represented by air chits that are used for Air Superiority, Interdiction, or Ground Support Missions. Chits on Air Superiority missions cancel each other and excess missions cancel enemy Interdiction or Ground Support missions. Interdiction units are played at the end of the owning player’s turn and represent areas which require extra movement points to pass thru. Ground Support provides column shifts on the Combat Results Table (CRT).
  • Supply is simple trace checked at the start of a unit’s movement or at the time of combat.
  • Stacking is a 4-unit maximum.
  • There are no zones of control rules but units cannot enter hexes with enemy units unless they are mechanized and conducting a Mobile Assault.
  • The most interesting terrain is Major River/Bottom Land. To enter a Non-mech unit pays 2 MP but a mechanized unit has to pay 3 MP. The cost is the same whether one is crossing the river or not.
  • Mobile Assaults (MA) are Mississippi Banzai’s overrun attacks. During movement if a mechanized unit wants to enter an enemy-occupied hex it (always) costs 3x MP for the defender’s hex. MA cannot be combined with attacks (i.e. each stack conducts MA independently—no combining attacks.
  • Prepared Assaults (PA) are conducted in the Combat Phase. Both MA and PA in Mississippi Banzai use a simple CRT with results that I describe as “elastic combat.” Combat losses are described by a number or “E” for eliminated. Implementing “1,” “2,” or “3” results has a nice twist—the number is the steps lost OR the number of hexes the ENTIRE STACK must retreat. The owner chooses how to satisfy the loss/retreat. Thus, combat is “elastic” in that sometimes the units stay in place but other times they “bounce away.”
  • A Concentric Prepared Assault is when a single hex is attacked by stacks from up to three hexes and awards a column shift on the CRT.
  • The Japanese player can use the Banzai Attack which doubles the combat factors (on attack or defense) but comes with a mandatory step loss.
  • Fog of War, or the ability to examine enemy stacks, is an optional rule?
  • Artillery fires in barrages at the beginning of each combat phase. In the case where a hit is scored and there is more than one unit in the hex, “put all of them in a coffee mug and draw. The drawn unit is the one that takes a step loss.”

Chrome rules, such as they are, in Mississippi Banzai are few but uncomplicated. The Germans have the Maus super-heavy assault guns which are great in combat but ponderous to move. German Leaders grant bonus movement and column shifts in combat. There are special units like “Amerindian Japanese Puppet Troops” and the “Kwantung Siege Army” as well as “Kempeitai Suicide Commandos,” “FLAK,” and airdroppable units.

In this dark comedy version of a Cold War Gone Hot, Atomic Bombs are also a part of Mississippi Banzai. It’s an optional rule, but if you’re already playing this game why hold back? At the start of each game turn a roll is made to see if a bomb is available. If yes it MUST be used! There is a 1 in 6 chance of a dud. If the bomb explodes there are game effects that stay on the board even after the blast. Units wishing to move thru an Atomic Bomb blast hex have to roll on the Blast Entry Hex Chart to see if they even can.

Victory in Mississippi Banzai is very straight-forward. Control of three locations by the Japanese determines victory. Ft. Madison and Burlington are one point (and one hex) each while to get the single Victory Point for St. Louis all four hexes need be controlled.

A Fascist Lovefest?

There may be a few amongst you who are appalled by Mississippi Banzai and the theme. Not only does the game have the stereotypical white-on-black Nazi SS counters, but the most numerous American ally comes in the form of KKK Calvary. Even designer Ty Bomba back in 1990 obviously got some negative feedback which he addresses head-on in his Designer’s Notes [Note: Emphasis text as in original]:

This is a game, which if it were made into a film, would fall into the genre of “Black Comedy.” That is, it philosophic purpose is to examine some aspect of the audience’s worst fears, and using satire, irony and (most of all) exaggeration, make fun of them. To the anal-retentive among you I say, “Remember it is only a game.”

Viewing and enjoying a movie like Dr. Strangelove or Fail Safe doesn’t make you an advocate of nuclear warfare. Likewise, playing Mississippi Banzai should not be taken as an indicator of pro-fascist leanings or a wish to revise the outcome of World War II. It is only a game.

From a more military science oriented perspective, I wanted to examine a situation wherein terrain was almost a non-factor (as in N. Africa in WWII), but where unit commitment was on par with the most savagely contested fronts imaginable (as in Russia in WWII).

Mississippi Banzai, Designer’s Notes

It seems to me that if Mr. Bomba wanted to use Mississippi Banzai to explore, “a situation wherein terrain was almost a non-factor (as in N. Africa in WWII), but where unit commitment was on par with the most savagely contested fronts imaginable (as in Russia in WWII)” he could very easily make a “Stalingrad on the Nile” or something to that effect. Yes, the thematic setting of Tomorrow the World makes for match ups that some may find very interesting but Mr. Bomba doesn’t mention that match up as a design driver.

Putting “History” Behind

At the end of the day I think I’ll just quietly pack away Mississippi Banzai and put both it an all my Tomorrow the World-related games on the shelf. If I want to study Stalingrad, or a Stalingrad-inspired situation, I’ll just get a Stalingrad game.

Which I don’t have in my collection.

Which I now have to find.

Sunday Summary – Starting with ASL Starter Kit #1 (@MultiManPub) and first go with Fifth Corps (Strategy & Tactics/SPI) while getting Supercharged (@DietzFoundation) and Gundam modeling #wargame #boardgame #SDGundam

Wargames

This week I leaned hard into learning Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #1 (Multi-Man Publishing, 2004+). Kind of amazing (embarrassing?) that after playing wargames for 42 years I finally played Advanced Squad Leader for the first time. I found some good points and some bad. I’m working up a post that you should see in a few weeks!

Another game I got through a trade is Jim Dunnigan’s Fifth Corps: The Soviet Breakthrough at Fulda, Central Front Series, Volume 1 (Strategy & Tactics Nr. 82, Sept/Oct 1980). I obviously have the magazine version which is a very small package with 16-pages of rules (8 series, 8 exclusive), a single 22″x34″ map, and 200 counters. I’m experimenting with the game now but my early impressions are “Wow!”

Boardgames

My Kickstarter for Supercharged from the Deitz Foundation fulfilled and arrived. In the RockyMountainNavy Family Game Collection we have a few racing games. My earliest is Circus Maximus (Avalon Hill, 1979) which has counters so worn they are almost white. We also have Formula De (Asmodee, 1997) which is good but a bit long as well as PitchCar (Ferti, 2003) which is a blast at family parties. Supercharged is stacking up to be a great addition to the collection.

Books

I was very busy at work this week so my evening reading fell off. That said, I had way too much fun reading Strategy & Tactics Nr. 82, the magazine that Fifth Corps was included in. There were more than a few articles that triggered nostalgic thoughts and others that were plain interesting, especially when read with 40 years of hindsight added in. Hmm…I sense a “Rocky Reads for Wargames” column is almost writing itself….

Models

Mrs. RMN and I gave RockyMountainNavy T an airbrush for his birthday and both he and his brother have been learning how to use it. I may even have to get in on the fun as I have way too many 1/144th scale aircraft that I need to complete!

RockyMountainNavy Jr. has been bitten by the Gundam bug, specifically the SD Gunpla variant. He picked up a few kits for assembly during Spring Break and already has added several others. We even got the young girl we tutor into building a few Petit’gguy bears….

Rocky Reads for #Wargame – The “war game” behind Midway Inquest: Why the Japanese Lost the Battle of Midway by Dallas Woodbury Isom (Indiana Univ Press, 2007)

As I recently acquired a copy of the small solo wargame Kido Butai: Japan’s Carriers at Midway (DRK, 2016) I wanted to reread a bit about the famous battle. Having looked at Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully’s Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway (Potomac Books, 2005) within the last year I instead went to a book that in many ways was a response to it. Thus, Midway Inquest: Why the Japanese Lost the Battle of Midway by Dallas Woodbury Isom (Indiana Univ. Press, 2007) ended up coming off the shelf.

I don’t have personal insight into this matter, but based on the writings of these three authors in the early 2000’s I don’t think there was any love lost between them. During this time Isom and Parshall/Tully were both writing their books and previews of each thesis appeared in the Naval War College Review where things got a bit, uh, “interesting.” In the Summer 2000 issue (Vol. 53 Nr. 3) Isom wrote the article “The Battle of Midway: Why the Japanese Lost” where he previewed his main arguments. A year later, in the Summer 2001 edition (Vol. 54 Nr. 3) Parshall and Tully penned an essay, “Doctrine Matters: Why the Japanese Lost at Midway” which was a direct response to Isom. Not to be outdone, in the same issue Isom penned his response to Parshall/Tully in “They Would Have Found a Way.” This back and forth bickering would continue into their respective books. Parshall/Tully published Shattered Sword first in 2005 and the book went on to critical acclaim. Isom would not publish his book until 2007 and the reception was, shall we say, less boisterous. To this day Shattered Sword is held by many as the gold standard by the revised Midway history crowd whereas Midway Inquest is “just another Midway book.”

The Wargame Within

As I thumbed through Midway Inquest I scanned the chapters and appendix titles and was surprised by Appendix D. I didn’t remember this appendix but this time through the title caught my attention, “A War Game Exercise.” As Isom writes:

The following war game rules, though simpler than those used in such institutions as the Naval War College, simulate the carrier battles of 1942 with quite uncanny accuracy. This is because the values built into them—relating to hit ratios for bombs and torpedoes dropped from various types of aircraft used in 1942, and damage to the carriers of both sides—were derived largely from the statistics of the actual carrier battles of 1942.

Dallas Isom, Midway Inquest, Appendix D, p. 341

Isom uses these war game rules in his “Chapter 10: Postmortem” where he explores several what-if scenarios. Indeed, Chapter 10 is composed mostly of narrative outcomes of several war games and to wargamers appear in many ways like an After Action Report (AAR) or session report.

Isom’s war game rules number only seven and focus on combat results—there are no maneuver or flight or search rules. To me, Isom’s war game is really just the combat model for a wargame and one that uses a very operations research approach based solely on statistical analysis. If there is one lesson the past year of COVID should of taught everyone it is that there are “lies, damn lies, and statistics.” In his what-if scenarios, Isom attempts to appear authoritative by relying on the war game results when in reality he manipulates so many non-combat variables that in the end one must read his scenario as something akin to a fanciful fantasy with only a smidgen of historical grounding. Not that I enjoy them less; rather, I enjoyed reading them for the AAR aspect and it ignited my desire to get Kido Butai to the table to compare the two combat models.

Wargame to Book

Isom doesn’t provide any provenance for his rules so I cannot determine where they derived from. Given Isom’s association with the Naval War College, and even his reference to that institution, it would be reasonable to assume the rules were derived in part from there. Isom’s use of “war game” is also very Naval War College like—whereas “wargame” is used by many it seems the Naval War College has long preferred the terms “war game ” or “war gaming.” On the other hand, the lack of credit given by Isom combined with the lack of sourcing implies that Isom developed these rules on his own. Maybe Isom the lawyer is an aspiring wargame designer?

#Wargame Wednesday / History to Wargame – Playing a blooming disaster in Holland ’44: Operation Market-Garden, September 1944 (@gmtgames, 2017)

I recently read Antony Beevor’s The Battle of Arnhem: The Deadliest Airborne Operation of World War II (Viking, 2018) while at the same time playing Mark Simonitch’s wargame Holland ’44: Operation Market-Garden, September 1944 (GMT Games, 2017). As far as book + wargame combinations go it was not great; The Battle of Arnhem is a book very focused on telling the story of the many faces of human suffering around the battle. It is not an analysis of the battle that greatly contributes to understanding decisions faced when playing Holland ’44. That said, the early chapters of the book set the stage for Operation Market Garden in a manner that can make the opening situation of Holland ’44 more understandable. It certainly influenced my strategy in play. More importantly, while playing Holland ’44 I discovered how much I enjoy Simonitch’s “‘ZOC Bond” war engine and am happily adding companion game titles to my wargame collection.

That’s a long way to go and a short time to get there….

Going to Market

In the early chapters of The Battle of Arnhem Beevor make it clear that he believes Operation Market Garden was a disaster from the start.

Many historians, with an ‘if only’ approach to the British defeat, have focused so much on different aspects of Operation Market Garden which went wrong they have tended to overlook the central element. It was quite simply a bad plan right from the start and right from the top. Montgomery had not shown any interest in the practical problems surrounding airborne operations. He had not taken any time to study the often chaotic experiences of North Africa, Sicily and the drop on the Cotentin peninsula in Normandy. Montgomery’s intelligence chief, Brigadier Bill Williams, also pointed out the way that ‘Arnhem depended on a study of the ground [which] Monty had not made when he decided on it.’ In fact, he obstinately refused to listen to the Dutch commander-in-chief Prince Bernhard, who warned him about the impossibility of deploying armoured vehicles off the single raised road on the low-lying flood plain.

Williams also acknowledged that at 21st Army Group ‘enemy appreciation was very weak. We knew little about the situation.’ Yet towering over everything else, and never openly admitted, was the fact that the whole operation depended on everything going right, when it was an unwritten rule of warfare that no plan survives contact with the enemy.

Antony Beevor, The Battle of Arnhem, p. 36
Truly a bridge too far….

Holland ’44 – A Proven War Engine*

Holland ’44 is not a very difficult system to learn. The core of the game is essentially covered in 18 numbered rules written on ~22 double-column pages (I am referencing the Revised May, 2018 version of the rules). The game system is not very “original” in the sense that Mark Simonitch has assembled many proven and well understood mechanics into this game system. Although the rules are not broken out in a “series versus game” set of rules (like so many other War Engine games – SCS I’m looking at you) it is pretty easy to see which rules are “standard” and which rules are “game unique.”

If there is one rule I would highlight in Holland ’44 it is 12.0 Determined Defense. This is not a game-specific rule but rather a series rule. The Designer’s Notes in Holland ’44 mention that the rules for Determined Defense were changed from Ardennes ’44—I can’t speak to those changes since I don’t (presently) own Ardennes ’44. I can say that the rules for Determined Defense go a long way to adding dramatic flavor to battles in Holland ’44. In many games, when a combat result calls for a retreat the defender often has the option of stopping the retreat by taking an additional step-loss. Determined Defense in Holland ’44 starts with the same initial premise but carries it a bit further. Provided at least one step survives combat, the defender can try to cancel the retreat portion, as well as any Disruption and advance after combat. To do so requires a roll on the Determined Defense Table to see if the attempt is successful and if any additional combat losses are incurred. There is even a provision for Desperation Defense (12.4) which can be invoked if an entire defending stack faces elimination. The Determined Defense rule goes a long way towards evoking important thematic elements of a battle, and in the case of Operation Market Garden it is very useful for capturing the flavor of desperate defenses of Allied paratroopers deep behind enemy lines or by understrength German units throwing themselves into battle in an equally desperate bid to slow the Allied advance.

Quick-Mart

One point I took away from reading The Battle of Arnhem was that Operation Market Garden depended on speed. For Operation Market (the airborne portion) success demanded the speedy seizure of bridges before they could be blown. In Holland ’44 the German player has a 2 in 3 chance of successfully blowing a bridge, except on Turn 1 when it is only a 1 in 2 chance. Further, the Allied airborne army needs to quickly seize bridges and get themselves defensively oriented before German reinforcements arrive. For Operation Garden (the overland portion of the offensive) Allied ground forces need to push up few roads rapidly and try to relieve the airborne troops as soon as possible. Of course, the Germans will be attacking from the flanks and playing Traffic Markers which represent traffic congestion and add movement points.

For my play, the British 1st Parachute Division seized Arnhem Bridge on the morning of Sept 18 thanks in part to the Germans being unable to blow the railway bridge to the west of Arnhem that provided an “end around” pathway. The 82nd Airborne likewise seized Nijmagen Bridge early on Sept 18, but at the cost of abandoning their drop zones (which would come back to haunt them later). The 101st Airborne lost the Son Bridge but took the Best Bridge after making a mad dash from the drop zones. Coming up from the south, elements of 30th Corps reached Eindhoven late Sept 18 and kept pushing, but that resulted in a very narrow path of advance that was easily congested and constantly threatened along the flanks. At the end of the game the Germans inflicted more casualties than VP hexes the Allies secured thus handing victory to the Germans. The German victory very clearly exposed the dangers of the Allies being too hasty.

I Love it When A Plan Comes Together – NOT!

After playing Holland ’44 I heartily agree with Beevor that the plan for Operation Market Garden was poor from the beginning. In my play, the weakest part of the plan exposed was the airborne landing schedule. Historically, Operation Market landed elements of three divisions on the first day and provided for follow-on landings of remaining individual divisions on following days. According to the plan, the remaining elements of the 82nd Airborne were to land on D+1 (Sept 18 – Turn 3) followed by remaining elements of the 101st Airborne on D+2 (Sept 19 – Turn 6). Along the way, the Polish Airborne Brigade may enter (if the weather is right). Of course, the weather determines the number of Airlanding Points available; if the weather is less-than-perfect the arrival will slow down.

Remember what I said about speed above? Well, even after reading The Battle of Arnhem and the Designer’s Notes about the 82nd Airborne drop zones and reviewing the rules for the German 406th Division I still aggressively pushed the initial 82nd drop out of their DZs. As a result, the follow-on airborne elements (slowed due to Cloudy weather) were sent to DZs that were enemy controlled. This was the most disastrous part of the battle and it was only through some fortuitous die rolls that the (few) remaining 82nd defenders in Nijmagen avoided total elimination. Next time I’m going to have to replay the 82nd “closer to history” to see what sort of a difference it makes.

Late to the Game – Again

Holland ’44 was published in 2017. The game uses a set of core mechanics that traces all the way back to Ardennes ’44: The Battle of the Bulge from GMT Games back in 2003. I point out these dates because I have somehow missed this great system for nearly 20 years. Actually, I didn’t miss it as much as I ignored it. I admit that I have been more a tactical wargamer than an operational-level aficionado. Thus, series games like Conflict of Heroes (Academy Games) or Panzer (GMT Games) or Wing Leader (GMT Games) or Command at Sea (Admiralty Trilogy Group) occupy both my World War II shelves and gaming time. Late in 2019 (and seriously in 2020) I discovered the joys of Multi-Man Publishing’s Standard Combat Series (SCS). Now, with Simonitich’s “‘ZOC Bond” series I have found another operational-level war engine that is easy to learn and I like to play. The fact that Holland ’44 is built on a proven war engine is a great draw for me. If there is one part of my wargaming personality that has become very clear to me in the past year it is that I enjoy proven war engines more than learning yet another “new” system.

Order…of Battle

My copy of Holland ’44 is second hand. Actually, it is third-hand; the gentleman I bought it from said he got it from another wargamer. Whoever the original owner was they treated this game very gently. Not only were all the components complete, but the additional items from “The Northern Scenario” found In C3i Magazine are included. To top it all off, the counters are very neatly trimmed and sorted into bags organized by game use. This loving care is indicative of a true wargamer. Alas, there is no provision for this kind of gamer in Harold Buchanan’s “Historical Conflict Simulation Player Taxonomy.” Regardless, I want to give credit where credit is due!


*I take the term “War Engine” from the excellent chapter “War Engines: Wargames as Systems from the Tabletop to the Computer” by Henry Lowood in Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming (MIT Press, 2016) which was edited by Pat Harrigan and Matthew Kirschenbaum. Lowood calls games that combine a game system plus scenarios a “war engine” as contrasted with early wargames that were monographic (unique game system and one battle/campaign). The earliest example is PanzerBlitz of which Lowood writes,

“In contrast to monographic games, PanzerBlitz introduced the game system as a generator for multiple mini-games. Wargamers came to call these mini-games “scenarios,” possibly borrowing from the term’s currency among RAND’s Cold War gamers to describe synopses or imagined or hypothetical political crisis….Henceforth, I will call this combination of system + scenarios a “War Engine.”

Henry Lowood, Zones of Control, p. 93-94

Sunday Summary – Now You See Me…. @ADragoons @bigboardgaming @gmtgames @compassgamesllc @MultiManPub @JimDietz1 @Bublublock #Wargame #Boardgame #TravellerRPG #Books

Although I have “appeared” a few times on the Mentioned in Dispatches podcast at the Armchair Dragoons the past few seasons this past week was the first time I “appeared” on Kev’s Big Board Gaming Channel. As in I literally “appeared” on a live stream. Kev is a great host and it was a good time. I’m not sure what sort of impression I’m making on people as I’m just out to convey my love for the hobby. If you have a chance please drop by and take 45 minutes to watch and hopefully get some inspiration to play something.

Wargaming

My next “Reading to Wargame” series started with my comments on Antony Beevor’s The Battle of Arnhem book. Check back next week to see how it influenced my play of Mark Simonitch’s Holland ’44: Operation Market-Garden from GMT Games.

This was a good week for wargame arrivals. Three new titles are in the RockyMountainNavy house and in various at various stages of learning:

As I was waiting for the new titles to arrive I used a random number generator to select a game from my collection to play. Thus, Mississippi Banzai (XTR Corp, 1990) landed on the gaming table. This “alternate history” game envisions a Stalingrad-like offensive around St Louis in a 1948 as Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany face off in a conquered United States. More thoughts forthcoming soon.

Boardgaming

My Kickstarter copy of Supercharged by Jim Dietz is on the mail. I’m looking forward to getting it in ouse this week and not-so-secretly hope the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself get it to the table in a renewed weekend Game Night.

With North Korea making news this week I hope you all have read my comments on Daniel Bullock’s No Motherland Without: North Korea in Crisis and Cold War (Compass Games, 2021) that was published by the Armchair Dragoons. I think the whole world is wondering which Missile Test Event Card Kim Jong Un might play next.

Books

With the arrival of Kido Butai in the house I looked at my Midway collection of books. Not wanting to rehash my read of the 2005 Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully I instead picked up Dallas Woodbury Isom’s Midway Inquest: Why the Japanese Lost the Battle of Midway also from 2007. Written in some ways as a counter to Shattered Sword, I ended up focusing on Appendix D which is the “rules” for a “war game” Isom uses in Chapter 10 of his book. Thoughts forthcoming.

Rocky Reads for #Wargame – The Battle of Arnhem: The Deadliest Airborne Operation of World War II by Antony Beevor (Viking, 2018)

BLUF

A narrative focused on personal stories of hardship and suffering that accompanies war. This is a story of human tragedy more than a recounting of a military disaster.

A Bridge Too Far

When I was in high school in the 1980’s the video rental fad was full-bore. One of the movies I remember renting is A Bridge Too Far originally released in 1977 with an all-star cast. That movie, based on a book by Cornelius Ryan (who also did The Longest Day) formed my earliest “knowledge” of Operation Market-Garden. As a wargamer, I studied played other World War II airborne operations in games like Air Assault on Crete/Invasion of Malta 1942 (Avalon Hill, 1977) but in all my forty years I’ve never looked at Market-Garden. That is, until I found Antony Beevor’s The Battle of Arnhem: The Deadliest Airborne Operation of World War II (Viking, 2018) in a bargain books store.

Narrate Me a Story

The Battle of Arnhem is written in a very narrative style that Beevor is famous for. For the historian in me this style of book is a bit challenging because I want to see the sources. Putting that aside, I found the early chapters of the book that concern the planning for the operation deeply disturbing. The incredible combination of intelligence failure, group-think and personal hubris that came together is astounding and Beevor shows it all.

The battle scenes in The Battle of Arnhem are also intensely personal. This is another Beevor-like trademark; he digs into the very personal side of a conflict and shows it to you, warts and all. Sometimes it is hard to remember that the Battle of Arnhem is talking about a huge multi-divisional operation as it focuses on some very small, personal moments.

The Battle of Arnhem also gives us the perspective of the Germans and especially the Dutch – both civilians and the Resistance. This latter is a perspective I was not very cognizant of and welcomed reading about here.

At the end of the day, The Battle of Arnhem is more a collection of human-suffering stories than a strict military history. Beevor seemingly lets his early criticism of Field Marshal Montgomery also be his conclusion. It’s hard to tell because this book, which starts out talking about the battle, ends by only talking about the people. Those stories are important to hear, but if you are looking for a book on the history of Operation Market-Garden then you need to look elsewhere.

Wargame Application

In anticipation of reading The Battle of Arnhem, I picked up a copy of Mark Simontitch’s Holland ’44: Operation Market Garden, September 1944 (GMT Games, 2017). I laid out the map while reading the book and eventually set up the game. This was very helpful as the maps in The Battle of Arnhem book are actually not very useful.

As far as playing the game and reading the book I see two possible approaches. You can try to play “pure” as in play before reading to avoid introducing any bias into your decisions from the book. Or you might want to read the early chapters and then play out the operation, followed by reading how the actual battle went and comparing your results to history. A word of warning here; the intensely personal focus of so many parts of The Battle of Arnhem is in some ways mismatched with Holland ’44 which is an operational-level wargame with a focus around the battalion-level. There is also no real Dutch Resistance portrayed in Holland ’44.

Citation

Beevor, Antony, The Battle of Arnhem: The Deadliest Airborne Operation of World War II, New York: Viking, 2018.