Tag Archives: Megagame Makers

Blood and Thunder 4 – a Megagame of Pirates

Briefing for Blood and Thunder 4 megagame and a wooden treasure chest filled with gold coins
Weygand and Sons made 315 gold coins by the end of Blood and Thunder 4. That’s how many are in the wooden chest. (Photo: James Kemp)

Alexander and I played arms merchants in the Blood and Thunder 4 pirate megagame on Saturday. It was mostly a fun game, although there were a couple of sticky points for us as merchants.

I was cast as Theophilus Blodwell, a Glaswegian on the run from the British Authorities. As well as being an arms trader with a fine grasp of the importance of economics (i.e. that the money should end up with me) I was also a member of the ‘Protectors of the Seas’. The Protectors were a secret society opposed to the ‘Sons of the Sea’. The latter group were collecting ancient magical artefacts and intending to use them to bring about the end of days. So I had a side mission to identify and stop the Sons of the Sea.

Alexander was the owner of Weygand and Sons, and his side mission was to find six model ships and then to play a wargame with them involving at least four other people. He had to write the wargame rules himself, which he did right at the beginning of the day. I suspect we’ll need to bring them to Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group the next time we go so that he can try them out to see if they would have worked had he found sufficient model ships.

Blood and Thunder 4

I’ve lost count of how many megagames I’ve played or been control for. This was badged as Blood and Thunder 4, but I don’t recall the first three.

The Queen's Revenge before it set sail. The players had to operate the ship during their sea time in Blood and Thunder 4. (photo: James Kemp)
The Queen’s Revenge before it set sail. The players had to operate the ship during their sea time in Blood and Thunder 4. (photo: James Kemp)

Blood and Thunder is set on an unspecified Caribbean island under Spanish governance in the early 18th Century. There were a number of pirate ships, each with a crew of about 15 players. When at sea they worked cooperatively to find and board merchant ships. The faster they did this the more they can do in their sea time.

Every ship had scheduled port time. During this time they could sell things they’d captured, replenish consumables and effect repairs. They could also carouse in the taverns and pursue plot points with people from the town or from other vessels.

Welcome to San Serif

My role in Blood and Thunder 4 was as the salesman for Weygand and Sons. Weygand and Sons was one of three large merchant companies on the island of San Serif. We all sold arms and ammunition, as well as acting as buyers for cargo. Alexander was the owner of Weygand and Sons, so he was my boss for the megagame.

For me the game fell into three quite distinct phases, all of which had different challenges. These were:

  1. The first hour or so, where the pirates weren’t in port at all
  2. The early trading period, where we were still finding out how it worked
  3. The end game, where I mostly did other things than sell stuff

Blood and Thunder – beginning

Although the game properly started at 10, we had a whole hour as traders with pretty much nothing to do. None of the ships came into port until 11. We needed a little bit of time to shake out, and talk amongst ourselves, but a whole hour was too much. It was also too early in the game to be able to start the side plots. That said Alexander used the time productively to write the naval wargame rules he’d need with six ship models.

I did do a bit of negotiation around supplying the town’s shore battery with powder and shot in return for tax exemption. It almost worked, but the mayor vetoed it because he needed a source of income and exempting us from cash payments would have eaten into that. In the end I got undercut on the supply contract by one of the other merchants who decided to sell it at cost.

Blood and Thunder – the ships come in

At 11 the first two ships came in. However the pickings were slim. Inexperienced crews had (correctly for them) chosen the lower risk routes to raid. This got them less cargo. Also what they did pick up wasn’t that valuable. We also suffered a bit as merchants because our warehouses were at the back of the room from the pirate ships. They had to get past the street traders and the taverns to reach us. By the time we saw them some of the valuable (to us, but not to the pirates) cargo had been bartered with the street traders.

We had another problem at this point too. We didn’t have much cash by way of a float, and the locals taxed us before the trading was complete, making it thinner still. So we weren’t in a position to buy cargo for cash. There were three traders, and two pirate ships. By chance I got missed by the main officers buying for the ships. I did do some trading with individual pirates, but it was almost all barter and for low value items. It was at this time that I picked up a strange eldritch item that glowed in the dark. I recognised it as an item of power and gave the pirate who offered it to me a blunderbuss in exchange.

The bartering continued, between attempts to convert newly acquired stock to cash within the townsfolk. I picked up several bottles of wine, a couple of snuff boxes, anf a valuable necklace that turned out not to be convertible into cash that reflected the barter value. I’d expected a bit of this, but I was surprised at the scale.

Wine

The wine came with a quality rating. All the ones I handled had ratings between 1 and 10. However I’m assured by one of my customers that there were bottles up to 12 in quality.

My expectation had been that lower quality wine would be essentially worth the same as rum. That is it would have a use to players, but would be worth more than one gold per bottle (maybe multiples per gold). The higher value stuff would have a value above that of the standard, and the top values would attract a premium.

As far as I could tell only one player had an interest in wine. I sold him an 8 for 10 gold early in the game. So I valued the rest accordingly. I never sold another bottle because he raised the bar to a minimum of 10. I didn’t count, but I had over a dozen bottles at the end of the game, most between 4 and 8 in quality. My estimation is that there were over a hundred bottles in circulation based on the amount the merchants held and the number of times we turned down offers to trade wine.

As a fix to this there ought to have been a bit in the social reputation rules about consuming wine. It would have driven a bigger market which would have made the many bottles in circulation valuable for both us and the pirates. I’d have given a point for publicly consuming a bottle (per person you supplied). I’d give another point of the quality of the wine was higher than the person’s social standing. This would have made the quality people drink the nicer stuff.

‘Valuable’ items

There was an entry in the player guide about valuable items. The suggestion was that they should be worth a minimum of 5 gold. I accepted a few in barter before I realised that they had no value. Not one of the players I encountered wanted one of these, and I could only convert them to cash for 3 gold each.

The idea in the game rules was that players would want these inherently valuable items. However there was no game purpose to them and no-one seemed to have them for a side plot, unlike the strange coins, model ships and the scraps of paper.

Everything needs to have a game purpose, even if just to soak money out of the game. However that latter purpose needs to be driven by people wanting them to meet personal objectives rather than as cruft.

Insolvent

There was a point about half twelve when I hadn’t sold anything for cash and had run out of money. My personal morale plummeted to the point where I was about to ask to be re-roled. I couldn’t quite see the value of trading as none of the pirate ships could afford our big ticket items, and the individual pirates didn’t have enough cash to pay for the replacement values of the goods O could sell them.

I wallowed a little, for maybe five minutes, and spoke to my trade control about it. Particularly the feedback on the so-called ‘valuable’ items. He was sympathetic, and I know he spoke to Jim about it.

Thankfully I held my nerve on the roling. I’m a veteran megagamer, I lost count some years ago. One thing I’ve learnt, and remembered on Saturday, was that player morale personally is often the difference between success and failure.

At that point a pirate bought a rapier from me for 25 gold and the Governor’s secretary paid 30 gold for some medical instruments. Even though I had to buy the medical instruments I was solvent again.

The next wave of pirate ships that came into port were cash rich. Morale soared, and trading resumed in earnest. I lost track of all the individual trades, several times I acquired merchandise after selling it. This practice saved me from large losses when the cost of powder and cannonballs doubled. I was able to renegotiate those before the deal was finalised. My biggest deal was with the captain of the Queen’s Revenge. She bought a heavy cannon and some powder and ball for it with 100 gold in cash.

In the space of less than four hours we’d gone from being insolvent to being cash rich, with over 300 gold in the company treasury. I had 23 gold personally (from a 10% commission on sales), along with a stock of interesting items (I’d bought the valuable items and some of the better wine from the company).

Blood and Thunder end game

Towards the end of the game, when I was happy that we’d traded enough to see us solvent to the end, I started to worry about my side plot as a Protector of the Sea.

The Governor’s secretary had finished his obsession with dissecting animals and was now looking out for strange items. I found this suspicious, suggesting that he might be one of the Sons of the Sea that I was supposed to stop.

I hatched a backup plan to stash some gunpowder at his house to blow him up. Before carrying it out though I had a chat with him about these items he was looking for, under the pretext of having been offered one earlier and that I could possibly get him one. I said that I collected antiquarian artefacts, older than the colony.

He decided to risk it and asked me if I’d heard of the secret societies. I confirmed that I knew of them, but thought them somewhat shady. He outed himself as a Protector, so I confirmed that I was too. By chance he’d infiltrated the Sons of the Sea. I was able to do so too and compiled a list of members. I also discovered that they were about to conduct a ritual, although it wouldn’t work because they’d been misled about what they needed for it. The Governor’s secretary and I also had some of the components.

So we told the Colonel that there was a treasonous plot going on in the tavern. I went along with a couple of loaded blunderbusses to support the police action. As it happened I only needed to provide moral support. The regular troops easily subdued the Sons of the Sea and they were taken to prison pending execution.

The game ended there, not because of us busting the Sons of the Sea, but because it was 1630 and The Rackham’s Ghost had just been sunk!

Other Blood and Thunder reports

Logistics of Megagames

Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics

English: Logistics
English: Logistics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Continuing the theme of advice for new megagamers I’m going to talk about the logistics of playing in Megagame Makers style megagame (like Watch the Skies). This is player logistics though, not in game logistics (see the military player advice for that).

Logistics of Megagames

Megagames are juggernauts. Once they are rolling they don’t stop. So you need to be prepared for that. Also you need to be ready for everything you need to do during the day. There won’t be time to stop and prep mid-megagame. Even if there is, you’ll want to use that time to play and plan and talk to the other players.

Clothing

Some people like to dress up in character. This is good for adding flavour and helping you get into role. However it isn’t part of the megagame as designed. You can pretty much wear what you like (subject to the usual caveats around public decency).

What you do want are:

  • Comfortable shoes, you’ll spend a lot of the day on your feet and/or walking about
  • clothes with multiple pockets, so that you can stash separate lots of money/counters in them and also pens and notepaper
  • layers so that you can adjust your temperature depending on the heat/cold
  • a top you can stick a sticker or pin a badge to, megagames tend to have a name sticker and a role badge

Food and Drink

As said above a Megagame doesn’t stop for anything. So you need to make sure that you have brought in everything that you might want to eat or drink during the day. Depending on venue there is sometimes a café dedicated to supporting the megagamers. So bring plenty of change with you just in case.

Megagames give you more mental and physical exercise than you would expect. So bring extra snacks with you. If you can bring shareable sweets or similar with you then it is good for team morale. Especially when produced about 2pm! Player morale is vital jn megagames. I’ve seen otherwise strong teams fall apart because their player morale has collapsed.

Have a good breakfast before you arrive at the venue. Bring plenty of no-nalcoholic drink in with you. Have fresh fruit and a healthy lunch that you can nibble on through the morning. Bring out the sugary stuff after lunch. Megagames get critical around lunchtime, the play is building up for a finale and plans need to be unleashed no later than 1430 to have a chance of coming off.

Game related Logistics

You are comfortably dressed, and you have the right food and drink to keep you going. Before the game you read your briefing. So what else do you need for the game?

  • pens and paper for making and sending notes to other players
  • dry wipe markers for writing on laminated maps & counters (only if you have them)
  • printed copy of your briefing, especially if there is a playsheet with a rules summary
  • small post-its or similar to mark units on a map (small scissors too if you have them) or blutac and little pieces of card

Objectives – Megagame advice

Objectives form the basis of game play in megagames. I’d like to start here by reminding you of three things:

  1. The British Army’s master principle of war;

    Selection and maintenance of the aim is the master principle of war

  2. Clausewitz‘s most cited quote;

    War is the continuation of politics by other means

  3. the British Olympic rowing team mantra

    “will it make the boat go faster?

These are all totally relevant to success as a megagamer (and in life).

Continue reading Objectives – Megagame advice

New Megagamer Advice

My ten year old son is about to become a Megagamer. We are scheduled to play in two Megagame Maker games later this year. So I’ve been thinking about how to ensure that his first games are fun. Part of that is to ensure that he is engaged. He’s going because he has asked to, not because I’ve made him come. That’s my first bit of advice for a new Megagamer. Play because you want to.

My experience as a megagamer

It’s a long time since I became a megagamer. My first megagame was Death of Fascism, at the Staff College in Camberley. There were over 100 players and dozens of umpires. I was a junior staff officer in OKH, I never saw most of the other players except in the plenary briefings. I do recall being involved in the arrest and court martial of Jodl for failing to obey orders. I also recall the controversial Hitler order to shorten the line to introduce a reserve. It was so good that I signed up for every other megagame going. To date I’ve done about 75, almost a third of them as control. I’ve also seen them being designed and contributed bits to a handful of games. I even have a couple of unplayed megagame designs.

I’ve learnt a lot from being a megagamer. It has helped me refine my negotiating skills, improved my rapid analysis ability, and helped in dealing with difficult people (NB mostly they aren’t really difficult, but they can present that way as part of the game). I’ve also had a lot of fun, and I’ve not ever felt that it was hard work.

Advice for a new megagamer

You’ll already have had the advice from the megagame makers site. It’s the official word on advice for the new megagamer. What follows is my personal executive summary, I’ll try and expand on them if I have time.

Here are some bullets to bear in mind when you play in your first few megagames

  • Megagames are all about people interacting, so you need to talk to lots of people during the game.
  • Make everything you do about achieving your objectives
  • Help other people to achieve their objectives, megagames work best as team games
  • Always look like a hard target, even when you are not
  • Don’t make threats you can’t carry out (although once you have a reputation you can play on it)
  • An adequate plan robustly implemented will do better than optimising, and probably get you inside other players decision loop
  • When you need to take someone down finish them off quickly to remove the threat of retaliation, they’ll get another interesting role
  • read the briefings before the game to understand the mechanics and the period, it will enable you to make good decisions rapidly on the day
  • the megagame waits for no-one, so get moving and engage it

Got any other advice for a new megagamer? Remember your first time and want to share? Leave a comment.

More advice for a new megagamer

Watch the Skies 3

Most of the people involved in Watch the Skies 3
Most of the people involved in Watch the Skies 3 (image credit: Megagame Makers)

Last Saturday I was control for East Asia for Watch the Skies 3. This picked up where Watch the Skies 2 left off, with some modifications to rules and briefings etc to make it flow much better. There were a number of obvious improvements, the media being a prime example.

Media Coverage

There were more journalists all on the same GNN team and they had the technology to pull it off. As well as a laser printer they also had a projector and screen for their twitter feed. This made it easier for people to follow the headlines. There were also several hardcopy single sheet newspaper issues too. Here are some sample tweets from GNN

Another feature was that everyone knew the aliens were there. So the emphasis of game play was different. There was only one attempted SIF interception in our region. That was foiled by Vietnam escorting the alien shuttles in to land. After a couple of turns people gave up entirely on this and all the SIF where just used to scout.

English: Spratly Islands military settlements ...
English: Spratly Islands military settlements (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cetaceans featured in Watch the Skies 3 also. The aliens had been in contact with them in Watch the Skies 2. By the time WTS3 started there was enough translation to allow human – cetacean dialogue, albeit slowly and under controlled conditons. In East Asia this manifested as a Vietnamese embassy to the Cetaceans built in the Spratly Islands.

One thing about both the very large Watch the Skies games is that it is practically impossible to know what was going on. As map control I can only tell you what was going on at my map. I literally have no idea what the player teams for my region were doing away from the map, nor what happened in other regions.

We had two natural catastrophes in our region. There was an earthquake in Taiwan in turn 2 and then around turn 6 another major earthquake followed by a tsunami just off the Philippines.

In the Taiwanese earthquake we had a good international response and more than enough humanitarian assistance. However sorting the cracked nuclear reactor out took longer. The issue was that it needed a scientist to sort it out. So the first scientist along didn’t have anything suitable for fixing up nuclear reactors. He did have a disaster recovery advance but it was about people and psychology rather than engineering. I ruled that this helped solve the application of aid, but couldn’t solve the nuclear reactor problem. The second scientist just had lots of genetics and biology advances. A third scientist with the advanced disaster recovery, which also included engineering finally fixed it.

When the Philippines tsunami hit it was much worse. Many Cetaceans were washed ashore around the affected area, not just in the Philippines. The scale was larger as well, but fortunately the UN were ready for it. A side effect was also a series of criminal gangs trying to profit from the disaster. The Philippines was offered military aid to deal with this from both Vietnam and Indonesia, which it accepted. It took some months but law and order was restored. Generous donations (49 Megabucks in total, plus four aid teams) sorted out the infrastructure repairs too.

Throughout this there were several other things going on.

  • International cooperation was sorting out sea pollution
  • Covert action stirred up trouble with the Chinese, lots of special actions being used covertly against the Chinese government
  • South Korea attempting to persuade North Korea to re-unify

Sea Pollution

Pollution was a new factor in Watch the Skies 3. This was in part because sea dwellers were now played characters and there was a need to have something that showed human impact on them. The basic mechanism was that each sea area had a counter on it with six strength points. People could attempt to clean up the pollution at 3 Megabucks a time. However unless there was political agreement to limit pollution from all nations bordering a sea area the pollution regenerated a strength box every turn. In practical terms the pollution limitation manifested as a cap on country income (PR) one level above the start level (PR=6).

In East Asia there was a treaty agreed fairly early on, certainly pollution clean-up started during the aftermath of the Taiwan earthquake. I think that this was driven by Vietnam’s diplomacy with the Cetaceans. The PR cap only seriously affected two of the nations in East Asia and then only in one turn. Both it turned out had other things to achieve that cost them a PR level that they offset by their increase. They had deliberately decided to implement the reduction to stay within the cap when they were next eligible for an increase.

The Koreas

As in Watch the Skies 2 South Korea put a lot of diplomatic effort into reunification. I ruled that they had moved the North Korean officials from being hostile to the idea to where they were prepared to discuss it with the Dear Leader. This took most of the game.

Dear Leader was quite taken by the offer to unify Korea. He had always known that all the people of Korea would welcome him as their Dear Leader. When it was broached that perhaps that wasn’t what the South Koreans were suggesting he was less than pleased. The head of mission found himself facing an anti aircraft cannon.

On realising that the Dear Leader was a major obstacle to reunification South Korea decided to smooth the path. A sniper team were sent North and successfully assassinated the Dear Leader. However, this just enraged the new Dear Leader who mobilised North Korea and started throwing rockets and artillery shells over the border. Fortunately the game ended at that point…

Some other Watch the Skies 3 stories

Lots of discussion on the Megagame Makers facebook group, including some after action comments from various players.

Alien perspective: The Association’s Official Account of their Expedition to Solaris C

Argentina’s View on reddit and many others in the comments thread.

Nigeria’s viewpoint

Words from the Whales in Watch the Skies 3

I’ll add any others I find here, or comment with a link if you have written something up about the game.

Megagame Don’t Panic offside report

Last Saturday I was political control for the megagame Don’t Panic. As mentioned previously this is a what if megagame about the German Invasion of Britain in 1940. The scenario necessarily changes history to remove some of the most obvious reasons why the Germans didn’t ever try this during WW2.

The British war cabinet being briefed at the start of the megagame Don't Panic
The British war cabinet being briefed at the start of the megagame Don’t Panic

Anyway my role was to keep an eye on the British war cabinet and ensure that they stayed suitably strategic and global while still providing input to the player teams at Command and Corps level. The game needs some player induced friction from the top, especially when Churchill has a wizard wheeze and send a Division Commander one of his famed ACTION THIS DAY notes.

The structure of the megagame was in two parts. From arrival until 1230 was a planning session simulating July and August 1940. Following that the German invasion lands in early September, and the game moves to 12 hour turns every 40 minutes or so.

Don’t Panic Political Game

The political game started pretty much on arrival for the players, before even the plenary briefing. I had a stack of laminated political event cards to throw in if the war cabinet looked less busy or was spending too much time in the details of the military game. I also had a panic track to keep score of how well the war was going for Britain and how the war cabinet were contributing to that. The panic track was on a 100 point scale and started at 50. Every 10 points the British got a modifier to their supply state depending on the direction of travel.

At the very start of the game I put some ground rules down for the war cabinet players.

  • There needed to be an official record of all decisions by the war cabinet
  • All decisions had to be by consensus, effectively giving everyone present a veto if they were uncomfortable with the direction
  • Collective responsibility applied to decisions, failure to abide by that would lose them political capital
  • Decisions that were unpopular or against advice required political capital to be spent (which was sometimes returned if the outcome was good)
  • Actions that were carried out by other players needed to be communicated by a war cabinet player to the appropriate person to make it happen

Political Discussion

There were some interesting discussions at Cabinet, (I have retained the minutes and will make them available over on Milmud). To start with there was a discussion about the Royal Family. Should they be dispersed or remain in the UK. It was decided that at the very least the King should be seen to remain until the last sensible moment. Other members, especially the two Princesses, would be kept away from likely invasion landing areas and removed from the country if things started to go badly.

The Royal Navy

The next major debate was on the Royal Navy. Sadly Admiral Pound seemed to be asleep for much of this, which would have been OK had it not been for the consequences following the decision to move most of the fleet from Scapa Flow to Portsmouth. The Cabinet Secretary made a number of interjections to the debate and attempted to put context on the importance of keeping the Kriegsmarine bottled up and the disastrous consequences should the Germans get capital ships in amongst the supply convoys. The politicians in the war cabinet were concerned about the fact that it would take the capital ships at least 24 hours to respond to an invasion across the Channel from Scapa Flow and they couldn’t be sure how well the RAF and army would be able to defend against seaborne assault without naval assistance.

As it turned out (and I listened in to the three way debate with the German Admiral Lutyens) the threat wasn’t as clear to the Germans as it looked to me. Lutyens waited before committing to action, and even then didn’t commit all his resources to breaking out into the Atlantic. Lutyens concern was, rightly for him, that the end result for the Kriegsmarine was likely to be loss of all vessels that they put in the Atlantic. What Lutyens either didn’t seem to realise was that this was potentially a game winning move for the Germans. His fleet unchecked in the Atlantic caused supply difficulties for the British. It also increased the panic track by 3 points every turn.

Once the German fleet was out it created all sorts of bother for the war cabinet. They debated moving Force H out Gibraltar, and more Cabinet Secretary intervention was required to ensure the war cabinet was properly advised. It was about that point that the Italians started their offensive in North Africa…

German Invasion

wpid-20150613_151845.jpg
The invasion front about 12 hours after the initial landings, the blue counters on the beach are the German supplies.

The Germans invaded on a fairly narrow front, about 40km, in the Brighton to Portsmouth area. A planning failure (they didn’t follow the orders they’d been given) meant that they didn’t have enough transport units in the first wave, so they couldn’t move supplies inland. This limited the operating radius of the landed troops to about 8km from the beach. Also the Germans sent armour in the first wave, but couldn’t unload any of it without a port (which was clear in the briefings).

To help things further along the RAF got air superiority over the channel fairly rapidly, and unlike the Royal Navy, sank a significant proportion of the invasion fleet. The Royal Navy frankly didn’t know whether or not it was coming or going. The army reacted as fast as it could to the landings, but was hampered by a combination of shortage of supplies, rail capacity and their organic speed of movement. Mainly the army was a bit further East than the German landing spot. About this time the Royal Navy lost a battleship to a combination of mines and u-boats, this didn’t help panic levels even though the cabinet suppressed the news.

The panic track went into overdrive at this point, and the war cabinet got quite panicky. Their reaction helped things, although not as much as the RAF shooting down dozens of Luftwaffe and sinking about half of the German transport fleet. About two days into the invasion the front stabilised and the Germans largely became unable to land more troops or supplies. They also stopped making progress inland too. The Royal Navy lost a cruiser in the Channel too, damaging the two German Capital ships and driving them off to Brest.

All through this time I was also throwing political events at the war cabinet, making them worry about the Soviets, Japanese, Italians and the Americans, as well as domestic issues. Churchill spoke to President Roosevelt and Lord Halifax spoke to the Irish foreign minister, neither with any real success, although FDR was sympathetic.

Gradually the British Army started to get a grip of the situation (largely after Churchill personally gripped the senior officers). The RAF helped this with carefully targetted bombing of German Divisional HQs and supply dumps. In Portsmouth the Royal Marines held out although surrounded, aided by naval gunfire support over open sights. Even the Press (10 issues over the afternoon) finally became pro-British with the headline news from an anonymous German commander that their situation was hopeless.

The megagame Don't Panic map at the end of the game, showing the extent of the German advance.
The megagame Don’t Panic map at the end of the game, showing the extent of the German advance.

Could there have been a German Invasion of Britain in 1940?

The Junkers Ju 87 Stuka. The primary close sup...
The Junkers Ju 87 Stuka. The primary close support weapon of the Luftwaffe in 1940. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Next week’s megagame Don’t Panic is an alternative history megagame about the German Invasion of Britain in 1940. It’s a popular what if and makes an interesting game for us British because the playing area is familiar to us from our everyday lives. At least it is familiar if you live in the South East. The megagame handbook has the village I live in centred in the combat example. German panzers occupy Redhill, the nearest town.

So could a German Invasion of Britain in 1940 have worked?

The answer is yes provided the Germans could have kept the Royal Navy and the RAF away from their invasion fleet and also managed to find enough suitable craft for moving an army across the channel. They also need to be able to sustain the landed army and reinforce it faster than the British can send reinforcements to fight them.

Personally I think that this is too much of a tall order for the Germans. They have no real appreciation of naval warfare. Nor do they have any joint planning staff. What allows the Allies to launch successful amphibious assaults later in the war is a combination of joint planning and lots of practice on a small scale before they tried bigger stuff. Even then Dieppe shows how hard it is to assault a lightly defended small port with armour.

The Kriegsmarine

English: Plan of battle of Operation Sealion, ...
English: Plan of battle of Operation Sealion, the cancelled German plan to invade England in 1940.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Kriegsmarine is smaller than the RN home fleet by an order of magnitude. Even if the German capital ships break into the Atlantic for commerce raiding the RN still has sufficient destroyer and lighter craft to wreak havoc in the channel.

The other major issue that the Kriegsmarine have is that they don’t have the tradition and corporate memory of the Royal Navy. So their skill level is confined to submarines and small to medium surface fighting vessels.

They’ve got no assault landing capability and no naval air. They also don’t have the same expansion capability the army had. So there isn’t the manpower available to them to suddenly crew loads of invasion barges. Those last need to be taken up from trade, which will have a negative impact on the German economy. So the Kriegsmarine doesn’t have the capacity to support a German invasion of Britiain in 1940.

The Luftwaffe

English: RAF Officer James Johnson, highest sc...
RAF Officer James Johnson, highest scoring Western Allies pilot against Luftwaffe.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At best the Luftwaffe has parity with the RAF. However Britain is outbuilding the Germans in aircraft. As time passes the RAF grows in strength. Also lost RAF pilots tend to land in friendly territory and so get back in the air rapidly. Luftwaffe pilots tend to get lost in hostile space and become POWs.

The Luftwaffe is an asset in one way though. It exists to support the advance of the German Army. So if concentrated on that it can help the advance, however the liaison is in 1917 levels of planned support. It cannot be called off or amended once the planes are in the air. So only limited value in supporting a German invasion of Britiain in 1940.

That said, for the invasion to be successful the Luftwaffe needs air superiority over the invasion route and beaches. This is doable, but not guaranteed to be lasting.  It also needs to keep the RN at bay. I think the Luftwaffe vs RAF is the crucial battle. If the RAF win (and a draw counts as a win) then the Germans can’t invade Britain. If the Luftwaffe win then the Germans have a chance, but only a chance.

The Army

The German Army is good, experienced and tested in both Poland and the West. So it should outclass the British Army man for man on average.  The better British units will be better than the average Germans. The key issue though is numbers, and logistics. The British will have the best of both of these.

Conclusions

English: A relic from WW2 This gun emplacement...
English: A relic from WW2 This gun emplacement overlooks the flat beach of Pegwell Bay a possible landing area for the German invasion of Britain in the second world war. Further information can be found on this web site. http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=1049.0;prev_next=next#new (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So if the Luftwaffe do an excellent job and keep the RAF and the Royal Navy at bay then the Kriegsmarine could put the German Army ashore. Once ashore the most likely outcome is that after hard fighting in the South East the Germans get defeated once additional British reinforcements arrive. The Germans will have a slower build up and their supply situation will be poorer than the British.

The hope for the Germans is for a collapse of civilian or political morale in the week after the German invasion.  Any more than a week and the entire British Army will be against them. British military successes are likely to restore faith.

This is where the megagame Don’t Panic will be exploring the what if of the German invasion. I’m really looking forward to it.

Operation Sealion: A Military Appreciation

Notice printed by the German police in advance...
Notice printed by the German police in advance of the invasion of Britain in WW2. Imperial War Museum, London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The next megagame I’m going to is Don’t Panic a what if scenario on Operation Sealion, the planned German invasion of Britain in the autumn of 1940. I’m going to be the British Control. So no playing for me. However that doesn’t mean that I can’t look at how I would plan the Operation Sealion invasion myself.

Operation Sealion

Firstly we need to get into the nazi mindset. They’re essentially divide and conquer gamblers with no medium term view. They have an innate belief in their own superiority and on the inevitability of their eventual victory.

The other interesting thing is that the German General Staff see crossing the Channel as simply a large scale river crossing. To them it’s like crossing the Rhine, only a bit wider. This affects their thinking and probably explains why they didn’t ever attempt it. As they planned it, the obstacles just multiplied.

Fuhrer Directive 16

On 16th July 1940 Hitler issued Directive No. 16 On preparations for a landing operation against England. This set the initial conditions for planning Operation Sealion.

Since England, in spite of her hopeless military situation, shows no signs of being ready to come to an understanding, I have decided to prepare a landing operation against England and, if necessary, to carry it out.

The aim of this operation will be to eliminate the English homeland as a base for the prosecution of the war against Germany and, if necessary, to occupy it completely.

Situation

The German army has been victorious, sweeping all before it. All of continental Europe from Poland to the Pyrenees is under German control. Only Britain stands alone against Germany. The British army has been defeated in Europe and has left most of its first line equipment behind.

Invasion barges assembled at the German port o...
Invasion barges assembled at the German port of Wilhelmshaven (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By mid August 1940 the panzer divisions will have been refitted, casualties either returned from hospital or been replaced. The luftwaffe is established in the French and Belgian airfields. The Kriegsmarine has assembled lots of barges ready for crossing the Channel.

In Britain the beach defences are being strengthened. However, the Briitsh Army is still short of transport and heavy equipment. The situation is so desperate that the British government has even called up old men and boys into a ‘Home Guard’. Weapons are so short that some of the Home Guard are armed with pikes.

Broadly the German invasion force can expect parity in numbers with the British in the invasion area. There is a qualitative advantage in terms of equipment and experience. The campaigns in Poland and the West have proved that beyond doubt. Operation Sealion is expected to follow the same pattern as the previous campaigns.

Mission

Hitler requires a speedy end to the war. German industry is short of manpower and the army needs to release skilled men soon. Operation Sealion is intended to bring the war to a speedy end.

Considerations for Operation Sealion

Broad vs Narrow Front

Normally military strategy suggests concentration of force. As an attacker you have a choice where you attack. A defender on the other hand has to spread out to cover all possible avenues of approach.

German preparations for operation Sealion, inv...
German preparations for operation Sealion, invasion of the british islands. A Panzer III tank modified for amphibious operations in France 1940. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The British can be expected to rapidly deploy their remaining mobile reserve, including an armoured division, against any landing. This could tip the balance before strong enough German forces are ashore. The speed of response is likely to be slower if they cannot be sure where our schwerpunkt is located. Multiple landing points will aid this.

Ports

We need to capture a port as early as possible to enable unloading panzer forces. Once panzers are set free in England we can be assured of victory.

Both of these point to a strategy of attacking multiple small ports to ensure that at least one is captured rapidly.

Airfields

We also need forward airfields to help the Luftwaffe support ground forces. It will also enable air landing troops to be brought in. This will speed up the force build up and make it harder for the British to defeat us in detail before we can join up.

This leads to the selection of ports. RAF bases at Marston and Tangmere have recently been abandoned and are in close proximity to ports. Similarly Dover has two airfields in close proximity and the castle is a major threat to our use of the channel.

Causing Civilian Panic

English: Home Guard soldiers training with a '...
English: Home Guard soldiers training with a ‘Blacker Bombard’ spigot mortar No. 3 GHQ Home Guard School, Onibury near Craven Arms, Shropshire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fleeing civilians are useful to the German success. They cause bottlenecks that stop the enemy bringing up reinforcements. They also adversely affect morale. This latter is important politically as well as militarily. We need the British Government to sue for peace. The faster this happens the better.

Effective ways of reducing civilian morale are:

  • airborne troops behind the main lines (even if only rumoured);
  • tank breakthroughs, especially if accompanied with pictures at iconic places for the newspapers and cinema news reels;
  • sinking of supply ships so that rationing is tightened;
  • terror bombing of cities, especially London and other industrial centres.

Conclusion

Operation Sealion requires a rapid buildup with simultaneous action at sea and in the air to split or slow the British response is required to give time for a foothold to be established in England. This will maximise political pressure and ensure military victory.

General Outline

Operation Sealion’s broad strategic goals must be to get a foothold, rapidly expand it and encourage the political opposition in the UK. Ways to do this are

  • surge the Kriegsmarine into the Atlantic for commerce raiding (apart from the bits directly needed for supporting the invasion)
  • use a u-boat screen to stop the RN getting in amongst the invasion fleet.
  • select four small ports across the Kent and Sussex coast for direct seaborne assault supported from the air. Put a battalion of paras on the closest airfield to the selected beaches
  • reinforce success with air landed troops on the captured airfields and tanks into the captured ports
  • transfer luftwaffe units to the captured airfields as rapidly as possible to increase loiter time and range
  • collect up the paras as soon as possible for a second drop on London or wherever intelligence suggests Churchill or the Royal Family are hiding out.

1689 Megagame Idea

A 1689 Megagame of the Glorious Revolution

Prince of Orange Landing at Torbay, engraving ...
Prince of Orange Landing at Torbay, engraving by William Miller after J M W Turner, (Photo: Wikipedia)

In November 1688 William of Orange landed at Torbay with a combined force of Dutch and British troops. Early in 1689 the English Parliament declared for William. In Scotland and Ireland things were less clear cut, Scotland was finely balanced and Ireland was more Jacobite than Williamite. The events of 1689 determined who sat on the throne, and Britain becoming a global power.

A 1689 megagame will let players explore this and see if the outcome was a foregone conclusion or not (I don’t believe it was as easy as history makes out, and the Jacobite rebellions of the first half of the 18th Century bear out the continuing support for King James II and his descendants).

Aim

The 1689 megagame will be a political and military game about the events of 1689 that historically lead to the overthrow of King James II and his replacement with William & Mary.

  • The events in Scotland must be played
  • Events in Ireland could be played
  • events in England are unlikely to be played (it was much less contentious)

The 1689 megagame should cover the strategic options of both Kings, and the immediate political issues from the ruling classes of the Kingdoms. Specifically there should be a real dilemma for players on whether to switch sides (and at what point to jump, and whether to jump back). Historically changing sides was common, and some major figures did so more than once.

Underlying this there is a military game. Although all out war was avoided in England (the memory of the Civil Wars was too recent) this was not true in Scotland or Ireland (where the memory was still recent, but there were more scores to settle and force of arms was used more often). Significantly the settlement was rapid in England because William threatened to take his army home.

There are also resource constraints. Money needs to be borrowed, and paid back, to finance the campaigns. William appears to have planned better and has more immediate resources.

Potential Structure for a 1689 Megagame

Two Kings

William’s Government

William III ("William of Orange") Ki...
William III (“William of Orange”) King of England, Scotland and Ireland, Stadtholder of the Netherlands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

William has a Government in London and the Netherlands. It supplies him with money and troops and he needs to engage politically with both Parliaments. He is also fighting a war with France, of which this becomes a wider part.

Decisions here are about deployment of resources and diplomatic efforts to close down support for James, and ensure that he does not have to get blood on his hands directly. His orders in late 1688 specifically allow James to escape, he was worried that elements of the English aristocracy would push him into a position where a captured James would have to be executed.

Members of the government (not William himself) could potentially be subject to desertion to James, so they need to be kept onside.

Scaling  at the lower end this can be a control role, in a high turnout game it could be a small player team to co-ordinate across Scotland and Ireland and do some diplomacy (via control).

James’s Government in exile

Portrait of King James II & VII
Portrait of King James II & VII (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As with William King James II has some loyal followers with him. Initially he is in France, having fled London in December 1688. After getting help from the French he returns to Ireland to raise an army to fight against William’s troops. Throughout the period his government is in letter communications with a number of officials and sympathisers across the three kingdoms to keep them in play as his loyal subjects.

Within his cabinet there is a high level of political intrigue and this leads to it being dysfunctional. In particular the Drummond brothers are hated by many who are otherwise loyal to James. There are also other enmities, often borne of the same issues that lead to William being invited over.

Defections and desertions from and to James are common.

Scaling this could be a control role in a small game. In a larger turnout it would be useful to play some of the Cabinet roles with James as Control. In a very large game then there could be a Hitler’s Henchmen style sub game going on with this team.

Scots Convention of the Estates

This represents the Nobles, Clergy and Gentry of Scotland. It met in March 1689 and was initially neutral, however when Viscount Dundee left it then it eventually declared for William & Mary. Potentially this could have been different. Orange or Lemon deals with this area and I’d re-use it as a sub-game in a 1689 megagame.

In effect this group of players hold the Government in Scotland in their control. They have agreement of who is the King, and to some extent the office holders of the Scottish Government are drawn from their ranks. Which way the Convention jumps will have a major impact on the course of the game (if they went for King James it could lead to him landing in Scotland rather than Ireland and calling on the Scottish Army to march south (it was disbanded at Reading in December along with the English Army)).

Scaling  this needs at least 7 players, of which two are staunch supporters of one of the Kings. If the ‘wrong’ King is chosen by the convention there is a role for these characters elsewhere in military opposition to the decision. The minimal player set are the leaders of the main interest groups, most of whom are undecided. In a medium sized game there are roles for up to 20 members of the Convention, the decided factions get a little larger and more undecided players are added. Each of the undecided will have agendas they want to see to gain their support, and a fear of being on the wrong side. It will take longer to make the Convention choose with more players, but it should become decisive if lobbied correctly.

Highland Clans

rp_300px-scotland_map-en.jpgThese are a disparate bunch, with internal conflict within them. Typically the Chiefs are well educated men (many are university graduates, or have studied). However they have a distrust of central government and obey only in so far as the King is willing to enforce things. They recognise authority in force of arms rather than de jure. An internal power struggle will be seen as a golden opportunity to settle old scores and raid for plunder in the guise of supporting the King.

There are few that can control Highland clans, their Chiefs and people they respect. An example of this is the recent Battle of Maol Ruadh (anglicised as ‘Mulroy’) in June 1688. Though government troops were involved, the fight was essentially a localised, private power struggle between clans (the MacIntosh clan settling a land dispute against the Keppoch MacDonalds). It was the result of deeply-entrenched, on-going clan tensions exacerbated by decades of political upheaval and lack of centralised authority in the Highlands. The battle of Mulroy highlights King James’ tenuous political authority and inability to maintain order in Scotland.

Scaling the major clans need to be played, ideally with at least two players per clan to allow dealing with both political and military issues (or both sides simultaneously if they aren’t active military). This would make for at least eight players (two each of the Grants, Camerons, MacDonalds and Campbells – although the last have at least one in the Convention). With a larger turnout there are 18 major Chiefs that were involved in the 1689 battles that could be played. There is also the possibility of running the clan sub-game in a similar way to the ancient celt game.

Military Forces

James II disbanded the armies, but William brought his own loyal troops from the Netherlands, including a Scots Lowland brigade. There were also some other Lowland troops raised either to fight for William, or re-mobilised by William. There are also some castle garrisons.

Conventional Forces

Conventional forces operating North of the Highland line are hard to keep supplied and operational. Also the terrain makes a lot of the training and doctrine hard to implement. The primary military leader for William was Major General Mackay, a highlander who had spent over 20 years in the service of the Netherlands. He has considerable freedom of action in how he deals with Jacobite forces in Scotland. His primary constraints are money and logistics.

Scaling the conventional forces need 2-3 players as a minimum. They have a standard command structure which means that the subordinate players have less freedom of action. If the game was larger there could be scope to add some liaison officers and logistics officers, but this is unlikely to take the need to more than 5 players. The key determining factor is the number of independent forces that could be created and the level of diplomacy done by military players. In the latter case I would expect this to be done by players from the Convention once it had reached a consensus on the King it was supporting.

Castle Garrisons

There are three significant castles, Edinburgh, Stirling and Dumbarton.

Edinburgh is a player role and casts an important shadow over the convention. The other two could be run by control if necessary. They guard important routes to and from the Highlands and are nominally controlled by the King. Other castles exist but these are private strongholds.

Time Period

The entire revolution took just under two years, but mostly the decisive phase is between March 1689 and August 1689. Ireland takes another year to mop up, there are also some loose ends in Scotland to deal with after the clans return home after the defeat at Dunkeld.

Potentially the Convention decision cycle could be extended from when it actually happened to allow it to go in parallel with the raising of the clans. That would allow the events to take place over 8-10 turns of about 40 minutes each (longer first turn and variable end). This would give a notional turn period of about two weeks.

Thoughts or comments?

  • Would you play in a 1689 megagame if it was worked up?
  • is there anything else you think could be included or left out?
  • would you want to work with me to make it happen?

leave a comment and let me know what you think. If there is enough interest I’ll approach Megagame Makers and see if it can go on the programme.

Megagame – Watch the Skies 2: Global Conspiracy

On Saturday I was the lead control for the East Asia region in Megagame Makers largest ever megagame Watch the Skies: Global Conspiracy. You can read rather a lot about it on twitter, facebook, reddit and a number of blogs because there were over 300 people involved in this megagame. Look for #WTS2 to find some of it.

So my role started some time ago, the first Watch the Skies megagame, with a mere 50 players, was filmed by the chaps at Shut Up & Sit Down and megagames became insanely popular. I missed WTS because of family commitments (it was my daughter’s birthday weekend). WTS2, and just about every other megagame, got booked up overnight and I couldn’t get a space on it. Jim Wallman had a plan though, and it involved me (and every other veteran megagame control team person). He scaled it up, to six times the size and about 25% bigger than the previous record holder for the largest ever megagame (which I played in).

Jim sent the control team the draft rules for us to read and comment on. He ran tryout sessions so we could get our heads round it all. He also spent an awful lot of time organising everything. The scale of the event is just huge, and it was all done by volunteers for the love of running large games.

Megagame Watch the Skies 2: The Game

As mentioned above, I was lead control for East Asia, there were three of us in the region looking after six human player teams plus some visitors (a mixture of aliens, press and foreign militaries). The other two control were also very experienced, and we quickly sorted out how we were going to run our corner. Mainly my job was running the map, with Andre sitting opposite while Stephen fielded all the other questions we were getting from the players not involved in whatever was going on at the map.

I’m not going to give a blow by blow account, for a start I was too busy to catch anything that wasn’t at my map, and for a second I’ll let the players tell their own stories. However I do have some highlights from the notes I made for the end of game de-brief.

  • AIM (our pet corporation) did deals very early on with China, Japan and Australia to upgrade their infrastructure and also build additional manufacturing lines there. Vietnam also benefited hugely too (the most in percentage terms).
  • The Australians attempted to breach the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by buying nukes from Iran. This backfired spectacularly and the Australian Government sacked the Chief of the Defence Staff for unauthorised unilateral action (a likely story, but I had fun with the cabinet meeting).
  • Korea was interesting. The South Koreans made wooing North Korea their main effort. We made it as hard as possible for that to succeed without looking like we were being mean. Their dogged determination was eventually fruitful and by the end of the game they were discussing reunification talks having signed a peace treaty two years into the game.
  • Japan clearly had secret deals going with the aliens, although I was only aware of this because of the way they behaved. They stopped whaling and also stopped intercepting UFOs with their SIFs. This didn’t stop another group of aliens from destroying Tokyo by bombarding it with plasma from low orbit almost at the end of the game.
  • Indonesia fell apart, it was small and poor, lost a SIF early on and seemed to be the focus for alien attention (they built a base there). When the government eventually lost the confidence of its supporters it triggered a civil war with the alien intervention splintering their armed forces. This was rapidly won by an international coalition that supported the new government.
  • The Australian SIF teams were spectacularly successful, some of this was luck and some the judicious upgrades of their SIFs (there were four or five of these most of the time). Most turns they had two or three successes, this kept their PR track maxed out, which meant they had the money to invest in more stuff.

The Mechanisms

As always it took us a couple of turns to get our heads around how best to run the map, but seeing as the players have exactly the same problem this is usually managable and so it was this time. We managed to evolve a system that worked for us and helped us get through dozen UFO interceptions in the later turns.

  • money for PR was put on the PR track at the start of the map phase when the military players were paying to activate SIF & agents
  • we did interceptions serially, starting with the SIF with advanced tech (not weapons), then those from the country closest to the interception point, but sometimes randomly
  • when an interception was successful we gave the player the card to leave on their PR track so that we could tot up the PR score afterwards
  • each SIF was returned to either the ready or damaged box as appropriate as soon as the card was revealed (destroyed to control)
  • where Aliens deployed a PAC we made it fight every SIF until it was damaged or driven off

Other things we found

  • there weren’t enough SIF models for the turnover
  • ditto the upgrade stickers & national flags
  • chits for UFOs don’t work, the players missed some when intercepting (even with mass UFO incursions there were still more SIF than UFOs)
  • we ran out of alien tech cards (but to be fair I think we had more than our expected share of alien action)
  • a copy of the detailed turn sequence would have been useful as a playsheet
  • using business cards for money was inspired
  • keeping up with other controls was really hard, I gave up eventually but it would have been useful to have had phone numbers for alien control or a liaison point
  • SIF & unit upgrades need a better mechanism, there needs to be a token exchange that allows regional map controls to upgrade units with the confidence that the corporate players have actually paid to produce the upgrade.
  • ditto a track on which science benefits have been used on keeping the terror track down. I largely relied on memory but this could have been a visual so that the players could see it.

If you were there, then leave me a comment with your story, or link to your blog post, write up, twitter or whatever.

Other Megagame Watch the Skies 2 Reports

Edit: Some other blog posts about the game

Edit 2: A couple more, and there are also some in the comments.

Player Perspectives

Game Control