Monday, 12 March 2012

Operation Warboard: Panzers At Brodno, 1939

Well now, the theme for recent posts on this blog seems to be well established - getting inspiration and ideas from the work of wargamers of the past. I think it might be best to change that soon - it's time I tried to come up with some ideas of my own. Then rather than expecting others to inspire me, perhaps I could provide some inspiration to others; although perhaps inspiring others is rather too grand an ambition. I should probably settle for something original that might at least interest other wargamers, rather than repeatedly recycling old stuff. But before then, one more blast from the past...

Gavin Lyall's Operation Warboard dates from 1976 and concentrates on WW2 wargaming. I borrowed it from the library at the time and read it with great interest - the author seemed to be struggling with the same problems I was having in writing my own set of WW2 rules, and coming up with the same kind of answers as I was. Not only that, but here was a gamer whose terrain and figures were not some unattainable marvel but who wargamed on the same kind of unsophisticated, hastily set up terrain that I used, and didn't worry too much about how his figures were painted. 

I bought the book a couple of years ago for old times' sake, and get it out now and then for the usual nostalgia. The rules are not much use to me these days. With hindsight I reckon they turned out like mine - a bit clunky and over complicated. They were written in a period when we were waiting (although we didn't know it) for new rule concepts like DBA and Warmaster to appear, which would make things both simpler and more satisfying. Unfortunately, before that happened, many rulesets much more clunky and much more complex than Mr Lyall's would have to be suffered by wargamers. Oh, those endless f*cking modifiers...

Anyway, a recent re-read found me studying the photo below and being struck by what an interesting set-up it was. The photo was given as an illustration of what a 'bigger' game might look like, with no real indication of what the scenario was, but once again I was away. This time you will have to suffer a hand drawn map made by myself rather than one made by a talented and inspiring wargames pioneer. Below the photo is the map I developed from it: you will see I added a railway to enable me to use my armoured train. Brodno is just a name picked off a map: this encounter is entirely fictitious.

Below again is the terrain I ended up with, the photo being taken from about the same direction as the photo from the book. The original table was 8' x 5' so things were a little more cramped on my 6' x 4' effort, but then I was gaming in 15mm rather than 20mm so there was no real problem.

I decided to play the game as an attack-defence with the Poles defending.  I also decided to use the game to see how the ultra-simple Morschauser rules from How To Play Wargames In Miniature might work. I had had some fun working them up into a set which took account of such modern wargaming foibles as the advantage of cover, and the existence of things like mortars, infantry guns and trucks. I had, however, taken care not to deviate from their essential simplicity. The scenario was as follows:

Polish Forces (defending):
Main Force
9 infantry units
3 MG units
1 mortar unit
2 ATG units
1 AA unit
2 tank units
2 off-table field guns
Armoured Train
3 cavalry units
1 MG unit (tazcanka)
1 on-table field gun unit with horse tow

The Polish main force could deploy anywhere south and west of the railway. The reinforcements would arrive on the road and railway from the north west subject to a die roll. The objective was to defend the bridges and town by seeing off the German attackers (who would withdraw on losing half or more of their on-table units)

German Forces:
Main Force
9 tank units
6 infantry units in trucks
2 MG units in trucks
1 mortar unit in truck
1 ATG unit in truck
1 SPAA unit
3 off-table field guns
1 dive bomber unit
Recce Force
2 armoured car units
2 motorcycle infantry units
1 MG unit in motorcycle combination

The German main force would arrive in column on the road from the east, with the objective of capturing the town and bridges and breaking the Polish defenders (who would withdraw under the same conditions as the Germans). Each bridge lost would count as 2 units lost, the town would count as 4 units lost if it fell. The recce units would arrive on the road from the north east subject to a die roll.

The Game
I'd like to tell you what a quick and exciting game the Morschauser rules gave. I'd like to tell you that, but it wouldn't be true. Simplicity is all very well, but it turned out these old rules took things rather too far for my taste. The game gave me an insight into what people mean when they talk about 'period feel', and also an insight into why some people like fairly complicated rules. Such things go a long way towards giving a game its interest.

The bottom line is that in the Morschauser rules you end up throwing 4, 5 or 6 to knock out just about anything with just about anything. There's also only one throw to make when firing - no throw to hit followed by an effect throw. And there's only one effect. It's KO or OK. The basic rules for off-table guns I actually added myself, along with those for aircraft and AA. But in my effort to be true to the original, these extras don't add much variety to the game. Movement? Well, just about everything moves 9" cross country in the original rules, with some variation on road. The melee rules introduce just a hint of sophistication, but are (correctly) written to make melee unattractive anyway unless you have an advantage of 2 or 3 to 1. Therefore things are mostly decided by firing. So you're back to 4, 5 or 6 to KO, regardless of range or situation or weapon, although there are simple rules saying (for example) that machine guns and rifles can't KO tanks.

So bland is very much the order of the day. I'm afraid enjoyment was not enhanced by a scenario that favoured the defenders and gave the Germans little chance of success. Just a few photos to give you a flavour:

The German column successfully crosses the nearest bridge but a Polish FT-17 and some infantry sally out.

This was about the high water mark of the German advance towards Brodno.

The Polish reinforcements arrive.

Polish tank, anti-tank and artillery soon took a toll of the leading German armour and a German defeat loomed. (See also the first colour photo above, below the map). A useful rule was borrowed from Blitzkrieg Commander - a knocked out tank or other vehicle is 'no longer there' and can be removed if you want. This means a KO'd tank doesn't block the bridge - hence the 2 vehicles you can see moved to either side of the bridge exit, left on the table for decorative purposes only.

I suppose I could tinker with the Morschauser rules but I doubt I will bother. I should however add that John Curry and Bob Cordery, who edited the Morschauser reprint, evidently found a good deal to enjoy in Morschauser's ideas as they developed their own version which features in the book. So don't necessarily take my word for the poor experience I judged them to provide. Anyway, I think it's time to go back to BKC, which are a great set of rules which give me all I want from a WW2 game.

Now, as I mentioned above, it's time to think up some ideas of my own for future presentations. Hmmm...


Sgt Steiner said...

Great looking table and AAR.

I started out wargamimg with OP Warboard (and Battle) and whilst my figures and vehicles were painted (sort of) I used his card buildings and chalked on roads. Simpler times and Pointe De La Criox is still a fav scn

Steve J. said...

Lovely looking table Keith. I never played these rules but they bring back memories of early wargames as a kid with everything hit on a 4,5,6 etc.

Robert (Bob) Cordery said...

An interesting wargame scenario and comment on Morschauser's rules.

When I have used the latter I have also used his roster system, which sees units gradually degrade. This tends to make the games last longer AND I find them more satisfying.

The rules are very 'fast and furious' and are very, VERY simple ... which is why I devised the rules (in the appendices to the book) based on them but with some small but significant changes. Although they are designed for a gridded playing surface, they can be easily converted to a normal tabletop by multiplying the distances in squares by 3 to convert them into inches.

I hope that you will give them a try as I suspect that they might me much more to your likeing.

All the best,

Bob Cordery

Keith Flint said...

Thanks for the advice Bob. One game isn't much of a playtest I admit. Will probably give it another go.

Cheers, Keith.