Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Where's my rubber? Moving information between tables in multi-table and multi-team games.

This might seem to be a very simple thing to do -- to move game related information between tables in multi-table and multi-team games -- but it ain't.

Getting it wrong

A Victory Ship - USS Gage
I can now admit that in one megagame I and another control umpire completely got this wrong for about 2 turns. We were running the western logistics board for the megagame the Last War, 1942 - 45. This mostly meant that we were running the Battle of the Atlantic. The rules were of course simple to adjudicate. However we did not know what to do with the delivered supplies.

Eventually our mistake contributed to the now infamous "rubber shortage scandal" of the game. With players saying "where's my rubber?", or "are you hoarding rubber?"

Here are the relevant rules:

  1. Check materials available via sea routes from naval Players. Note quantity shipped. This should be based on state of access at the END of previous turn.
  2. Check materials available by land routes on Land Map. Note quantity shipped. Collect Materials Counters from Control. This should be based on state of the routes at the END of last turn.
  3. Work out which Industrial Zones have their requisite materials by placing counters on the IC appropriate card.
  4. Hand over materials counters used this turn to Control.
  5. Collect output counters representing industrial output (Tanks/Man/Ships etc) from Control
  6. Distribute counters ‘manufactured’ to correct location on map (the location of the IZ) for use NEXT turn. 

Now I read it again, I can see why I was a little confused by this sequence. The goods shipped are in effect "manufactured" and should have been moved by someone in 6 - this was not spelt out.

The best way of smoothing these things out is to take the control team through the sequence in a test game and then for the control team to pass this knowledge on to their players during the game.

I still feel a little guilty about this. I know it effected the game as there was a big materials crisis that escalated upto the senior political players. When we realised the mistake we quickly recovered and we as control umpires went down to the relevant "land" table and delivered the goods at the end of turn.

Watch the Skies 2 - control team try out

The reason this has come to mind is that last night - 16 February - I participated in a megagame control team try out, and development session for the 300 player Watch the Skies 2 megagame. This was a very successful evening. Not only did we go through a couple of test turns, we also got to discuss rules changes and developments. This was great. It helped us all appreciate the turn sequences on the day that are sometimes implicit in the rules. For example, when the turn sequence calls for players to deploy their units, do they do this simultaneously or in sequence? These things can be spelt out in the rules, but often aren't and control have to resort to the old control motto of: if I don't know it is right, I can at least be consistent.

But the key thing for me was to establish what needed to be moved from table to table. These are the things that often go wrong. Watch the Skies 2 is going to be mostly a player led game, with the control team, monitoring, assisting and driving the game.

I will be one of the alien umpires. My players' tables will be kept away from the main "earth" tables. The Aliens are in effect in space or in orbits around earth. As each game turn will be about 3 months, the "human players" will be able to move about quite freely in comparison. What I wanted to establish was what will the Alien Players take to the table, get from the table and who will carry it.

I cannot go into too much detail, but it looks like this game's design has learnt from the earlier problems encountered in this tricky business of moving game information between tables in a multi-team game. From experience this is what can go horribly wrong in a megagame.

It's not just logistics

In the example I gave of the Last War and from our try out of Watch the Skies, I was most concerned about moving logistical resources between tables. The Aliens of course will have a resource allocation game too, and I will have this to monitor.

In some ways logistics are the obvious of inter-table bits of game information. But in the try out last night we had an example of how "intelligence" can be perhaps even more slippery as it moves between tables. I cannot go into detail at this stage. All I can say is that the Secret Agents deployed to the board can gather intelligence but the actual information they glean will be literally in the hands of another player or player team not located at the same table. I think we as control umpires have worked out a solution to this, but I know Jim and others did voice concerns that we are setting ourselves up for one of these inter-table movements of game information. Was the game effectiveness of this rule worth running the risk of failure?

I was interested to hear Jim say that one of his design concerns is to remove these inter-table hiccups by getting as much done on each table as was possible.

It might seem to be a small thing, but when you have 300 players and 45 control umpires and about 10 map tables things can easily go missing.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Gun Group - Tactical Future Warfare

Game Aim

This game, Gun Group, is a determinist* back-to-back** wargame set in the near future, circa 2030 with the potential force structure and equipment that might be available then.

It is designed to give a fast moving quick resolution of low-level tactical games.

The lowest unit represented on the board was a half-section, or 4 men. There were no turns, players issued orders and responded to outcomes or until the objective had been carried out.

Background and Scenario


In an un-named African country there is a rebellion led by regular troops from one tribal group. They are fighting against another tribal group who have acquired support from a modern Western military force.

The rebels hold the capital, a megacity, with a population of 10 million. The population are sympathetic to the rebels. The loyalists and their European allies are attacking the megacity.


The Red Team mission is to defend the Skynet hub. They cannot destroy it even if it is threatened with capture.

The Red Team is a platoon sized force deployed in a large office compound in the centre of the megacity. The Red team also has 6 Improvised Explosive Devices, 6 CCTV wireless cameras and a section of autonomous, Chinese mercenaries who seem to be assigned to protect Skynet, but are not very cooperative.

The compound is surrounded by a large 15 foot breeze block wall, that would require a tank or explosion to make a hole in. There were two entrances, one in the south west corner and one in the south east corner. Inside the complex are two large office buildings, Building 54 is the central blue building and Building 55, slightly to the north.

Red Team has no information about the attacking forces.

One restriction was the areas around the compound were occupied by civilians.

The Office Compound housing the Skynet Hub.
Showing initial deployment of  Red Team forces.

Red Team Deployment

As Red Team commander I decided that the most likely attack would come through the two entrances and also in the dead ground in the north east corner, which had a two smaller buildings blocking view points from the main two blue buildings in the compound.

I assumed that the western forces would be armoured infantry with heavy weapon support. A helicopter attack was thought unlikely as we had already downed helicopters that had ventured into the airspace over the megacity.

I decided to deploy the Skynet hub on the first floor of Building 54, with most of the platoon. I put one half section in Building 55 and another in the small building in the north east corner.

I deployed three CCTV cameras on tall buildings outside the compound to overlook the main street and parts of the compound. I deployed the other three cameras on the inside of the compound on the corners of buildings to look into the compound so I could see all around Building 54.

I left two command detonated IEDs on the outside of the compound. One on the south east crossroads and the other on the crossroads at the north east corner. I hoped these would catch any convoy en route to attack us. The other IEDs I put inside the compound, one on each entrance, one on the west side loading bay of building 54 and one near the south west corner of building 55. The last IED was a last minute move, I had left it initially in a car in the middle of the car park south of the main entrance to building 55, I would regret this.

Game play

As predicted the Blue team spotted the dead ground in the north east corner and put in an armoured infantry assault. The IED went off and did some damage, taking out a Warrior APC, and injuring dismounted infantry in the vicinity. Another APC was destroyed by RPG fire, after it breached the wall and tried to manoeuvre in the confined space between the buildings occupied by my two half sections.

Whilst this exchange was going off, my cameras showed that three large civilian articulated trucks had stopped outside the southern wall of the compound and were disgorging several car sized tracked, armoured vehicles, with large guns in turrets. They seemed too small for a crew, so we guessed that they were robotic. These then blasted and forced holes in the compound wall, whilst an infantry platoon detrucked behind them and sheltered behind the wall. The robot tanks then moved into the car park. The Red force section deployed on the first floor opened up with the RPGs. It was then that we came under massive fire from the robotic tanks and also small arms fire from Blue force troops deployed in the high rise buildings just south of the compound. We came off a lot worse and the survivors of the section moved further into the interior of the building.

The robotic tanks moved into the ground floor of the building. I evacuated the one section deployed there, as I guessed that these tanks would not be able to go up the stairs. When the tanks had cleared the ground floor the Blue infantry sheltering behind the wall then rushed across the car park and into the building. How I wished I had left an IED there!

Meanwhile the north east assault had stalled for a while, whilst they did some casevac. However they had sent in some smaller robotic tanks, armed only with a machine gun. The Red half section tried to evacuate the corner building and got taken out and we lost contact with the other half section in Building 55.

I now moved all of my remaining forces into the centre of the first floor of building 54. Anytime we tried to fire out of the windows, we suffered devastating fire. The Blue force attempted to send small robotic tanks up the staircases. We easily suppressed any supporting infantry small arms and blew up the tanks with RPGs fire.

There was a pause.

Initial deployment.
It was then that my comms, that had been blocked for sometime, opened up and I received a message from HQ that they had cloned the Skynet hub and we could withdraw. Comms were then blocked. I was fooled by this, possibly because we were in an increasingly desperate position. My stalwart 2ic persuaded me that this was a ruse. We did open negotiations to stall for time.

After this, the assault started again. A blue infantry force deployed with ladders on the north side of Building 54. With fire support from their infantry in building 55 they then escaladed up and into the first floor. At the same time, there was a loud bang on the eastern outer wall on the second floor. We saw on our cameras that they had gone over the roof with ladders to do this.

After that it all got very desperate and my men started surrendering rather than suffering from a devastating assault.

Cyber Capability

I had 6 points of cyber capability. Three of which I deployed to defend my comms of my HQ and the two half sections in the north east building.

The other three points I used to create a flash mob, this took more time than usual, as it was 2am when the assault started. This flash mob appeared outside the main entrance to the compound and managed to capture several trucks and two parked robotic tanks.

This was only a nuisance to the Blue forces, though it felt good.

One game playing lesson. I took the photos of the game and posted them to Facebook during the game. Luckily the enemy team was honest, and pointed this out after telling me they had not looked, too carefully. Note to self: do not post live during a game, unless of course it is part of a disinformation campaign!


I quickly realised that we were completely outclassed even in a infantry firefight. Our only chance was to surprise the enemy in a confined space where they could not get in effective supporting fire.

I was surprised by the robotic tanks. Which is a bit silly of me, as I have played a similar scenario to this and should have known about these machines. I could have defended Building 54 by deploying more obstacles, like overturned cars and trucks to block them. I don't know what else I could've done except withdrawing into the confines of a building.

I was glad I decided not to distribute any force in a perimeter defence, apart from the section in the north east corner, who were lost fairly quickly, though they did delay the assault there. 

Our only hope was to ambush the assaulting force or get them in an enclosed space. Each time we exposed ourselves where they had supporting fire, we took heavy casualties.

I should have been more active in my defence. Although a bit of a risk, I should have deployed my 2ic and a half section with a truck with a civilian looking driver outside the perimeter. Their instructions would be to remain in the vicinity, probably in one of the high rise buildings. When they saw the enemy assault deploy, they would fire into their rear and then scoot, attempting to take up another position.

The 3D model showing the situation at
the end of  the Blue force assault


Thanks to Jim and CLWG for another interesting and thought provoking game.


* Determinist Wargame.
A game in which there is no dice rolling, and no turn by turn moves. There are some rules about locating units, about movement and about cyber defence and offensive actions. But these are really guidelines. Jim effectively made judgements on the most likely outcome of all conflict and fed back to the players.

** Back-to-Back, 
A game where the two sides are separated into two rooms with their map showing their deployment. The umpire/s move between the two rooms and give information about enemy movement, and action and any other outcomes and they take player orders and intentions and feed it to the other team's map.