British evacuation from the beaches of Dunkirk
British evacuation from the beaches of Dunkirk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had a design session titled ‘Preparing for War‘ at the CLWG November meeting. Preparing for War was about training an infantry company in the UK after Dunkirk. Rather than a conversational design session I decided to try and do something that was playable. I’d been somewhat frustrated at the conference with discussions of games that looked like they could have been played. I’d felt that perhaps by playing it we could have tested whether or not the perceived problems were actually real.

Preparing for War

Canadian_soldiers_during_the_Battle_of_GroningenI ran a sort of role-playing game about re-constructing an infantry company after the evacuation from Dunkirk. John Rutherford was the first person to arrive (after me).  So I cast him as the first officer to report to the village in Devon I’d decided to put the company in. Chosen only because the OS map of Devon/Dorset was the first to hand when I was collecting materials for the game. They might equally have ended up in Scotland!

The idea was sparked by a number of first hand accounts of combat veterans. Most of those books start with a very short summary of their preparing for war phase. Many British soldiers spent three or four years training in the UK before going to Europe. Others did a few months and then spent years in Africa or Asia. So I wanted Preparing for War to get the typical experience of training and getting to know people. There was an underlying narrative of understanding the impact of warfare. Having spent years with people preparing for war makes the losses more personal, unlike most wargames. This was my variant on hitting the metal figures with a sledgehammer.

Game Narrative

John’s character, 2/Lt Robson, was a recently commissioned officer who had been sent to France within days of being commissioned and then evacuated a few weeks later. On arrival in the village by train 2/Lt Robson discovered that he wasn’t expected, and nor was his company! He set about contacting the local policeman, the vicar, chair of the parish council and other notables in the village.

Staying overnight in the village pub, he established that the company could be billeted on the Mill when it arrived. Within a day the company arrived by train under command of the Major (Jim Wallman). Shortly afterwards Lt Hanse (Mukul) and 2/Lt Duff (Dave Boundy) reported for duty. The company was swiftly sorted out into platoons and sections, on the basis of sharing out experienced men and the good NCOs as well as those with dodgier records.

The first few weeks were played out in organising the company. Sorting out accommodation, acquiring weapons, worrying about area of operations, responsibility for guarding bridges etc and also getting everyone to do lots of drill. Having worked all this out and got to the beginning of September I moved to monthly turns.

The OC set the training priority each month, and I asked for volunteers for Officer training (and later on Commandos). I also set some small incident for resolution, e.g. scrounging a coal lorry, or the Christmas do. If I was going to run this game properly I’d do more research on incidents and ensure that players had better background. As I was making it all up as I went along, including the mechanisms,  it was no doubt thinner than it ought to have been, and probably ahistorical in places.

Post-game Discussion

We managed to spend four and a half hours playing the game before I drew it to a halt for a discussion. There is defintely a game in all of this as there are many decisions to be made. It is a building/development game in its purest sense. What you are building/developing in this case are your soldiers.

Probably the best way to improve the game would be to make a small card for each soldier which could be updatable with their stats, rank etc. That would simplify record keeping as the platoon commanders can keep those in front of them organised into sections etc. The platoon commanders could also have a mechanism for developing people which would give them decisions about how to improve their platoon, and also about how to interpret the OC’s training priorities.

Leadership styles

We had some discussion at the end about leadership styles and now these should affect the development of a platoon/company. This certainly needs further thought. I think it could be a good way to develop things, but I’m not sure exactly how it ought to impact on the game mechanisms.

If I do get further thoughts from people then I will do something on this.

Training Exercises

One thing I am conscious of was not having a well thought out mechanism for exercises, essential when preparing for war. Partly this was because I didn’t think we had enough time to break into a proper wargame. My inclination would be to play Preparing for War as a campaign. Exercises can be largely kriegspieled wargames.

6th Bn Durham Light Infantry

On another point, we semi-randomly picked 6th Battalion DLI to be the battalion that we were part of. A quick look at google afterwards showed that 6 DLI were a territorial battalion. They went to France with 50th Northumbrian Divison in early 1940 and then were evacuated through Dunkirk. Then they went to North Africa in April 1941 (when we finished our game). 6 DLI fought through the North Africa campaign, Sicily & Italy. They came back to the UK at the end of 1943 and were in the assault troops on Gold Beach on 6th June 1944. Probably one of the few battalions to have been at the sharp end all the way through the war.

Here is the spreadsheet (Open Document Format) that I used to speed things up during play (although this will be printed onto cards before I next try this game). Company Roster.ods