SOME DESIGNER’S NOTES (& GENERAL RAMBLINGS)
Battlegroup Overlord is finally complete and on sale, so I can finally relax and enjoy it, maybe play some more games...
In the end, come production time, the book was very tight on space and I had to take the hard decisions about what should stay and what should go, because otherwise it would have been over 300 pages long, cost £40+ and been almost beyond sending through the post for a price people might be willing to pay. I think 240 pages will be Battlegroup’s maximum, other supplements should be considerably less than this.
Part of the problem was the subject matter, which just got huge. I really wanted to cover D-Day itself, to make it the complete package, and cover amphibious assaults in detail, because, for one, I have collected some of the stuff and years ago had my own Omaha beach boards and a wrote a historical scenario in some detail to play with it. It hadn’t seen the light of day for over 10 years, but I knew that an amphibious assault, well done, could be a great game. All that previous work and gaming fed into this project. The beachhead scenario is not a one you’d want to play every day, but a very different gaming experience from the usual tank battles inland. Also, I’d had the idea from the start to make a very odd army list for the Germans, one with no tanks at all. This might represent the ‘static’ infantry units. This list wouldn’t include much beyond poor infantry and lots of different bunkers. Mobile warfare it isn’t, but using such a force is all in the planning, when selecting the forces and when placing them (because let’s face it, get it wrong and you aren’t going to be correcting it). This list was originally going to be a fortress defence force, maybe for the West Wall, but it morphed in the Atlantic Wall Resistance Nest. It could also be used for the inland strongpoints like Hillman or the Merville battery, although the infantry division lists can do this as well.
When paired up against an amphibious assault force, the two lists make for a new form of battle, not covered in BGK, a set-piece assault over open ground against very heavily emplaced guns and machineguns. I could see no reason why this game couldn’t be staple of Normandy gaming just as tank battles in the hedgerows are. If you have the models, or are willing to collect them, then why not be able to re-use them again and again, just like the other models. The lists and scenario should provide almost infinite re-usability for the collections. My German collection includes a motley selection of about 8-9 bunkers and pillboxes for this purpose, and added to this I bought the old Airfix gun battery and tarted it up a bit. This was a pure act of nostalgia, because I had one in the 70s and loved it. Now I can play with it again.
Airborne lists had to be included. Although the game is primarily about tank battles, lots of people already play the airborne troops, and they have such a vaunted reputation I can understand why. The heart of these lists are the veteran (and elite) infantry. Due to the way the BR system works, it is actually not so hard to make an infantry-based force match up against a tank heavy one in Battlegroup. Now, it won’t be easy, but the airborne units, with a bit of tank support, should hold their own. They did in play-testing, in fact they did rather well (mainly because of their high BR values, meaning they take a beating and keep fighting). Now I didn’t include the airborne landings and glider themselves. I just can’t see any sort of historical game where paratroops are landing with enemy tanks underneath them. That’s not a game, it’s a massacre, and it never happened anyway. Gliders do make excellent characterful terrain pieces though...
Most of the special rules cover the amphibious assaults, because of all the strange equipment. The basic rules have most of it covered though. One contentious issue during testing was the position of the British Bren gun. It start in its own small team, ala German Mgs, but this proved a hindrance in Orders and BR lost, well beyond its value as a unit with very little RoF. So they were soon back in the squads, and then finally, an optional special rule. So, the die-hards who what to do it right and set up the Bren base of fire can ( and might find the imaginative leap to assume this is in fact what is happening without literally recreating it with the models on the table a step too far*). This I like, the games doesn’t force it on you, it leaves it as tactical decision. Also, from this game the Bren team (from a recce patrol) attempting to call in mortar fire. How a lance corporal with no radio can do this I don’t know... perhaps he has a pigeon! So it was banned.
Other special rules saw the US get a bump in command and control and artillery support, because this is their strongest suit. If you play the Americans a lot (and I do), you’ll come to appreciate this, because your equipment and AFVs really struggle, and your infantry are now inexperienced. On the good side, they are cheap too.
So, stuff that was supposed to get in the book and in the end had to go? First were the painting guides. Well reviewed from BGK, there was to be at least four more in the book, but, even as the painters where poised with brushes in hand, I had to yank them. Hopefully they will still happen, but it saved me 12 pages without even thinking about it. They should be back in future books. Next to go was the campaign section. I had it about half complete, a whole mini-campaign system with map movement etc, to replay a few days of fighting around the village of Norrey-en-Bessin, a small salient held by 3rd Canadian Division against 12th SS Panzer. It was a classic match-up, and with the right reference books the entire battle is now very well detailed with the correct forces (down to Panther tank turret numbers in some cases). I shall try to revive it at a later date, perhaps as a standalone mini-supplement, or for Dispatches (although Piers already has so much planned for it, it might be a while).
Next to go was the Fallschirmjäger battlegroup lists. I know, it’s in, mainly because Piers cried foul, but it was touch and go for a few days. I knew I wanted it in (I have a considerable force myself), but it seemed too close to the infantry list, and I could always make it a PDF download at a later date. Also, I admit, that by this stage I had just laid out 12 army lists and it was the last one. Flagging, I buckled and thought I could save the space. In the end, wiser heads prevailed and it returned.
Other things that were supposed to be in but didn’t make the cut? Designer’s notes for one – never got written. Adverts, including Will’s PSC spread, which had to be axed. And at least two other historical refight scenarios, one rather nifty one for the village of Sully, north of Bayeux, on D-Day+1, which will one day be revived.
* and this something of bugbear with me, literal interpretation by players of what is an abstraction. As the whole game is one (an abstraction) by its nature, not a blow by blow simulation of actual events. Battles are fought by individuals making individual decisions, on the ground, in the face of their own personal situation. A game with models cannot simulate this. Battlefields change too rapidly, important events can take place in seconds, not minutes. The time frame required to detail this would be so small as to make even small games last ages, and most of the time units wouldn’t do anything. I’m no soldier, but my guess is that most battles involve a lot more hunkering down and hiding that any wargames rules could comfortable recreate. Spending an hour behind a sturdy wall would be pretty normal, but in a game they effectively do nothing. Instead, we can assume this stuff is happening. We can assume a lot, without literally recreating. Maybe some of the casualties are just guys that hunkered down by a wall and never got up again for the duration. Nobody was hit, the firing just sent them to ground for long enough we can forget about them.
Smoke is another BG ‘literal’ bugbear. Why represent something that makes fighting a game so difficult and so negative. Smoke is in BG, it is assumed into the spotting rules, a reason why you might fail an otherwise easy spotting test. There is smoke, there is a lot of it, and dust, and noise, and confusion, and generally too much shooting to represent all of it (only the most important bits are actually rolled for). At close range (as all WW2 wargames are), battle are fought crawling and kneeling... and very little is actually seen. Also, the terrain is not literal, all wargames tables are far too clear an uncluttered for the real world, and far too flat too, every ditch and dip, hump of grass of patch of ferns isn’t literally on the tabletop, but we can assume they are still there, represent by the randomness of the dice, a luckily passed cover save, or failed spotting test. The table size isn’t literal either, otherwise we can only really recreate a section in action on an area the size of a football pitch. It is also abstracted, to make the game work on something other than a board the size of a real football pitch. The infantry models also aren’t literal, they are mostly stood up looking like they walking to shops rather than fighting; down, crawling, crouching, cowering (AB range excepted here). So why would the rules be so literal? One ingredient a player brings to a game is his imagination. Use it to tell the story of the battle, beyond what happens with the toy soldiers.
There is no such thing a simulation in WW2 wargaming, unless as battlegroup commander you run the battle via crackly radios, on maps, and don’t worry about the models on a tabletop... but that’s not the wargaming hobby is it? My hobby is collecting, painting and playing games with WW2 toy soldiers, I don’t believe it will help me understand the experiences of those that fought in (or commanded in) the war, in any way at all. But it does entertain me on Sunday afternoons better than the TV, video games or Facebook.