Missing General – An Engle Matrix Game

This campaign idea is based on “The Never Ending Story! One of our Generals is missing” an article by Alan Phillips in the SOTCW Journal. Alan uses his own tactical rules but I’m interested in seeing how the campaign can work using a Engle Matrix Game as the structure and, hopefully, Crossfire for the tactical elements.

For me the power of the Engle Matrix Games is setting the context for battles. Some arguments will result in table top battles, but good players will use their arguments to build up their forces, or otherwise get some tactical advantage, before committing to battle – in a similar way to real commanders.

I played this through with John Mclennan and Chris Harrod in about six hours. It was great fun and included four Russian assaults on the village (the last overwhelmed the German rearguard) and two attempts by German stragglers to burst through a road block set up by Russian ski troops (the second burst through). The final result was a win to John playing the Germans. He managed to hold the village for over 60 hours and still exit with two companies of his original battle group and a roaming German general.

The Matrix

Before starting you’d have to have an overriding framework – the Matrix – including the historical background, the forces available, the map, the passage of time, any movement rules, and how to transition to a table top battle. You will also need an umpire who is fully up to speed on this Matrix, as they will have to make judgements on the strength of the player arguments.

For this game the background is encapsulated in the two player briefings below and the general rules that follow them.

Battle Group Max – the Rescue Expedition

There is only one other thing. It is possible, even likely, the German player will argue for a rescue expedition. This is where Battle Group Max comes in. It would take a great deal of effort to organised a rescue mission which equates to multiple successful arguments and/or elapsed time. The referee map shows the “German Assembly Area” where this Battle Group will form up


Missing General Map

Battle Group Max comprises:

Battle Group Max Order of Battle

  • Panzer Recon Company:
    • 1 x Armoured Car;
    • 1 x Platoon Motorcycle Troops
  • Panzer Company:
    • 1 x Tiger;
    • 1 x Panther;
    • 1 x Pz IV G;
    • 1 x Pz III
  • Panzer Grenadier Company:
    • 3 x Rifle Platoons;
    • 3 x Half Tracks (each can carry one platoon)

German Player’s Briefing

It is late 1943 and Army Group Centre has collapsed and is in retreat to the west. The first snow fall of winter has slowed the retreat and the Russians are aggressively pursuing. The campaign focuses on a very small part of this retreat at a village between the advancing Russians and the new German defensive lines.


Missing General Map

You command an ad hoc battle group of Army Group Centre. It comprises a leg infantry battalion and some supporting assets.

German Order of Battle

  • 1 x Battalion HQ
  • 1 x 120 mm Mortar and tractor/truck
  • 3 x 75 mm Pak40 Anti-tank Gun and tractor/truck
  • 3 x Infantry Companies
    • 1 x HMG
      1 x 81 mm Mortar
      3 x Rifle Platoon

You have been putting up a fighting withdrawal for the last month and have come to rest as an unnamed Russian village in the middle of nowhere. You have been hoping to reach the relative safety of the river 20 km away where the new defensive lines are being prepared. As there has been no contact with the enemy for the last 12 hours you decide to call a halt to rest and take stock.

As you go around your men you find you are low on all kinds of ammunition. Worse still your fuel supply is nearly exhausted and your vehicles won’t be able to reach the river.

While you are busy you see other battered formations plod through the village and on to the west. Some of the men abandon equipment as they go. They all come from the south-east and none down the road from the north-east. Those that stop to chat report no recent Russian activity. The Russian pressure eased about 12 hours earlier – perhaps they’re now as short of supplies as you are.

Suddenly you receive a radio communication from Division.

“Top priority. Hold position in village for next 48 hours. No withdrawal.”

You explain your lack of ammunition and fuel but it appears there is “Nothing to spare”. You muse that if a General officer was trapped in your village then there would be more of a stir back at headquarters. They’d certainly expend a great deal of effort to prevent another German General falling into Russian hands. Admittedly, with Army Group Centre in full retreat, organising an expedition would take some time. But all that is fantasy and there is nothing more to do but get on with the job.

Just then a lone motorcycle roars into the village from the north-east. The rider tells you that he’s seen Russian tanks and infantry up the road and no German troops. Then he pushes his machine on to the west. It appears the Russians are closer than you would have wished … and in a direction you hadn’t expected.

Your objectives are to:

  • Hold the village, i.e. keep the cross roads open for stragglers to pass through, for 48 hours.
  • Get your battle group safely across the bridge.
  • Ensure all German Generals to the east of the river escape across the bridge.

Your men are still sitting around the village in clusters … now what do you do?

Russian Player’s Briefing

It is late 1943 and Army Group Centre has collapsed and is in retreat to the west. The first snow fall of winter has slowed the retreat and the Russians are aggressively pursuing. The campaign focuses on a very small part of this retreat at a village between the advancing Russians and the new German defensive lines.


Missing General Map

You command a rather battered Mechanised Brigade. Losses have reduced your original two tank battalions to one and your three motorised rifle battalions to two And you now have enough trucks to transport only one of battalion. To compensate you’ve been assigned a ski battalion, which will be handy given the recent snow.

Soviet Order of Battle

  • Tank Battalion
    • 6 x T34-76
      3 x T70
  • 1 x Motorised Battalion [Carried on tanks and trucks]
    • 1 x Battalion HQ
    • 3 x HMG
    • 3 x 82 mm Mortars
    • 3 x Infantry Companies
      • 3 x Rifle Platoons
  • 1 x Ski Battalion [On skis]
    • As Motorised Battalion
  • 1 x Rifle Battalion [On foot]
    • As Motorised Battalion

The composition of each infantry battalion is the same; only the transport method differs:

You have been advancing for the last four weeks and have covered over 250 km. You have been in contact with the enemy for most of that time, driving them west. The other units of the division, located to your south, ran out of fuel about 12 hours earlier giving the Germans a chance to escape. You were ordered to push ahead. You are now approaching an unnamed village in the middle of nowhere.

Corps radios to let you know that you are approaching the German’s exposed flank. A stream of battered German units are on the road to your south-west. That means Fritz has at least 20 km of snow covered highway before he reaches the safety of the new German defensive lines on the river to the west. There don’t appear to be any enemy units between you and the village. Past experience tells you the village itself is probably defended by a rearguard – Corps had no information on this – but such a unit is likely to be low on vital supplies in the general rush to the west. On balance it looks a great opportunity to kill or capture as many of the invader as possible. With any luck a German General will turn up in your net. Now that would get you a pat on the back from Corps.

Obviously there is a threat from the Germans beyond the river but with all of Army Group Centre in retreat you think it would take a considerable amount of time to organise a counter-attack. Furthermore the enemy have demonstrated a callous disregard for the lives of their men so they might not even bother unless a senior officer was at risk.

All-in-all it is looking pretty good. Unfortunately, and this is a big caveat, your vehicles have just run out of fuel. Obviously your infantry has retained some mobility, particularly the ski battalion, but your tanks and trucks are stuck fast until the supply column arrives. And you’re not sure about leaving the tanks without their tank riders as this would expose them to risk from roaming German infantry.

Your objectives are to:

  • Kill or capture lot of enemy troops.
  • Capture, alive, a German General.

You are currently just on the map in the north-east corner … now what do you do?

General Rules

Time

The game proceeds in turns. In each 24 hour period there are 6 day light turns and 2, longer, night time turns.

Movement

All movement is affected by the recent snow. Most troops move faster on the road. Bear in mind

  • The roads are often congested with German stragglers and equipment
  • Going at full speed will put the moving troops at a tactical disadvantage
Troops On Road Off Road
Infantry on foot 6 2
Ski Infantry 6 8
Russian AFVs 12 6
German AFVs 12 2
Soft skin vehicles 12 Impossible

Visibility

Visibility is ok at the moment, but remember that the terrain is hilly with forests so lines of sight will often be interrupted. If it started snowing or night falls visibility would drop drastically.

Troops Stationary (km) Moving off Road (km) Moving on Road (km)
Infantry 0.5 1 3
Vehicles, Animals 2 5 5
Field Defences 2 N/A N/A

Resolving Battles

Ideally use Crossfire to resolve the battles. I am, however, assuming you don’t have the time to fight table top battles so give modifications to allow you to use Arthur Harman’s Battle system for Matrix Games.

The basic combat unit is the infantry platoon represented by a stand of figures. Mortars, artillery, anti-tank guns, half-tracks, and tank are all represented by models. I’ve been deliberately vague about how many real vehicles a model represents. I happen to have those models. You can decide whether it is 1:1 to for more.

The combat dice are modified depending on the troop type:

Unit type Versus
Tank Anti-tank gun Other
Tank 0 0 2
Anti-tank gun 2 0 0
Other 0 0 0

Other modifiers:

  • +1 Unit is German
  • +1 Good quality equipment (e.g. Panther or Tiger) or troops (e.g elite or extremely motivated stragglers)
  • -1 Poor quality or light equipment (e.g. T70) or troops (e.g. raw levy or press ganged stragglers)

Combat modifier example

  • A German Panther fights Russian infantry. The Panther is a “Tank versus Other” (+2), German (+1) and good quality equipment (+1) making a combat value of +4. The Russian Infantry is “Other versus Tank” (0) with no other modifies.
  • German Panzer Grenadiers fight a Russian Mortar team. The Panzer Grenadiers are “Other versus Other” (0), are German (+1), and good quality (+1) making +2 in total. The Russian mortar team is “Other versus Other” (0).

Tanks must be matched up against opposing tanks first, then against opposing anti-tank guns, and only if there are no more such unmatched enemy troops can they be matched against other types.

Distance weapons such as mortars (above 60mm) and artillery must be used for any reserve before other troop types. The smaller side can have a reserve but it must only contain distance weapons.

Example of campaign play

The German player starts of with a pretty good defensive argument from the German player. No battle here. Just trying to tip the odds in any subsequent battle.

My men take up all round defensive positions on the perimeter of the village with Battalion HQ as a central reserve. This succeeds because there is a known threat nearby, it is standard operating procedure, and my men are rested.

Similarly the Russians start off with a view to the future. Notice the Russian player isn’t saying supplies arrive “now”, but that they are being prepared and, by implication, will arrive latter. This increases the likelihood of the first argument, but will require a later argument to benefit from it.

Corps begins preparing a supply column with fuel, food and ammunition to send to my unit. This succeeds because Corps knows we can’t move without supplies, we have priority because we are on point of the advance, and as time marches on we are losing an opportunity to annililate Germans.

Then the German loses control a bit and starts building bunkers and such like. Personally I’d rate this as an impossible argument as, infact, the argument is incorrect … they don’t have engineers nor sufficient manpower nor materials.

I heavily fortify the approaches to the village. This succeeds because I have engineering and veteran troops available, plus sufficient man power and materials to get the job down quickly.

A better German argument would tone down the expectations and change the rationale. The new version would have a good chance of success, but still doesn’t lead to a battle.

I dig in. This succeeds because my men are already in defensive positions, it is the natural thing to do if there is sufficient time, and the ground isn’t yet frozen because we’ve only had the first snows.

A Russian movement order would look something like this:

My infantry march to an assembly point outside the village. This succeeds because the men are fresh and there are no enemy formed units in the way.

This is pretty reasonable so has a good chance of success. If the village is too far away to reach in one turn the order is still valid; it just takes more than one turn to finish executing. Meanwhile the Russian could issue other arguments, or, in fact, the German could issue counter-arguments to stop the advance. If the Russian had said “march to the village” instead of to an “assembly point outside”, the German would have been justified in issuing an argument that the Russian had marched into an ambush.

Instead the German decides to remedy his own supply problems. This would have a good chance of success but still doesn’t lead to a battle.

I collect spare ammunition from the passing units. This succeeds because there are are a lot of men passing, they want to escape, and helping a rearguard will enhance their chance of survivial.

Once assembled outside the village the Russian issues a pretty good argument which once again setting the scene for a latter battle. It raises the question of what happens to the German units to the south-east of the village. The referee decides they congregate on the road but out of immediate danger from the Russians.

I surround the village and cut off land links between the village and the German lines. This succeeds because I have overwhelming local odds and the German lines are over 20 km away.

The German panics a bit:and calls for help.

I radio Corps and they send an armoured battlegroup to extricate mine and open the road. This succeeds because the Heer is committed to our succour, has men tanks, and supplies.

Fat chance. You’d have to increase the odds by making preliminary arguments such as introducing a lost General. This has a good chance of succeeding because it is both plausible and in keeping with the concept of the game.

The last man through the Russian cordon happens to be one General Tomassen of the Army Group Staff. This succeeds because there were a lot of men on the road, you never know who might turn up in a major retreat, and the Russians only just closed the net.

Having surrounded the village the Russian is tempted to go for the throat.

I take the village at the first rush. This succeeds because I have overwhelming odds and the village is surrounded.

Unfortunately this would be impossible because it undermines the purpose of the game. A better Russian argument would be:

I attack the village on all sides thus gaining a tactical advantage from superior numbers. This succeeds because I have overwhelming odds and the village is surrounded.

This argument would lead to a battle regardless of the result of the argument roll. But a successful argument roll would lead to some advantage in the battle. A failure would not. In this case the argument is about average. With longer preparation, i.e. more successful preparation style arguments preceding the attack, the attack argument would be stronger. The Germans would get a tactical advantage because of a previously successful argument about ammunition.

The battle is fought, and the result applied. The result would follow some pre-existing campaign scheme, i.e. may the Russians have to break through several layers of the village to win: out side village; village outskirts; inner village, last ditch stand.

Assume the Germans win and the arguments continue …

The German decides to try for a tactical advantage in any subsequent battle against an armoured attack. He knows, because of a previous argument, that there are Russian tanks and that a supply column with fuel is on its way.

Having repulsed the Russian Horde we redeploy our troops so the anti-tank reserve can come to the assistance of any threatened sector. This succeeds because we have sufficient fuel to run the tractors for short distances and we have time as the Russians have to build up their forces again before having a second go.

The Russian responds with a slightly poor argument. Although the reason is true, there was no previous argument suggesting these resources had been deployed.

I pound the village with artillery and bombs. This succeeds because as Russians in 1943 we have lots of artillery and aircraft.

A marginally better argument would be:

Front Command allocates air support to attack the Germans spreadout along on the road. This succeeds because as Russians in 1943 we have lots of aircraft.

etc etc

Play Sheets

I gave each player (Russian/German) got 3 x A4 double sided card sheets with all the rules etc:

  • Generic Matrix Game Rule sheet
    • Generic Rules for a Matrix Game
    • Generic Rules for Battle Resolution (unless using Crossfire or some such)
  • Specific Briefing sheet (different for Russian/German players)
    • Specific background for the player
    • Large map
  • Other Rules sheet
    • Time, Movement, Visibility, and Resolving Combat
    • Example of play

References

Phillips, A. (2008). The Never Ending Story! One of our Generals is missing. The Journal of the Society of 20th Century Wargamers, 63, 38-39.

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