I ran a session of A General is Missing for Chris Harrod (Germans) and Nuno Pereira (Russians). Chris has played Engle Matrix Games before and also this scenario a few years back. It was Nuno’s first experience of this style of game. Chris played well so not too surprisingly he won. I learnt a couple of things about matrix games which I’ll share at the end.
At the start of the game Nuno had a battered Mechanised Brigade in the north-east and Chris had a leg infantry battalion in the village.
Turn 1: First Day Early morning
I found the early arguments from both Chris and Nuno over ambitious, with poor supporting evidence, so I penalised them.
None-the-less Chris’s (German) first argument succeeded:
I take stock and fortify approaches to the village. My adjutant to stocktake – collecting any ammo and spare uniforms and seamstresses. While I sight a company into platoons placing them as outposts on all three approach roads – then they dig in.
This succeeds because my troops are well trained and disciplined and my adjutant is resourceful and an excellent scrounger due to his time in the French Foreign Legion.
I didn’t like this argument because Chris was looking for three outcomes: fortify approaches, place outposts, and collect spare supplies. The point about the French Foreign Legion was entertaining but not good support as it was not part of the “matrix”; to make it part of the matrix would have required a successful argument with this as part of the outcome. Despite the penalties Chris rolled well and the argument succeeded.
Nuno had similar problems with his arguments. Nuno argued that “The vehicles are able to reach the entrance to the village before running out of fuel”. This was in direct contradiction with the briefing. Normally I’d penalise such an argument heavily, perhaps make it impossible to succeed, but as it was Nuno’s first argument in a Matrix game I told Nuno I’d just ignore it.
Even without the fuel element Nuno’s argument still had two desired outcomes: his motorised and rifle battalions moved towards the village and the ski battalion heading west towards the German front line. I penalised this modestly but he managed to roll a success.
For subsequent turns I’ll just give the outcome of successful arguments.
Turn 2: First Day Mid morning
The Germans find a general in the mass of stragglers passing through the village.
Turn 3: First Day Late morning
The Germans fuel up some trucks, load them with wounded, parade them in front of the general and send down the road towards the river. They have orders to report status in the village including the presence of the General.
Turn 4: First Day Early afternoon
The Germans dig in around the edge of the village.
A Russian rifle platoon scouts out the German positions in and around the village.
Turn 5: First Day Mid afternoon
The Russian ski troops reach the road and watch Chris’s trucks pass by on their way to the river.
Turn 6: First Day Late afternoon
The Germans collect a supplies from the stragglers, including ammunition and a proportion of their food. they also slaughter and cook horses to feed the troops.
The Russian motorised and rifle battalions close in on the village from the north and east.
Turn 7: First Day Early Night
The Russian scout platoon harasses the German defences in the north of the village and keep the defenders awake.
The Russian outside the village are demoralised by the sight and smell of Germans eating heartily.
Turn 8: First Day Late Night
With the arrival of the trucks of wounded, and report of a stranded General, the commander of the German main battle line starts assembling a relief force.
The Russian ski troops set up an ambush on the road.
Turn 9: Second Day Early morning
Seeing the relief force assembling too slowly SS Colonel Max volunteers his force to conduct the rescue of the General. Kampgruppe Max forms on the assembly point. It contains a Panzer recon company, Panzer company and Panzer Grenadier company. That is quite a lot of punch.
Turn 10: Second Day Mid morning
Kampgruppe Max crosses the river headed east.
Turn 11: Second Day Late morning
Kampgruppe Max drives into the Russian ambush. The Red ski troops destroy an armoured car unit and force the rest of the Kampgruppe back west.
Turn 12: Second Day Early afternoon
Kampgruppe Max digs in to repel any pursuers but see no Russians.
Turn 13: Second Day Mid afternoon
Having had his nose bloodied once already SS Colonel Max now advances more cautiously. The Kampgruppe carefully advances up the road with the motorcycle platoon up front. They halt when they spot the positions of the Russian ski troops.
Meanwhile at the village the Russian motorised and rifle battalions attack from the north and east. Despite being significantly outnumbered the defenders, being well entrenched, drive them off. The Russians lose three units from each battalion.
Turn 14: Second Day Late afternoon
Turn 15: Second Day Early Night
The Russian ski battalion leaves a platoon as a rearguard and heads east along the road towards the village.
Not realising the enemy positions have been largely abandoned SS Colonel Max calls in artillery support. The German guns pound the sparsely occupied Russian trenches.
Turn 16: Second Day Late Night
The Russian ski battalion continues east. Kampgruppe Max pursues.
Turn 17: Third Day Early morning
The General Rescue Battalion has now successfully defended the village for 48 hours. They abandon their heavy equipment for lack of fuel and strike west.
Turn 18: Third Day Mid morning
The Russian motorised and rifle battalions advance west around the village.
But Chris sees an opportunity to crush the Russian Ski battalion from two directions. Kampgruppe Max strikes east as the General Rescue Battalion continues west. The Ski troops are caught on the road and lose a massive 11 units.
Turn 19: Third Day Late morning
The combined German forces head towards the German main battle line to the west. The Russians pursue but cannot catch up in time.
Turn 20: Third Day Early afternoon
Turn 21: Third Day Mid afternoon
The combined German forces, with General attached, cross the river into safety. In doing so Chris fulfilled all three of his objectives:
- Hold the village for 48 hours
- Get his battle group to safety
- Rescue any Generals east of the river
The Germans got their force off table largely intact. In contrast the Soviets took a bit of a mauling. Their Ski battalion lost 11 units due to becoming a filling in a German sandwich. The other two Russian rifle battalions lost 3 units each. But with a few different arguments, and a bit of luck, it could have gone the other way.
It was a good game. I liked the narrative of the battle. And a few things occurred that would have been simply impossible in a conventional game.
- For clarity need to combine battle rules and WW2 mods into a single document.
- Shouldn’t give reserves any combat bonus for being “dug in”.
But the main insight was related to writing arguments. It isn’t obvious to the players how to do it and both Chris and Nuno wrote poorly constructed arguments at the start of the game. In hindsight I think I should have encouraged them back to the original argument format of Action + Result + Reasons. Here is an example argument from a Napoleonic game:
Action: (Normal March) My army moves from France to Austria, via Wurttemburg and Bavaria.
Result: (Open Battle) We will fight the first army we encounter.
Reasons: (Prepare) The army is ready to go. (Supply Lines) Our supply lines are good. (Victory) I always win!