Words and pictures by Conrad Kinch as part of Send Three and Fourpence
I’ve written about remote wargaming before, but this is a little different. Rather than playing a game in real time via video conferencing software, we played a game via Twitter. The game itself was based on the exploits of the Loyal Lusitanian Legion who conducted an aggressive war of ambushes and patrols against French forces in Spain in 1809. It was conducted entirely via Twitter. The setup was that a small patrol of about twenty four men had been despatched to scout a bridge and determine if it was suitable for artillery. I set up the game on my table using my 1/72 scale figures. Each player played a single named officer in the Legion and they were obliged to carry out their mission. If you’d be interested in seeing more of the game, search for the hashtag #LLLWargame on Twitter and you’ll find it.
Twitter may seem like a strange choice of venue for an online wargame, particularly because of the almost telegraphic nature of the medium, but I find this an advantage rather than a problem. Online wargames are always fraught with the problem of burnout because they can drag on, players lose interest and the organiser loses focus. But, I’ve found that because Twitter forces you to keep your messages to only 280 characters you have to keep your communications short and pithy. You can link them together in threads, but this can get unwieldy. I’ve actually had more success running games on Twitter than on Facebook, which allows you to write as much as you like.
All the games I’ve run so far have been co-operative games, where a group of players work against an Umpire controlled enemy. But there is no reason why you couldn’t play a two player game via Twitter, I suppose you’d have to use an online die roller or operate on the honour system.
So what have I learned from running games on Twitter?
FOCUS ON DECISIONS
I love dice. I like rolling them. I have some for special occasions. In fact I think one of the reasons The Men who would be Kings has supplanted The Sword and the Flame as my colonial ruleset of choice is the fact that d6s seem more appropriate for colonial wargaming than d20s. They are a vital part of the wargaming experience for me, which is why it is a bit of wrench to admit that they seem to get in the way during Twitter games.
At first, I used to roll all the dice for the players as getting them to roll their own took an age, but since the players didn’t have the tactile pleasure of rolling the dice themselves it didn’t seem to add anything to the experience. While one random number generator is much like another in theory, in practice it feels different. So, for the second game, I focused exclusively on the players choices.
I still used dice, because I wanted to keep the dramatic element that chance brings to the game, but whenever the players wanted to do something, I rolled the dice, gave them the result and asked them what they wanted to do next. This helped keep things rolling, which brings me to my next point.
KEEP IT SHORT & TO THE POINT
You can actually run a game fairly quickly on Twitter, but if someone is at work or is away from their phone, a day could go by without them coming to a decision. Have a plan for what to do if someone can’t make a timely decision as running a short snappy game is infinitely preferable to one that runs out of steam and falls apart. With that in mind, use simple objectives and keep the turn limit
Secondly, while I often use pseudonyms in wargames (referring to my opponent as Marshall Soult in a Corunna game for example) don’t do this on Twitter. The opportunities for confusion are too great. In the Loyal Lusitanian Legion game, all the players were playing named individuals, but we simply used the players real name, thus Marcus Cribb became 2nd Lt Cribb of the 95th Rifles. Also never assume that someone is going to read something in a thread unless you’ve tagged them (included their @Twitter handle) in the tweet.
A picture tells a thousand words and when you’re limited to 280 characters that can be very useful. Firstly, if you’re using maps or if you’ve set up a game with miniatures, you can snap a quick picture to keep the players up to date. It helps convey a lot of information quickly and depending on the type of game you’re playing, taking a model’s eye view picture allows you to introduce a fog of war element that is often lacking from games with toy soldiers, where cover and concealment are important.
There’s also something very satisfying about spotting something in a picture and being able to use that to your advantage, like for example, spotting where your opponent has deployed his elite cavalry and deducing from that, where the main attack is going to come.
Lastly, people like pictures and seem to respond more to tweets with pictures in them, so – even when it wasn’t strictly necessary – I would often include a picture in a game tweet, even if it was just a period painting or silly cartoon.
Wargaming can be quite a solitary hobby at times and one of the pleasures of doing it on Twitter is that everyone can see it. Our games have attracted a few spectators, who followed along and offered commentary and sometimes heckled the players. This was all done in a spirit of good fun and also led to some interesting Twitter conversations. For example during the Loyal Lusitanian Legion game, I learned I’d used a picture which I – incorrectly – thought was of the fortress of Almeida. The chap who spotted it shared some of his own pictures and told us about the fortress which was fascinating.
Considering how often we read articles about the “graying of the hobby” (which I don’t believe for a second) showing other people what a fun and engaging pastime it is in a public forum can be no bad thing right?
EXAMPLE TWITTER GAME
This scenario is set in during the battle of Kursk and is based on some notes I’d made in an old notebook. They are not original, but I cannot remember where I took them down from. Based on the notes, I think it’s for Rapid Fire! but I couldn’t swear to it. I’ve used the sketch map and adapted the order of battle to what I had. If you recognise this, please let me know on twitter at @aquestingvole, because I’ve been racking my brains!
SOVIET PLAYER BRIEFING
Save Verkhopenye! (#kursktwits)
You are all Majors in the 200th Tank Brigade of the 1st Tank Army, 6th Tank Corps. The Fascist Vipers have launched an all out assault on our positions on the Southern Flank and are racing to seize the town of Obayan on the road to Kursk. General Vatutin has ordered an immediate attack to throw back the Fascist armoured spearhead.
Your brigade has been ordered to drive for Verkhopenye and you will arrive at B1. As part of this operation, you will need to capture the crossroads at B4. You must stem the Fascists onslaught whatever the cost.
200th Tank Brigade is a well trained formation by the standards of the Red Army. Your infantry are trained to act as tank riders, if necessary. You will not be able to call on Corps level artillery, your organic artillery is pretty much it. There will be no time for in person reconnaissance, you will have to deploy from column of march.
You have been promised one reconnaissance overflight and possibly some air support. Mark on the map the route you would like the reconnaissance overflight to take and also note whether you would like it to fly at high altitude or low. Low altitude pictures will give you more detail, but the recon plane is more likely to be shot down.
You have few if any radios below company level, so your ability to call in observed artillery fire is limited. Your artillery can do pre-prepared stonks (select three before the game starts), but obviously this is less effective and takes more time. The Brigade and Battalion HQs are more effective at this than their subordinates.
There are four of you and you can divide up the troops as you wish, but you should all at least get a company. You will need to say where you personally are positioned: due to the paucity of radios, troops not accompanied by a player will act in accordance with their last orders, if they act at all. Troops accompanied by a player will have higher morale, be more likely to act, respond, spot enemies and will fight harder. Deciding where to focus your attention will be important.
Your senior officer, General Treadawaynov, is a rudderless cipher and if called upon to make a decision will simply go with the consensus from you lot. (sounds like a decent fellow... Ed.)
I will be leaving the board set up during the game and moving the troops according to your orders. I will also be taking pictures of the battlefield from the perspective of your character. Your unit will report back to you what they’ve spotted (which will be determined by a die roll) but you should be aware that I will be including figures on the board that your units may not correctly identify, that shouldn’t stop you from trying. Trying to glean extra information from the game photos is not cheating and is actively encouraged. You have eight turns of daylight in which to accomplish your mission.
All units can move one square per turn if moving tactically. If moving in column or exploiting, tanks and motorised vehicles can move two, but will be more vulnerable to fire and will be less likely to spot the enemy.
Infantry weapons have a range of one square. Tanks, AT guns and mortars can fire two squares.
Artillery (including Katyushas) can reach anywhere on the table, but obviously will be more effective if observed or pre-plotted. Katyushas cannot fire into the adjacent square.
You can discuss as much as you like in your own tweets, but – when asked a question by the Umpire – please respond to that tweet specifically. Also – for ease of housekeeping – please use the hashtag #kursktwits so that we can find them easily.
PLAYER CHECK LIST
- Divide up troops
- Conduct reconnaissance flight
- Draft plan
- Devise fireplan
- 1st Tank Army, 6th Tank Corps
- 200th Tank Brigade
- Brigade HQ (mounted in half tracks)
- 191st Battalion
- Coy A T34/76 (10)
- Coy B T34/76 (10)
- 192nd Battalion
- Coy A T34/76 (7); KV-1 (3)
- Coy B T34/76 (10)
- 200th Motor Rifle Battalion
- HQ Coy (mounted in jeeps)
- Attached AT rifle platoon
- Support Coy
- MMG plt; 82mm Mortar plt; 57mm AT Gun plt; AA plt; (all mounted in trucks)
- Coy A (SMG, truck mounted)
- Coy B (SMG, truck mounted)
- Coy C (SMG, truck mounted)
- Gun Company: 76.2 AT Guns with attached M3 Scout Car
- SP Company/146th SU Regiment
- SU 76 (3)
- SU 122 (3)
- Guards Mortar Battery
- SP BM-13 ‘Katyusha’ (3)
This game was run mainly on the Free Kriegspiel method, but you could use any set of rules that you like. I started off using Memoir ‘44 dice to adjudicate things, but quickly switched to Kriegspiel, because it was faster. In brief the Kreigspiel method is that the Umpire looks at the situation, determines what the likely outcomes are and notes them down on a piece of paper. He then assigns each of them a chance on a ten sided die. For example: A Russian tank platoon are moving at top speed cross country, the chance that they will spot a concealed anti-tank gun battery is pretty slim, but not impossible. The Umpire assigns a chance of 1-2 on a d10 and rolls. He rolls a 4 and they do not see the gun battery before they open fire.
The most important thing is to keep things moving. The players will inject plenty of uncertainty into the game, so only roll dice when you think the outcome is really in doubt. For example: If an infantry unit is caught unprepared in the open by tanks, just assume that it is destroyed and move on or at best roll to see how badly cut up it is.
The reconnaissance flight is a bit of a gimmick. I set up a table with some 6mm models on it and “flew” my phone over the table following the route the players gave me. I held the “plane” either twelve inches (if ordered to fly low) over the board or two feet (if ordered to fly high). The plane will be shot down on a roll of 1, if flying high and a 1 or 2 if flying low.
All units have enough ammunition for three combats and will “go firm” thereafter. What exactly constitutes a combat, I will leave the Umpires best judgement.
Ze Germans are a scratch force put together from the remnants of the armour units that penetrated the Soviet lines. Their objective is to hold the crossroads for as long they can as the remainder of their Kampfgruppe drives for Verkhopenye.
- HQ mounted in Hanomag, accompanied by Sd.Kfz 251 (AA);1 88mm AT gun with FAMO tow.
- 1 company Panzer III (10).
- 2 companies Panzer Grenadiers, one mounted in Hanomags.
- 1 platoon 8cm mortar, mounted in trucks (HE & Smoke).
- 1 platoon MGs, mounted in trucks.
- 1 armoured Scout platoon in Sd.Kfz 231 (4).
- Off-board: Two batteries 10.5cm howitzers (with sufficient ammunition to fire for four turns each).
They have had sufficient time to dig sufficient defensive positions for both companies as well as one set of dummy positions. Their Engineers managed to lay six inches of barbed wire and three hasty minefields (in a strip one by three inches) before they were called away.
ZE GERMANS PLAN
The Germans are heavily outnumbered, but do have the advantage of picking their positions, setting up a few defences and relatively plentiful artillery. Their plan is to buy time for their comrades to achieve their objectives, rather than hold the ground. The Soviets, if they work their numerical superiority and resources properly, should be able to evict them if they are clever and work together. As Umpire, you should adapt their plan to fit your table and resources, but this is the plan I used.
Their initial deployment will be a screen of Sd.Kfz 231, whose job will be to lay low and call in artillery. That done they will sprint for safety and to regroup as soon as they’ve identified the main Soviet thrust. They will deploy one company of Grenadiers with Hanomags in prepared positions on a reverse slope, covered by the Mortar platoon. These will attempt to breakup Soviet combat teams with artillery and mortars, before dropping smoke on their own position and bolting for the next position. Both the German prepared positions will be pre-registered for artillery, which they will drop on Soviet units that occupy them while they are still re-organising after a successful assault.
The Germans are weak in anti-armour weapons and will hold their panzers back, concealed in woods, until such time as the chance to destroy an isolated Soviet armoured or infantry unit presents itself. Their artillery will be doing most of the anti-tank heavy lifting. The German commander will probably only get to make one counter attack during the game, so he won’t split up his panzers, he will commit the whole company.
The most likely scenario for a counter attack is a situation where the Soviets allow themselves to get strung out after successfully assaulting a German position. At which point the German commander will try to hit them with artillery and counter attack with his panzers the next turn. The Germans will not garrison the town, but will put their second company in a position overlooking it bolstered by the MG platoon. The 88mm will be concealed in such a way as to provide enfilading fire on any tanks assaulting the position.
I’ve made some wonderful new friends via my games on Twitter and it has presented an opportunity to do a bit of wargaming when opportunities were few. Please treat the example scenario above as exactly that: an example of what can be done with a few figures and a general outline of a game. If anything, it’s probably over complicated and you could get by with something much simpler. If you do give Twitter wargaming a try, let me know either at [email protected] or @aquestingvole on Twitter.
This article originally appeared in issue 452 of Miniature Wargames. You can pick up your issue of the magazine here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.