Managing Mayhem

Today Martin takes a look at multi-player gaming

With the Hobby League modelling and painting coming towards an end at Guildford Games Club and new players starting to get comfortable with the games rules, I turned my attention to how to how to bring it all to a close. Firstly I wanted to do something that would involve everyone and secondly it needed to fit into the space of a single three hour club night. Not much of a challenge really!

After some thinking about what to do, I decided I would run a huge multi-player game to hopefully finish off the League in some style. Now I’ve seen and participated in many a multiplayer game.  They have often take hours to complete, involved complex command and control processes, or have broken down in to a collection of disorganised individual fights. All of these I want to avoid so what do you do?

Context Senistive

Firstly I sat down and looked at what forces we had and, by pure chance, we have an even number of axis and allied players (excluding my Soviets)  so that was a good start – balanced sides.  Interestingly we also had players representing all three of the main allied formations involved in the Normandy landings, American, British and Canadians, so this got me to thinking about a game focusing around the final phase of the campaign where all three of these armies were driving forward to try and trap the Germans by eventually closing the Falaise gap.

Looking at some maps of the campaign, I decided to base the game on the drive towards the town of Vire to the west of Falaise towards the end of the campagn. The town controls not only a major west-east road along which the Germans were being pushed back from the coast by the Americans, but it was also where two major north-south roads forming march routes for the British and Canadians meet so this would provide some great historical context for the game.

This is my first step in multi player gaming; set a believable context for the game which the participants can buy into.

The real world setting (sourced from Google Maps)

Keep it simple, stupid

Having set the context for the game, the next step I took was to develop a scenario. With the time constraints and the fact we had a number of inexperienced and new players, this needed to be fairly simple so everyone could understand both the mechanics of the scenario and importantly remember their role in the game.  This would hopefully help minimise the chaos that can ensue and keep the game organised.

So this is my second step, keep the scenario simple.

Looking at the basic scenarios and thinking about the context of the game I decided to base the game on the Outflanked scenario. The Germans would be defending, trying to hold back the allies advance from the west and prevent them blocking their line of retreat.

The normal scenario deployment plan

Lay of the Land

Now here’s where I needed to start to get creative.  With the need to allow the table to hold up to 800 points of models, a 6×4 table wouldn’t do, so a bigger table would be needed and I would also have to deal with the tricky issues of how would reserves and air support work.  I would set the board up as shown below to reflect the real world.  I also pre located the objectives this would save time setting up the board on the night and allow me to try and focus each player on an objective for the evening.

So that’s item three; know what you want the battlefield to look like and where you want people to go.

My scenario plan- you can see how this is fairly similar in set up to the base scenario

Command Structure

In the interests of keeping everyone in step I discarded the idea of using the normal turn sequence with players all over the place, rolling dice to determine what reserves they would get and if there was any air support available.  But what could I do instead?

Here is where experience started to kick in and I decided to employ two concepts often seen in demonstration gaming

  1. The Game Manager who would ensure everyone was ready to move on to the next step in the turn sequence and monitor the game for players meeting individual victory conditions.
  2. Higher Command – each team would elect one player to represent a Higher Commander who would make the roll for Reserves and Air Support on behalf of their side. This would be particularly important for the Germans who would in effect be operating as a single force with multiple formations whilst the allies would act more like three independent forces due to their deployment locations. 

Using these two concepts would help keep the players united and in step right across the table. This prevents one player from being in the movement step whilst another is in assault but trying to attack units that are in effect 2 turn steps behind them.

Now I had a scenario, a battlefield plan with objective locations for each attacker, and a means to control and manage the game turns.
The final step was to look at the specific scenario rules.

Mission Parameters 

We were using Immediate Reserves and Ambush for the defender (axis). Looking at these in the context of the game, I decided to also make the attacker suffer from Immediate Reserves, this serves two purposes one related to game management, to prevent the table getting overloaded and early turns being slow and two they would be a bit more spread across the battlefield and unable to mass their forces close together to create an overwhelming advantage. But to mimic the forces following the road networks, I imposed an additional feature to this, that all Tank teams would have to enter from reserves following a road.

For the Germans things were more complex.  Reserves can often prove a decisive factor in a game and I didn’t eant the German reserves arriving piecemeal. So, to try to make this work in the context of the battle, I decided to replace the basic rule with the Deep Immediate Reserves rule so pretty much all the Panzers would be in reserve, except for one unit, and this rule would apply to the combined axis army not to each player individually. To balance this and to ensure that our Panzer Company player would be participating as quickly as possible, I decided they would get one more reserve than normal for each successful roll of a 5.  So on turns 1 and 2, they would get the number of successes plus a platoon and from turn 3 onward they would get two reserves plus the number of successes rolled.

I could have just had the Higher Commander roll three dice, but this would still be largely dependant on luck and I wanted to try to get the Panzers to arrive as a massed force aiming to make a decisive couner attack.

The other rule I had to consider was Ambush and how this would work as the Germans were effectively playing as one force. In the end I decided that I would allow the combined German players two Ambush platoons but they could only employ one per turn, so they would have to husband this resource a little more carefully than if they were three independent forces and choose against which two of the three attacking forces it would be most advantageous to use this option against. 

I hoped this approach to Ambushing and Reserves would create a sense of togetherness amongst the German commanders, whilst the allied commanders would all be acting independently, something the Germans could possibly exploit and not to far from what actually happened on the ground on a number of occassions during the war.

So this provides the next step in managing multi player games; you need to consider how the scenario rules work in practice, ensure they work for all the players involved and not to be afraid to change/adapt them to make them work within your game context with your players.

Prior Preparation…

Lastly but by no means least, ensure all the players have time to read and understand the scenario rules and how the game will run on the night and don’t be afraid to adapt to challenging questions before you start to play.  So in summary my tips for running multi player games are:

  • Set a believable context for the game
  • Know how you are going to manage the game
  • Prepare a plan of the battlefield
  • Pre determine the objectives for each player and team
  • Ensure the scenario rules will work for everyone
  • Don’t be afraid to modify or replace a generic scenario rule if it will make the game better.
  • Provide the scenario in advance to all the players
Extract from the player briefing document

Armed with these suggestions your now ready to organise and play your own multi player games. Happy Gaming and don’t forget to let us know how you get on.

3 thoughts on “Managing Mayhem

  1. Excellent suggestions and a really interesting article – The small amendments to the mechanics & setup not only add a level of game coordination but also adds a bit of narrative flavour to the game.

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