War is long periods of boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror.
The third battle of the campaign was a lesson in patience for me, and a reminder about what I aim to do with this project.
Tactically, there was not a lot going on. The American force from the last battle had crossed the canal and set up a hasty defensive screen in a wide arc on the north side of the bridgehead. Exhausted, and with barely more than a platoon of heavy armor left, they did not have sufficient strength to continue the offensive. Their job was simply to hold the bridgehead so that fresh units, advancing from the rear, could continue the assault.
The Soviets were not in a position to take decisive offensive action either. They rushed in infantry from the flanks to hem in the Americans, and had only one (not very good) tank company nearby. Heavier reinforcements would have to wait. The Soviets had a small local force superiority, but nowhere near enough to contemplate a counter-attack to push the Americans back over the canal.
My gaming partner this day was Trey, who chose to play the Soviets. He’s a skilled gamer, well-versed in things military, and (perhaps more than anyone else I know) understands my project. His intention was to use the forces at his disposal as an actual Russian commander might, rather than throw everything at me as a normal gamer would. To that end, Trey devised a plan whereby the Soviets probed my defensive screen, hoping to draw the Americans into an ill-considered attack.
In real life that’s perfectly realistic. Uncertainty is a huge factor in the battlefield experience. But there is no fog of war in most tabletop wargames. The players can see where all the tanks and whatnot are on the map. But the fictional commanders, drivers, gunners and artillery observers represented on the table can’t see all that’s going on.
The disjunction between what players know and what the fictional characters in a game know is central to role-playing games and most players understand and honor that dynamic. Separating player from character knowledge is important, and leads to a richer gaming experience. This is usually perceived as irrelevant in a wargame, where the objective is to win, not to play a character.
Since I could see what Trey was doing and since he’d vocalized his plans, I had to be mindful of the difference between what I thought the Americans would do in the situation and the opportunities for advantage I saw as a player. There were several times when Trey had to remind me that I ought not to be seeking to attack with units that had neither observed nor been in contact with his.
What resulted was a rather patient and uneventful game. We had turns where nothing happened over most of the gaming table. Out of roughly fifty units in play on each side, maybe half a dozen actually did anything most turns.
Most of the turn sequence in Challenger: Ultramodern Miniature Wargame Rules is: Player A movement, Player B weapon fire, Player A weapon fire, then B movement, A fire, B fire. These six phases normally comprise the bulk of game activity. We played out about 12 turns… 72 move-shoot-shoot-move-shoot-shoot phases. During at least half of them, no action was taken because our forces were sitting there, waiting… just like real life.
There was a little skirmishing around the edges. Some of his probes met with a bad end. A couple drew some of my forces out into vulnerable positions. Neither side achieved anything decisive. At the end of the day, the overall position was much as it had been at the start.
Nobody won. And that was perfect.