We played on Saturday night a WW I "monster scenario" (at least for the Mud & Blood standards) loosely simulating the British efforts to gain control of Bourlon Wood during the Cambrai Battle. I said "monster" because it involved over 100 minis per side and, as I initially feared, it was an oversized game that did not fit well with the scale of Through the Mud and Blood. That translated into a very loooooong game that we need to cut abruptly after almost five hours playing, ending with a clear advantage to the German (as you will read below) at that point.
Map and terrain
The base of the game was a tank scenario developed by Sidney Roundwood (his blog is a MUST for a any WW I player, and I have recommended it several times in previous entries of this blog) and published with the Toofatlardies Christmas Special 2010.
We played in a 7' x 5' table, with the British deploying on the right side. The map below shows a lightly shelled terrain, the double German trench line of the defensive system, a mid-table fortified position and the wood (Bourlon) and a small farm (2 buildings) at the rear.
This is the actual table from the British side...
... and now from the German perspective (note: it is not clear in the photo, but we have acquired the new painted rural roads of En Cobertura who have already supplied the boards and the shell craters; an excellent addition to their expading range).
British forces and objectives
German forces and objectives
At this stage we had been playing for five hours and were just concluding turn 10 (out of 25). My assessment was that the British were unlikely to achieve anything close not juts to victory, but to a draw. The German defensive strategy was clearly working: they had just a couple of units spent but 2 HMGs and 2 strong infantry sections still intact; add the reinforcents pouring into the table (5 infantry sections and 2 guns), and they were enjoying a clear superiority over the British.
A new British infantry platoon also arrived in that turn, but to all purposes it was hard to see how in the remaining 10 turns was going to cross the table and reach Bourlon Wood in decent shape. The British players challenged this assessment and asked for some additional turns, as they thought feasible rebalancing the situation with the new reinforcements (in my personal opinion, quite an unrealistic idea; but it is true that the British players did not know about the existance and the size of the German units entering the table, moving in concealment through Bourlon Wood).
The final decision was to stop the game at that point and to consider the possibility of using this final situation as the starting point for a new scenario: a situation where a British assaulting party had just taken a first trench line from the enemy and now was consolidating the position, to resist the expected German unavoidable counterattack... but that's a future story.
First a lesson: Mud & Blood is designed for a specific game scale and it is a bad idea to stretch the rules-set. In other words, 10-12 Big Men and probably no more that 2 platoons (and some support weapons per side) is what you can put on the table to have a decent game. This scenario scale went out of hand when I tried to accomodate so many players (eight as already mentioned) and looking with hindsight did not make any sense at all.
The huge size of the card deck created a lot of inefficiencies, as it took very long lapses (several turns in a row sometimes) for some of the players to see their units activated, resulting in a gradual lose of interest in the game while never reaching the level of tension and engagement that we have experienced in other games.
Tactically, the Germans hold the hand from the very beginning, outguessing the British deployment and line of attack; the German player also showed great initiative when sending the C-inC to hold the reinforcements off-table (scheduled for turn 5) before falling to the deadly British artillery fire.
The crammed British infantry deployment rendered useless the higher firepower they enjoyed at the start of the game. To illustrate this point, enough to say that not a single LMG shot was fired in the whole game, as the line of fire of the LMG sections was all the time obstructed by other units (and then, these were wiped out by the German artillery)
I don't want to conclude in a negative tone and true, the players did enjoy the evening; but as the organiser and umpire, unfortunately I cannot say that this has been one of my most successful games. Lesson learned!