In my previous post I reflected on 'the luxury of time': spending all day on a game at a more sedate pace than the usual time-pressured Monday night at the club. Since then I have enjoyed an epic three-day wargaming weekend, prompting me to ruminate at more length on the virtues of such long games.
The three battles we fought merit reporting in their own right, so let me start by doing that. First up, some exotic oriental action: the Battle of Tai'erzhuang (1938) from the Second Sino-Japanese War. I do love the esoteric corners of history and, at least for parochial Brits like me, this certainly counts as one of those. I knew of the battle but knew little about it. CB introduced the game by describing the political and military background, the events leading up to it, the armies, their weapons and commanders.
Chinese defenders were hidden in and around Tai'erzhuang (the town by the river). The first few Japanese invaders have emerged from the northern pass (bottom centre) and taken position on the hill above the town and in the village of Lan Ling.
This battle pitted two Japanese divisions against several times as many Chinese. CB 'bathtubbed' this, representing each division by a battalion, to turn it into a feasible scenario to fight with the O Group rules. No proxies today - he had painted up all the right troops and equipment. Some of the Chinese infantry had Chinese characters on their helmets. Japanese combat patrols were represented by standard-bearers flying the Rising Sun. As for the hardware, the Chinese had amphibious tankettes and Vickers light tanks in gorgeous 4-colour camo, while the Japanese had a nifty Ki-10 biplane, clumsy Type 89 tanks and - pièce de résistance - an SS-Ki flamethrower tank.
This is a small battle with about half a dozen units a side and lasting just eight turns. Face to face, with regular BBB players, we would rattle this off in two hours comfortably. Playing remotely, with rules-rusty players and no time pressure, we took all day. As Scott and CB knew nothing about the Hungarian War of Independence, I spent the first hour and a half just giving an outline of the course of the war, a more detailed account of the Spring Campaign in which this was the penultimate battle, and various discursions about commanders, armies, tactics, and situating the war in C19-C20 politics and history: the 1867 Compromise and 'hyphenation' of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the 50 'golden years' that followed until WWI, the patchwork of ethnic conflicts across eastern Europe ...
Once we got into the game, it was patient stuff. With small numbers of troops, every decision becomes important and every die roll matters. The guys mulled over their options. I lent advice from a rules perspective. When it came to combat, I have the charts in my head and could have resolved it for them in seconds, but they wanted to work through the calculations themselves, which obviously took longer.
As far as the course of the game was concerned, luck was against the Hungarians. The Austrians scored a couple of deadly hits with very high die rolls early on, which has a big impact in a small game. This was compounded by CB being less than fortunate with his reinforcement rolls, only getting one reinforcement into action before we finished. By contrast, Scott got exactly the right unit he needed (his cavalry) at exactly the right time to thwart CB's left hook that could otherwise easily have taken two unguarded objectives to achieve a draw. The end result was therefore a Hungarian defeat.
Game one was fought using Discord and game two via Zoom. For game three, Scott's naval battle, I had to have three laptops open: one on Discord, one on Roll20 (which allows hidden movement) and one just for all the charts and documentation.
More thoughtful play! We had the time to read scenario briefings thoroughly, to examine the situation from all angles, to consider our options and work out (hopefully) good plans. As the battle developed, we had the time to ponder before making decisions. (Except when CB's Indian admiral - an inspired creation - was telling us our Chinese helicopters had 30 seconds to turn away from Indian airspace or be shot down.) While there is something to be said for the Monday night adrenalin of having to crack on and make quick decisions, there is also something to be said for respecting and appreciating a finely crafted scenario, and for being able to engage in preliminary manoeuvring and preparatory fires, and for not having to launch a massed charge just because it is 9:30 and people want to finish in time to get to the pub.
It's about the journey, not the destination! In my usual BBB games the result does matter, and often much of the reward and excitement comes from the rush towards a tight finish. But in these epic games, although of course we were all trying to win, the fun was in all the decisions and incidents and episodes along the way. The Japanese flame tank's attack will live long in the memory, as will Scott's reportage of the skirmish on the trawler, and the Indian admiral's protestations at 'perilous and precarious' Chinese incursions.
Good times with good friends! Sometimes on a Monday night we are so efficiently focused on the game that the small talk is limited to a brief hello-how-are-ya at the start and a rushed goodbye at the end. In these long sessions with friends thousands of miles away there was time for interludes to freshen and empty glasses together, catch up on each others' real lives and families and mutual friends, and talk about things other than games. And good friends are even more important than good games.
On which note: until the next time, my good friends!