Behind the Lines
June 2008

In This Issue

 

Grazing Fire


Why don't they make a wargame out of...?

Fill in the blank. You've probably asked that question at least a few times, when you were eagerly reading yet another book on your favorite obscure conflict. Usually, the answer is: because "they" (which is "us", Matrix Games, in this case) haven't seen a really promising design proposal about (fill in the blank).

Look, we don't draw an arbitrary line as say: no more Serbo-Bulgarian wargames, ever! Because, even if we happen to think a subject has been gamed-to-death over the decades (which with this way I think it's safe to say that it hasn't), there's always a chance that someone will walk in next week with a concept so brilliant, so compulsively playable, that it will make the most hackneyed topic fresh and exciting all over again. Besides, in this genre, particularly, there's always a new generation of gamer pushing up from the top for whom a given battle or campaign is not old hat, but new and unexplored territory. We'd like to publish games for those players, too (the proto-grognards, as it were) because their enthusiasm is keen and their money, not to put too fine a point on it, is as green as that of the ageing grogs who've been there, done that, and bought all the tee shirts to prove it.

But when we observed that April 14 marked the 77th anniversary of the founding of the Spanish Republic, we got to wondering: why hasn't anyone designed an intense, passionate simulation of the Spanish Civil War? No war in modern times (at least until the Big One broke out in 1939) aroused so much gut-level passion among so many. It was, after all, the "dress rehearsal" for World War Two, and a surrogate conflict between Communism and Fascism. And then we got to thinking. In order to be half-way true to history, a fine-grained simulation of the Spanish conflict would of necessity have to be tinctured at every level by the most complicated, baroque, fratricidal kind of politics. And as Somebody-or-Other once famously said: "Nothing ruins a good strategy game more than having to win elections in order to prosecute a war!" Or something like that. Like "economics", "politics" just doesn't make for very gripping game-play (we're talking about the airless, suffocating politics of modern ideologies, not the bribery-corruption-assassinations of Florentine Italy, which can be a lot of fun, given the right game engine!).

We're assuming most gamers would choose to play the Spanish war for the Republican side, and even without the puppet-master machinations of the Kremlin, Loyalist politics were a patchwork of lunatic fringes, many of whom would rather cut their rivals' throats than unite against the infinitely greater menace of Franco and his German/ Italian allies. A quick hour of research turned up the following partial list of significant political factions on the Loyalist side. With such a crazy alphabet soup, it's no wonder foreign newspaper readers had a hard time keeping track of who-was-fighting-whom:

  • POUM: Pardido Obera de Unificacion Marxista
  • CNT: Confederacion Nacional de Trabajo
  • CTV: Corps di Truppe Voluntarie
  • FAI: Federacion Anarquista Iberica (*)
  • PSUC: Pardido Socialista Unificacado de Cataluna
  • SIM: Servicio de Investigacion Militaria
  • UGT: Union General de Trabajadores

And we've left out the really small splinters groups such as the Pardido Yunteros ("The Party of Mule-owning Peasants")

To win, the player would somehow have to buy-off or convert or liquidate the two or three most powerful factions on the list, which means even worse anarchy, which means even worse paralysis in the central government, such as it was.

Although the atrocity factor was pretty high on both sides, the Republicans had all the best writers (and poets, and the One Painter Who Mattered!), and despite ample modern research proving otherwise, that side still retains the aura of a romantic crusade. A good SCW game would have to include "Journalist" tokens, whose presence on a given front would result in propaganda coups, good for a temporary boost in Foreign Volunteers, Good Press, anti-Franco atrocity Films, etc. We suggest the following special Units:

  • Ernest Hemingway (one-in-three die roll chance he'll be too drunk to file a story each turn, or too busy chasing a skirt in the Madrid cafes);
  • George Orwell (one-in-three chance each turn a hostile Commissar will have him deported or whacked);
  • Andre Malraux (One-in-three chance his Polikarpov fighter gets shot down by a Messerchmitt);
  • Robert Capra (One-in-three chance his film gets ruined in the darkroom or he gets so excited snapping "Death of a Spanish Loyalist" that he forgets to remove the lens cap from his Leica)
  • Pablo Picasso (one-in-three-chance he finds out "Guernica" really WAS a legitimate military target and out of wine-soused indifference never paints his screaming horses…)

Of course, all bets are off if our hypothetical game (working title "Non Pasaran!") goes for the historical might-have-beens. Like: if the U.S. and Great Britain had had the foresight to see that Hitler, not left wing labor unionists, posed the greatest threat to freedom, and had decided to lift the arms embargo on the Republic or, even better, send them modern tanks and bombers, figuring it's going to be much easier to humiliate the Luftwaffe and the Regia Aeroneautica over Spain than it will be after the bad guys conquer most of Europe, that would make an interesting exercise in Alternate History.

Enjoy the newsletter,
Sean Drummy and the Newsletter Team

Comments? Questions? We'd love to hear from you through our feedback email address.



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This Week's Historical Short: The Top Five Most Useless Weapons Ever Developed! (No. 3 and 2)

The Historical Short section is designed to provide a brief snapshot of an interesting historical event or trivia that is a little off the beaten path of regular historical discourse.


What were they thinking?

We've combed the yellowing archives, breathed the (asthma-attack-inducing) effluvia of pride and dementia the wafts from long-(and deservedly) forgotten design documents in the dankest, deepest, subterranean vaults of Imperial Germany, Edwardian England, and the "Fantasy Room" deep inside the bowels of the Pentagon, in order to bring you our nominations for…

The Top Five Most Useless Weapons Ever Developed!

If you've missed the 4th and 5th most useless weapons ever developer be sure to check them out in April's newsletter. For this month, we bring the 2nd and 3rd most useless weapons ever developed!


No. 3: The Chauchat Light Machine Gun

If a committee of anarchists had been assigned the task of designing a light automatic weapon almost guaranteed to endanger the lives of its gunners more than those of their presumed targets, it might have come up with a design comparable to the infamous French Chauchat, a weapon pressed into service in 1915 because there was great need for more automatic weapons and it happened to be the only such weapon ready for mass production. The French weren’t proud of it, and as soon as the Lewis gun became available in large numbers, the French fobbed-off the Chauchat on their American, Belgian, and Greek allies, who entered the Great War even less well-prepared in the machine-gun department.

Rarely has any single infantry weapon been so universally hated by the men assigned to carry it into battle. It was heavy, awkward, butt-ugly, and mechanically worthless. Its magazine held only 20 rounds, and in the interests of “saving weight”, it had no sides affixed to it, meaning that every time the Chauchat was deployed in a muddy environment (which was rather often on the Western Front) bits of dirt and twigs were almost certain to enter the spring-feed mechanism and cause the gun to jam. The big, long-throw bolt worked back and forth right next to the gunner’s cheek, in a motion both excessively violent and virtually guaranteed to throw off the aim of even the best marksman; sustained firing (assuming such a thing was possible) often resulted in men’s teeth being jarred loose. And to make matters worse, the gun was four feet long, making it impossible to stabilize even with the flimsy bipod attached to it, and impossible to shoot from the hip, or even to carry un-slung in dense underbrush or cramped urban spaces.

To compound its sins, the Chauchat was chambered for the weak 8 mm Lebel pistol round, which makes the gun’s long and rather violent recoil action almost inexplicable. Only one good thing came of the French adoption of this atrociously bad weapon: it inspired a soon-to-be-famous American inventor to design an infantry support weapon that would prove to be everything the Chauchat was not: the Browning Automatic Rifle.

Coolness factor (100 % being the highest possible rating): 5/100
Practicality AS a weapon: 10/100


No. 2: The Sizaire-Berwick Armored Reconnaissance Vehicle

Oddly enough, this “lightning-fast” scout car was designed and manufactured by a team from the R.A.F. (In 1915, apparently, each of the British services wanted its own brand of motorized cavalry thingie). And being familiar with aircraft power-plants, the RAF team figured that SPEED was the one thing they could build into a car, if nothing else. So they bolted a great hulking 12-cylinder airplane engine to the back of the chassis, attached to a big propeller, and, LO! The damned thing practically flew across the battlefield. Well, not exactly the “battlefield” itself, which was encumbered with barbed wire fences, shell craters, trenches and other obstacles that non-tractorized vehicles just didn’t cope with very well. But should the opportunity arise to deploy a troop of these hybrid machines on to, say, a semi-paved highway, they could zip around the Boche lines at blinding speeds exceeding forty miles-per-hour!

And let no one accuse the RAF designers of neglecting the driver/gunner passengers, for they were well-protected by an armored box sufficiently stout to deflect .303 bullets and most small-to-medium-sized chunks of shrapnel! And the co-pilot, as it were, could blaze back at enemy machine gun nests with his water-cooled Vickers, impervious to the Germans’ fire.

What seems odd, in view of their airborne expertise, is that the designers forgot to enclose either the engine or the propeller with any kind of protection at all. A single rifle bullet, penetrating an oil line or a valve, could more or less bring the speeding mechanical steed to a complete, smoking, oil-reeking halt. It would have to be towed back for repairs, which was a trifle dodgy if it happened to get stuck in No Man’s Land.

According to the very sparse documentation about this bizarre “semi-armoured” car, it does not appear to have actually been used in combat, which may have disappointed its volunteer crewmen at the time, but which was a lucky break for them in retrospect, seeing as how the useful life-expectancy of such a contraption might reasonably be measured in minutes if not seconds.

We can only assume the vehicle’s developers figured the Germans were too dumb to shoot at the propeller or the engine. The Sizaire-Berwick may not have been very functional as a scout car, but it might have broken a speed record or two!

Coolness factor (100 % being the highest possible rating): 75/100
Practicality AS a weapon:
1/100

That's it for this month! Stay tuned for the next newsletter to see the what we're calling the most useless weapon ever developed!



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Historical Perspective

The Historical Perspective section is intended to give readers the "history behind the game." This month, Will Trotter gives us the first part of a series about the evolution of military technology before during and after the American Civil War.

Crucible of Blood - The American Civil War And the Evolution of Modern Military Technology

Part 1

William R. Trotter

It did not take long, during the opening weeks of the Great War, for the civilian leaders and the supreme commanders on both sides to be stunned and delivered into a state of confusion by the casualty figures, and by the rapid confounding of all the careful operational planning designed to insure a relatively quick, decisive victory. When the war-of-maneuver embodied in the Schlieffen Plan collapsed in the face of magazine rifles, rapid fire field artillery (most notably the "French .75", which could deluge an attacking formation with almost the same volume of lead as the rain of bullets thrown out by a defending regiment armed with Lee-Enfields). And at this stage of the war, Tommy's marksmanship was notably superior to Fritz's. Add to this the sudden, stark force-multiplier of hastily constructed field fortifications, and you can easily grasp why the 90-day campaign envisioned by the German General Staff froze into trench warfare, from the sea to the Swiss Alps, and mutated into a ghastly, intractable war of attrition which no one had foreseen, for which no contingency plans existed, and for which no workable solution would be found for four blood-soaked years. The best military minds on both sides could conceive of nothing more imaginative than the repeated application of brute force from ever-larger numbers of heavy guns, followed by frontal assaults, which resulted in appalling casualties and yielded in territorial gains that could be measured in yards rather than miles.

Chart depicting organization of a typical Civil War "army".

Yet the technological and tactical exigencies that created this grisly stalemate did not come out of the blue. There were prescient individual officers - usually, alas, of such junior grade that their papers and memoranda carried little or no weight with their reactionary superiors - who had been predicting this state of affairs for forty or more years, in paper after paper, study after study, they were, to a man, students of the American Civil War, and from the events and weapons of that conflict, they had formed accurate extrapolations about the nature of future wars, and offered both theories and practical solutions to the bloody stalemate they predicted if the lessons of the ACW were not heeded by the general staffs of Germany, France and Great Britain. However brave, experienced, and intelligent those high-ranking generals might have been, their doctrinal faith was based on outmoded assumptions that contemporary firepower turned upside-down; they were as shocked and nonplussed by the staggering casualties and rapid solidification of the war on the Western Front as anyone else; but they lacked the flexibility of mind, and the historical perspective required to deal with new realities through new tactics, and few of them had paid more than superficial attention to studies and analyses submitted by junior officers with a passion for studying the achievements of, say, Stonewall Jackson or William T. Sherman.

In point of fact (and with the singular grim exception of poison gas), every technological innovation that turned the Great War into such a stupefying bloodbath, had its origins in the fratricidal American conflict that raged from 1861 to 1865: long-range rifled muskets, machine guns, barbed wire, steam powered warships armed with rotating turrets and sheathed in protective armor, railroad-based logistics, rifled artillery of unprecedented accuracy and range, reliable instantaneous command-and-control via telegraph, economic warfare on a scale undreamed-of before that time, repeating rifles and carbines, the use of cavalry as mobile mounted infantry, the formal establishment of staffs, the dynamic cooperation (or lack of it) between civilian authority (the political agenda) and field commanders (the military arm that created favorable conditions for that political agenda), radically different infantry tactics necessitated by the deadliness of rifles, and the emergence of field fortifications as not just an occasional expedient but an essential adjunct to field operations; the widespread and increasingly sophisticated employment of propaganda; the inclusion of civilian morale and material prosperity as a valid target of "total war", the enforcement of mass conscription, the submarine… you name it, and one side or the other tried it out.

Read on here to continue part one of Crucible of Blood - The American Civil War And the Evolution of Modern Military Technology.


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Game Spotlight: Mark H. Walker's Lock 'n Load: Heroes of Stalingrad Screenshot Gallery

Mark H. Walker's Lock 'n Load: Heroes of Stalingrad is a World War II turn-based tactical game in development by Lock 'n Load Publishing. Get more information on this gorgeous new title from its product page and be sure to check out the gameplay videos available in the More Info section.


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Latest News

In this section we provide a rundown of the latest updates from Matrix Games, just in case you missed a press release or two.

  1. New Manual Section and Screenshots Released for War Between the States! - A strategy guide from the manual of this highly anticipated game in addition to a hefty pack of screenshots.
  2. John Tiller’s Battleground Napoleonic Wars and Battleground Civil War Are Updated - Both classic turn-based strategy games are updated to fix a scenario time limit issue.
  3. A New Detailed Promo Video for Gary Grigsby’s War Between the States Now Available! - A media extravaganza is released for the upcoming Civil War strategy game!
  4. Major Update Now Available for Empires in Arms - The latest update to this Napoleonics grand strategy game brings tons of fixes.
  5. Guns of August Is Updated - The third official update is now available for the acclaimed WWI grand strategy game.
  6. Panzer Command: Kharkov Updated! - The first official update is on the way, with fixes, features and new units!
  7. New Images Available for War in the Pacific - Admiral’s Edition - Check out the latest recon images from the front, detailing new artwork and more features!
  8. Harpoon: Advanced Naval Warfare is Updated! - A new v3.9.2 update is available and a new Development Initiative takes shape!
  9. Kharkov: Disaster on the Donets Announced! - The New Successor to SSG’s Award-Winning Wargames!
  10. Matrix Games Unveils Gary Grigsby’s War Between the States! - The latest project from the people who created War in the Pacific heads to the American Civil War!
  11. Conquest of the Aegean Gets a New Update - The award winning continuous time strategy game just got better!
The newly announced titles joining the Matrix Games lineup.

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A Parting Shot

Well we've talked up a storm about Matrix Games' summer travel plans and at last summer has arrived! This month we'll be packing our bags and heading out to Columbus, Ohio for Origins '08. For those of you who will also be in attendence, please stop by and give us a handshake and hello. We'll also be sponsoring a boatload of events at the Origins War College. The schedule for the War College this year is chock full of interesting talks and even some hands on training in strategy and decision-making from experts and professors. For a full list of War College events head to the Origins official website and check out everything they have to offer.

Additionally, Matrix Games will be present at GenCon in Indianapolis, Indiana and The Heat of Battle wargaming convention in New Orleans, Louisiana. Both events will most certainly be a blast so if anyone will be in the neighborhood when these conventions are in progress please do stop by and see us.

And as always, anyone who would like to drop us a line and give us some feedback, complaints, death threats, etc., please don't hesitate to do so by sending an email to feedback@matrixgames.com.


Thanks for reading!
The Newsletter Team


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