Thoughts on war gaming the World War One period

Shawn Taylor, author of Great War Spearhead (assisted by Arty Conliffe), shares some of his thoughts and views on war gaming battles of World War 1.

This painting "The Canadians at Ypres" appears on the front cover of the Great War Spearhead rules book, courtesy of the Museum of Regiments.
Robin asked me to put together some musings on my preferences for World War One, so without further ado I will begin.

I first became interested in WW1 from listening to the stories of my Grandfather winning his medal at Vimy Ridge.  This, coupled with the gift of about 150 large WW1 plastic soldiers when I was about 4 years old, got me into the whole enjoyment of the WW1 genre, although it took a few years to mature!

I am keenly interested in many aspects of WW1, ranging from the precise fighting of individual Canadian battalions to things as encompassing as Brusilov's campaign and the use of armoured cars on the Eastern Front. My preference for theatre of operations is pretty much across the board, but I do enjoy trench warfare games. I get a thrill from having to make up a plan for attacking a nasty piece of terrain covered with bunkers, trenches and other fortified positions! It is one of the only times I actually feel nervous while playing a wargame.

One of my most favourite games of GWSH ever was a huge game we played at Battlefields and Books in Kingston Ontario. This was an Italian Front game, the Italians had seven divisions (five infantry and two cavalry) and they were attacking on the Trentino front. The Austrians had two and a half divisions. The Italians had decided that they wanted to attack across the river on their left, so they put four divisions of infantry on the left flank and one infantry division and one cavalry division holding the rest of the line on the centre and right of the board. The other cavalry division was in reserve for a breakthrough!

The Austrians had a line of pillboxes and forts that was garrisoned by a brigade of Frontier soldiers. They had one division spread out across the table but had two regiments covering the left where there were a number of bridges across the river. The other division was in reserve.

The battle was supposed to represent two days of time, so both sides got to re-deploy their troops during the night phase.

It was  a resounding Italian ........ loss, as they kept reinforcing failure on the left while on the right my son, with one lone infantry division, actually stormed the Austrian centre and left (the Italian right) and over-ran two forts and a number of pillboxes, taking a huge chunk of the Austrian line.

Sadly this all went for naught because the rest of the Italian army broke and headed off table! But this game was so indicative of the type of excitement that  trench warfare game can generate.

If anyone starting out in WW1 war gaming asked me what style of game to play, I would tell them to try them all! There is a lot of entertainment to be had from trench warfare games, it's not just a hopeless massacre time after time. As the old adage goes: "if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail".



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