Saturday, 2 July 2016

First day of the Somme (VIII Corps)

I recently picked up a copy VIII Corps on the Somme by Neil Reid and published by Vexillia. It covers the attacks by Hunter Westons Corps (specifically 31st Div, 4th Div and 29th Div) against Serre and Beaumont Hamel fronted by the Hawthorne Ridge and Heidenkopf redoubts on the far left of the British line.

As 31st Div contained the Sheffield Pals, and it is the 100th anniversary of the battle, this seemed a fitting time to run the game. I'm not quite sure why Neil picked VIII Corps as the attack was a bloody catastrophe, being into some the the strongest Germans defences and with both flanks hanging in the air, so the British have an uphill struggle at best.

The game itself is a card game, with the battlefield laid out using nine sector cards (front, second and support lines for each of the three assault divisions) and each side has a mixed deck of 'strategic' and 'tactical' cards. The strategic cards are mainly artillery barrages, gas attacks, trench raids and such like, whereas the tactical cards are used to resolve the various assaults (and resolve into combat points, the most combat points played wins).

It is a very clever design and I would highly recommend it. The first few turns (days) are spent by both sides building up the hands of cards while the British try to pound the German defences by laying down barrage cards (which remove some of the German cards, reduce the strenght of the defences and provide combat bonuses to the attackers). Once the actual fighting starts, the tactical cards are played by each side to resolve the individual assaults, and some cards (such as German 'wire' cards) can stop an attack dead.

The British aim is to capture two sectors of the Germans support line, but if the British suffer two consecutive failed assaults, the attack is called off and they lose. This is not designed to be a balanced game, and the chance of the British capturing the support line are virtually nil, however they do have a good chance of doing better than historically, and that is how I chose to judge it.

Although it is a card game, I wanted to represent the flow of the battle with toys, because I like toys. Besides, it is all very well for the generals with their cards and maps, out on the battlefield it is real plastic soldiers who are dying. In order 31st, 4th and 29th Div facing the Germans. Serre is closest to the camera. Toys are my usual mixture of Emhar, HaT and Revell 20mm. The card decks are visible in the distance.

The battlefield cards. Each sector has a variable defence strength depending on the level of fortification (Serre is a 6!) and weight of artillery fire on it.

Jerry and Graeme took the British, John and Tim the Germans. Jerry proved to be an excellent card player and adopted what he termed a 'Russian' approach to the use of artillery and infantry, piling in masses of artillery in narrow sectors with piles of tactical used in a few strong attacks. Very bite and hold. The only downside to this approach was that it relied on drawing good sets of replenishment cards.

The result of the initial 31st Div attacks was really rather promising. The Germans front line and then Serre fell in rapid succession behind the hammer blows of piles of artillery and tactical cards. The Germans were very unlucky with their wire cards, which were constantly being removed by artillery fire.

Over in the 29th Div sector, the Hawthorne mine was blown and the troops poured over the defences, Beaumont Hamel falling to their rapid assault. Things started to go a bit pear shaped after that as the British had essentially run out of cards (particularly the important 'Over the Top' cards which allowed them to attack). Failure to attack counted as a failed attack, and so everything hung in the balance as they drew a fresh hand and 4th Div launched its assault. The Germans only had three cards to play (of which one was 'wire') and the British barrage failed to remove it and poor old 4th Div was left hanging on the wire and the game ended with two successive failures.

Historically, even though small parties of troops did penetrate Serre and overrun the Hawthorne Redoubt, the only solid gain was the Heidenkopf redoubt in the centre, and even that was evacuated with its flanks in the air, so the British had done rather better than their historical counterparts. Hurrah!

Sadly I suspect that the British have just won two deep salients, and both would have to be evacuated, especially Serre. In real life Serre did not fall until towards the end of the battle, and even Beaumont Hamel was not taken until the Battle of the Ancre. 

So, an interesting little game with some useful mechanisms, I particularly liked the treatment of artillery fire against fixed defences, very simple but effective. I now need ot figure out some way to incorporate some of the mechanism into Drumfire. It is published through Vexillia:


  1. Sounds an interesting game- I see there are various scenarios available, do they all use the same rules? I quite like assembling print and play games.



    1. So far there is only VIII and X Corps, I think X Corps has some extra rules but the basic gameplay is very similar.

      It is one of those things where you need to play it a few times to actually be able to play it with some skill rather than randomly slapping cards down, as for the British in particular it is precipitously hard.

  2. I also have this and was thinking of bringing it to COW to demonstrate it to anyone that shows an interest. Are you thinking of also getting X Corps?

    1. I'll get X Corps at some point (as it includes German barrages in Nomansland) but in the interim I've been busy downloading all the bits for Great War so I'm going to have a go at that next.

  3. Firstly, thanks for the review and I'm glad you liked the game.

    Secondly, did you get the email about the new card backs? If you didn't drop me a line and I'll send you some.

    1. H, yes I did thanks. I'm not going to reprint the cards as I did them on different coloured card for the different items.

  4. Good write up, I saw this card game recently myself and wondered how it played so thanks for the AAR!