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Passchendaele

Grand-Tactical Miniatures for Late-War WWI on the Western Front

Rules and app by Arofan Gregory, copyright (c) 2018. All rights reserved.

Have you ever wanted to command an entire WWI operation? To see if you could do better than the generals who, safe in their chateaux with snifter in hand, sent thousands of men to their deaths in the muddy trenches of No Man's Land? Now you can!

Passchendaele is a miniatures game for those who wish to simulate warfare on the Western Front not using sections or platoons, or even companies or battalions, but divisions. While long seen as a skirmish-only period, the Great War presented generals with unique challenges at the grand-tactical level. There is no barrier to depicting such challenges in a miniatures wargame format if we are willing to be a little creative, and this is exactly what Passchendaele does.

It is designed for 15mm and smaller miniatures, those being the most popular scales for grand-tactical wargames. Troops representations are on a per-base system, allowing players to fit as many models as they wish on a base, so long as it is of the appropriate size. (Base sizes are largely compatible with the popular Flames of War - Great War basing.)

The later period on the Western Front saw huge numbers of combatants packed into fairly small spaces, as a result of the siege dynamics which dominated. A division of troops - thousands of men - would deploy along a front of no more than two or three miles on the defensive, and often much less than that when attacking. It was not a war of maneuver - divisions and brigades simply advanced on known enemy positions. This fact makes it different than wars before or after: much less emphasis is placed on brigade or battalion formations. In Passchendaele, each base of infantry represents a brigade, with other units represented to suit this basic level of representation. Players are higher-level generals in charge of fighting complete battles, issuing orders to the divisions involved in the fighting.

The game can be played on a small table: in most cases, battles were fought in areas where there was more than a single defensive trench line, and sometimes as many as five or six. In order to break through, the attacker must penetrate them all! A smaller table - even as small as 3 foot square - is sufficient to play a game with a half dozen attacking divisions. Historically, operations ranged from this size up to massive offensives with 30 or more divisions fielded by the Entente forces. (Such actions as these will require a much larger table.)

Due to the nature of the conflict, some typical wargaming mechanisms have been abandoned. Instead of units acting like squads or individuals, selecting targets and "firing shots" at them - a feature of most miniatures wargames - fire is primarily treated as area fire, just as it was by the combatants themselves. The game consists primarily of making status checks on various formations, and attempting to issue them new orders or assign new targets - attempts which will often fail. (When passenger pigeons are considered a viable means of battlefield communication, you know that things have gotten rough!) The game presents the player with the chaos and lack of effective control which was very much an aspect of period warfare.

Artillery becomes the most significant arm in the game, whether firing HE or gas, and tanks show why they were such a game-changer in reality. Infiltration tactics, used successfully by the Germans during the Kaiserschlacht, are also represented. The period covered is that from 1917 on, including the battles around Ypres (Passchendaele), the Chemin des Dames, the Kaiserschlacht, those actions involving the newly-arrived American forces, and the 100 Days' Offensives, among others. There is no lack of actions to choose from, and a wealth of information is available for scenarios at this level on the Web and in books.

To simplify play, many charts and rules are provided in the form of an app, designed to be run on a tablet or smart phone during play. The app requires no connectivity or networking, and will work in any Web browser capable of running Javascript. The app is used together with the rules to provide a gaming experience which is in many ways a traditional tabletop game: players roll six-sided dice to determine combat results, and the tabletop is the focus of all play: there is no record of the battlefield kept separately inside the app which can get out-of-synch with the tabletop, nor is there any unit-by-unit record-keeping. Unlike some other computer-assisted miniatures games, Passchendaele uses the device simply as a way of streamlining play, not as a replacement for the dice and rulebook. As a consequence, there is no additional set-up required before play starts.

Passchendaele is offered free of charge. The rules and app are available at the following links:

    Passchendaele Game App: The game app is available here.

    Passchendaele Rules: Rules for building and organizing forces, and playing the game are here.

    Passchendaele Rules (PDF for printing): A PDF of the rules can be used to print, available here.

    Downloadable Zip File: Unzip into a single directory - open "PasschendaeleGame.htm" for the app, "PasschendaeleRules.htm" for the Web Browser version of the rules, or "PasschendaeleRules.pdf" for the printable PDF version. Download ZIP

Copyright (c) 2018 by Arofan Gregory. All rights reserved.