Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Telegram Sam, you're my main man.

I'm organising another GASLIGHT game for the 5th Sunday in April, aimed mainly at new players who haven't played the game before.  Because I want to give any new players a more typical first game experience, this won't be the planned "Battle of Salisbury Plain" tank-only battle.  In coming up with what this new battle would be, I thought it made a good worked example of how to devise a battle scenario for a narrative campaign.

The Southern Front - projected Battle of Salisbury Plain battle indicated in red

So if you look to the left on this map, you'll see that Somerset is currently uncontested.  It would make sense for the German invaders to bring their right flank forward to secure this county, cutting off Devon and Cornwall, or for the British to move here to try to outflank the invaders' position in Wiltshire.  So let's make the next battle one to determine the fate of Somerset.

Next step is to fire up Google Maps and have a look at the area in question.  I was looking for anything that looked interesting, from significant terrain features (visible with the Satellite Photo option) to amusing or punnable place names.  Chipping Sodbury leapt right off the screen, but apart from the excellent name it didn't strike me as a particularly interesting place (apologies to any Chipping Sodburians who happen to be reading).  I worked my way further south, till I came to Weston-Super-Mare.  Now I thought this was one of the New Towns that grew up in the 20th century, but a quick visit to Wikipedia soon corrected that misunderstanding.  And then I read..

"In 1885, the first transatlantic telegraph cable of the Commercial Cable Company was brought ashore and the company started a long association with the town, ending in 1962."

This sounded like a possible strategic target.  The text indicated that this was the second major transatlantic telegraph cable, so a little more Googling revealed that the first one connected to England via Liverpool... which in our timeline is in the hands of the Fenian Brotherhood.  Excellent.  The British would definitely want to secure this instant communication link to the Americas, which the Germans would equally wish to cut.  Further Googling revealed a very useful local history site which not only had photos of Weston in the 1890s (having grown from a cluster of fisherman's cottages at the start of the century into a thriving seaside tourist destination) but the location of the telegraph cable office in the town.

Back to Google Maps, and we can not only see where the building in question is on the map, thanks to Street View we can get a 360 degree view of the area.  Zooming out on the map a little gives us a look at the surrounding terrain.  There's the wooded hills to the north, and you've got what looks like four main routes into the town centre.  Two head north-east generally towards Bristol - we can simplify them into one for the purposes of setting up a wargames terrain.  Meanwhile the A370 comes into town from the south, then fish-hooks back south-east towards Bournville. (I momentarily pause to check if this might be a more important strategic target, but no this isn't the chocolate-producing Bournville).  From experience from the last game, I know for a fact there'll be no way of exactly replicating the road network in Weston on the tabletop, so we'll simplify it to a handful of roads, aligned in a grid, fed by those main routes.

So we almost have our terrain and mission objective laid out for us.  The terrain would be an urban area, with a seafront, beach and fairly open promenade area to the west, bounded by hilly woods to the north (may not need to be represented on table) and roads coming in from north-east, southeast and south.  Right in the centre, just off the promenade would be the main objective - the telegraph office.

Reading further, it's not entirely clear at what point along the coast the cable actually came ashore.  However Weston did have a pier that was built around about this timeframe, stretching out into the ocean directly opposite where the telegraph office is.  It's not too much of a stretch to surmise that the cable came in under the pier, which now becomes our second tactical objective. (It also requires me to knock together a passable pier for 28mm, but that's another story)  All of a sudden I've got a mental image - zeppelins landing troops in the largest open space around - the beach front, making a lightning deep-strike towards both objectives.  All that stands against them are some light local defence troops, while the main British forces come in from the north-east, and the main thrust of the Germans come in from the South/South-East.

And there you have it, a Tabletop Teaser almost worthy of the Charles Grants.  All that remains is to work out the forces involved and knock up a few seasidey terrain features.


  1. It sounds like you got the beginning of an excellent scenario. Looking forward to how it develops.


  2. It sounds like a cracking idea for a scenario. Let us not forget also that John Cleese was born in Weston-Super-Mare. It could be the Kaiser's men might inadvertently prevent the future birth of the comedy genius!

  3. Sadly I don't think I'll be able to post any more of the scenario development on here until the battle is fought. At least two of the potential players are readers.

    AJ - I think you just raised the stakes through the roof! If nothing else a German victory could lead to a very different "Don't mention the war!" Fawlty Towers sketch.