Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Vimy Project

The Vimy Project

For about a dozen years or so now, since I read Pierre Berton’s Vimy, it has been my megalomaniac dream to do a large game of the Canadian Corp’s assault on Vimy Ridge on 9 April 1917. This year I will, at least begin, to realize that dream.

This year will be the 90th anniversary of the battle. It seems like the right time to get going on it. I have volunteered to run a Vimy game at Mayday in Edmonton this year. I decided to take take on this project on a more manageable level, however. My scenario for this year will focus on the 4th Division, which was on the left of the Canadians advance.

Perhaps next year I will do the 3rd Division, the following year the 2nd Division, and so on. In Five years, for the 95th anniversary (and again in ten for the 100th!), I will do the entire battle in one big game on a 16’ long table with at least a dozen players and maybe a couple of assistant umpires! (BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!).

I thought this would also give me a goal to help keep me focused on a single conflict/range to work on making figures for, as I’d like to try to start my own miniatures business.

I realize that not the entire Fourth Division was involved in the attack on the 9th. The 10th Brigade was being held in reserve for an attack on “the Pimple” on the following day. Though some of them were committed later in the day some still remained in reserve. Being a completist I am going to model the whole dang Division anyway. I’ll need that 10th Brigade for when I do an attack on the Pimple scenario…. Or other scenarios… Paschendale (again a 90th anniversary coming up this year, just it time for Fallcon and/or Hero’s Gambit..if there is one...)… the Somme… Canal du Nord… Mons… etc.

I will be using a slightly modified version of Contemptible Little Armies. The battalions will be organized into units of 13 figures. This would include 12 men and an officer. One of the men will have a lewis gun. Four battalions per brigade, three brigades in the fourth division means I will need 156 infantry figures for the Canadians (well, for the whole division, which, as I said, I won’t really NEED all of)… All the field/heavy artillery will be off-board, but I should probably make a few machine-guns and trench mortars… I need about half of that for the Germans – Two regiments, three battalions each, is another 78 infantry figures, plus MGs and trench mortars.

So far I have some Canadian riflemen and an officer moulded (you can see some here), about half of them cast, but only one and a half battalions painted so far. I‘m currently working on the masters for the German riflemen. I have a Canadian Highlander or two started as well ( I think two of the battalions of the Fourth Division were kilted highlanders) and I’ve just finished my lewis gun master which I will mould and then make some regular and highland lewis gunners (and later use it for British/Indian/Aussie lewis gunners for the Middle East/East Africa when I’m finished with the Western Front). I think I’ll try and model some staff officers as well. Not on horsesor anything, just guys in greatcoats looking through binoculars, or something like that. As I said I should really do some MGs and Trench Mortars to have a complete line… If I don’lt have time before April or May I may just buy a pack or two from Renegade or Old Glory.

Then I have to make some terrain. I’m going to make them in 2’x2’ sections. The game area I need for the Fourth Division’s part of the attack is only 4’x4’ total. The one thing I am sort of debating is what to do about trenches. Do I model them right into the board or build ones to sit on top of the terrain boards. The reason I am even considering the latter is that the creeping barrage (and possibly mines!) will have some chance of completely obliterating German trenches. This would make it easiest to remove them. Also they could then be used in other games. Perhaps the terrain boards could them be used for other games as a generic really big hill, that could, if there were any at all, have entrenchments laid out in a different pattern. Also could be the possibility of playing alternative Vimy scenarios with different trench layouts. Maybe with the French or the British, or just have the Canadians attack a different defensive network that they actually did – say let the German player(s) set up their trenches anyway they like, then have the Canadians (or other attackers) set up their within a certain distance of the German fire trench.

I’m kind of leaning toward modeling the trenched into the terrain boards and thus making them “Historical Canadian Assault on Vimy” specific. I might just model half the depth into the terrain and have removable sandbag parapets. If a section of trench is obliterated, the parapets could be removed and maybe I could make some removable rubble sections to fill in the blasted section of trench.

The scenario

For this years game (Fourth Division) I’m planning for up to 6 players. I think if there’s up to four I might just play the Germans and have the players play the Canadians attacking. Unless there's someone that really, REALLY want to play the germans.

Another thing I’ve been pondering is how much leeway do I allow for the attackers to create a plan of attack? On one end of the spectrum I could say; “here’s what’s in Fourth Canadian Infantry Division, here’s your assigned divisional frontage, plan an attack and write some orders! Oh, and you need to keep some in reserve o attack the pimple the next day.” At the other end I simply hand them some pre-written orders the spell our which battalions of which brigades are attacking where and in which wave. I think for a convention game that has to be played to completion and cleaned up in four hours the latter option would be best. Also anyone without any understanding of Great War battle tactics could be utterly lost! Maybe in a game without such time constraints it might be fun to give the players the orders and say; “Here’s what they did historically, If you think you can do better go ahead.”

Still more consideration has and must be given to some of the weird and whacky things that effected the outcome of the historical battle that wouldn’t come up in a regular game. I’ve been thinking of dealing with these through Event Cards. That the players could play on each other, or in some circumstances, simply announce that something will happen at this point or a certain point in the game.

For example I believe it was the acting commander of the 87th Battalion (Canadian Grenadier Guards) that requested that the artillery bombardment skip the German front line directly in front of their position. He figured it might be obliterated by the bombardment and he might want that trench to occupy as a foothold. This decision had dire consequences for the 87th, and the whole of the Fourth Division, on the day of the assault. Obviously no player in a game is going to make such a request. How does one incorporate something like that? Just tell the commander of the 87th (and definitely NOT the german players!); “oh by the way there won’t be any barrage on the German Trench on turn one, it will resume when the rolling barrage lifts on turn two…” (this seems like the best alternative so far…). Other ideas I had were that the germans could have an “Event Card” that they would allow them to remove on (possibly random) barrage template on the first turn, or the one directly in front of the 87th’s position (being careful not to let them know which is the 87th beforehand– so they don’t stack that section of trench).

One idea for an "Event Card" would be “Thane McDowell VC”. McDowell (Captain?) was a company commander in the 38th Battalion. He, along with two of his company runners, through a bluff captured 77 German prisoners. The card could be given to the commander of the 38th and would give them the ability, when they came within a certain distance of a German battalion they could sacrifice one model (who would have to escort the prisoners back to their lines…) and all German model within a certain radius of the sacrificed Canadian model would also be removed…? Or perhaps just d6 models from the German unit would be removed.

Giving one card to one player is a bit silly so I’d like to hand at least one card to each player. Maybe some rereading of the action will give me ideas. I’d like for some chance to be involved in them (so the d6 Germans are removed on the Thane McDowell card seems like a better option). Any ideas out there? Obviously when I get around to the other divisions there will be cards for each of the VCs. I know there was one in the 16th Canadian Scottish (though the fellow was originally from Saskatchewan...if I recall..).

Yet another thing to consider are mines. There were a dozen of so set but only a couple blown on the day of battle. The reason the didn’t blow most of them is they feared it might so totally obliterate the landscape that it would become impassible. There were apparently soldiers that slipped into slimy, water-filled shell-holes and drowned!? I guess the simple way is to say something like: you CAN place mines. You have to preplan their location (i.e. before the German player sets up) and they can’t be more than (say) 12’ from the Canadian fire trenches. When they go off everything in the template of whatever radius is simply gone! However… a crater terrain piece will be set down there and that area will be impassible. I had thought of not making it impassible but saying any models attempting to pass through have to dice and on a “1” the drown… but I think “impassible” will just be easier.

So that’s the plan so far. Check back here for updates. I’m gearing to have all of this ready for a play test on the actual 90th anniversary of the battle; Easter Monday, 9 April 2007. Yeah, there’s a lot to do yet, but I’m a pretty productive fellow when I get focused. Anyone that’s interested and can be in Saskatoon on that day would be welcome to come and help me try it out. It will be played again during the morning slot at Mayday in Edmonton on Saturday 5 May 2007.

More information about Mayday can be found at:


  1. HI Tim,

    Nice blog.Saw your post about this over on TMP.

    Like the scenario you plan on running at the con.Wish I could be there to see it.Any chance you can take some pics of it and do a writeup/AAR of the game after the con?

    Like the Thane McDowell VC event card.What other events are you planning on adding into the game?

    Mark Drake

  2. Hi Tim,
    I too created my WW1 terrain from scratch. I'm a WW1 reenactor so I have a big interest in small scale skirmishing. My game is at a 1 to 1 scale in 15mm. If you are interested please check out my web page. I have photos of my gaming terrain and a how to section explaining how I made it. I noticed your barbwire techniques are just like mine.