Thursday, August 25, 2011

Monte Cassino: Wargaming Ideas from Castle Hill

Matthew Parker's Monte Cassino
There was plenty of brutal fighting to go around during the Allied offensive for Cassino and the Gustav Line in the first half of 1944. I'm specifically referring to assaults and counterattacks for specific strategic points, not the horrific drawn-out attrition that consumed much of the campaign. One battle sticks out in my mind more than others - the struggle for Castle Hill. The German paratrooper counterattacks against British-held Castle Hill (another key point near the Cassino monastery and town) were harrowing affairs that were compared to a medieval siege that used machine guns and hand grenades.

From a gaming perspective, I think this would translate well into a good squad/section or platoon-sized game. Why? Well, for one thing, the rules really need to highlight on the bomb-throwing aspect - and that's something tends to be handled a bit abstractly the further up the org-level of the game (ie. maybe as a combat factor or stat). I think the amount and nature of the castle and ruins might have made linear rifle fire a bit limiting compared to lobbing a grenade over covering obstacles.

While I don't know if there was an unusual number of MG42 and Bren crews positioned for the fights, I could certainly believe the local battalion commanders put as many of them into the hot spots as possible, leaving some sections in reserve without their squad MGs. The idea lends itself to an interesting possibility of scenario-specific orders of battle that allow one to attach a few extra MG crews to the combat squads.

Then there's the terrain. Even if one did not attempt recreate any of the assaults at Castle Hill, the use of medieval walls and gates combined with later period buildings would make for a cool tabletop if handled right. In my mind I'm thinking that some of those plastic Warhammer 40k buildings could pass for Gothic/pseudo-Gothic architecture used in churches and other civic buildings.

This has really got me to thinking thinking about Warlord Games' plastic Commonwealth infantry and their extra weapon sprues. That would be a fairly quick way to get as many bomb throwers and Bren gunners on the table as any, considering the build options available. While they don't offer the German paras in plastic yet, their plastic German infantry (and extra weapon sprues)  would also be a good way to build this mix of troops. Of course, any rifleman can be a grenadier, but I think the visual appeal of having more than a couple of bomb-throwers on the table is a plus.

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