Operation Goodwood: a Scottish Megagame

One of the most stressful things I have ever done is spend 6 hours as second in command of a 20-person allied command structure with each 8 in-game hours as a strict 30 real minute turn.

It was also amazing. Absolutely, mind-bogglingly amazing.

I was at the 2nd Scottish Megagame. A megagame is a massive (40+ players), immersive, free-form version of a board game. There has been an explosion of interest in megagames after Shut Up And Sit Down filmed themselves playing Watch the Skies late last year. Clubs have sprung up across Britain and the original London megagame club recently ran a 300-player version of Watch the Skies.

The game we played was Operation Goodwood, a simulation of a WW2 battle in which British armour attacked near Caen, in an attempt to destroy German armour, capture the Bourguébus Ridge and ideally break out of Normandy completely. It was hosted at the fantastic facilities of Common Ground Games in Stirling, a gaming shop and huge playing space complete with cafe.

Three of us bought tickets, expecting to be placed in charge of a division. Instead we found ourselves placed in charge of the entire 20-person allied team!

We quickly swotted up on the historical battle, watching the British Army war study of the battle. The rules were very clear not to make plans before the day itself, so we discussed the broad possibilities and challenges but avoided coming up with anything.

On the day itself, the planning phase started without much fanfare, and confusion reigned. Nelson, our gallant commander, brought some order to the situation by drawing a large green arrow on his map, indicating that the British armour should all charge to the west of a tall railway embankment running down the middle of the map, while the Canadian infantry took Caen and the large British 3rd infantry division spread out across our large Eastern flank.

This was because in the real battle, the British armoured divisions advanced unsupported into the middle of villages that were thick with anti-tank weapons, and were shot to pieces. Instead, Nelson wanted to send the bulk of our force to one flank, get onto the ridge, and roll up the German defences from one side.

In the event, the first day went badly off-plan. With about ten minutes of the 2 hour planning session left, Nelson was informed that his plan was at high risk of causing traffic congestion. Together with the commander of the entire armoured corps, Douglas, he quickly devised a new plan where the Guards Armoured would advance east of the embankment, while the 7th Armoured advanced to the west.

Air HQ were caught by surprise by the deadline, and had ordered a mass bombing, but more diffuse than intended, and had failed to issue any recon or air support orders for the morning turn.

The one thing that went right on the first morning was the Canadian assault. They captured most of Caen and were looking good. Unfortunately, all of the armour found itself caught in traffic jams and did little more than cross the Odone. The 3rd infantry had issued a prepare rather than an attack order, which was not our intention. Apparently they told me about this – I have no memory of it, but they’re probably right.

It’s hard to convey the stress and the amount of information you have to process while playing the game. All sorts of things were being forgotten, missed, or miscommunicated. This was not helped by a general shortage of intelligence officers, including none in HQ at all. In retrospect we should have promoted someone, but at the time we didn’t want to take people away from the friends they had come with. I took on the intel role alongside my COO duties, while Nelson stepped into quite a bit of operations-level work.

On the second day, some things improved. The Canadians were largely bogged down in Caen, but the 3rd Infantry managed to engage the enemy, albeit far farther back than we had originally hoped. The 7th Armoured, West of the embankment, was able to attack South, engaging a unit of self-propelled guns, and the other two armoured divisions began to fight their way forward. Our air support became increasingly well-organised, and cooperation between units improved.

At this point we thought the battle was going very badly for us, as we had barely advanced at all. We would late discover that the Germans had placed everything they had in a shallow but extremely dense defence.

On the third day, things got a bit weird.

There was a big success when the 11th Armoured, in a brilliant change to the original plan by their corps commander, broke out to the East, with 3rd Infantry plugging the gap behind them. This attack was eventually halted by fresh panzers.

There was another, as the Guards Armoured broke through East of the Embankment.

There was yet another, as the 7th Armoured and the RAF destroyed massive amounts of enemy armour just South of Caen.

But then… there was Caen… the Canadians, heros of the battle so far, were caught off guard by an SS panzer division appearing in Caen – on the Allied side of the river! At that point, having no idea how deep our armoured divisions had punched, seeing a surprise panzer division on our flank, I was absolutely convinced we had lost the game badly.

The Canadians counterattacked brilliantly, destroying 4 squadrons of Panzers in intense street fighting and bizarrely advancing three brigades onto the ridge, turning the German West flank.. The 7th Armoured, sadly misinformed that they were surrounded, held when they could have attacked. The Guards and the 11th Armoured fell just short of the ridge.

Then, as historically, the battle was halted by torrential rain.

It was only when the German commander spoke that I realised that while it felt like we were taking a beating, it felt that way to the Germans too. Their wide-flanking panzers were in the wrong place to stop our breakthrough either side of the embankment, and unable to take Caen back. But for the rain…

megagame

In the final analysis, we did about as well as the British did historically. We destroyed up to twice as many tanks as they did, and probably lost fewer, but just like them we only barely reached the ridge’s edge before the rains began.

Before the game, I thought that it would be about not strategy, but logistics. The most amazing thing was that the game was really about people. People (all of us) made mistakes. People would say they understood an order, but later you would find that they understood it differently to you. Some people preferred to present good news over bad. Some people got bogged down in local fights without heed to the overall plan and had to be urged back onto the attack.

I shouted at people and ordered people about and panicked and punched the air and forgot things and ran headlong about the place trying to work out what the hell was going on. It was exhilarating, brilliant, and utterly exhausting.

I’ll definitely be back for the next one.

BBC admit to breaching own guidelines with immigration story

I have received a reply to my complaint about the BBC shoehorning immigration into Scotland’s election debate in breach of its own guidelines on the use of polls. For once, they acknowledge that they breached the guidelines!

The BBC are allowed to report on and headline polls, but they may only headline a poll if it adds depth to an existing story. They may not use a poll to create a story from whole cloth, which is what they implicitly admit to here.

Dear Sir / Madam,

On Tuesday 10th of March the BBC website reported on an opinion poll commissioned by the BBC into attitudes to immigration in Scotland. The article, entitled “BBC poll suggests 64% of Scots want immigration reduced”, can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-31800374

The BBC guidelines on opinion polls clearly state “We should not headline the results of an opinion poll unless it has prompted a story which itself deserves a headline and reference to the poll’s findings is necessary to make sense of it”.

The guideline exists for an excellent reason, which is that it is not the BBC’s role to determine the political questions of the day, but rather to report on them.

This is especially egregious behaviour in a tense pre-election context. I find it hard to imagine what the BBC hoped to achieve by commissioning this poll in the first place.

Yours
Alistair Davidson

Dear Mr DavidsonAl-Qaeda-Sets-Up-Complaints-Department

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Thank you for getting in touch.

The reports on this were taken from a BBC opinion poll which showed Scotland’s attitudes towards immigration. We believe these reports are newsworthy and relevant. We also feel that the stories are of interest to our audience.

We accept that there should not have been references to the poll findings in our headlines, and have now changed the relevant online stories.

We know that not everyone will agree with our choices on which stories to cover, and the prominence that we give to them. These are subjective decisions made by our news editors, and we accept that not everyone will think that we are correct on each occasion. These decisions are always judgement calls rather than an exact science, but we appreciate the feedback that our viewers and listeners give us on this. Please be assured that your comments have been noted and added to our audience log which is passed to senior programme makers and management.

Thank you, once again, for taking the time to contact us.

Jumbled thoughts on all-female shortlists

The SNP have introduced all-female shortlists, and everyone has to have their tuppence… so here’s mine. 2000px-Igualtat_de_sexes.svg

  1. As a moral imperative, something has to happen to move us sharply towards 50% female representation in parliament. The long-standing under-representation of women in parliament is a moral outrage. If you disagree, there’s not much I can say to you – we simply have different values.
  2. All-female shortlists are a way of getting there. We have to crack open the boy’s club by force. Our daughters must grow up believing that politics is for them, too. They do have some serious flaws: they are a restriction on democracy, they can be used by the leadership to crack down on dissent (Tony Blair famously used them this way). But in the absence of an alternative that will reach the goal in (1), we have to back them.
  3. The onus is on those who oppose all-female shortlists to propose credible alternatives to reach the goal in (1).
  4. While some people who oppose all-female shortlists do hate women (hating women is sadly pretty common), there are also plenty of people who oppose all-female shortlists who do not hate women, and it is unfair and counterproductive to call them misogynists simply on the basis of their opposition – especially given that quite a few are women themselves.
  5. In 21 of 44 seats where the shortlist was mixed, a woman was selected. That’s 47%. While there is sexism in the SNP membership as in any part of society, the membership’s sexism is not the biggest barrier: all-male shortlists are.
  6. More important in the long run than all-female shortlists will be the commitment to a gender-balanced party list at Holyrood. This seems to be the key mechanism in Sweden’s success in equalising representation.
  7. Proactive leadership and confidence-building programmes are vital. Almost nobody enjoys public speaking. People only learn confidence by being pushed into it.
  8. We must teach our children that politics is for women. Meetings of left-wing fringe parties in Glasgow are often 75% male. I was often told (including by well-meaning women) that this was because they were too theoretical and argumentative and boring. That sounded plausible until I attended a meeting about art and economics at the CCA. It was majority-female and mostly consisted of exactly the same kind of high-minded and irritating arguments about Marx and surplus value and so on as happen in left wing party meetings. I can only conclude that a sense of permission is a key factor: (some/many) women are taught that they are allowed strident opinions about art but not politics.
  9. We are going to need a more complete picture of the factors restricting women’s political involvement. I’ve suggested a couple: leadership skills, permission, membership sexism, the existence of old boy’s clubs. Other factors include the abuse directed at prominent women on social media (men receive abuse too but it’s clear that women receive more, and of a worse nature), and probably plenty of other things I’m not thinking of. It would be better to have hard peer-reviewed evidence than rely on our intuitions.
  10. This problem runs way beyond gender. Any measures only targeted at gender will benefit upper and middle class women more than working class women. That is not an argument against the measures – but it is a major limitation.
  11. Last but not least: fellow men, you can have opinions about this stuff, but for god’s sake have some humility and listen to the full range of views and experiences from women. They have a really hard deal, and a lot of stuff happens to them that most men just don’t see. Whenever I speak to the women in my life about sexism they face, I am taken aback. There is a minority of highly misogynist men who subject women to massive amounts of abuse – but like all cowards they do the worst of it when we’re not watching. Listen to women.

BBC tries to stoke racial tensions in Scotland

My letter of complaint:

sectionNo10

Dear Sir / Madam,

On Tuesday 10th of March the BBC website reported on an opinion poll commissioned by the BBC into attitudes to immigration in Scotland. The article, entitled “BBC poll suggests 64% of Scots want immigration reduced”, can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-31800374

The BBC guidelines on opinion polls clearly state “We should not headline the results of an opinion poll unless it has prompted a story which itself deserves a headline and reference to the poll’s findings is necessary to make sense of it”.

The guideline exists for an excellent reason, which is that it is not the BBC’s role to determine the political questions of the day, but rather to report on them.

This is especially egregious behaviour in a tense pre-election context. I find it hard to imagine what the BBC hoped to achieve by commissioning this poll in the first place.

Yours
Alistair Davidson

[UPDATE: Scotland 2015, the BBC’s flagship current affairs show, is following up on this story by inviting UKIP on to debate the main Scottish parties, except the Greens.]

[UPDATE 2: And “the debate will continue” on Morning Call tomorrow. Joy!]

The Thirled Way

Scotland, Class and Nation

A Fate Worse than Debt

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