VIII Corps at the Somme : 1st July – Developing a Game board?

About a month ago I did some work on designing a game to reflect the experiences of the VIII Corps on the first day of the Somme.This Corps suffered the most casualties and made no gains at all on the first day, in fact the offensive was called off by noon across its front.

Years and years ago I did a game based on the Somme using a large green baize (off a full size snooker table), with chalked on terrain.The terrain marked was only that of a significant nature. A rope line (yes, an actual rope) indicated the front line, and the British would place a Blue Arrow (roughly a division frontage) against a position they wished to attack (with the divisions based on a week by week actual OB), play some modifier cards and the Germans would then do likewise in defense. A quick calculation, casualties removed and the rope was adjusted. Turns were a week long, and the process was repeated until the objectives were reached, or one side ran out of men.

What is a game board? My definition of a game board is that it is a focus to the game, around which the game is played. in terms of the VIII Corps  this would be the terrain – the actual physical facts it needed to overcome to achieve its objectives.

The game I wanted to design now was based on the earlier game.

How the game works and how the turn cycle works I will cover in a further post.

I first looked at how I could replicate the front line moving backwards and forwards as the battle raged. I looked at a grid, made from square terrain pieces, with a moving line. This would have a number of benefits:

Warbases - a good resource

Warbases – a good resource


  • It would enable the battlefield to be reduced to just a series of significant terrain features – redoubts, trench lines, fortified villages etc.
  • It would enable me to have a controlled length of rope to replicate the Front Line. This would reflect the nature of warfare then that did not seek to create a spearhead through a line, but build a breakthrough. For example a gridded square with a rope/line of 12 terrain square side lengths, 4 more then needed to cover the original Front Line. If I attacked and moved forward, I would take up 3 of the additional side length of the rope/line to move forward. As I only had 1 rope/line length left I couldn’t attack from the newly gained square as that requires another 3, so I would have to attack to a side square to reduce my rope/line. It’s a good mechanism to nudge the player to play historical without being prescriptive.

However it wasn’t easy to build or set up – I was looking for something that could be quick to set up and play and give me the same experience. I briefly played with a chess board – its pre-made, easily understood, but I felt a bit constrictive so I dropped that.

In case you had forgotten what a chess board looked like :)

In case you had forgotten what a chess board looked like 🙂

I then scrapped the idea of having a game board at all!!


In this the attacker laid a series of strategic cards to represent the bombardment, which reduced the defenders cards. After a set turn, the attacker then launch attacks with his tactical cards (again context centered – more on another post about these), and the defender lays cards to counter this. The winner was decided by the player with the most tactical points, and casualties were attributed by taking the difference. The winner was the player who could inflict enough casualties, or if the defender survived a set number of turns. NO GAME BOARD.

I played with this for a while but felt it wasn’t the way forward. For me this was a workable card game, but was too generic  – it didn’t address the specifics of the VIII Corps front.

I then got hold of some Trench maps and really started to look at the terrain that faced VIII corps. As this picture shows (I’ve traced up the trench lines and contours and added the division operation lines):


There were effectively 3 VII Corps divisions (29, 4, 31 going north) of the 4 division front (add 48th which had a holding/diversionary role on the day) that attacked on the first day. The objectives were the 3 German defense lines, Front, Support and Second Line. That’s actually a nice 3 x 3 grid. So, if I had a game board like the above could I play the card game over that? Well yeah and no.

  • If I built the game like this I would need to carry round a map board and counters?
  • And does it give me anything more than a generic experience of the terrain and defences?
  • It does allow me to spread the game over all areas – for example I can bombard a second line in preparation for an assault – key to reflecting the battle tactics.

So in a Eureka moment I thought why not use cards themselves to represent the terrain? Then the game board now becomes a part of the whole deck of cards, and no other elements are needed. The game can then be purely a card game, with a board, but not, as it were! Like this:

A rough draft of the terrain board (its a multiple copy of something which will be unique)

A rough draft of the terrain board (its a multiple copy of something which will be unique)

Does this really reflect the terrain issues faced by VIII Corps?

  • I’ve lost the idea of the Front line moving with the advancing troops, or even constraining the way the attacks can be made.
  • The cards are terrain specific to the bit of German defense they represent. Its directly linked and not generic any more.

More later.

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