Blenneville or Bust! is Robert Avery’s latest scenario pack for I Ain’t Been Shot, Mum! and, at 300 pages and 97,000 words, it’s a whopper! I recently caught up with Robert over a well-deserved pie and a pint and asked him all about it…
So, Robert, let’s start with the basics. What is Blenneville or Bust!?
RA: BoB is a collection of fictional scenarios for IABSM set in a valley just south of the Normandy beaches a short time after the D-Day landings. US and British forces are attempting to drive through the German defences in the Ribeaux valley in order to break out into the open country beyond.
The pack contains thirty-one individual scenarios set up in a five-step pyramid campaign i.e. scenario 1 leads to either scenario 2A or 2B; the result of this second game leads to one of scenarios 3A, 3B, 3C or 3D; and so on until scenarios 5A to 5P.
So it’s a bit like a late war, western front version of Vyazma or Bust!?
RA: Yes, exactly…although it’s a bit bigger than Vyazma, which only had nineteen scenarios in it.
Well, quite: thirty-one scenarios is a huge number…but won’t players only ever get to play five scenarios i.e. one per level of the pyramid?
RA: If they are playing a campaign, then yes, but remember that if you play the campaign more than once, then each different result will take you down a whole different path.
But what if I don’t get the chance to play regularly enough to merit running a campaign? Can I still use Blenneville or Bust! then?
RA: Yes, definitely. Although it’s written as a fictional campaign booklet, each scenario is unique and can be played as an individual game. Each of the three briefings for each scenario (Umpire, Allied player, German player) contains enough background to give the game the same sort of context as you’d get with the background to an historical scenario. So at, say, one of the fourth layer scenarios, you’re getting a reminder of who, what, where and what happened in scenarios one, whichever of 2A or 2B was played, and whichever of the eight third level games was played. If the Big Man being briefed was in one of the previous scenarios, then it says “you were there” and so on.
So it’s not just a campaign booklet?
RA: No, it’s deliberately designed to give those players who don’t have enough time to write their own scenarios a huge number of games that they can play with little or no preparation at all. All they need to do is print out the three briefings, set up the table according to the map, make up the deck from the list of required cards, break out the figures and dice, and start the first turn! I wouldn’t even print BoB out in fill: just the pages you need for the scenario you’re going to play.
What about figures? Doesn’t that many scenarios require a huge number of different units or troop types? Am I going to have to buy more figures to play a game?
RA: Again, no. BoB is designed to fit in with a “typical collection”, if I can use that phrase. Anyone who has a company-sized force of Germans, Americans and British for late war, western front based on Battle for Liberation, should already have enough figures to play any or all of the games. Remember that the scenarios are fictional, so I got to choose the units rather than having to stick to historical fact. It allows a more pragmatic and practical approach.
And how big are the games?
RA: The attacker is usually a full company plus supports; the defender a platoon or two with a bit of support.
You say, based on Battle for Liberation?
RA: Yes. I have deliberately used the exact OBs from Battle for Liberation so that players that have been using that booklet as the basis for constructing their collection will find no surprises in BoB.
But, even so, thirty-one scenarios must mean lots of different troops?
RA: Well, it depends what you mean by lots. What I have done is, right at the front, list the OBs of a fictional company of US leg infantry; a US armoured company; a British tank squadron and supports; a British infantry company; a Panzer company; a Grenadier company, and a company of Fallschirmjaegers. These same seven companies have specific, named Big Men and rosters; and two of them (one Axis, one allied) appear in every game. Oh, except for some of the climactic scenarios, where desperate times means that one side or the other is a mix of surviving units.
So the same units appear more than once?
RA: Exactly. I’ve even provided fictional unit markings for each one and, at the back, even made Blinds markers based on these markings that people can print out.
Can you give me an example?
RA: Okay, so let’s take the American leg infantry force. It’s based on the fictional 107th Infantry Division, known as the “Cougars”. The Division’s symbol is a cougar’s paw print in a circular badge. There’s a cavalry reconnaissance troop, headed by Major Bob Boston, who is in command in the scenario 1, and returns to take charge in two of the later scenarios as senior most surviving officer. Divisional support units are listed next, and then the main force: A Company of 1st Battalion, the 425th Infantry Regiment. That’s headed by Major Dave Denver and is a standard US leg infantry company with support units from Regiment. Its badge is square, with a smaller paw print over crossed M1 carbines.
So players can really get to know the units they’re using.
RA: Yes. Most of the campaign paths involve at least one second appearance of a particular company, and any players who decide just to play all thirty-one games will certainly end up being on first name terms with their Big Men!
But thirty-one games must have meant an awful lot of maps as well.
RA: Well, there are fifteen different locations, or battlefields, in the valley. As I said earlier, no two scenarios are the same in BoB, although some are obviously fought over the same ground…just in a different direction and by different troops.
RA: Okay, take the road junction that forms the central point of the location known as “Near Avaux”. It’s where the roads from Avaux, Vartres and Pierrecourt meet. One game is fought north-south, another south-north, and another east-west. And never buy a house in the small town of Diot…or shares in the water mill at Vartres.
You sound as if these places are real!
RA: You have to understand that I’ve been living and breathing the Ribeaux valley for about six months now. I can tell you which town is which just by looking at the orientation of the local church!
How was writing BoB different from writing an historical supplement?
RA: Well, I thought it would be less work, but was horribly wrong! With a historical scenario pack, most of the time is spent on research and writing the history. Once you’ve spent ages and much brain power on that, the scenarios write themselves: you just choose an encounter, write down what the situation is, construct OBs from a list of who was there, and off you go. With BoB, although there was little time spent on historical research, everything had to come from my imagination. And then, of course, the campaign started writing its own history…so, when I was writing the background for any of the later scenarios, I had to go back and research what had happened before. And because I was keeping everything very tight in terms of places and units, in order to make sure that players didn’t have to buy a zillion different troop types to play, I started getting confused as to who was where or had done what. The level five scenarios were a complete nightmare! Around 5G or 5H I just hit a wall when I realised that although I’d already written about twenty-three scenarios, I still had another eight or so to go.
So why write it to five levels then? Why not stop at four? Using both fingers and toes, that’s still fifteen scenarios: the usual for most commercially available packs.
RA: The terrifying thing is that anyone who gets familiar enough with the valley and the way the troops move around it should, except for scenarios 5A and 5P, be able to add a sixth or even seventh level. The proper backgrounds won’t be there, but there’s easily enough information to allow the basic games to be constructed.
As to why? I started writing scenarios because I like playing IABSM, and IABSM is a scenario-based game and there weren’t enough scenarios written to provide me with enough games to play. With the launch of Battle for Liberation, I’ve recently expanded my collection to late war and, looking round, although there’s quite a few scenarios available (the two D-Day booklets, some of the Welsh Guards stuff) there just weren’t enough featuring the right mix of troops for me.
What on earth do you mean?
RA: You’re going to hate me for this, but historical scenarios (and I have written many) don’t always have the right numbers or mixture of troop types for my tastes! They’re all infantry, or infantry versus tanks, or one side consists of only an HMG and a sniper or something etc. Great games, don’t get me wrong, but because I don’t get to play that often (real life keeps me to only about a game a month, max) I like to play with as many of my different toys as possible. Now, although the scenarios in BoB aren’t always perfectly balanced, each side usually has some infantry, some support weapons, some tanks: a lovely mix of troop types that give a nicely balanced force.
Good God man, that heresy! (laughs)
RA: Yes, I know! Sorry! But it does mean that every scenario is almost like a pick-up game: the sort of game where people just play with whatever’s in their figure-cases that night. Think of it as me bringing IABSM to the people!
So, Comrade Avery, to summarise…
RA: Blenneville or Bust! gives you thirty-one contextual, late war, western front scenarios that can be played individually or as part of a campaign. Each scenario is designed to mimic a typical club-night pick-up game, and the whole pack is intended to make having a battle as easy as possible. No more will you have to worry about putting hours of preparation in before a game, just print out the three scenario briefings, open your figure case and…
You’re not going to make a joke about BoB’s your uncle are you?
RA: Funnily enough…
Blenneville or Bust! is now available, along with Robert’s other scenario packs, listed below:
The Defence of Calais The events of 23rd to 26th May 1940, as 30th Infantry Brigade and 3RTR attempt to defend Calais against two panzer divisions.
Operation Compass The Italian invasion of Egypt in December 1940, and the British response, the “five-day raid” named Operation Compass.
Vyazma or Bust! (F) A fictional campaign set on the eastern front in late 1941.
Fall of the Lion Gate The fall of Malaya and Singapore, December 1941 to February 1942.
Bloody Burma The Japanese invasion of Burma, December 1941 to May 1942.
Sicilian Weekend The first two days of Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, 10th and 11th July 1943.
Anzio, Wildcat to Whale The first part of Operation Shingle: from the Allied landing at Anzio to the end of Operation Fischfang. January to February 1944.
Blenneville or Bust! (F) A fictional campaign set in Normandy shortly after D-Day.
Thanks to Robert, both for this interview and for the hard work he’s put into Blenneville or Bust. Another cracking scenario from the Avery stable.
A hectic day yesterday as the terrain build took centre stage. Having decided on the layout I headed across to our local B&Q to get the material for the boards. I consulted my chum and arch terrain builder, Jim Ibbotson from Evesham, to ask him how he made his supplementary terrain boards for his Citadel