Interview with Simon Hall

I have recently refallen back down a tabletop wargamming hole and was recently introduced to Simon Hall – creator of MeG amongst other things. While not quite on topic, I think this is an interesting interview….

Can you tell us a little about yourself and wargaming?

My dad was in the RAF and interested in WW2 so from an early age I was into planes, ships and tanks.  I started building Airfix kits when I was 8 – I think my first one was a Panther. Several of us ended up playing battles with Napoleonic plastics and marbles – small ones for musket fire and big dobbers for cannons! 

At 11 I found my first wargame in a magazine and I was hooked. I found pretty much everything I could to read on the hobby and history from then on – raiding the school and town libraries every week. I wargamed through the ages starting with Napoleonics and WW2 and then on to Ancients, ECW and Colonials. From 1995 I played competitions and won the DBM world title 3 times from 5 attempts.

In the early 2000s I was a co-author of Field of Glory with Osprey/Slitherine, and then created my own rules in 2016.   I ‘retired’ from mainstream work and moved to near Cape Town to focus on wargaming and music (my other big passion).

What is your favourite period to fight or research?

I don’t really have one.  I like several for different reasons. And they have different challenges.

Ancients is a period I have loved a lot.  Researching it requires both piecing together of fragments and applying your imagination to try to visualise what may have been happening.  Much has been written by the victors of course, so some caution is required.  The Roman empire and the Greeks make great reading.  I have always had a soft spot for Japanese history.

Napoleonics is a favourite because to me it as the balance of infantry, cavalry and artillery about even.  It also has the story of one of the greatest innovators and generals of all time in Napoleon.  I used to do a business lecture about him being the original investor of the ‘business unit’ with his Corps and Marshal system.

WW2 has never left me after my early days. Now there are a lot of first-hand accounts published we can look at the war from new perspectives. Several of the personal accounts of senior commanders are great reading – e.g. Bradley’s ‘A Soldier’s Story’ or  Roy Urquhart’s personal account of Arnhem. 

Anything in your research surprise you?

Pretty much every time I move from what I might term “skim research” to in-depth I get surprises.  Writing rules across periods I do a mix of both.  I am finding it already with our new 2 Simons Show where Dr Simon Elliott and I focus on, and refight, a famous battle. Magnesia is a case in point where as we thought more about the accounts we have access to, we have developed more theories as to why Antiochus III would deploy in such and unusual manner.  Wargaming alternatives can then be a n excellent way to test things – such as how he would have fared with a more traditional approach to the battle.

For each set of rules going forward I am using one featured event to show them in action and add depth.  For WW2, I have been researching the defence of Rauray to the West of Caen on July 1st 1944 by the 1st Tyneside Scottish when attacked by 9th and 12th SS.  For Napeolonics I am using Quatre Bras. 

When creating rules where do you start?

The two Fs: fun and feel.  For me these are the two focal points.  They are games and need to play in an enjoyable way so we all want to play them repeatedly, hence fun. At the end of the day this is a social hobby in groups and encouraging such enjoyable face-to-face play is more important than ever in the modern world of tech games.   That the armies and game feel right is of equal importance, so that you get a sense of commanding an army and its natural character shines through.  So, if my rules tick fun and feel I am happy. 

MeG has been complemented a lot on both fronts which makes all the hard work worthwhile.  It has been fantastic to see a collaborative effort create over 650 realistic army lists for the period, and to make this available free online.  The new Pacto version brings the fun to a whole new group of people, as you don’t need a stock of large ancient armies to play.  We have also been using it here to play a 6 nation campaign and it is proving great fun.

Do you think playing battles from history help us understand them better?

For sure, as long as the rules used have a realistic feel to them – otherwise you have a serious risk of wrong conclusions. 

For example, I have played Waterloo 7 times now with 4 different rule sets. The refights tell you a lot about the battles and the roles of the main commanders.  Refighting the battle with fine weather and the Prussians failing to arrive puts enormous pressure on Wellington.  A sweeping attack around Hougomont, rather than getting over embroiled there, also causes major problems. But of course, in the FoG of war such things are not so apparent on the battlefield of the day perhaps.  Certainly, from the refights I have done, you can tell Napoleon was not present at his best that day.

Cannae is a great refight.  A right tussle between the Romans breaking a centre before being enveloped. Magnesia I replayed 3 times with different plans.  I think it explained to me why Antiochus III did what he did – and indeed it nearly worked.

What’s next for MeG?

Well for MeG itself it is primarily now for us all to enjoy it and grow the community. The input of 100s of players has largely optimized the game in its new form. It is now going from being a niche publication, known to only a few, to a mainstream one seen by many at shows and stores around the world. 

I hope we can encourage many people to come to events. My plan is to run “fun” events next to the “serious” competition,  so those who want to have an easy weekend learning the game or refighting a battle can join in.  MeG has the big plus that it can be played lightly for fun or fairly intensely – trying to get every move and the order of every move right.  I am hoping to build a large community of people who enjoy both of these, with gatherings that encourage both group of players.

We are growing the figure range with about a new box every month for several years. PSC has the rights now to do Lurkio, Corvus Belli and Xyston metals as plastic Ultracast figures.  So, watch out for many new Pacto armies starting with Corvus Belli Imperial Romans and Gauls.

More widely, the CCC system within MeG works for any period with the right adaptations.  In the coming 18 months you will see Divisions of Steel (WW2), Gloire de Guerre (Napoleonics), Renatio et Gloriam (Renaissance) and Battle for the Solar System (a sci-fi/colonial hybrid 1-1 skirmish variant).  The big vision is that once you understand CCC you can switch periods with relative ease – something I like doing a lot, but it is difficult if you have every different rulesets.  Watch this space ….  the journey has just begun.