Thursday, 28 July 2011

Summer Reading Material

Finally finished reading The Peninsular War Atlas. I have had it since Christmas, but have read it in two sessions. One in April and the second this month. It is what Jan and I call my “upstairs reading”, which is to say it is not bedtime reading and requires to be tackled on the naya with a glass of wine.

Most of my Napoleonic reference books come under this heading. In the summer months it is too hot to do anything too physical, so reading is a good way to pass an hour or so. I tackled the seven volumes of Oman’s A History of the Peninsular War in the same way a couple of years ago.

I must confess that I found Oman easier to read than Nick Lipscombe, which I found to be very hard going. The maps are excellent, but the text is pretty dry. To cover so much in so relatively few pages is no doubt necessary, but it does make the task of reading the whole volume quite a task. More than once I found myself dozing off as I tried to complete a page. But that may owe more to the sun and wine than to the writers prose style.

On the other hand the maps are the best I have found on the period, and its very useful that he covers the Spanish battles as well as Wellingtons. I found the contour lines to be particularly useful. I have walked most of Wellingtons battlefields, and it was interesting to compare the contour lines with the ground as I remember it.

I would think that a lot of people have bought this book. Even when new it was very good value for money, and certainly filled a gap in the mass of literature available on the Peninsular War. But I wonder how many of those actually read it cover to cover? I suspect very few.

Despite that I would strongly recommend it to anyone who is looking for good maps on the period. A very welcome addition to my reference library, and one which I am sure I will return to, if only for the maps, in the years to come.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Battle of Rosche

The battle of Rosche

We have started the first of the two battles to be fought on 30 July 1813

The Prussians are taking quite a risk in offering battle, because they still have a considerable number of casualties from a previous battle. They have six in total, which does not seem too many. One infantry brigade only has one, a second two and a third three. But each casualty is really 10% and reduces fighting and morale ability.

It’s quite hard to inflict casualties in our rules. Skirmish fire requires a total of 6 with one D6, plus 1-3 depending on the skirmish quality of the brigade. Artillery fire requires 8 with 2D6 for a hit.

If the French are unlucky with their firing, then the Prussians may just pull it off. Particularly if their artillery have good dice. Fortunately both cavalry brigades are without casualties and both are heavy, so any cavalry melee with be on equal terms.

With our rules its morale which makes the big difference. Each brigade requires at least 3 with 1D6 to make their morale. They get plus for supports and better class of troops. But minus for casualties, nearby rout or poor quality troops. So the Prussian brigades with 2 and 3 casualties are pretty fragile.

The game has just started, with the French marching towards the deployed Prussian corps. It will take 3-4 moves for them to deploy and start their advance towards the Prussian line. Then it will be down to the luck of the dice.

This is not the sort of game we would have chosen to fight, and was forced on us by campaign decisions. But I must admit that it produces interesting tactical problems, as the Prussians try to avoid casualties and the French are desperate to inflict at least one or two at long range. If the French are forced to advance against steady infantry and artillery they could easily attract sufficient casualties to lose their initial advantage.

You can follow the battle report by using the 1813 Campaign Diary on the right under My Blog List.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Two Battles For The Price of One

Location of campaign battles

The campaign has picked up again and seemed to move smoothly between the table top battle and the campaign map moves. However move 22 has provided a problem which I have been dreading since I converted to PBEM – two battles at the same time.

Each campaign move is four hours, or four moves on the wargames table. There are three moves per day; the fourth is rest and sleep.

Breaking the day into three moves works well. It gives the players an opportunity to react to changing circumstances during the day, and issue orders to react to them. This also allows them to “march to the sound of the guns”, and makes it easy to calculate where and when reinforcements will arrive on the wargames table.

After each battle the losing corps has to retreat during the night move, and must avoid contact with the enemy for the following three moves, or the whole of the next day. This clears up the log jam created by the battle, and allows the winner to pursue and push the loser back for at least one full day.

Each battle takes a full day. This would be three campaign moves or 12 table top moves. I publish one wargame move on the campaign diary blog each day. This allows the players to follow the battle, and it gives Jan and I plenty of time to fight the wargame.

This process takes 12 days, but the players submit their corps orders each four days.

However with two battles fought on the same campaign day I have a new problem. Each battle could take up to 12 moves, then I have to clear the table and set up the second battle and that could take another 12 moves. And if is possible that one, or both, of the battles might go to a second campaign day.

The problem is that both battles are being fought at the same time, so I need the players to write orders each 4 game moves. Both battles start on campaign move 22. So players would have to write orders for move 23 at the end of move 4 of each battle. But if I publish one move each day that would be day 4 for the first battle and day 16 for the second.

I could just put the campaign on hold for 16 days, and then publish the first hour of the first battle. By then I would have fought the first hour of both as a wargame. But that means a long break in the campaign.

There are eight players in the campaign, and I want to avoid them getting bored and losing interest. When I ran a weekly wargames group I always found that after a two or three week break, for holidays for example, it was not unusual to lose a player. So I want to keep the routine of the campaign going to avoid this loss of interest.

One of the battles is quite uneven, and I suspect it will not last the full 12 moves. The other is very complicated, and could easily need a second day for nearby corps to “march to the sound of the guns”. So we will fight the first one as quickly as we can, and start to publish the battle report on the campaign blog as soon as we start the second one. In that way I should be able to keep the move orders in harmony with the table top moves for both corps.

I am getting great satisfaction for the smooth way the campaign is running, and in adjusting it to keep the momentum and player interest.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Battle of Helmstedt

End of move 1

We have just finished the fifth battle of the campaign, and it proved to be great fun.

The battle of Helmstedt started with French XIII corps deployed just east of the town, and 3rd Prussian corps marching to attack them. The Prussian 4th corps was four hours/moves behind and would arrive at the start of move 5. VI French corps was also four hours/moves away, but was waiting for orders. They would arrive at the start of move 9.

Jan, who fought with the French, played a clever delaying battle/game. She kept XIII corps in position and fired on 3rd corps as it deployed. Then she retreated slowly towards Helmstedt.

I fought with the Prussians and could see that night, in the shape of move 12, would arrive before I could close with XIII corps. So I put one brigade in a farm to protect my right flank against VI corps, and put the remaining three infantry brigades into a large column of attack. I could then move them for the cost of just two command points per move.

By the end of move 12 XIII corps was directly in front of the town, and could retreat no more without breaking formation. VI corps had arrived on their left, but too far away to take any part in the battle. My column of attack was within skirmish range of the town, but my artillery was screened by the column, and 3rd corps was too far behind to take part in the battle.

End of move 12

This was when we decided to give it one more move. If we still failed to get a result we would have to fight a second day. I had already decided to have a council of war with the two commanders on each side, and allow them to vote whether to continue or not.

Move 13 proved to be very unlucky for the French, but exceeded expectations for the Prussians. In just one move the centre of XIII corps broke and routed. It was a convincing Prussian victory.

End of move 13

I often wonder how much interest there is in the battle reports, as I get very little feedback. I know that the campaign blog has 10-20 visitors each day, so I know someone is reading them. But I miss the feedback.

So I was particularly pleased that this battle invoked a lot of correspondence to the campaign forum. There are two relatively new players, and much of it came from them. However a comment from Tom McKinney, one of the longer serving members, made me realise that the lack of feedback does not necessarily mean lack of interest. It also made me smile.

“………I usually pick up the day's battle results from my phone before I get out of bed and I can tell you on many occasions I have wished I hadn't started the day that way”

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Rewrite of Rules


I have just finished a rewrite of the rules, and have published them on the blog.

The rewrite was to include some changes which have crept into our day to day wargaming, but have not been included in the blog rules.

Most of the changes are typing errors, or minor amendments. But there is a new rule, which is Cavalry v Artillery.

This was an oversight when the rules were first written. It was covered in Opportunity Charges, because the only time cavalry charged guns was when they were limbered. We always seemed to avoid charging unlimbered guns. On the few occasions when we did, we used the mechanism of the Opportunity Charge. That is to say we allowed the gunners to evade to a nearby square.

The whole business of reaction was raised during a recent game, and I realised that none of it was covered in the appropriate rule.

When I wrote the rules I tried to include all aspects under one rule. For example I tried to cover all you would need to know about infantry skirmishing in Rule 11. I also wrote the rules so that the sequence was the same as the wargame.

When they were written they were for our use only. They were never intended to be available to the public. But when we started writing battle reports on the blog I published a blog of the rules so that anyone interested could check what the rule actually said.

Now they are visited regularly, and I felt it was time to review and update them. I did this when we were in UK recently. But I updated our own hard copy of the rules. The layout is different on the blog. With the inclusion of a new rule, and slight changes to most of the existing ones, I had to retype the whole blog.

The old errors are corrected, but I suspect I may have included many new ones due to the retype. Time will tell.

There is a link to the rules blog over to the right.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Campaign Off Road Movement

Current Campaign Map

After 21 moves and five battles, the current campaign is probably nearing its end. I say “probably” because I have no idea when it will actually end. The fifth battle is still being wargamed, and could go either way. If the Prussians were to lose with heavy casualties the campaign could end in a couple of moves. If the same were to happen to the French, it might go on for another 21 moves. If you want to follow the battle of Helmstedt, and the campaign, you can find it on 1813 Campaign Diary on the right under My Blog List.

After 21 moves it seems a good time to review what went well and what went not so well. I do not want a long delay between the end of the Hanover phase of the 1813 and the next one (possibly eastern Spain). So I have raised two points for consideration on the campaign forum. First is off road movement and second variable movement.

The current rules only allow on road movement. Because the map is based on the scenic squares we use on the wargames table, this has resulted in a very grid like movement. It also means that movement is very predictable.

A change would appear popular with the players, some have suggested an increase in roads, to allow more north to south movement. This would cause problems, as the tactical map is related to the strategic map, and extra roads would mean extra squares, which would destroy the connection between the two maps.

The tactical map is really just series of wargame squares. On the wargames table off road movement is allowed without penalty. So it seems reasonable to allow the same on the tactical map

Proposed Campaign Map

My suggested solution is to allow off road movement. The only roads shown on the new map are the main strategic roads in red (city to city) and secondary roads in yellow (between main towns). Minor roads have been removed.

Movement is allowed north, south, east and west. It is also allowed north east, north west, south east and south west. But no movement is allowed in a terrain square, except on a red or yellow road. Terrain would include hills, woods, rivers and broken ground.

I have put the suggestion on the campaign forum and asked for comments. It will be interesting to see whether this simple solution will meet with general approval. You can follow the discussion by clicking on the link under 1813 campaign forum at the top right.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Summer Reading Material



We are well into the Spanish summer and are adjusting our routine to the higher temperatures. Gone are the twice weekly walks in the hills, replaced with twice daily swim in the pool.

The Costa Blanca is not by any means the warmest part of Spain, but to anyone brought up on the average British summer temperatures in the mid 30s need adjusting to. The locals do it by avoiding the sun, and doing any chores in the early morning or late afternoon. And of course the famous siesta.

We try to do the same. Gone are the twice weekly walks in the local hills, replaced by twice daily dips in the pool. But you still need something to keep your mind occupied.

We are fortunate that the wargames room is the coolest part of the house. So we have an hour or so each afternoon. There is a large ceiling fan over the table which further reduces the heat.

But that still leaves a lot of the day to fill.

When not wargaming we often watch a DVD for an hour. With the shutters closed and the ceiling fan on high the sitting room is quite comfortable. My son bought me the whole series of The Sopranos on DVD for last Christmas. There are 28 DVDs, which is about 84 hourly episodes. That should see us through the summer months.

But we still need some mental stimulation, and my attention has turned to Nick Lipscombe’s The Peninsular War Atlas.

This was another Christmas present. I had to have it for the excellent maps, but I realised as soon as I saw it that it would be heavy going to read. It looks very similar to Esposito and Elting West Point Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars, and I had also found that very hard to read.

I am reasonably well read on the Peninsular, having read Napier and Oman plus many more. In fact I read Oman’s seven volumes for a second time when we moved to Spain five years ago. But I do have to work at it.

I made a gallant start on Lipscombe in February. It is one of those books that you have to sit at a table to read, certainly not bed time reading (or at least not my sort of bed time reading). The first part of the book deals with the early Spanish battles, and I always find those hard to follow. I am now more aware of the Spanish locations, but I still find it difficult to remember which commander is which. So by April I had given up the effort.

Recently I read on TMP the suggestion that it would be a good idea to David Gates The Spanish Ulcer and use the maps from Lipcombes Atlas. The former is one of the few easy to read books about the Spanish war effort, and the latter does have excellent maps. So this seemed like a good suggestion. But first I felt I owed it to Colonel Lipscombe to read his full text.

So The Peninsular War Atlas has been added to my list of tasks to complete during the summer months. It is not a book I could sit and read for too long. So I try to read one page two or three times a day. So far I have got to page 273. Only 76 pages to go.

Perhaps next year I will tackle Gates and Lipscombe together?

Monday, 4 July 2011

Campaign Movement and Deployment

Typical battle at start of move 1

Its good to be back into the campaign and it seems to be running quite smoothly. We have completed 20 moves and fought four battles. The fifth battle is just starting and you can read about it on the 1813 campaign diary – link under My Blog List opposite.

The campaign rules are still in an early stage of development. They are the third edition and have been developed over three PBEM campaigns. At the end of each campaign I update them to cover lessons learnt.

At the start of this campaign one move was one day. This created problems with reacting to enemy moves, concentration and “marching to the sound of the guns”. To overcome this I changed it to three moves per day. Movement rates are the same, but players have the opportunity to react to events three times during the day.

This has worked well. But as often happens you solve one problem and create another.

Each map square is one scenic square on the wargames table. The table is three squares wide and three deep. In effect the table is one days march on the map.

It’s critical that when the map is transferred to the table, there is sufficient space between the two armies to fight the battle/wargame. The ideal situation is that they both enter the table from opposite ends. They then each have one square to deploy, leaving one empty in the centre. Each square is 24” square, slightly longer than maximum artillery range. When they are deployed they move towards each other and fight in the centre

Typical battle start of move 5

If one is in defence and the other attacking, I usually set the defender in either the right or left square. The attacker then has his nearest square to deploy, and the centre one to move through to attack. This allows the defender to inflict artillery casualties as he moves through the centre square.

The problem arose when one commander wanted to start a battle at 1200, rather than 0800. On the map there was only one square between him and the defending corps. So he would start the battle in the left hand square, in column of march, with only 8 hours/moves to fight the battle.

All of my campaign games are 12 moves. This is the 12 hours campaign time. One campaign move is 4 moves/hours. In most battles the first campaign move (four table top moves) is spent marching the attacker onto the table. The next campaign move (four more table top moves) is spent deploying into column of attack or line. The third campaign move (final four table top moves) is the actual close combat battle.

If the battle starts at 1200, or worse still at 1600, there is just not enough time to move onto the table, deploy into an attack formation and close with the enemy.

Typical battle start of move 9

I don’t want to say a corps commander can only start a battle at 0800. But I don’t want to have to set up a battle/wargame, spent 8 moves crossing the table and then have a night move when the defender can just march away.

So I am working on a skirmish type engagement for corps who wants to attack later than 0800. First the attacker will have to deploy his corps from column of march (a formation which can not fight) to column of attack. This will take a full move. He can then attack the enemy with just one infantry brigade, and that will be fought under infantry skirmish rules. It will be done as a paper exercise, not on the table top. If the attacker still wants to attack, he can do so at 0800 next morning.

It all seems reasonable in theory, but I will have to see how it works out in practice. I have learnt from bitter experience that there is often a great deal of difference between one and the other.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Desktop back in use


It took three days to get my desktop computer working again, which was longer than I expected. So it’s great to have it back again.

I am one of those people who know absolutely nothing about computers, or indeed cars. I can operate both, but when either goes wrong I have to call in the experts. Fortunately I have very good experts in both cases. Both are British and both do house calls.

My computer was built for me by my son six years ago. As he keeps reminding me, that is a long time for a computer. In addition living in Spain is very hard on computers. The very cold winters and very hot summers are not good for them. Nor is the uncertain electricity supply, which can result in damaging power surges. Finally during the winter lightening can also do a lot of damage.

Before we left UK I was aware that I would need a good surge protector, and it was one of the first things I bought when we moved to Spain. Within four months we had an electrical storm, and my router was burnt out. When I took it to the local computer shop I was advised that this often happens, indeed it makes their day when a really good storm arrives. Apparently a lightening strike can move through the telephone lines, right into the router. We soon heard horror stories of phones blown off walls.

Worse still a house down the road was hit by lightening a few months later. It destroyed all of their electrical instruments, including computers, TV and a fridge. So now at the first sign of thunder or lightening everything is disconnected and we sit in the dark watching the lightening display.

All of this is very wearing on the poor old computer. It made two or three visits to the computer during our first year, and early in the second year they declared it BER (beyond economical repair). Fortunately I had my laptop. As I was looking around for a replacement desktop I heard about Paul. I rang him and described the symptoms, and he assured me that it could be repaired, and would not cost a fortune.

He was true to his word, and it was soon up and running again, and all for about 50 euros. He has been my first port of call for any computer problems since. Over the years he has replaced “bits” as required, and has never charged me more than the original 50 euros.

My latest problem was caused by heat, assisted by cold! During the summer months it gets very hot here, and this can cause the computer to overheat. But apparently the real damage is done during the winter, when the very cold weather causes more damage. Something about extremes of heat. He takes a lot of trouble to explain these things to me, and he hardly seems to notice when my eyes glaze over.

Anyway he has brought it back to life. He called at the house on Tuesday and spent almost two hours working on it. Then he took it away and retuned it on Friday. All of this cost just 40 euros.

Apparently the compact case, so much easier to handle than the previous heavy tower case, does not work so well in the hot weather. Not enough room to circulate the air. I had been told this before, so I placed my desk fan behind the computer. Apparently this may have done more harm than good, as it stops the hot air circulating out of the computer. Anyway the fan is at the side now, which I am told should help a lot. Time will tell.

Meanwhile I have been working on the campaign on my laptop. We have completed move 20, and I am setting up the fifth battle of the campaign. More about that in my next post.