Saturday, 21 January 2012

Campaign Manning Problems

In my earlier experience of running a wargames club I have found that it is not unusual for one or more members to lose interest if there is a break in the routine of the weekly meetings. So I was not greatly surprised to find that the same thing happened with the PBEM campaign following the two week break for Christmas/New Year.

The first was one of those failures to respond to an email, and again for the follow up email. Fortunately I had a reserve ready to step in. But I was shocked to hear that the reason he had dropped out was that he had been involved in serious traffic accident. The problem with organizing things on line is that you have very little personal contact with the players. And there is always a tendency to think the worse if they do not reply to an email. So this event has taught me not to jump to conclusions.

I was less prepared to lose another player within a week. This second one had taken part in all three of the PBEM games I have run. But for most of the current game he has been late sending in his orders, and has had to be reminded. I was about to write and ask if there was anything wrong when I received a mail from him that pressure of work had made it impossible to continue.

As always I accept that real life often makes taking part in a game difficult or inconvenient, so there were no hard feelings. If players tell me that they wish to withdraw from the campaign they are always welcome to join again at a later date. And once again I had a reserve ready to take part. He was also prepared to write a brief of his corps activity for the new player.

But I was very surprised, and more than a little concerned, to find that the game had not gone well for him at all. I have changed this campaign considerably from the previous three. The major change was to allow the corps commanders much more freedom of choice. But also there was the introduction of detachments, garrisons, sieges and lines of supply. All were in response to comments after the last campaign. All were intended to make the campaign more enjoyable for the corps commanders. But clearly they had failed in this particular case. It was clear that he preferred the earlier type of campaign.

It is always difficult to get feedback on how players are enjoying the campaign. Or what could be done to improve it. I suspect that most players do not want to appear ungrateful or negative about the campaign by offering criticism.

But I was concerned that this feeling might be wide spread amongst the corps commanders. So I have posted his comments on the forum, and asked each player to let me know how they feel about the new systems and how this campaign compares with earlier ones.

I really don’t like to change anything mid campaign. But if this feeling is wide spread then I will have to consider doing so. It’s a lot of work for everyone concerned, and I want to make sure that everyone enjoys the experience. It would not be difficult to reintroduce a greater degree of control by the two CinC, and to make the task of the corps commanders less demanding. But I don’t want to do so unless I am sure that this is what the majority of the players want.

If you would like to follow the discussion you will find it on the campaign forum at


Phil B said...

From our limited experience, a good campaign is relatively short, with definitive objectives and a set timescale.

Long campaigns tend to die out from lack of interest. Our plan for this year is to run short campaigns with a different rule set each month. The DBA ancients campaign (for example) will be 3 Thursday nights plus one Saturday. At the end of Saturday we'll tot up the points and find a winner.

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Phil

I would agree with you that its best to keep it short, particularly with PBEM.

This campaign started on 20 November 2011, so its less than two months old, and two weeks of that was the Christmas/New Year break. So I dont think it is the length that is the problem.

With the amount of work that goes into a PBEM, both the umpire and the players, I think you need about 3-4 months to make it worth while, and to develop the campaign potential.

And dont forget that the whole idea of our campaign is to produce good wargames. So its more than just a map exercise.

It will be interesting to read what the other players think of the campaign so far



MurdocK said...

I tend to agree that the best Campaigns for me in miniatures have been short ones.

In person this has meant 2-3 weeks for one that we can set up on the table and come back to week after week. Or for the one spread over a city (Vancouver, North Vancouver & Burnaby) it was about 4 months (15 weeks to be exact). Where there were four game tables and two rules sets and scales of 25mm and 15mm for doing out the individual battles. I used the 6-player campaign idea from DBA combined with 'armies' as defined by Age of Reason and Shako. Both really went well and we were able to show a definitive 'winner'.

Another game was Napoleonic in scope and strategic in scale. It was a flop from the big picture approach (we did not have blogs or the great pictures on the web as we can now - I did this in 1996-8 with just email). In the end we declared a second French Revolution, leading to a colossal battle of French vs. French (the 1805 ones!) at Turin in Italy. At least everyone at the great big turning point game was happy!

My lessons I have learned from all of these experiences are to confirm the leading 2-3 players in your campaign are prepared to fully act in the planned game for a minimum of 3 weeks (in person games) or 3 months (for more remote games)

The aim then is to have the game be 'able' to come to some sort of conclusion in that, approximately 12 turn or move, time frame.

For the truly GRAND SCALE strategic games spanning continents and with more than 3 players an understanding of the more flexible time pressures must be included. Rather than a fixed 'one week' or other such deadline for each turn, go with a 'next move' deadline that may be 2 days (for simple non-contact early game moving) or non-defined (allowing time for the tabletop battles to be played out and results to be posted), then once the data was known, from the turn battles, a 1 week orders deadline could be established.

I am working on using a tool like Cyberboard for my next online efforts as it allows for more player action without the tedious record keeping that I think may be part of the difficulty that players have with campaigns, they would rather just issue the orders and fight the battles, they are not so interested in supply lines, muster rosters and the like.

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Murdock

Interesting comments.

I suspect that you know the players in your campaign personally? That is a world of difference from recruiting on line.

This is my fourth PBEM campaign, and all have been recruited online. The problem is that I dont "know" the players, and have to take everything at face value.

I agree with most of your comments, but I dont agree that "turns" can be flexible. I have experienced this as a player in a PBEM campaign, and there is nothing better calculated to turn off the dedicated players

From my experience so far, it is becoming clear that no two campaigns are the same, even with the same umpire and players.

Its important to make it enjoyable for the players, but you have to keep in mind that the most important one to enjoy it is the one who is organising it!

The administration is time consuming, but it does allow you to keep your finger on what is happening. And this is vital when a player just disappears and you have to brief his replacement.

My experience so far is pretty mixed. But I am convinced that PBEM is the way to go for me in the immediate future.



MurdocK said...

In the best of the games I had met 'in person' all the players, though we had not been face to face for many years. So your observation that the players 'knew' each other is fair.

I have also done a few games with a mix of players, most notably a 100 days Campaign with three players each in Belgium, handling the French, British and Prussian commands. I have run the game 5 times now and each time was different with great response. The desire to do a 6th game was present, the problem at the time was I had to move house. The game was not picked up after then.

The 'extended turn' data I was speaking about was in the campaign situations where there are potentially multiple tabletop battles to be fought, that may take more than the usual 1 week to get done. Each battle report will still come in, just that the next opportunity to move troops may not come at the same speed. This will depend on the tabletop spaces you have available. In the 7-Years War game that was done in Vancouver we had three tables to use with loads of minis available in 2 scales. This meant that when a battle came up there was a competition to see who would get to run it (if only one).

We did orders on a 1 week basis until a battle, then delay until the battle(s) happened. It was a stretch for the one time we had three battles to take place and only two of the tables were willing to go for them at the time. This meant a 2 week delay - the neat part was since we were each 'national' leaders we could do a lot more 'diplomacy' during that battle delay so the orders were issued only 2 days after the 3rd battle was fought.

I guess what I am saying about the 'turn time flexibility' is dependent on how/what you are using for resolving the battle situations. If you have to do them all as tabletop encounters with AARs and pictures it will take longer than using some software system or other abstract tool.

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Murdoch

I did not appreciate what you meant about extended turns.

I try to keep a game move to no more than one week real time. Each campaign move is four hours campaign time or four wargame moves.

When there is a battle Jan and I fight it as a wargame. I then publish one game move each day. This allows time for us to fight the battle, and also for the non fighting corps commanders to write their next campaign move orders.

I think the most important aspect of a campaign is keeping the momentum going. I ensure that at least once a week each players receives an update on the performance of his corps.

I also run a campaigh forum to allow all players to ask questions or exchange information. I run a campaign diary blog for regular updates and the battle reports. And I always answer email within 24 hours.

Its a lot of work, but it is also very enjoyable and satisfying when it all works well