Saturday, 30 June 2018

When is a Game Too Big

Two corps wargame on a 6x6 foot table
I no longer post on TMP very much, but I do visit the Napoleonic Discussion forum most days.   This is the title of a current discussion about size of wargames.   As with most things involving wargaming there are strongly held views, and conviction that they alone are correct.   I suspect that as with wargame rules there will be almost as many answers to this question as there are wargamers.
When I designed my current campaign I spent some time considering what size I wanted my armies to be.   The most important consideration would be how many figures could comfortably fit on the table, and not be shoulder to shoulder. 

My wargames table is 6x6 foot and I quickly decided that the maximum size per side should be about 200 28mm figures per side.   My table is composed of 9 2x2 foot scenic squares.   Each square could hold about 50 figures.  

I wanted to fight multi corps battles, so each corps would have to be no more than about 50 figures.   Consulting my available figure collection it was soon obvious that each corps would be 32 infantry, 4 cavalry and 1 gun.   This would represent 4x8 figure infantry brigades, 1x4 figure cavalry brigade and 1 gun and four crew.
 One corps per side
The smallest battle would be one corps per side.   My rules require that each brigade must be within 8” of the corps commander to receive orders.  So this small size battle would in effect be fought on the three centre squares of the table.   The corps would deploy at either end of the table, and the centre square would be the contact area.  
Two corps per side

Two corps per side would deploy as shown on the top photo, but would often spread over all three squares wide.   This would lead to very open battles, with lots of space for open flanks, particularly when a brigade routed.
 Three corps per side
Three corps per side would be a major battle.   The CinC would usually be present at this size of battle, so the corps commander freedom of choice was very limited. Only the CinC could decide corps objectives and whether they would engage or attack.   The difference is one of aggression.  On engage orders only cavalry can melee, infantry can only skirmish or volley fire.  On attack orders there is more hand to hand combat, and each combat is much more decisive.  There is still a lot of space on the table, particularly when the CinC (or the terrain) dictates that one area of the table should be avoided.  In this case the large city in the centre, and the hilly approach, make it easier for the British to concentrate on the French flanks, and particularly the French right flank.
Four corps per side
Four corps per side makes for a very congested battlefield.   On the campaign map only one corps can occupy each map square.   That map square becomes one scenic square on the wargames table.  So at the start of the battle there are normally three corps wide, one on each of the three scenic squares.  A fourth corps is often in reserve and usually off the table.   However their arrival must be allowed for in the initial deployment, because otherwise there will not be sufficient space when they arrive on the table.  It is often difficult to find space for all four corps, particularly for artillery and cavalry.   And routs tend to have more effect on adjacent or supporting brigades.

All of the above applies whatever scale you use, whether you have 32 figures representing one infantry battalion or four infantry brigades.   It is a matter of how many figures you can actually fit on your wargames table, and still have space to manoeuvre.   It is interesting that most of the discussion on TMP is driven by personal preference of scale or the size of battalion that “looks right”.

Over the years I have struggled with this problem myself.  At different times my 25/28mm infantry battalions have consisted of 4, 8, 12, 16 and 36 figures.   I have played on the huge tables at Peter Guilders Wargames Holiday Centre, and even then there had to be huge compromise with orders of battle.   I think his tables were 36 x 6 foot.  But even then his corps order of battle had no resemblance to historical ones.   Worse still that whilst it was a real experience to play on those tables, and a visual delight, the actual games were long winded, boring and exhausting (at least for me).

I am sure that very few wargamers would share my views.  The large battalions seem to rule the day, and I can understand why from a visual stance.   But I found in the past that they do not allow for interesting tactical wargames.   Usually they form up shoulder to shoulder and advance across the table resulting is a large melee.   Good fun now and then, but not very interesting for those of us who wargame regularly.  

it is not surprising that there is so many varied answers to this question.   Such a wide range of interests come under the heading of wargamer.  For many the satisfaction will be painting, collecting, planning and researching.   Actual time spent at the table wargaming may well be limited to once a week, a month or even a year.  Yet all consider themselves to be wargamers, and why not.   

 But if you confine yourself to the tabletop experience then surely Napoleonic wargaming must involve large, multi corps battles.  For many players the aim is to refight a major battle such as Waterloo or Leipzig.   To achieve that on the limited table space available to most of us, plus the limited actual time available to compete the game, is a major logistic and tactical problem.   To do so must involve serious compromise.   

And compromise is the very thing that so many wargamers, and particularly Napoleonic wargamers, seem to find it so difficult to do.