Wednesday 27 January 2010

End of PBEM campaign

I have reluctantly decided to abandon the PBEM campaign. After sending two reminders, and waiting two weeks for a reply, I have to accept that the two players who have not sent me their latest move orders are no longer interested in the campaign.
With the two who have confirmed that they no longer wish to take part, this makes four players out of ten who no longer wish to continue with the campaign.
The campaign was already approaching a major battle, which would have been a good place to bring it to an end. Had I received the outstanding orders it would have brought us to the end of a campaign day. The two commanders in chief would then have issued orders for the battle, and the eight corps commanders confirmed their first move. I would then have had a whole campaign day to fight the battle as a wargame.
Its a pity that after so much dedication and participation by all players that the campaign has to end on a sour note. I do not want to finish on this note, so I am going to set up a battle based on the current map locations. In effect the campaign has ended as far as the players are concerned, and all corps will just "march to the sound of the guns". So at least they will have the satisfaction of a major battle which will decide the winner.
I set up this series of PBEM campaigns to see whether I could run my own 1813 campaign as an ongoing PBEM one. However my experience over the past four months or so has convinced me that it is not a good idea.
My own campaign was designed to provide an endless supply of good wargames for Jan and I. And to this end it was worked very well. The campaign element was fought on a series of simplified maps, each of which was one of my scenery squares. So I could always set up a wargames table by just placing a template on the map to cover nine squares.
I had hoped that handing over the map moves to PBEM would make the campaign more interesting. I regret that it has failed. The maps are too simple for an enjoyable map campaign, and that is all that the PBEM players have. The battle produced were sometimes pointless, and not very enjoyable for us to fight or for the players to read about. Worse the whole thing relied on each player being reliable in submitting daily movement orders. And this was the worse failure of all. Every week I had to chase outstanding orders, not always from the same player. And this resulted in long delays between moves. This in turn meant that the players forgot what they were trying to achieve. And the long Christmas break just compounded all of these problems.
I have already started a "one off game" in the Wellington's Battles series. I did so because I expected that it would take at least one week for the final orders to be received for the PBEM battle. I will continue to fight this wargame, and when it is finished I will set up the final PBEM wargame.
I will then return to my own solo campaign. I am trying not to come to any hasty conclusions about future PBEM campaigns. At present they seem unlikely, and certainly they will not in future take the place of my own wargame producing campaign. But whether I will try to run one alongside my own campaign is still a possibility.
Its been very enjoyable taking part in PBEM at last, both as a player and an organiser. Its not been as rewarding as I had hoped. The game I took part in as a player just stopped without explanation. I still don't know why. This must be the worse way to end a campaign. Very disappointing for all concerned, and quite rude to the players who are left wondering what happened. This is the main reason I am determined to end the campaign I am running with a major battle.
Running my own PBEM campaign has also been disappointing, mostly because of the mixed degree of interest on the side of the players. I think this is probably part and parcel of Internet groups. There seems to be a real lack of commitment on the part of some players. And the fact that you are faceless and unknown makes it easy to just drop out when you get bored. It is perfectly understandable that this should happen, and a simple email would allow the remainder of the group to carry on. The fact that some feel this common courtesy is unnecessary is the thing which most annoys me.
Perhaps its a age thing. As you get older you notice how rude people are to each other, especially the young, even face to face. The good manners which used to be general, and the lack of which commented upon, seems to be a thing of the past. And if younger people treat their friends with disrespect and lack of courtesy, then its hardly surprising that they would carry this behaviour over to their dealings on the net. Understandable of course, but still quite sad.
Anyway at least Jan and I have a wargame on the table again, and its good to be back to our old routine.

Monday 25 January 2010

Battle of Talavera

The problems with the PBEM campaign are still unresolved, which is the main reason I have not been posting on the blog. There are still three players who have not yet sent in their next movement orders, despite a reminder last week. So everything else has been on hold as I wait to see whether they will reply.
Its becoming apparent that I will have to bring the campaign to a close. This is a shame, not only for me but also for those players who have worked hard on the campaign. I do not want to just abandon the whole thing, as that would be very unfair. On the other hand it would also be very difficult for the remaining players to take on the commands of those who have either confirmed that they no longer want to play, or have simply not replied to my mails.
While I consider the best solution to the campaign, I have decided to set up another of the Wellington's Battles games. This is a game based on Talavera. Not by any means a refight, but a wargame based on the historical battle.
I do not try to recreate orders of battle or duplicate the actual scenery. I set up a table which as the major features of the historical battle, in this case Talavera, the Pajar, Medellin and Cascajal. The orders of battle are designed to give a good wargame, rather than to duplicate the historical one. This is a particularly difficult battle, as there were more Spanish than British troops present, but the Spanish did not contribute to the battle in at all. Recreating this as a wargame is a challenge.
I have just published part one of the wargame, which deals with the historical background and setting up the game. You can read about it here:

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Slow start to 2010

It has proved difficult to get back into our normal routine. This is largely due to the fact that our wargaming relies on the PBEM campaign, and despite my best efforts it has failed to produce a wargame since December.

We have had one move since Christmas, and that was delayed due to having to chase up orders from a couple of players. When I sent out the contact reports following that move, I asked that everyone respond as quickly as possible. However out of eight players only four replied, and I have had to chase them again. So I am wondering whether the PBEM campaign has lost its impetus.

I have found in the past when running a wargames club that long breaks can have a bad effect on concentration and interest. For example annual summer holidays often led to the loss of a player when we started again. I suppose the break in routine allows people to reassess what they want to do, and if they are not too keen they just find a new interest. Nothing at all wrong with that, providing they are honest and tell everyone concerned.

In a club setting if someone does not turn up for a couple of games nights you assume that they have lost interest. Its more difficult with a PBEM campaign. First there may be good reasons, other than loss of interest, for not replying. For example they may have lost their internet access. Whatever the reason, it is very frustrating, and very unfair on those players who have responded immediately.

Move 15 is 1600 to 2000 on 5 June, and night follows. So there will not be a battle until Move 16 at the earliest. So there is going to be at least another week or two before we get a wargame. By then we will not have gamed all month.

It has become clear that running the PBEM will not provide games in the same way that running a solo campaign did. Its a great shame, because I do like the imput from other players. Perhaps it was just too ambitious to have ten players involved.

I will keep this campaign going as long as there is sufficient interest, but I will then have to consider whether it is a good idea to start a new one, or return to my solo campaign.

Meanwhile I am planning to fight another of Wellington's Battles to keep us going until the campaign produces a battle.

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Walking Vitoria Battlefield

Vitoria is a large battlefield and rewards preparation and research before you set foot on the ground. The main battle was fought to the south of the city, but a motorway from Burgos to Vitoria has split this area in two and makes it difficult to locate positions shown on diargams of the battle.
The city has also grown, making it difficult to find the location of the northern part of the battle to cut the main road to France north of the city. Villages can be found, but they have been incorporated into the city itself and bear little resemblence to the area in 1813.
Despite this there are locations and viewpoints which are easy to find. And being a difficult battlefield to walk makes them all the more rewarding when you do find them.
You can read about our visit here:

Sunday 10 January 2010

Getting back to normal

An empty wargames table is a most unusual sight in the Leniston household. We are returning to normal after two weeks spent in UK for Christmas with the family. As I cleaned the wargames room this morning I realized that it is one month since we last had a wargame.

It’s partly to do with the PBEM campaign forming the core of our wargaming now. The first PBEM I ran we had a move every 24 hours, and it was quite unusual for any of the eight players to be late submitting their orders.

The second game was much more complicated, and I decided not to have such a strict time table for orders. The sequence is that the two commanders in chief issue orders to their corps for each day. The day is divided into three moves. Each corps commander sends me his orders, which I plot on the master map. I then send them a recce report of what they have spotted. They then issue orders for the next move, sending a copy to the commander in chief to keep him informed.

I thought that this would speed things up, as the general objective was decided by the commander in chief and the corps commander only had to react to his cavalry reports and say which map square he wanted to move to next. However it has not worked out that way.

With six corps commanders there is always at least one who is late sending his orders. Having sent the cavalry reports I wait for 48 hours before sending a reminder, and then a further 48 hours before asking the commander in chief to confirm what he wants his corps commander to do. I copy this to the corps commander, and have always received his reply before the commander in chief. But it still means a delay of four days. So most moves now take one week instead of one day.

Over Christmas I did not send any reminders. Even I realise that most people have more important things to do at this time of year. We were due back on 2 January, but our flight was cancelled due to the weather conditions in UK and it was 4 January before I sent the reminder. Although I have asked for a standard layout for these orders, one of them was too general in nature, and I had to ask for confirmation. That was two days ago, and still no reply.

So a month has slipped by and no wargame. I could of course have set up a small game for Jan and me to play, but due to Christmas I have also got out of my normal routine. And I find that it is easy to let things slide. I have the excuse that I wanted to keep the table clear as I expected the next campaign game to be in play by now. But the real reason is that I also found other things to do.

I am quite sure that we will shortly be back into our usual routine of a couple of moves each day. However it is another thing to consider when this current PBEM campaign comes to an end and I have to decide whether to return to solo campaigning or not. The involvement of other players makes for a much more interesting campaign, but it completely defeats my original objective of providing good wargames when I want them. I am spending a lot of time trying to resolve these two opposing objectives, but without any success yet.

Thursday 7 January 2010

A Review of 2009

28mm Austrian Army

For me 2009 would be the year of the Blog. Not only my wargaming, but also much of my spare time has been taken up with this project. It all started in March as a means of keeping a record of what I was doing, and allowing friends to keep updated with developments. But it grew and grew and grew. I find it amazing that the main blog has had 12,500 visitors since March.

When we retired and moved to Spain in 2006 I spent a long time considering what I wanted to do with my wargaming. It had formed a large part of our lives for almost 40 years, and obviously would continue to do so after we retired. Having devoted about 2 hours per day for each of those 40 years to painting wargame figures, I had always anticipated that this would take up a considerable part of my time when I retired. However when I carried out the assessment I found that I had many, many more figures than I could ever use. Furthermore I had already replaced the main 20/25/28mm collection six times and the 15/18mm twice. The 28mm were all Elite, Front Rank or Foundry figures and the 18mm were all AB figures. So I could not imagine replacing them with “better” figures. And with a collection of 8000 in each scale replacing either would involve not just months of paint, but years.

In fact the first thing I did was to downsize the collection. This was because we had decided to replace our 12 foot by 6 foot table with a smaller 6 foot by 6 foot. We had decided that we would no longer run a club, but would restrict our gaming to "one on one" type of games. We found by trial and error that a frontage of 6 foot was just about right for one player.

2006 was devoted to setting up the wargames room. Making the table, scenery, shelves and trays for all of the figures. 2007 found me reorganizing the armies – yet again. But this time it was all about designing the right size two player games using my new table. 2008 we experimented with different rules and finally settled on designing our own.

At the start of 2009 I had already designed a massive 1813 campaign which would allow me to fight coordinated mini campaigns from north Germany to Spain. All of the administration was in place, such as maps, orders of battle and a detailed historical setting.

For the first three months we played regular games within the campaign. I ran the whole thing alone, so I could manipulate the campaign to produce the size and type of games we wanted to fight. It worked very well.

So why open it to a blog? To be honest I am not really sure. It was partly that I wanted to share what I was doing. We missed the contribution of outside influences. We did not really want to include other players on a regular basis, partly because Jan does not really like wargaming with anyone except me. I have never understood this, but when I ran a club in UK she would never take part. And after many years of gaming together I really wanted her to be involved again, particularly now that we were both retired.

I had recorded our wargames over the years by taking photographs and writing up a battle report. But all too often the campaign would fall apart after a few months. I wanted to have the discipline of “going public” to keep the campaign on the straight and narrow.

Whatever the reason I started the blog in March. The main stay of the blog would be the 1813 campaign. It took many weeks to take photographs of the figures in their corps and divisions. Then I had to make the maps again. I had developed them over the previous 10 years, but they were very rough work. I wanted to tidy them up before making them available to the public. They are still far from good, but much better than they used to be. Someday I will find a way of making them more professional.

I was delighted with the response to the blog. There was a lot of interest, and I corresponded with many of the readers. I was given excellent advice on how to organise the blog, as I wanted it to be a permanent record of the campaign. So I started a new blog to deal with the 1813 campaign, but kept the “Napoleonic Wargaming” for my thoughts and development of wargaming in general.

I enjoyed it so much that in April I started a new blog to cover the many battlefields we had visited; it would be called “Walking Napoleonic Battlefields”. This would also prove more popular than I had expected, with more than 4000 visits to date.

In May I decided to start yet another blog. This would cover our other hobby which is walking. We belong to two walking groups here in the Costa Blanca, and walk with each at least once a week. I enjoy photography, though I am not particularly good at it, and always took photographs of each walk. I sent friends copies of photos I had taken of them, and eventually was asked by other members of the group to include them. By May I was sending an email each week to each member with 10-16 photographs of the current walk. By starting a new blog there would be a permanent record of each of our walks, and they could be seen whenever anyone wished to do so. This would be particularly useful for those members who did not live permanently in Spain. There is one blog for each year and so far they have been visited more than 1800 times.

In July I started a Yahoo group devoted to Napoleonic Campaigns. Despite the success of my Blogs there was relatively little feed back. I missed the exchange of information and ideas which I had enjoyed when running the club and later on the LFS forum when I was using those rules. My particular form of wargaming is not really “main stream” and I did not feel there would be much interest in the forums I now visited, such as TMP. I hoped that a new group might be the answer. Unfortunately it turned out to be a disappointment. After a great start the contributions became less and less. Mostly they were restricted to my contributions, with little response from the 130 odd members.

However the group did introduce me to Play by E Mail (PBEM) games. One of the members started an 1805 PBEM campaign in July. I took the part of Napoleon and found it very interesting while it lasted. Unfortunately in November, when the first battle was to be fought, it just stopped dead. I have no idea why, and that is the big disadvantage of internet wargaming. I assume that the moderator lost interest, or perhaps found that wargaming the battle was too difficult. Whatever the reason he simply stopped responding to emails.

But taking part in this campaign made me consider whether I might open my 1813 campaign to other players by means of PBEM. It started in September and is still going strong. It was based on my sold 1813 campaign, and in fact refought the mini campaigns of Magdeburg and later Halle, as I already had the appropriate campaign maps. This project had proved more complicated than I expected. The administration of a PBEM is much different from a solo campaign.

The biggest problem with a PBEM is that is just does not produce good wargames as quickly as a solo campaign. Worst it can take weeks to produce any wargame, and than it may well be uneven and not one you would wish to play were it not dictacted by the campaign.

But it has been interesting, and has caused me to reconsider a lot of mechanics which I had just accepted for the solo game. I am now considering whether it would be better to keep going with the PBEM concept, or just return to solo campaign. Or indeed whether it might be better to try to do both.

2009 has been great fun, has provided a lot of good wargames and has given me many enjoyable hours of Napoleonic Wargaming – whether on the table or designing elements of the campaign or updating my rules.

2010 looks like being just as challenging and I am really looking forward to it.

Good wargaming to you all in the coming year.

Monday 4 January 2010

The Battle of Vimiero

The fourth, and final part, of the Vimiero can be found on the Wellington's Battles blog.

Once again the British won, as they did on the day. However the wargame did not follow the historical one. This had never been the intention, as I have always found it difficult to refight actual battles. The Peninsula battles covered in this series of blogs are more wargames inspired by the original battles, rather than attempts to refight the battle itself.

I wonder whether I am alone in this approach to historical battles? Certainly when I started in wargaming the prospect of refighting Waterloo was one of my main incentives. And from my casual reading of other blogs and various wargame forums this type of objective would appear to be wide spread.

The whole subject of scale of figures, buildings and terrain seems to be a major concern of may wargamers, or at least those who put subscribe to the forums. Grand projects to refight a particular battle are undertaken with lots of publicity, and then seem to disappear long before the project gets anywhere near the tabletop. The only difference between now and then (when I did much the same thing) is that it is now so much easier to make everyone aware of your project due to the world wide web.

I am sure that most find, as I long ago did, that trying to transfer a battle with tens of thousands on each side, spread over a few miles of undulating terrain is pretty well impossible to achieve on a wargames table. And that is before you try to find, or write, rules that will reward correct tactics. And were you to successful what would be the point, you would end up with the same result.

But of course its great fun to make your wargames table look a little like the original, field your model soldiers in a similar order of battle and then attempt to rewrite history. But I do wish more wargamers would admit, to themselves at least, that their game bears no more than a passing resemblance to the original epic it is based on.

I have greatly enjoyed the first two wargames in this series. Both Rolica and Vimiero were relatively small battles fought on compact battlefields. I have visited and explored both. I must confess that my wargame tables bore little resemblance to either, though both had similar terrain objectives.

The progress of the wargame was also very different from the original. This is one of the other problems with refights. Over the years I have found it very difficult to make a wargame follow the original time table. A real battle tends to be a series of small engagements, each of which leads to the next. However wargames tend to be more a matter of moving everyone forward and hoping for the best. Even when we maintain a reserve, it is usually committed much earlier than in real life.

So I have long accepted that it is, for me, more rewarding to create an enjoyable wargame than to try to recreate the actual battle. And certainly so far this series of games has achieved its aim.

You can read the whole battle report here: