Friday 31 December 2010

Christmas and Presents

We are spending Christmas in the frozen, snow covered, winter wonderland that the area between Newcastle and Scotland has been for the past month. It came as quite a shock after our mild winter (so far anyway) on the Costa Blanca.

It’s always a pleasure to visit my son and his family, and Christmas would not be Christmas without the grandchildren. But it does mean adjusting to ten days without the toy soldiers and the opportunity to pass an hour or two on the wargames table.

Our PBEM campaign has hit a quiet patch. Partly due to the festive season and partly due to catching up after two campaign battles. I brought the lap top on holiday in the hope that I would be able to spend a day or two sorting out the campaign. But some players have been slow in forwarding their orders. Possibly due to being away from their own computers, possibly due to being involved with their own festivities. Most have replied to the campaign update, just waiting for two more to send in their orders.

Meanwhile I have had lots of time to study my Christmas present. I am sure that I will not be alone in being very grateful to Santa for a copy of Colonel Nick Lipscombe’s excellent “The Peninsular War Atlas”. My son is always at a loss to get me a suitable Christmas present, so we were both pleased when I read a very good review of this new book.

For the relatively cheap price I was not expecting too much. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the present under the Christmas tree was large and heavy. And even more pleasantly surprised when my grandson helped me to open it on Christmas morning and I had my first opportunity to flick through the pages.

First impression was beautiful maps. Not just one map of each battle either. In some cases, Talavera for example, there are five maps devoted to one battle. There is a large scale background map of before and after the battle. Then two maps showing the actual battle, one showing the early stages and a second the main engagement. Finally a three-dimensional map showing hills and valleys.

Then there is the fact that all battles of the Peninsular War are shown, Spanish as well as those in which Wellington fought. This is a most unusual, and very welcome, addition to my reference library.

I do wish that I had this wonderful book when I visited the Spanish and Portuguese battlefields about ten years ago. At that time I did not attempt to explore any of the Spanish battles, because I could not find any suitable maps to help me walk the ground. But with this addition I am really tempted to explore them now.

I have not yet had time to read much of the book. It is not really bedtime reading material. The book is heavy to hold, the writing quite small and the detail quite dry. But I have read the introduction and found the style to be easy to read and understand, despite frequent interruptions from the grandchildren!

If you have not already got your copy, and are wondering whether it is worth buying another book on the Peninsular War, don’t delay – buy it today. You will not be disappointed.

Just a few more days of snow and ice, then it will be back to sunny Spain. Goodbye to walking the grandchildren down to the frozen local park to feed the ducks, back to walking and wargaming. Of course we will miss the family, but it will be good to be back in our much-loved routine.

Wishing you and yours all the very best for 2011

Paul and Jan

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Crunch time for PBEM campaign

The PBEM campaign is now reaching what I expect to be the critical phase. You will remember that I am running a test PBEM campaign to see whether I can convert my solo 1813 campaign to a PBEM one. There are 10 players, and the campaign has been running for about three months. About a month ago it produced the first two battles. Jan and I have wargamed them, and I have posted a move by move record of them on the PBEM blog to keep the players involved.

I keep the players informed of developments by sending them a (campaign) daily report as their chief of staff. This is written as at 2100 hours each campaign day. It confirms the location of their corps and any intelligence received. A report is sent to each corps commander, with a copy to each commander in chief.

Each commander in chief then sends each of his corps commanders their orders for the next day, including an update on the general situation. Each corps commander then writes detailed orders for their corps.

When all ten reports are received I then plot what has happened and fight any battles which have resulted. I then write up reports and the sequence starts again.

The first three
days went smoothly, as I had expected that they would. But on the fourth day there were two battles. One was a simple encounter battle, and involved little work other than to convert it from the campaign map to the tabletop.

The second involved five corps. First I had to read each corps commander orders to confirm what he wanted to do. I then had to plot each corps movements on the wargames map to see where two corps clashed, at what time the battle would start, and when reinforcements would arrive. The wargames map has three squares for each day, representing three squares on the wargames table. A campaign day lasts 12 hours and each move on the wargames table represents one hour. So it is easy to calculate who arrives on the table and when.

It was more difficult to decide how corps would react to nearby fighting. There was one particularly difficult decision to make. It was very similar to Grouchy at Waterloo. One French corps had orders to hold a small town. Two Prussian corps has orders to attack the town. So far so good. But a second French corps had orders to attack a nearby town, which had been occupied by one of the Prussian corps attacking the other French corps. You can see it is starting to get complicated.

Eventually I followed the "Grouchy principle". The corps commander could hear the sound of fighting at town A (which was out of sight behind a range of hills). He had clear orders to march to town B. He followed his orders.

I very much want to keep the players involved in the decision making, and make them aware of why things went right or wrong. In previous campaigns when I had taken part as a player this is the stage where things went wrong, indeed in both cases the campaign just stopped - no reason, no explanation. I am determined that this will not happen this time, at least not from my end.

But it is a lot of work to read 10 sets of orders, some of which have not anticipated that there might be a battle, and to try to make a comprehensive and acceptable outcome.

The ten players have had a break of about three weeks since they last wrote any orders. Some will have followed events on the campaign blog, but no doubt others may not. So it is quite possible that the campaign in which I am investing large amounts of time and energy may be a distant memory to some of them.

I have just sent out the chief of staff reports for the night of the two battles. I had pondered whether it might be better to leave it until after the distractions of Christmas and the New Year. I finally decided that it would be best to maintain the impetus. To those who have been following the campaign blog they have had something to read each day, and they will be up to date. If I were one of them I would be anxious to get the chief of staff update and write my orders for the next day.

So I am anxious to see what response I receive to the reports. I am also aware that some of the players may not have access to computers or email over the holiday period. So it may be a long wait to see whether the campaign survives this critical phase.

Jan and I are spending Christmas with our son and his family in the lovely northumbrian village of Rothbury. Over the past few weeks we have been hearing reports of heavy snow and much travel disruption, particularly in that area. And this weekend the artic weather has spread to southern England with cancelled flights and thousands of stranded passengers in Heathrow. Perhaps not the best time to be taking a flight to UK!

As there will not be another blog entry before Christmas I would like to wish each of you and your loved ones a very Happy Christmas and a very Prosperous New Year from Jan and I.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

PBEM or Solo Campaign

I have just finished the Valladolid Campaign, which is the last of the five mini campaigns in my solo 1813 campaign.

The campaign was designed to allow me to fight multi corps battles on my 6'x6' wargames table using the figures and scenery in my collection. There are five mini campaigns and each one features one of my allied armies and a selection of my French and allied armies. Three are in Germany and two in Spain. The different locations allow me to use the different buildings in my collection.

The campaign started in April 2009, so it has taken me 20 months to complete the first complete phase. It has been a great success because it has allowed me to channel all of my energies from mainly collecting and painting model soldiers to pure wargaming.

For more than 40 years I collected and painted model soldiers. Most days would find me painting for at least two or three hours. I built up a large Napoleonic collection of 25/28mm, 15/18mm and 6mm, which were replaced time and again.

Airfix has been replaced by 20mmHinton Hunt. They had been replaced by 25mm Minifigs. They had been replaced by 28mm Connoisseur. They were replaced by mostly Front Rank. 15mm Minifigs were replaced by 18mm AB. The original 6mm Heroics and Ros were never replaced, nor indeed were they used on the table much.

For more than 20 years I have wargamed on a 12'x12' wargames table. In 2000 Jan and I decided we would retire to Spain, and that we would restrict our wargaming to just the two of us. Wargaming would play a large part of our retirement, but it would be on a 6'x6' table, which is large enough for two players. So I would not need such large armies.

At that time my larger figures were a mix of early 28mm figures. My 15mm were all Minifigs. I decided that I would sell off all my collection and replace them with Front Rank 28mm and AB 15mm. I designed a new army of French, Austrian, British, Prussian, Russian and Spanish in both 28mm and 18mm. The sale of my old figures would pay for their replacement with half as many new figures.

This project took about four years to complete. I now had a large army of both scales which had been bought to plan. I knew that I would never want to face such a big painting job again, and I decided that I would convert my interest from painting and collecting with occasional wargames, to campaigns and wargames.

I spent many months planning the 1813 campaign, so that I would be able to use all of the figures and scenery in rotation. I had designed each national army to fit on the wargames table, so I knew the maximum number of figures I would have in each battle.

I now designed a set of rules which would allow me to fight multi corps battles with that number of figures. I designed an order of battle for each nation, and planned the five mini campaigns within the 1813 campaign.

I am really quite surprised that the whole thing worked. Not only did I not miss the painting, but I found the campaign wargames much more enjoyable than our earlier games.
Then I discovered Blogging. I had never done so before, but it seemed a good way to provide a permanent record of the campaign. I am amazed how much it has become a part of my hobby. It makes me stick to a routine, and adds an extra dimension to the campaign and wargames.

During the past year I have dabbled with Play By EMail campaigns, both an an organiser and a player. I have mixed feelings about them. First I tried to open the 1813 campaign to PBEM, but it was not designed for that purpose, and was not suitable.

Twice I participated as a player. Both were abandoned by the GM/Umpire without explanation or apparent reason. A few months ago I decided to see if I could redesign my 1813 to be suitable for PBEM.

This involved writing new campaign rules. I have tried to keep these simple, like my wargame rules. It is early days, but it seems to be going well so far. Certainly I am enjoying it so far.

So far I have run both the solo and PBEM campaigns. The first to provide Jan and I with wargames, the second to see whether I would enjoy the extra work required for PBEM.

Now that my solo campaign has completed its first cycle I have decided to put it on hold until I decide whether to continue on the solo track or convert to PBEM.

The 1813 campaign will continue. It works too well to abandon. The only question to answer is whether it will be solo or PBEM.

The blog for the PBEM campaign is

Thursday 9 December 2010

PBEM Test Campaign Update

The battle of Colbitz

I am very pleased with the way the test PBEM campaign is going.

Jan and I have just finished the first battle/wargame and the campaign system and battle report seems to have been well received by all ten players. I have asked for comments on the battle report, and all have been favourable.

We have now started the second battle/wargame. Unfortunately it takes place on the same campaign day as the first battle. So we will have to complete both before we can see how well the results transfer back to the campaign.

This will be the real test of my new rules. I have designed them to be simple and fast moving for the players, and so far no one seems to have experienced too much trouble. But they are proving much more work for me that I expected. The whole campaign administration is done by hand. With so many players there are a lot of emails with orders, comments and questions. I do use the computer to keep copies of the orders, and it was not too bad setting up the first battle/wargame.

But this second one involves five corps, and it took a lot of effort to coordinate all the different orders, corps status and order of march. Each had to be compared on the map to see who should take part in the battle and who not.

The players are only now finding the outcome of my labours, and it will be interesting to see whether they are happy with my decisions or not.

My main concern is the long gap for the players whilst the battle/wargame is fought. It is for this reason that I publish one move each day on the blog. This allows Jan and I enough time to fight the wargame, and for me to transfer the battle casualties back into the campaign. So the players have something to follow, and they can better understand the battles. But it is still a long time between map moves. I just hope that they can maintain their interest.

It looks like the second battle will take us up to Christmas, and there will then be a short gap as everyone will be too busy to think about a wargame campaign over the festive season. so "crunch time" will probably be delayed until the new year.

If you would like to follow the second wargame you will find it at

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Napoleon in Italy

I have just finished the blog on Napoleon in Germany, and it was a real labour of love.

I must admit to a little surprise that there is not more interest in this series of blogs about our visits to Napoleonic battlefields in Spain, Portugal, France, Germany and Austria. I have a counter on the more recent of the seven blogs, and most weeks they get ten to twenty hits.

There is also a sort of master blog, called "Walking Napoleonic Battlefields". This is a sort of reference to the other blogs. Each week I do a short description of the current battlefield. Now this blog is very popular, and has had more than 9000 hits. But its strange that most do not follow the link to the full blog.

This is not a complaint, or a moan, just commenting on something which seems strange to me.

Its always nice to see how many hits there are on a blog, its encouraging to know that so many like minded people are interested enough to bother to read my ramblings. But that is not the reason I do them. The blogs have become a sort of way of life, and I would be lost without the incentive of publishing at least one entry on each blog each week.

But there is an additional incentive in the battlefield blogs. They involve reading through my old diaries and photograph albumns, and that it great fun. I really didn't realise when I started this series of blogs just how many battlefields we had actually visited, and writing up a blog on each visit brought back many happy memories.

The next blog is about our two week holiday walking the Napoleonic battlefields around Lake Garda. We stayed in a caravan on the edge of the lake, with beautiful views of the lake and distant mountains. We had magnificient weather and spent many happy hours walking Rivoli, Castiglione and Arcola. We also managed to visit Verona, Mantua and spent a day on Lake Garda. One of our most successful and enjoyable holidays.

The first blog deals with the planning and preparation

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Walking Napoleonic Battlefields

Just completed the blog on our visit to Lepizig, which is the last battlefield we visited during our Midas Battlefield Tour entitled "Napoleon in Germany". It was the last commercial battlefield tour we went on, largely because we were so disappointed with this tour.

In August 1999 we spent a week visiting Jena, Auerstadt, Dresden, Bautzen, Lutzen and finally Leipzig. It was the second tour we did with Midas, and we had high expectations. Although it was a guided tour I did lots of preparation in the six months before the tour started. I read all of the books I could find, I photocopied maps and even pages of books. I did just as much preparation as I would have done had we been going on our own.

We had already done a walking holiday of Austerlitz with Midas. It poured with rain, and the ground was very muddy, but the whole weekend was a great success. Our guide was very knowledgeable and obviously knew the ground well.

This holiday started badly. We were scheduled to fly to Leipzig, but at the last moment it was changed to Prague. When we arrived we had to wait a couple of hours for our coach, which had gone to Berlin to collect a couple of the group. We then had a very long drive from Prague to Gera, where we arrived very late and very tired.

The first battlefield was Jena, which was very well done. Despite an overcast day with light rain we spent sufficient time on the ground and got a good feel.

Auerstadt was, I felt, a little rushed. But we did explore Hasselhausen and did justice to the French position. Less justice was done to the Prussian side.

We were given a lot of "free time" in Dresden, which I always feel is a "cop out". You don't go on a battlefield walking tour to waste time walking around a city. There was a rumour that our guide had gone off to recce Bautzen.

Bautzen was good, though it is a large battlefield and I felt we could have spent more time on it.

Lutzen was excellent. We walked the whole area and thoroughly enjoyed the time spent there.

But Leipzig, the jewel in the crown, was a complete disappointment. We had a whole day for this very large battlefield, but only spent a morning touring it. There were two locations, which could have been anywhere. Then a long visit to the monument, which was good value. We then went for a long lunch and were told that we had another "free afternoon".

I have not read any accounts of visits to Lepizig battlefield, so I don't know how much more there is to see. But I am sure that there must be more than the very short time we spent walking the ground. There was a feeling amongst some of the group that not sufficient time had been spent by the organisers in recce prior to the tour, and that we were paying the price for this lack of preparation - particularly at Leipzig.

Whatever the reason, this would be our last commercial battlefield tour. Our future visits would be on our own, and would prove much more satisfying and enjoyable.