Tuesday 29 March 2011

Campaign Fog of War

The PBEM campaign is working well.
I wear three “hats” in the campaign. I am umpire, French CinC and Prussian CinC. So I had to devise a method of ensuring that in each of those roles I only had the information which should be available.
Example of Umpire Tactical Map at end of day
As Umpire I know the exact location of all eight corps. These are plotted on the umpire tactical map. The above is the situation at the end of the first days movement.
Example of French CinC Tactical Map before corps reports
As the French CinC I only know the exact location of my own headquarters. I know what I have ordered the four French corps to march to, but until I receive their reports I know nothing more.
When I issue their orders I indicate where I have told them to move to with arrows.
The fog of war comes from the eight campaign players.
At the end of each move I send each corps commander a detailed report on their current location, order of battle and any contact with the enemy. They then write their orders for the next move, and have the opportunity to send one message. Surprisingly only one of them has taken this opportunity to inform their CinC what is happening.
Once a day each corps commander has to send a report to their CinC, informing him what has happened during the day, their current location and order of battle, and any contact with the enemy.
To make their job easier I have included a template for each of their reports in the campaign rules. When I ask for a report, I remind them where to find the template.
All that is then necessary is to cut and paste the information I have provided as umpire from the current umpire report to the required report, and send that report to me as their CinC.
Sounds easy, but five of the six reports I have received so far contain serious errors. None have cut and pasted, but have written their report in their own words. In doing so one had given an incorrect map reference and a second had forgotten to tell Davout that he has spotted a Prussian corps five miles away. Two have forgotten to include their order of battle. A third has written a long, and interesting, report on his day’s activities. But without any of the information which should be contained in the report.
Example of French CinC map after corps reports
In the example above IV and V corps have reported enemy cavalry contact, but failed to report the presence of a large body of enemy behind the cavalry screen. VI corps have passed on all the information provided by the umpire, including a large body of the enemy in Cuellar.

Friday 25 March 2011

Bad Weather – Good Wargaming

French cavalry rout British hussars
The weather has been pretty miserable here on the Costa Blanca this past couple of days, with heavy rain and dense low cloud. As we live in a valley, with a mountain range opposite the house, we are particularly aware of the conditions. We normally have a lovely view of the local village and mountain behind, but this morning both had disappeared in a white haze. This is NOT what we moved to Spain for! And it does not help that the weather in UK has been warm and sunny this week!!
The good news is that being restricted to the house by the weather, we have done more wargaming than usual. As with most things in life, it’s easy to put off wargaming when the weather is fine. It’s tempting to visit the coast for a glass of wine overlooking the med, or just sit on the naya reading – with a glass of wine. But this week we had to rely on indoor activities, and the wargame came into its own.
We are currently fighting a game based on Vitoria. It’s the first time we have used our 18mm figures for almost a year. I tend to use the 28mm for the campaign games, because the battles have fewer figures, and the larger figures photograph better. But Vitoria covers a wide area, and it’s important to have some distance between the four allied columns.
In a large and complicated battle we usually only play one move each day. This takes about an hour, as I take photographs at the end of each turn. I then usually type up the battle report immediately, whilst it is still fresh in my mind. So the one turn can take up to two hours, which passes the afternoon.
The disadvantage is that you have to “get into the game” each time. This provided an added bit of realism, which cheered us up despite the weather.
I command the British and Jan the French. In the centre, around Arinez, the battle is going badly for the French. They have lost the hill, and are struggling to prepare the village for defence.
Alten’s column is attacking Arinez hill from the west. Having crossed the river the cavalry move to the left to protect the infantry as they form up ready to attack the hill. The artillery are deployed between the infantry and the cavalry, to prevent the French lining the top of the hill.
The infantry move forward and drive the French off the hill. This causes one French battery to withdraw in disorder. The French cavalry move forward to prevent the hussars from taking advantage of the infantry retreat.
Whilst I concentrate on the infantry who are moving across the hill towards Arinez village, Jan has rallied her artillery. They fire on the hussars at long range, causing a casualty. The French cavalry then declare a charge on the hussars, who fail their morale to counter charge. They lose the melee, and rout into the artillery. Alten’s attack is in a shambles. End of move
Next day Jan gets to move first. She is on the far side of the table and dealing with the French reserve at Vitoria. She orders one of the batteries to fire on a line of cavalry close to Alten’s infantry, assuming them to be British. Fortunately she misses – they are her own heavy cavalry who have caused so much havoc in the previous move!
This is the first time that I have ever encountered a “blue on blue” in a wargame. Shame that the French gunners were not able to score a hit – that would have really made my day.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

PBEM Campaign Time and Motion

Tactical map at start of campaign
Because the 1813 campaign was only designed to produce good wargames, and because it was a solo game, I have always had a very relaxed approach to communication between commanders. In fact it has always been instant communication.
When I started to convert the campaign to PBEM this aspect was overlooked by everyone, including me. No one seemed to notice, and certainly it was not raised. When I asked for comments prior to the start of the current campaign, this was not raised.
The campaign rules were rewritten and issued. The maps were redrawn and issued. The first campaign move was completed and we had started on the second move before it was raised. As often happens it was along the lines that this would not happen in real life. Which of course it wouldn’t. But then again a wargame campaign is NOT real life.
But once raised, it is difficult to ignore. The player who raised it asked the question “am I alone in thinking…” The complete lack of response from other players seemed to indicate that he was alone. Indeed the only response was to say it didn’t matter. But to me it did matter. Once the question is asked, it’s hard to just dismiss it. Even though that would probably have been the best thing to do.
So I set about finding a solution. It was only then that I realised how difficult it would be. The campaign is based on one move a day, and with the new smaller maps there is only four days move on the whole tactical map. This allows plenty of space to march and fight, but not sufficient to allow time for messages to be delivered. So we would either need a new map, or a completely different solution to the length of time it would take to deliver a message. The whole campaign area is 60 x 60 miles, and an ADC on a fast horse can cover 5-7 miles per hour. So he could ride from one side of the campaign area to the other in say 10 hours! If each campaign move is one campaign day then clearly it would mean instant communications!
But worse still, it would mean changing the campaign just as it was getting started. And it would mean a major change. I would have to write new campaign orders and devise a daily routine. Then I would have to explain it all and try to impose a new system without destroying the campaign.
The solution I have come up with is that each move will be four hours, or three moves per day. This works quite well, because in the wargame 12 moves is a day, and in the campaign 12 moves in a day. Furthermore if my ADC covers 5 miles per hour he will cover 20 miles or four squares in one move. This change from one move equals one day to three moves equals one day means that the campaign will slow down considerably. But it will also allow the corps commanders more reaction and the ability to exchange communications.
It took a full day to write orders and try to consider the pitfalls. I managed the first, though no doubt with undiscovered typing and other errors. Not at all sure about the second. I strongly suspect that the pitfalls will only become obvious once the campaign is under way again. Much like the original communications problem in fact.
My poor corps commanders have been very quiet throughout this upheaval. They have been bombarded with a quick succession of lengthy emails and forum posts to explain what is happening, and how it will affect them. Whether this is the quiet before the storm, or whether it indicates their complete lack of comprehension I am not sure.
It is only 36 hours since the post arrived on the forum. And in that time the campaign has been turned inside out, three campaign rules have been rewritten and two new ones added. A complete set of umpire reports have been sent to each corps commander, and the first replies have already been received.
Whatever else the PBEM campaign may be – it is not boring!

Thursday 17 March 2011

Where does all the time go?

Battle of Vitoria
Jan and I really enjoy our wargaming, and always manage to get in a few hours at the table at least twice or three times a week. But it’s more than two weeks since we last played.

Almost a week ago I set up our version of Vitoria as a "fun game". For the past few months all of our games have been part of the PBEM campaign, and as such have been closely followed by the campaign players. More than one has been the subject of controversary on the campaign forum, and this has made Jan in particular take the game very seriously.

As a break from the campaign, and to fill time whilst there is a lot of map moving going on, we have developed an occasional series of "one off" games based on Wellington's battles in the Peninsula. This is our eighth such game, and we were both looking forward to it.

Yesterday I realised that the table had been waiting almost a week, and we had still not made a start. We suddenly realised that our week was so full that it would be difficult to find time to start the game. We had planned to walk down to the post office to collect our mail (no house delivery in our small Spanish village) and then have a cup of coffee in the Cooperativea. You can get a cup of black coffee heavily laced with brandy for one euro, very pleasant sitting in the sun and watching the world go by very slowly. Hard not to become a habit.

In the afternoon Jan had her new Mosaic class. Its only one afternoon a week, but then she has to find time to work on her new hobby. Her first attempt was a small square about the size of a beer mat. It took two weeks, and I have to admire it at least three or four times a day.
Anyway, we decided to do without our coffee and start the game instead.
But what about the rest of the week?
Monday – Hill walking with our regular group
Tuesday – Jan visits the local market with a group of friends
Wednesday – Jan Mosaic class
Thursday – Spanish conversation class
Friday – Weekly shop, and “people fix”, in Calpe
Saturday – hill walking on our own, or with a couple of friends
Sunday – Housework and free afternoon to meet with friends.
In between this heavy schedule I spend hours working on the PBEM campaign on the computer and working on my five regular blogs.
When I had to work for a living I remember talking to a friend who had recently retired. He told me that he was so busy that he didn’t know how he had ever found time to work. I couldn’t understand what he meant – I can now!
Of course its a nice problem to have. I will just have to get my priorities sorted out, and pencil in two or three sessions at the wargames table each week.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

New Campaign Maps

It’s been a very busy few days as I worked on the new PBEM campaign.
I have rewritten the campaign rules, and put them in the files section of the Campaign Forum. I have had a good response from the members, and that has kept me busy, both replying to them and amending the rules.
I have also had to make new maps for the campaign. Whilst the previous campaign was in progress I started work on the main campaign map for northern Europe. The previous ones were very much a first draft, and having used them for two years I was ready to make some major changes. In particular I wanted to improve the road system, to help channel movement.
Northern Europe map
This is the master map for the whole 1813 campaign in northern Europe. It covers an area 480x480 miles, and each square is 15 miles. It’s fine for working on, as I can enlarge any part to work on. But on the blog it is not possible to read the detail
North Germany map
So next came a larger scale (or is it smaller scale?) map of each of the three campaign areas. These cover an area 270x195 miles, and again each square is 15 miles. These maps are designed for use on the blog, and for me to work on strategic planning.
Hanover Strategic map
For use in the PBEM campaign I required an even smaller area, similar in size to the Waterloo campaign. This one is for the current Hanover campaign. It covers an area 135x75 miles and is used on the campaign diary blog to plot campaign movement without giving the players too much information
Hanover Tactical map
And finally a new map for the corps commanders to use. This is smaller than the previous one. It covers an area 60x60 miles, and will be used for the tactical movement. It’s not a very pretty map, but it is a very practical one. It’s really a rolling wargames table, and the players can see in advance exactly what the battlefield will look like.

Friday 11 March 2011

PBEM Hanover Campaign Summary

I have just posted a summary of the Hanover campaign on the Campaign Diary Blog

The blog gives a brief history of the whole campaign, from the umpire's point of view. It also has a copy of the umpire strategic map for each day. Because this was a PBEM campaign, it was not possible to show the position of all eight corps on the daily report, so this is the first time that they have been seen.

A great deal has happened since my last post. I had just heard that one of the campaign CinC had resigned, and that the campaign had come to a premature end.

Since then I have notified all ten players, and confirmed that I would be starting a new campaign shortly. I had eight command posts on the new campaign, and offered first refusal to all the previous players, except the one who had caused all the problems in the first place.

I was prepared to lose many, if not all, of the previous players. I have found that PBEM players do not have the same dedication to the project as you would expect to find in a club campaign. I think this is because of the lack of personal face to face contact. Its all too easy to commit to a project on the web, and its just as easy to walk away if you get bored or lose interest. Because of the negative exchange of posts in the last weeks of the previous campaign I expected many to have lost interest. Indeed I myself had lost interest as a direct result.

In fact five of the original ten signed up for the new campaign. Four politely turned down the offer. The four all had good reasons, and all expressed gratitude for my work on the campaign, regret that it had ended as it did and were sorry that they could not take part in the next campaign. However I suspect some had just lost interest in a project which was spoiled by one player who obviously did not appreciate the work which had gone into it and who was determined not to compromise.

The good news is that the five who have signed up for the new campaign were all players I was really pleased to keep. Within a few days I have recruited four new players, who all appear to be just the sort I want and who would fit in well. So in four days I have the eight posts filled and a reserve.

During the week there has been a lot of activity on the campaign forum, as I explaind what I want to achieve with the new campaign, and asked for comments. Comments and questions came quick and fast, as did suggestions to improve on the previous campaign rules. The forum is buzzing with questions and expectancy. It bodes well for the new campaign.

I have started work on rewriting the campaign rules, and will post them on the forum as soon as they are complete, so that the players can comment before we start the campaign.

Most importantly I have learned a valuable lesson. There is no point in pacifying someone who just wants to cause trouble. It will not happen again. Constructive criticism is always welcome, but as soon as it becomes clear that a player is refusing to accept my explanation and determined to cause trouble he will get one warning only. I have ensured that no player is critical to the new campaign, and will not hesitate to remove any who put the project in danger. Once bitten, twice shy as the saying goes.

Despite that sombre warning I am really looking forward to the new campaign. The new format looks very promising, and it will be interesting to see how it all pans out. I am sure that there will be more challenges and problems, but that is what makes it all worth while.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Sad end to Hanover PBEM campaign

I was sad, and disappointed, to receive a mail this morning from the Prussian CinC player to tell me he was resigning from the campaign. It was sad, but it was not a surprise.

There are two CinC in the campaign, and both play a critical role which makes them difficult, if not impossible, to replace. They plan the strategy and issue the daily orders. The campaign is now at a critical stage. Two battles have been fought, and what happens next is likely to result in victory or defeat. Not a good time to replace one of the CinC!

After a very promising start I was delighted with the progress of the campaign. Then one of the CinC started to criticise aspects of the game. It started with how we handled the wargame of the first battle. He would not accept my explanation, and was obviously unhappy with my decision.

A few days later he was complaining about an umpire decision, and suggesting that I was being unfair or one sided in my decisions. Again I tried to find a compromise, but he would not accept it. This then led to an exchange between him and other players on the forum, particularly with the other CinC.

Again I tried to find a solution, and even offered to change my style of umpiring. But the second CinC, who had defended my position, then decided to resign from the campaign. So I had lost the one player I wanted to keep, and kept the one I would have been happy to lose!

I guess this is pretty typical of PBEM campaigns. There is no face to face contact, so petty problems can very easily get out of hand. Players often do not have the same degree of interest as they would in a club campaign, and just can't be bothered. And who can blame them.

It has not put me off PBEM. I have learned a lot from this campaign, particularly not to allow any one player to hold such a critical part that he is irreplaceable. It has also confirmed something which I suspected all along. No matter how good the campaign rules and systems may be, it will not work without a team that wants to make it work and is prepared to compromise in order to achieve that end.

Quite important lessons to learn, so the campaign has not been a complete waste of time.

I will be starting a new campaign in a week or so. I hope that most of the existing players will take part in the new one, though I would fully understand if they did not want to do so after so much wasted effort.

Despite everything I am not too down beat. The campaign had ceased to be any enjoyment for me. Every day I waited for another petty complaint, which I would have to deal with despite knowing that it was driving another nail into the campaign. Jan was dreading playing another wargame, knowing that every move might be the cause of another complaint.

Nor am I discouraged from trying another PBEM campaign. Most of the players have supported me through months of test play. Even the new ones entered into the spirit of the game. But it was like having a rule lawyer in a club game, nothing you were going to say would ever put it right, and he could so easily spoil a good nights wargaming. In those circumstances the only thing you can do is ask him to leave, and hope that everyone else does not leave with him.

time will tell, and you will be the first to know.

Sunday 6 March 2011

Can't do right for doing wrong

Blucher explains the campaign rules to his commanders

The PBEM campaign is certainly keeping me on my toes! Whatever decision I make seems to result in an instant response. Not a bad thing, at least it shows that some of the players are taking the campaign seriously.

We are only on the third day of the campaign, and already there has been two heated topics on the campaign forum. Both concerning one of my decisions. Both raised by the same player. Both regarding a command and control decision. Both involving the commander in chief. But, interestingly, the first one because I ignored the CinC and the second because I supported him. Hence the title of this post.

In the first instance Jan went against the CinC campaign orders when fighting the wargame. The CinC complained that she should not be allowed to do so. I explained at length that the whole object of the campaign was to provide good wargames, and that whilst the game would be set up in accordance with the campaign orders, once started Jan and I would be able to fight the game as we thought best. It was clear that one player did not accept this point of view.

During the very next campaign day the other CinC ordered one of his corps to withdraw. This was in accordance with the game write up, which confirmed that as both corps had suffered medium casaulties, both should withdraw. Despite this the corps commander wrote orders for them to hold. The CinC was in the same location, and I found it hard to accept that Blucher would allow one of his corps commanders to disobey a direct order. I suggested that the corps commander make his case to Blucher, but that he would have to accept that the CinC had the final say in the matter.

I then made the mistake of putting a post on the forum explaining that there would be a short delay, and explaining why. This resulted in a prompt reply, from a player who is not even a Prussian player, telling me I am not allowed to do this, and I would have to allow the corps orders to stand if my umpire decisions were to be credible - or words to that effect.

The tone of the post implied that I was not being even handed, and I felt that I had to ask other players what they thought. I asked for comments, and put the campaign on hold for two days to allow everyone to comment.

This in turn resulted in complaints that I was holding up the campaign, and that it would make it even slower! This from a different player, one who appears to dislike the battle reports because they down the pace of the campaign. To allow Jan and I to play the game, I post one move each day on the campaign blog. Therefore a battle/wargame can last up to 12 days. However this player would prefer us to fight the wargame much quicker so as not to delay the pace of the campaign.

Like I said at the beginning - you can't do right for doing wrong!

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Return to the Campaign

nightfall at Marienborn
Just finished the battle of Marienborn, the second battle of the Hanover Campaign. Actually its been more a skirmish at Marienborn, than a battle. It was a contact battle, where each side starts as the edge of the table and march to the town in the centre. They entered the table at 1200, which translates as 8 game moves. So there was not sufficient time for a battle to develop. Both sides made a dash for the town, followed by four moves of pretty inconclusive skirmishing. So not one of the most exciting battle reports to read!
It has been almost a month since the last campaign move resulted in two battles/wargames. It is a long break between writing orders, but I have posted a battle report in the form of one move per day to keep the interest going.
There has been a lot of correspondence both by email and on the Campaign Forum about command and control, and the interface between campaign orders and playing the wargames. I am always a little apprehensive when the correspondence becomes heated. Previous experience of online forum has taught me that exchanges can easily get out of h and. It’s very easy to give offence without meaning to, or to read the wrong meaning into an innocent remark. So it was a great relief that we seem to have come through this latest exchange without any casualties. Indeed I have found the suggestions to be very constructive and helpful.
I try to keep the exchange of views on the Campaign Forum, rather than by private email. That way everyone gets to read everything that is said or agreed. Otherwise I forget what who knows what. Email to clarify something which only affects one corps is fine, and indeed would not be suitable for the forum. But anything which would have an effect on the campaign as a whole has to go on the forum. It’s strange that subjects that I think are very important do not receive much response, whilst some that are not important seem to do so. And of course it is quite possible that some players find the posts interesting, but do not have anything to add.
It’s becoming obvious that I am not going to be able to keep everyone happy all the time. If somebody feels something is important enough to question, then I do give it serious consideration. But I also have to keep in mind the objectives of the campaign, and that there are ten players to consider.
With the end of the battles/wargames I contacted the two CinC for their orders for 25 July. A lot has happened during 24 July, and I was quite expecting a long delay whilst they read the reports from corps commanders and COS. So I was pleasantly surprised to receive one set this morning, and have been promised the other side by tonight.
I have also been pleased with the support for the campaign from all of the recent comments, both on the forum and by private email. The PBEM is working so much better than I dared hope, and it’s really nice to hear that the players are enjoying it as much as I am.