Friday 29 April 2011

A trip down memory lane

I was very surprised, and not a little pleased, to hear this morning that I had been nominated for a Stylish Blogger Award. The recommendation was nice, not because of the award itself, but because of who recommended me.
Bob Cordery is a prolific blogger, and I check out his blog at least once or twice a week
I am not really interested in his period, as I tend to be very single minded about Napoleonic wargaming. But he does have a lot of interesting ideas, many of which are much too clever for me.
But he was one of the first to contact me when I started the blog back in March 2009. He offered me some advice and some encouragement, both of which were very welcome.
Hearing from him again made me consider what a big influence the blog has had over my wargame activities over the past couple of years. When we moved to Spain in 2006 I gave up painting, which had been my main leisure activity for the previous 30 years. In retrospect it seems strange to stop painting when I retired, but I had painted my armies again and again over that time, always replacing the existing army with newer figures. Each time it took me about two years to complete, and I just could not face it all again. I decided that instead of painting all the time, I would try to actually wargame more.
So I created my solo 1813 campaign. It has proved very effective at creating wargames for Jan and I to play, which was my sole intention when I designed it. I started the blog about the same time that I started the campaign. I have always kept a personal diary, and the blog was a sort of wargame personal diary. I never really thought anyone would be interested in reading it, and as a result I have always done it for my own satisfaction – just like the diary.
But I soon found that having announced to the world, or at least the few readers of my blog, that I was going to start a campaign, I felt obliged to keep at it. Over the years I have found that the campaign needed “fine tuning”. Without the blog I would probably have just started a new campaign, but because of the blog I stuck with the original and did the “fine tuning”.
And now that I have taken the first steps to convert the campaign from solo to PBEM the blog is still the centre of the whole thing. My 1813 Campaign Diary is the record of both the campaign and the PBEM phase. And the discipline of doing one helps me with the other.
And what about the Stylish Blogger Award. It seems to be a similar to the old “round robin” letter. Once nominated you post a link to the person kind enough to nominate you, and then you nominate another seven Blogs and so on. I suspect that within a short time pretty well everyone who publishes a blog will have been nominated for a Stylish Blogger Award. And of course the more popular ones will have been nominated many, many times.
I don’t mean to sound cynical about the Stylish Blogger Award. I think it’s a great idea to tell people you like their blog, and in doing so to provide a link to another seven Blogs. I sat and tried to think of my seven favourite Blogs, but to be honest I could not do so. The truth is that I rarely read other Blogs, and when I do they are always the most popular ones – who will already have received more nominations than they know what to do with. For example when Bob nominated me he had already received four nominations – and I am quite sure that the number will have increased by now.
But I do appreciate his nomination. And even more I do appreciate his help and encouragement back in March 2009. Thanks Bob!

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Second PBEM Battle

start of battle of Steinhorst
We are well into the battle of Steinhorst, the second battle of our Hanover PBEM campaign. Again we are pleased with the problems caused by the transfer from the campaign to the tabletop.
When I ran the campaign as a solo game, I could manipulate the map movement to meet the aim of producing good wargames. This often resulted in “perfect” games, which usually followed the same pattern. The objective would usually be a town or village, and would always be in the centre of the table. Both armies would enter the table from opposite sides, with their cavalry just the right distance in front. All good wargames, but all getting a little predictable.
In the PBEM I have to set up the wargame in accordance with the latest orders issued in the campaign. This has again resulted in an uneven start to a wargame. The Prussians stole a march on the French, who were getting ready to leave the town when the game started. The two cavalry brigades were within charge move of each other, and on engage orders would have to open the battle with a cavalry melee.
This cavalry melee happens quite often in the PBEM, and is becoming a problem. The danger is that one side will lose all of their cavalry at the very start of the game. If that happens to the attacker his deployment becomes really difficult, as he can not counter the enemy cavalry. To avoid this I have amended the cavalry v cavalry rules, to allow for a skirmish type melee rather than an all out attack. So the worse that can now happen is that one side loses one casualty, rather than the previous two casualties.
As luck would have it, the attacking Prussians lost the melee, and the maximum one casualty. Fortunately their artillery inflicted a casualty on the French cavalry before they could withdraw out of danger. So most of the battle was fought without cavalry support.
Being aware that there is a vested interest in the battle report, we both tend to be more cautious than previously. A bad dice, or worse still a tactical mistake, is not easily overlooked, as we know it will be noticed, and possibly commented upon, by the campaign corps commander.
The result is a much more interesting and challenging wargame. So to date the PBEM has been well worth the extra work involved. It does mean that the battles do not always take place exactly when we want to set up a wargame. Previously I could do three or four campaign map moves in an hour or so, and have a battle ready to fight as a wargame. Now it takes the best part of a week to do just one campaign move, and there is no guarantee that the players will issue the desired orders to result in a battle/wargame.

Thursday 21 April 2011

Revamp of Wargame Rules

Our present rules are our own "house rules", and we have used them now for about three years. Over the years we have used many commercial sets, and even more home rules. Some have lasted longer than others, all have eventually been discarded as they failed to provide the type of games we wanted to play.

The last commercial set we used were Le Feu Sacre. These are an excellent set, and lasted us for about two years. But they are designed to fight corps sized battles, with 12 man infantry battalions. We wanted to fight much larger battles, and we did not have the correct combination of figures to provide even one corps per nationality for these rules. Even our attempts to adapt these rules failed.

So once more I decided to write our own rules. But this time I approached it from a different direction. I have a large collection of 28mm, 18mm and 6mm representing all of the major, and some of the minor, nationalities involved in the Napoleonic Wars. I wanted to be able to use all of the collection over a period of time.

First I created a campaign, which would allow me to use the different nationalities in sequence. It was based on 1813, and would have five area's each with a different allied nationality.

My armies were already organised by nationality, and each would now represent an army of four corps. The number of figures was just right to fit comfortably on our 6x6 foot table, even the 28mm

Each nation consists of 128 infantry, 16 cavalry and 4 guns. These would be divided into four corps, with 8 infantry and 4 cavalry per brigade.

I wanted the rules to provide a fast and fun game. I wanted it to last no more than 4-6 hours and to have reached a conclusion in that time. I also wanted them to reward realistic Napoleonic tactics, but not to depend on a comprehensive knowledge of the rules. Finally I wanted them to contain a strong element of chance.

Then they had to fit in with the campaign. By hit and miss I discovered that the game should last 12 moves. This would be sufficient for the figures to move to the centre of the table and fight one, and possibly two, actions. It was then obvious to match one move on the table to one hour in the campaign.

The rules have worked better than I could have hoped. They have stood the test of time, and have only required minor amendments. Of course it helps that Jan and I wargame the battles, and over many years we know what we wanted to achieve.

I put the rules on the blog 18 months ago as part of the campaign blog. This was done so that anyone following the battle reports on the campaign blog could refer to the wargame rules if they wished. I am amazed that in that short time there has been 5697 hits on the rule blog alone!

The conversion of my solo 1813 campaign to PBEM has no doubt helped to increase the numbers. Jan and I fight the wargames, and I post each move on the campaign diary blog with photographs so that the players can follow the progress of each game. I now add a reference to the rules at the end of each wargame move, to explain what has happened.

We woke to an unusually grey and damp morning, and I was looking for something to do. The campaign has reached a battle/wargame, so there is not much administration to do for a day or two. So I decided to check that the rules on the blog were up to date.

I soon discovered that there were some minor differences between the rules I send out and those published on the blog. Also the summary and photographs made it difficult to find the actual rules. When I posted the Wargame Rules blog I did not expect much interest, and I added a summary to each rule to explain what I wanted to achieve. I also posted a photograph to make it easier to understand, and to add a bit of interest to the blog. But I now decided that it just made it more difficult to read the actual rules.

So I amended the whole blog to make it a little more user friendly. I also reposted all of the entries so that they ran from rule 1 to rule 20, rather than in reverse as they had previously.

If anyone would like to have a look at the result they will find them at

Monday 18 April 2011

A short break from wargaming

It’s been longer than normal between blogs, because Jan and I had a short break last week.

We spent a few days with friends, who moved to Spain last year. They bought a house outside Murcia, which is about two hours drive south.

Paul was a regular visitor to our wargame group in UK, which we ran for almost 20 years until 2003. We met each week for a wargame in our garage, which was converted into a permanent wargames room. We lost contact when he left the group, and soon after we moved to Spain.

About a year after we came out here he contacted us again with the welcome news that he was also planning to move here. He visited us a couple of times, and we had the occasional wargame. Then last year he and his wife made the move.

He has a permanent wargames room in his new house, but has been too busy since he moved to do any wargaming. He made a lot of improvements to his house during the first year, and has not had time for wargaming. But hopefully now that he has settled in he will find time over the coming months.

We finished our first campaign battle before our visit to Murcia, and the campaign was put on hold while we were away. But since my return we have got back into the routine, and we have the second battle ready to play.

We have done seven moves in the campaign, and it is getting to the interesting part. The first battle has broken the predictable flow of the campaign, and opened the French northern flank. The second battle will either add to the French difficulties, or create some confusion for the Prussians.

Playing the role of both French and Prussian commander in chief has allowed me to control the campaign enough to prevent a major concentration too soon. It is likely that there will be another two single corps battles, but I have no idea what will happen then. Everything will depend on who wins which battle.

The campaign is producing interesting wargames, both in this and the previous campaign. None have been simple battles. By following the campaign orders the corps tend to be in unlikely positions and unusual orders of march at the start of the wargame. They also often start with orders which we would not have given them, so the first few moves are spent trying to change them before they get into too much trouble.

I am now looking at ways to allow infantry brigades to skirmish prior to a tabletop battle. This would allow corps to start the wargame with minor casualties, which would in turn make for more interesting wargames.

All in all a good start to the latest campaign. And much more satisfying than I had dared hope it might be.

Sunday 10 April 2011

PBEM Campaign Combat

Battle of Ulzen cavalry combat
Its interesting how one thing leads to another.
I recently changed the PBEM campaign from one move per day of three map squares, to three moves per day of one map square each. I did it as a result of some complaint or other; I can’t even remember what it was now.
Having done so, it was immediately obvious that it would work better for the campaign. It’s fine to do one campaign day for each move when you control all of the movement and can manipulate the campaign at will. But with half a dozen players it becomes much more difficult.
However as the campaign progressed it became obvious that other adjustments would be required. The campaign rules had been written to accommodate one move one day. But it would now mean that there would be a long delay between battles, and this would mean the players would have to submit two or three sets of orders when nothing would be changing.
So I have been busy amending the campaign rules.
Because the players can react much more quickly, it is not necessary to arrange battles so far apart. They can, if they wish, also withdraw from a battle much more easily.
I have always allowed cavalry detachments, and used the wargame rules to fight any contacts without setting up the table. But the wargame rules are designed to have a convincing result, and can mean the destruction of the whole cavalry brigade. I wanted to achieve a less drastic result, and have added a new rule to the campaign orders which will allow a cavalry skirmish, with a maximum of one casualty per side.
This in turn prompted me to allow infantry detachments up to one square from the corps, and to write a simplified campaign rule based on the more complicated wargame rules.
Not sure how the players will take it. Some don’t like changes mid campaign. But these should be an improvement, and should make their role much more interesting.
No doubt time will tell!

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Walking Napoleonic Battlefields

Jan and I have been fortunate to have been able to visit and explore a lot of Napoleonic battlefields. About 18 months ago I stated a blog to record them. Each week I wrote about a different battlefield. After each visit I had made a scrap book containing photographs, tickets, maps and other odds and ends. I have also kept a diary over the years, which made it easier to recall details of each visit.
So the preparation for the Blogs had been similar to looking through old photograph albumns. Memories came flooding back of warm summer days sitting on a hill with a picnic lunch, a bottle of wine and a folder of maps and accounts of the battle which took place there. Other memories of trudging through muddy fields in heavy rain cold and wet.
A week spend exploring battlefields is really just a week walking holiday. We have done a lot of both, and are well aware that both depend greatly on the weather. Austerlitz in the rain is not much more appealing than Glencoe in similar weather.
And Austerlitz is a particularly good example, because we had two holidays there. Each provided a good comparison of what a difference the weather can make.

Austerlitz 1998
Our first visit was with Midas Tours. On 3 September 1998 we flew to Vienna to join a four day tour of Austerlitz. I can well remember the journey to Brunn in an old mini bus. It was pouring outside and the radio told of wide spread flooding and the promise of more rain. It did not lie. It was as well we were in a group, because it would have been difficult to force ourselves out of the hotel into the rain day after day. Each evening we returned wet, cold and very muddy. I hate to think what the hotel staff must have thought of us.

Austerlitz 2002
On 20 July 2002 we again flew to Vienna. This time we were self drive, and I remember comparing the warm sunny drive to Austerlitz with our previous wet and miserable journey. We again had four days to explore, but what a difference. Each day we woke to blue skies and warm sun. Our water proof kit remained in the suitcase, and we wore shorts and shirt sleeves each day. One favourite memory is a picnic lunch on Stare Vinorahdy with a glass of wine surrounded by cut hay reading an account of the battle.
If you have ever considered a battlefield holiday but were not sure it would be worth it, hesitate no more. Look through the Blogs for inspiration and book your holiday. You will love it, and come back with memories which will last a lifetime.

Saturday 2 April 2011

First PBEM Campaign Battle

Battle of Uelzen
We have just started on the first wargame of the new PBEM campaign.
These early battles, usually one corps v one corps, are small and quite simple. But it’s interesting to have to fight someone else’s battle plan, or at least start the game with it.
In the latest battle the French have deployed in front of a town which they want to defend. Not something I would have done, as it’s always easier to hold the town itself as a strong point. But because the deployment was detailed in the campaign orders, we had to start the wargame using it.
As always the game will go to the player with the better luck on the dice. So the deployment may, or may not, be decisive.
We also feel a lot more aware that our tactics will be subject to a lot more potential criticism than previously. I quite like that, but Jan is not so sure.
Given that the whole aim of the campaign is to provide good wargames, there really was no alternative than to post a detailed battle report on the Campaign Diary blog. I thought that this would result in a higher degree of satisfaction from the players, but now I am not so sure. The only comments so far have been negative, which is disappointing. But I guess people feel more strongly when they feel something has gone wrong, than they do when something has gone right.
The campaign will really come into its own after the first two or three battles have been fought. Then the corps commanders will then have to decide whether to continue to use a corps with medium casualties, and risk it being destroyed. Or halt for 24 hours to allow casualties to return, and perhaps allow the beaten enemy to escape. In previous campaigns we have never got to that stage, but I am hoping that we will do so this time.
Meanwhile if you would like to follow the first battle report you will find it at