Tuesday 30 August 2011

New Campaign Rules

The revised (PBEM) campaign rules are taking shape. I have added PBEM, because pretty well all of the revision is due to the campaign moving from Solo to PBEM.
For solo play four A4 pages were more than sufficient. They were similar to the first draft of our wargame rules, more a crib sheet than a set of rules. My main aim had been to keep them simple.
The first PBEM campaign quickly highlighted how unsuitable they were. Everything had to be explained in more detail, so that players could grasp the implications of what they wanted to do.
The rules quickly grew from four pages to twelve, though three of those are examples of how to write orders or reports. And this was just to cover the same basic rules I have used all along.
However things are about to change for the next campaign. The introduction of off road movement, forced marching, garrisons and sieges have all added to the size of the rules. And all have required a great deal of time to think them through and revise draft after draft.
The new rules are already eighteen pages long, including six annex which cover such things as organisation, orders, messages and fighting ability.
I suspect that all of this extra work and more detailed rules will be largely ignored by most of the campaign players. I quickly discovered that most players either do not read, or do not follow, the rules. Some seem to completely ignore them, do their own thing and wait for me to put it right. However one or two read them from start to finish, and raise endless points. Almost always based on historical examples.
I have long since given up any attempt to defend either my wargame or campaign rules on any sort of historical basis. To me both seem to recreate the Napoleonic period to perfection, but I have come to realise that there are so many opposing views on every aspect of the period that it is a fool’s errand to try to appease everyone.
The important thing is to keep it simple. I would love to be able to keep the rules to three pages, but clearly that is not possible. The mechanics of the campaign have to be covered in some detail, and even then are often ignored. But the rules are guidelines only. Far better to roll a dice to decide the outcome of something that is never going to happen again, than to try to write a detailed rule just in case it does.
So the rules are taking shape. Over the past three months or so I have revised them half a dozen times, and I am now quite happy with them. But I am pretty certain that once the campaign starts I will discover problem after problem. There is nothing quite like game experience to throw up the not so obvious glaring errors.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Wellington's Battles in the Peninsula

The battle of San Marcial

After such an intensive period of fighting, the Hanover campaign has gone into a temporary period of recovery. All of the corps have suffered during the recent spate of battle, and all are in need of a little rest.
It will not last long, because the critical battle has not yet been fought. After seven battles the casualties are pretty evenly spread. So it is still a very open campaign. But one more large battle could easily end the whole thing.
Despite the absence of fighting, the campaign is still going strong. We are back to writing orders again, and the response is a little sluggish. Perfectly understandable, particularly with the holiday season. But it does mean that there is unlikely to be another battle for a week or so (real time, not campaign time).
When this happens we set up a non campaign wargame to keep us occupied. These are usually part of our Wellington’s Battles in the Peninsula series. Each wargame is based on one of his battles. Not a historical refight, but a wargame loosely based on one of them.
Our current one is the battle of San Marcial, the tenth in the series.
This is an interesting battle, as it was Spanish v French. I think it is the only battle fought solely by Spanish troops with Wellington in command. He has British troops in reserve, but refused to use them as he wanted the Spanish to get the credit for the eventual victory.
The battle was fought on 31 July 1813. Soult launched an attack to relieve the French garrison of San Sebastian. As this battle was being fought, the town was taken by storm and the garrison surrendered.
I could not find a lot of detailed information on the order of battle. In all of my reference books the whole order of battle is shown for the battles of the Nive, but not a detailed breakdown for San Marcial. So I have had to make up the order of battle.
Soult has four divisions. Wellington has three Spanish and one British divisions. The Spanish have a strong defensive position, and the British held in reserve. Wellington did not use his reserve on the day. I doubt if I will get away without using them in the wargame.
You will find the battle report by clicking on label 13 on the right

Thursday 18 August 2011

Decisive French victory at Wolfsburg

Table at end of battle of Wolfsburg
The second battle of Wolfsburg has been a decisive victory for the French. This result has given them one last chance to turn the table on Blucher.
This most unpromising battle turned into an excellent wargame. It started with an encounter battle between XIII French and 1st Prussian corps. On move 9 V French corps arrived behind the Prussians, and 4th Prussian corps behind the French. Difficult enough to grasp, even more so to wargame around.
1st Prussian corps started nearer to Wolfsburg, and gained an early advantage. However this was to prove their undoing. Unable to take the town, XIII French corps moved around the west of the town, to meet up with V French corps moving south.
This caught two Prussian brigades, one infantry and one cavalry, between the two French corps. After a cavalry melee the two Prussian brigades were forced to surrender. This is the first time I have had to deal with surrender during a wargame. Normally the loser of a melee just runs away towards his supports.
Normally I would have just removed them from the table and forgotten them. But as the wargame was appearing on the campaign diary blog as a move by move battle report, I felt I had to justify the French reaction to the Prussian surrender. The cavalry brigade which had caused the Prussian surrender had to leave the battle and escort the POW to the French rear area.
Strange that this has never happened before. But then again I have never fought a wargame when both sides were reinforced in such a strange way. Just another example of the unpredictability of a PBEM campaign.
We discussed it on the forum, and the general opinion was that the winning side should not be penalized by having to take prisoners. I doubt if it will happen again, but if it does the POW will be removed immediately and the victors disorganized for one or two moves to reflect the effect of having to escort the prisoners.
It’s good that the campaign is so good natured that all players look for acceptable solutions, rather than to create disagreement for the sake of it.

Sunday 14 August 2011

PBEM Campaign Rules

The Hanover campaign is still going strong. A short time ago it looked like it was coming to an end, but unexpected battle results blew new life into it.
The current rules are a second draft, and when I wrote them I was hoping to keep the whole thing simple and short. But five months of constant campaign play has brought out some weakness. Not so much in the rules themselves, but rather what is allowed in the campaign itself.
First there was reinforcing a battle. This resulted in one campaign day per campaign move to being changed to three campaign moves per campaign day. That has worked very well, and will be kept.
Then there was the predictability of movement restricted to roads. I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, and said that I was having problems finding a simple solution. I have had a number of excellent suggestions by campaign commanders, and have settled on a simple but effective solution. Each off road square has a value, rising as the terrain gets more difficult. When I receive orders to move a corps off road I roll one D6. If it is equal to, or higher than, the square value the corps moves in and can move again next move. If it is lower he remains one move, then I roll again for the next move and so on until he reaches the value. In addition any roll of 1 is ignored. So it could take a corps two or even three moves to pass through one off road square.
Now I am looking at garrisons and attacks on them. In our current rules only cavalry can be detached, and then only to recce. However the next campaign is likely to be based in eastern Spain, and will be a Spanish army against a smaller French army. The Spanish will not stand much chance in a formal battle, unless they can inflict casualties on the French beforehand to weaken them.
The French will have to hold a large area, and keep the roads open for resupply. The Spanish will be able to move more or less at will, and it will be easy to cut supply lines or attack isolated garrisons. It will also be easy to set up an ambush.
So I will need new rules to cover both garrisons and ambush.
Having received such excellent advice about off road movement, I am hoping to get some more about garrisons and ambush.
The campaign forum is proving very useful, both for me and for the players. It gives me an opportunity to keep them informed of what is happening and for them to give me feedback on anything that is not working too well. If you would like to follow the discussion on garrisons and ambush you will find it here http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/napoleonicpbemcampaign
Meanwhile it looks like my simple, and short, campaign rules will grow ever larger and more complicated.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Lighter Summer Reading

I needed a little light relief after struggling to read Nick Lipscombe’s epic “Peninsular War Atlas”. And Simon Scarrow’s “Young Bloods” was just what I needed. It tells the story of the early years of Wellington and Napoleon, from 1769 to 1795. It is a novel, rather than a history.
I had read a number of books about the personal, rather than military, lives of both Wellington and Napoleon. In particular Elizabeth Langford’s two volume biography of Wellington, and J M Thompson’s “Napoleon Bonaparte” So I was not particularly interested when I first heard about this project in 2006.
Last year a friend, another active reader but not a wargamer, mentioned that he has read all of the “Sharpe” series. I have read them a couple of times, and enjoy them for a little light reading. He mentioned that Simon Scarrow had written a similar series about the Roman Army called the “Eagle” series. He loaned me the first volume, and I was hooked. Over the year I read the whole series.
It was then that I realised that Scarrow had also written four books about Wellington and Napoleon. When we were last in UK I bought all four, and have just read the first one.
I know that some wargamers are dismissive of the “Sharpe” series, and I suspect that they will feel the same about “Young Bloods”. I have always admired that Cornwall wrote a good yarn based on an historical incident. And Scarrow has done something similar here. I found it a very enjoyable read, and an excellent introduction to the early life of Bonaparte and Welsley.
I am looking forward to the second novel, “The Generals”, which covers 1795 to 1803.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Another Prussian Victory

Battles of Rosche and Wolfsburg

Much to our surprise, the battle of Rosche has resulted in a convincing Prussian victory.

Both corps had fought previously, and both had casualties from that earlier battle. But the Prussians had more, and they were concentrated on fewer infantry brigades. So they started the battle in a worse condition than the French.

The Prussian commander could have retreated, but decided to stand and fight. I had thought this a very unwise decision. How wrong was I !

As always it was down to luck, or lack of it.

The French artillery should have scored at least one hit on the weak Prussian infantry. They only needed 8 with 2D6, but kept on missing

The Prussian cavalry had one casualty, so the French full strength brigade should have won the melee. They didn't.

The massed French infantry column did win the first round of melee. But they lost one brigade during the approach and then had to face three Prussian brigades with two French. Having advanced into the gap left by the broken Prussian brigade, they had to turn to their left to face the remaining Prussian infantry. In doing so their conscript brigade was in front, and their elite brigade in reserve. They lost the second melee.

While the French gunners fared badly, the Gods of War smiled on the Prussians. Counter battery fire is usually pointless, as you require 11 with 2D6. The Prussian gunners scored 12 and got a hit. The French gunners rolled 1 for their morale test and routed.

The French bad luck extended to their morale tests, and that was the final straw. As the gunners abandoned their guns, the nearby French square had to test their morale. They had no casualties, nor did they have any supports or a general within command distance. They needed 3 to hold, they rolled 2.

By move 11 the French side of the table was spotted with red markers, which indicate a rout. Every single brigade had broken and run.

As the French commander I started the game full of confidence. Despite early set backs I still expected to win up to move 6. From then on it was a matter of surviving.

Excellent game, and very enjoyable.

This was the sixth battle of the campaign. After the first four the French were in a strong position, and seemed very likely to win the campaign. Then Blucher organised a surprise counter attack in the south. If this went wrong the campaign would have ended it a French victory. It didn't go wrong! The French were shattered, and retreated along the road to Hanover.

With this battle the French have lost the north and south. All will now depend on the centre.

VI French corps are retreating north from Helmstedt. 1st Prussian corps is moving south towards Wolfsburg. They meet and fight the second battle of Wolfsburg. However 4th Prussian is moving north behind VI French. And V French is moving south behind 1st Prussian.

Second Wolfsburg looks like being the most complicated, and most important, battle of the campaign to date.

Its about to start, and you can follow it on the 1813 Campaign Diary blog

Monday 1 August 2011

Campaign Map Movement

Campaign Map
The campaign was designed to be simple and easy to administer. This is particularly so for the map movement.
A corps can move one square per campaign move, or three squares per campaign day. Each square on the map represents one square on the wargames table. So one days march on the map is the same as the width of the wargames table. Nice and easy.
Movement is restricted to roads. This made sense when it was a solo campaign. But the change from solo to PBEM has resulted in a reasonable request from the players for off road movement Many dislike the road grid system, which makes movement very predictable. To be honest I agree, but it has to remain if the map is to represent the wargames table. And I am finding it difficult to devise a simple, yet effective, rule for off road movement.
Obviously off road movement would have to be slower than on roads. If one move off road were one square for a corps, then it would need to be two for a cavalry brigade. So far so good. But then road movement would have to be at least two squares per move for the corps, and three or four for cavalry. This would mean an increase from 15 miles per day for a corps to 30. And from 30 to 45 or 60 miles for cavalry. Worse still, it would effectively reduce the campaign area, as everyone would move around the map twice as quickly.
The present rate of 15 miles per day for infantry and artillery, and 30 for cavalry, is about right. Better still the one square per campaign move is very easy to keep track.
I would like to keep the present on road movement rate. So I am looking for a simple way to half it for off road movement. It would mean that a corps would move half a square per campaign move, which would require additional paper work to keep track of the half square moves.
The temperatures are too high at present for these complicated calculations, and they are not helped by the cold glass of beer, or two, required to get me through the hottest part of the day.