Monday 26 September 2011

Luck of the Dice

We are currently fighting a non campaign game, and the dreaded luck of the dice has raised its head once more. We were really looking forward to this game. It’s bigger than many of the campaign games and does not have the pressure involved when you are fighting some else’s battle.
Right from the start the dice refused to favour me. It’s not so much that I could only roll 1s or 2s, but time after time I failed to hit anything with my artillery. My morale rolls were always low, not enough to rout but certainly sufficient to be shaken. Dice plays an important part in our rules, and a long run of poor dice can have a dramatic effect on the game.
I am attacking, so good morale is even more important than when in defence. The attack has stalled, and of course this means the whole game has stalled.
At first Jan was quite pleased. She needed to inflict casualties before I could close to attack range. But this has gone well beyond that stage. It seems quite certain that she will win the game, but there is little pleasure in winning when it is only down to dice.
Neither of us play just to win, but rather to enjoy the game. And a one sided run of poor luck like this just robs the game of enjoyment. Worst, there is nothing either of us can do about it – other than abandon the game. We could do that, as it is not a campaign game. But neither of us want to “give in”.
Worst of all, there is nothing that can be done about it. The element of chance in our rules is what makes the games so enjoyable (for us anyway). And to adjust the rules to reduce the element of chance would spoil our enjoyment even more, as it would make the game so much more predictable
So I guess that we will just have to struggle through the remaining moves with the best grace we can muster, and hope for a more even game next time.

Friday 23 September 2011

Last of the summer reading material

Here in Spain the hot summer days are turning into the much more pleasantand cooller autumn. It will soon be time for us to abandon the lazy summer routine and take up our more energetic walking routine of the rest of the year. I will still do my share of reading, but it can no longer be considered part of the summer reading. So it is appropriate that I just found time to finish the "The Generals".
This is volume two of the series which follows the lives of Wellington and Napoleon. This book covers the period 1795 to 1803. This covers Napoleon in Egypt and Wellington in India.
I first read this book when it was published in 2007, and enjoyed it enough to get the whole series. I then read “Young Bloods”, which is the first volume. And having enjoyed it so much decided to read “The Generals” again followed by the last two volumes.
To be honest I did not enjoy it as much as “Young Bloods”. I don’t think it is because I had already read it some years ago. I am pretty familiar with the story line, and wanted to read the four books in sequence. I also thought that I would enjoy it more, as it deals with a period of their lives which I am more familiar with than the previous book. I did enjoy it – just not as much.
It may be because Napoleon in Egypt is my least favourite period of his military career. I love reading about his Italian campaigns, and I having walked many of the battlefields I even enjoy reading them again. I also enjoy Austerlitz, Jena and so on. But I have always found Egypt a little boring. No doubt because I have never visited any of the battlefields there.
Equally I find India the least interesting of Wellingtons campaigns, or Wellesley as he was then. I have read, and enjoyed, the Sharpe series set in India. I then read, and also enjoyed, Jac Wellers “Wellington in India”. Not sure why I find it less interesting than the Peninsula, but probably because I have visited all of his Portuguese and Spanish battlefields.
Whatever the reason I found “The Generals” less of a good read than “Young Bloods”. I have already bought the last two books in the series, so I will read them in due course. But not with such anticipation as I approached “The Generals”.

Sunday 18 September 2011

The Battle of the Nive

Table at the start of the battle of the Nive
Our Hanover PBEM campaign has reached a quiet stage, where both sides will have to retire to lick their wounds before moving forward to fight again.
Whilst waiting for the next campaign battle to arrive, Jan and I have set up one of our occasional wargames inspired by Wellington’s battles in the Peninsula
The battle of the Nive is the eleventh in our occasional series of Wellington’s Battles in the Peninsula.
This was a complicated battle fought over the period 9-13 December 1813, and involved fighting on both sides of the river Nive. Wellington’s aim was to force Soult to retreat and abandon Bayonne.
Our wargames are inspired by the historical battles, and not an attempt to recreate them. So we combined all three days fighting on both sides of the river into a single wargame.
The game was fought in 28mm with only 128 infantry, 16 cavalry and 4 guns per side.
The battle report will be published on my Wellington’s Battles blog each day. The set up of the game compares an historical map and order of battle with our wargames table and wargame order of battle.
The battle report can be found at

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Poor Commander Card

There has been a debate on our campaign forum about the use of the Poor Card in my wargames rules. I thought it would be a good idea to raise it here also, in case anyone has any suggestions.
At the start of our latest campaign battle I had decided not to use the Poor Card in the wargame. There are five commanders in this game, but only one poor commander. This was our normal practice when there is only one poor commander in a game. I changed my mind because there was some support to keep the Poor Card on the forum.
It is always a bad idea to change rules based on just one wargame. But I would like to share my view on the effect of the Poor Card in this game, and to invite your comments for or against. As always I reserve the right to the final say as far as the wargames rules are concerned, but I welcome constructive comments.
I want to be able to give any Gifted commander an edge in the game, and to limit the ability of any Poor commander. But I do not want it to dominate the game. I want a Gifted commander to be able to carry out a more ambitious plan, and to punish a Poor commander who tries to do so.
At the start of each move the commander rolls an average dice. A Gifted commander adds 3, an Average one 2 and a Poor one 1. The total is the number of orders he can issue during that move. These are called Command Points (CP)
The three CP for a Gifted commander, and only one for a Poor one, already do this to a limited degree. And perhaps that it all the difference there should be. To move himself and all brigades the corps commander requires 7 CP. If he also wants to fire or skirmish the requirement increases. In most games even a Gifted commander will rarely have enough CPs, a Poor commander almost never.
In addition an attacking commander requires more CPs than a defending one. And again it is quite right that the poor commander is penalized.
Any effect must be logical and reasonable. The Halt requirement is both. It takes three CP for a poor commander to do so, and he must then wait for orders from the CinC to do anything other than Halt. Halt is a natural response for an uncertain poor commander.
The problem arises when it happens too often in a game. If there are five commanders per side, as the rules are designed to have, and each side has at least one poor commander it is not too much of a problem. When there is only one poor commander it is likely to have a much greater impact. And if there is only one commander per side it is almost certain to dominate the game.
It is possible to use a Gifted or Average CinC to take command of the poor corps. But this prevents him from his proper role of coordinating a multi corps battle. It is also very hard to accept that any commander would do so for any length of time. Surely he would just replace the poor commander?
The recent battle is a good example of all that is wrong about the Poor Card. Time after time 4th corps had to halt. Eventually Blucher had to take command, and keep command, in order to keep them moving. This resulted in both 1st and 3rd corps standing still for at least a third of the battle. A very unlikely sequence and one which I find hard to accept.
So what to do with the Poor Card? I can see three options
First leave it as it is. Next poor commander has to change his orders to Halt and await new orders.
Second do not use the Poor Card at all. Remove it from the rules.
Third only the next commander drawn will be affected. If he is a Gifted or Average commander there is no effect. If he is a Poor commander then he must change his orders to Halt
What do you think? If there a better fourth option that I have not thought of?
Any constructive comments will be greatly received.

Monday 12 September 2011

Summer Visitors

Our son and his family have just returned home after a two week stay. It’s been delightful having them with us, but it has greatly reduced our wargaming activities. They visit each year, so they do not require us to show them the local sights. And most days they went to visit one of the local beaches.
With two adults, one four year old and a one year old our relaxed daily routine goes out of the window. They take over the house and we just fit in around them. I sneak into my office for half an hour on the computer when I can, but I made the mistake of showing the four year old a “Ben 10” game on the computer (don’t ask who Ben 10 is) and since then every time I try to get on the computer he follows me and we have to play one of his games before I can check my emails.
Despite this I have managed to keep the campaign going. We had set up a campaign game just before they arrived, and most days we managed half an hour in the wargames room for one move at a time. The one year old had her cot in the games room, so we had to fit our game moves around her regular sleeping periods!
This was the game which prompted the Poor Commander debate mentioned in my last blog entry. There are three Prussian corps, one with a poor commander, against two French corps both with Average commanders. So the Poor Card would strike the Prussian army each time. The penalty for the Poor Card is that the poor commander would have to change his orders to Halt.
The game is not yet finished, but is proving quite a challenge. I have the Prussian army, and Jan the French. With our rules, indeed most wargame rules, odds of three to two would normally result in a pretty one sided wargame. However this Poor Card has made it really difficult for me as Prussian commander.
The commander in chief can take command of the poor corps, and thus avoid the Poor Card penalty. But if he does so, he can not then issue orders to the other two corps. After a frustrating start to the game, when the poor corps halted out of artillery range of the French, Blucher took personal command of the poor corps. The Prussian attack stalled, and the French withdrew out of artillery range. The poor corps was committed to an attack on its own, against two French corps.
To hand over command to the poor commander would take Blucher three command points. During three critical moves he only had five command points. So if he handed over command that move would effectively be lost for both the poor corps and Blucher himself. And it was very likely that the Poor Card would immediately cause the poor corps to halt – within range of the French.
An interesting problem and a surprisingly enjoyable game. I am still not sure about this Poor Card and whether we have the balance right. But it has certainly given me food for thought.

Sunday 4 September 2011

Poor Commanders

Our wargame rules are derived from LFS, though they have been much amended to produce the type of game we enjoy.
There is a lot I like about LFS not least their use of Gifted, Average and Poor commanders. I have kept this effect, but have reduced number of options and what can be done under each heading.
Our rules, like LFS, are turn driven by the selection of a card. Each commander has a card, and he takes his turn when it is drawn. In addition there is a Gifted and a Poor Card.
The Gifted Card allows a Gifted commander to move when it is drawn, or he can wait until his own card is drawn if he prefers. Useful, but not really a game winner.
The Poor Card has a much more drastic effect. Once drawn the next poor commander must miss his turn entirely. Not too bad if there are more than one poor commander is a game, and particularly if there are poor commanders on both sides. But it can dominate a game if there is only one poor commander. It is quite possible that he will have to miss most, or even , all of his turns.
For this reason Jan and I have always ignored the Poor Card in games where there is only one poor commander. So I was quite surprised when campaign players felt it should be played in every game – even the player who had the poor commander concerned.
So as a temporary measure I have decided to make the poor commander affected by the Poor Card change his orders to Halt, rather than miss his turn.
Halt is not included in the LFS options. I introduced it for a player who felt he could not safely carry on with his CinC orders. Normally only the CinC can change corps orders, this is the only exception.
Halt prevents the corps from advancing towards the enemy, or initiating any offensive action. In effect they halt and wait for new orders from the CinC. However they can retire out of enemy artillery fire if they wish, or manoeuvre to take up a better defensive position. They can also fire or fight to defend themselves.
A further penalty to the poor commander is that he must use his command points to change his orders to Halt. This costs three points, which reduces the number of orders he can issue that turn.
I have considered various options to change the effect of the Poor Card. All of them involve complicated rule amendments and all are difficult to accept as a natural reaction of a commander. However Halt is already covered by the rules, and can be explained by a lack of confidence on the part of the poor commander.