Sunday 30 October 2011

Battle Reports

I publish the battle reports from the PBEM campaign on the campaign diary blog. The blog itself has just passed 32,000 individual hits, and when the battle reports are being published gets between 20-60 hits each day. There are only eight players in the campaign, so obviously a lot of the visitors are not taking part.
One of the players recently queried the battle report regarding a cavalry melee. The entries on the blog are never more than one or two days old, so I could remember what happened. But I wanted to check the report to make sure that I had the details right. It was then that I realised how complicated and technical the reports actually are.
When I first started to publish the battle reports they were much less detailed. They were part of a solo campaign then, and I just wanted a record of the wargames we had fought so that I could read back through them in the future. I assumed that anyone else who read them would not really be interested in a lot of detail.
But when the PBEM started I wanted the players, and particularly those involved in the battle, to be able to follow each step. As the battle reports became more detailed, I started to put a reference to the rule concerned in notes at the end of the report. This has led to a lot of visits to the wargame rule blog, which is currently at more than 12,000. Not bad for a set of “house rules” only 18 months old.
Having concluded that the present report are too complicated, I posted on the campaign forum to ask whether readers would prefer the present complicated battle report, or a more descriptive and less technical method. Given the number of visits to the campaign diary I was surprised to receive only two replies. Worst still one was in favour of the present system and one preferred a less technical style. Presumably the remainder did not care much for one or the other.
Given that there is a considerable amount of work involved in the current reports, it hardly seems worth the extra effort for just one reader. So when the new campaign starts I will use a more descriptive, but less time consuming, method.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Day Two at Peine

First light at Peine
The battle of Peine ended in a clear Prussian victory. XIII Polish corps ran from the battlefield on the road to Hanover. V and VI French corps had not played much part in the battle. Both were already reduced to half strength. The Prussians outnumbered the French by two to one. At midnight Davout ordered V and VI corps to fall back towards Celle.
Blucher was delighted with the outcome. Only one small nagging doubt. IV French corps had arrived at Brunswick, which cut his communications with Magdeburg. He ordered his army to rest during the night, and prepare to pursue the two retreating French columns at daybreak. He was rather surprised when IV French corps attacked him at first light.
Davout was overseeing the retreat of V and VI corps from a hill north of Peine when he observed the approach of IV corps. He thought that they were somewhere to the north of Celle. He ordered V corps was already off the battlefield heading for Celle. He ordered VI corps to halt, and rode off to bring V corps back.
That is the opening situation for the second day of the battle of Peine. And it is a good illustration of the advantage of PBEM campaigns. I would never have dreamed up such a complicated scenario for a solo campaign. Yet this is only one of the many excellent wargames which the Hanover PBEM campaign has produced.
The downside is that there is a tendency to fight to the last brigade. In the present battle three of the six corps are below half strength. This is caused by the campaign commanders wanting to “do something” rather than just rest their corps and let them recover from the last battle. Each campaign move that the corps is not fighting or moving they receive one casualty replacement. For most corps this would mean they must rest for 6-9 moves, which is two to three days, to recover all of their casualties. But at the rate of one or two campaign moves per week that is a long time.
Apart from this one drawback the campaign is working much better than I had dared to hope. I thought that it would last about three months, and produce about 4 to 6 battles. So far it has lasted seven months and produced ten battles.

Saturday 22 October 2011

Campaign Fog of War

map used for council of war

The campaign has taken a very interesting turn, and highlighted the advantage of the fog of war capable with PBEM.
The battle of Peine was the ninth battle of the campaign. The French had suffered a number of defeats, and only one corps stood between Blucher and his campaign objective – the capture of Hanover. He was about to attack Peine, the last defensive position east of Hanover, with three corps
The French commander at Peine decided to stand and fight. Davout was within supporting distance but only had two weak corps. His IV corps promised to arrive in time to take part in the battle, and on that understanding Davout ordered his army to march to join battle at Peine.
The commander of IV saw an opportunity to cut the Prussian lines of communication by marching south and taking Brunswick. This would also prevent a Prussian retreat should they lose the battle of Peine. He sent a message to Blucher, but it was delayed by the presence of the Prussian army between him and Davout.
IV corps did not take part in the battle, and the French lost. The corps at Peine was sent reeling back to Hanover and Davout had to decide what to do next. He had two weak corps left, and was facing a Prussian army twice his size. He was still not aware that IX corps was only 15 miles away at Brunswick.
As umpire I knew all of this. But as Davout I did not want to take a decision because it would be difficult to ignore all of the implications. I decided to hold a council of war with the two corps commanders at Peine. The decision would be left to them.
They were divided, and I had to use my casting vote to order a withdrawal towards Celle. The next morning IV corps attacked Peine from Brunswick. But that is the subject of the tenth battle in the campaign.
Details of the council of war meeting are on the latest campaign diary blog

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Spot the Difference

New Campaign Tactical Map

I recently suggested that the latest battle might be the end of our PBEM campaign, but far from it.
Peine was an excellent wargame, and concluded with a resounding Prussian victory. However not in the end of the campaign as expected.
Three of the four corps on each side were fighting at Peine. The Prussians won, and one French corps routed towards Hanover. The remaining two corps withdraw north to Celle. But the fourth French corps has appeared at Brunswick, cutting the Prussian lines of supply. The position of the Prussians prevent the French communicating with each other, so the players have to decide whether to attack or retreat using only the information available to them. Complicated enough so far. But it gets worse.
The French corps retreating to Hanover may decide to fight there, but the tactical map does not cover that city. So I have had to make a new campaign tactical map. I am sure that ProFantasy must be capable of amending the previous one, but I am not capable of doing it. I did ask for, and receive, advice on their forum. But it all proved too complicated for a simple soul like me. So I have copied part of the old map and added a new section. In doing so it is quite likely that I have made some errors.
The new map is above. The old one below. If you have nothing better to do you might like to compare them both. If you find any errors do let me know.
Old Tactical Map

Sunday 16 October 2011

Rewriting history

Red chips indicate the four infantry brigades in rout
The current battle in our PBEM campaign has reached a critical stage. Plus the battle itself could well decide the whole campaign. So it is not too surprising that the corps commanders have been following the battle report pretty closely.
I have taken some pains to make the battle reports comprehensive and easy to follow, for those players who want to do so. First I take a photo at the start of each move. Then I make notes of what has happened during each corps turn, and take another photo at the end showing the position of the corps. After the game I transfer the photos to the computer and type up the battle report of the move.
Each day I post one move of the battle report on the campaign diary blog. The idea is to keep the players interested in the progress of the game, and allow Jan and I time to fit in the playing time. It is usually one or two days after the move that it is published on the campaign diary blog.
Late last night I checked my emails before I went to bed, and found one containing two questions about the latest diary entry. One was about the wargames table in relation to the campaign map, and the second was about morale throws for one of the corps involved.
I keep copies of all the battle reports until the campaign has finished, so it was easy to check the table and map query. To set up the wargames table I make a rough diagram of the squares on the map to be transferred to the wargames table. Each map is one scenic square on the table, and each is numbered. So it is quite easy to set up the table. Unfortunately I had placed the scenic square upside down on the table, and a hill which should have been north of the main road ended up south of the road! The question was whether it would have made any difference. The answer was yes it would, but we had already spent ten days fighting the game, and published ten moves of the battle report. I had to admit my error and put it down to poor staff work. Fortunately the area had not been chosen for the geographical features, it was chosen for the strategic importance of the town.
Worse was to come. I had made a complete hash of describing the incidents which had taken place during move 10 for one of the six corps involved. I had listed seven morale checks when there had only been four.
It was only two days since we had fought that particular move, and we had done two more moves since then. I could not remember the sequence of the morale tests, and the table had changed considerably so I could not just check on the table.
The notes I had made were still in the waste paper bin, so I was able to recover and check them. They were the same as the battle report, so not much help. Comparing the first photo of moves 9, 10 and 11 I was able to work out what had happened to each of the four brigades during each of those three moves. So I was able to amend the battle report. But it did take me more than an hour, and it was well past midnight before I got to bed.
But the most important part of the whole sorry story is that it made me consider just how accurate are eye witness accounts of battles, particularly if they are written down many months or years after the event. If I had so much trouble remembering a fairly simple sequence of events after just two days, how reliable are those accounts on which historians place so much importance.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Map Making

1813 Campaign map of Spain
I am certainly getting my money’s worth out of my Profantasy map making system. It only cost about £30, and I have had months of enjoyment out of it already.
I am sure that, like the computer, I only use a fraction of its possible use. But, again like the computer, having learnt how to do the basic jobs I want I do not put any effort into finding out what else it can do.
It seems to have been designed for fantasy wargaming, and most of the additional software if for producing dungeons or fantasy worlds. But it is perfectly adequate for my purposes. Certainly it is a vast improvement on my old hand drawn maps.
No doubt it is an age thing, but I find it very difficult to master computer games. Just mastering the basics is often beyond me, and I just give up. Empire in Arms is a good example. It is based on a popular board game, but not one that I had ever played. It is a world wide campaign game set in the Napoleonic period. The write up was so convincing that I ordered a copy. Many frustrating weeks later I just gave up. I could not even get a basic game going. I joined their forum in the hope of getting some assistance, but that was a complete waste of time. It seemed to consist of two groups of people. First those who had played the board game, and been involved in the development of the computer game. For them it could do no wrong. Then there were those like me, who could not make any sense out of the mechanics.
That experience put me off buying Profantasy when I first heard about it. But then I found an online tutorial. This was a very simple, step by step guide to doing all the things I wanted to do. Creating a coastline, roads, hills, rivers and towns. I paid my money and after just a couple of days hard work could make a reasonable map of Germany and Spain.
And the more I use it, the more I enjoy it. It’s a bit like doing a jig saw puzzle, its very satisfying to see it all taking shape. And the best part is that you do not have to start from scratch. I keep a copy of each stage as I complete it. First the rivers, hills and major cities. Then the major roads, followed by minor ones. And finally all the towns and villages.
Every so often I come across a map which gives me more detail, or more often different detail. For example historical road system. I then work on the map with rivers, hills and cities, and put in the new road system. Great fun, and I have spent many enjoyable hours doing it.
My latest attempt is a new road system for Spain. This was prompted by Miguel, who sent me a copy of a map he had made, which was based on the historical road system. It was completely different from my roads system, which was based on a modern road atlas. It meant that I had to change a lot of the preparation for my next campaign, which is set in eastern Spain. But the current Hanover campaign is taking longer than expected to finish, so I have plenty of time to complete it.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

The Battle of Peine

Hanover Campaign Tactical Map
This looks like being a very interesting wargame.
This is the latest battle in our 1813 PBEM campaign. The Prussian objective is to take Hanover, and Peine is the last opportunity for the French to stop them. Peine is occupied by a Polish corps under the command of Poniatowski
XIII corps fought, and lost, a battle just four days earlier at Helmstedt. They retreated to Peine, pursued by the Prussians. A French counter attack on Helmstedt forced Blucher to recall the pursuit. The Prussians won the second battle at Helmstedt. They then resumed their march on Peine.
As they neared Peine their advance guard was driven back by a Polish cavalry brigade, who then discovered that they were facing two, and possibly three, French corps. The nearest French reinforcements were one days march away, and had suffered casualties at the second battle of Helmstedt.
In the umpire report for move 37, when the cavalry melee was fought, Poniatowski was advised what he was up against. He also received orders from Davout to hold Peine if at all possible, but to retreat north to join the main army if unable to do so.
Janson, who is playing Poniatowski, was asked what he wanted to do. If he retreated north the Prussians would take Peine, and with it an open road to Hanover. They would have won the campaign. He immediately confirmed that he would stand and fight.
XIII corps have recovered from their battle casualties and are now full strength. The leading Prussian corps has light battle casualties, and the second corps heavy casualties. In fact there is one and a half corps against one. The third Prussian corps, which also has light battle casualties, will arrive at the same time as the first French corps, which has heavy battle casualties. A third French corps will arrive just as night is falling.
Not a game I would have set up as a “one off”. Nor one that I would have fought as part of my previous solo campaign. But one that looks more interesting and challenging the more I look at it.
The first part of the battle report has been published on the 1813 campaign diary blog
Jan will play the French, I will command the Prussians.
This is a game that I am really looking forward to playing – win or lose.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Planning the next PBEM campaign

Strategic map for 1813 Hanover campaign
Pretty well all of this week has been spent thinking about the next PBEM campaign, and tying out ideas. And at the end of the week, and after many hours spent map making, I have ended up where I started.
Once again it looks like my 1813 Hanover campaign is drawing to a close. I have said this before, and been proved wrong. When I set up the last battle/wargame I was convinced it would end the campaign. The Prussians had thrashed the French and sent off north with their tails between their legs. The road to Hanover was held by just one French corps, who had suffered a heavy defeat five campaign moves earlier. I was confident that the French corps commander would abandon Hanover to save his corps. He decided to stand and fight. Out of nowhere the two thrashed French corps appeared on the horizon. Suddenly we have another battle. And one that looks less of a walk over as I work out the orders of battle. I am amazed what a difference PBEM makes over a solo campaign – even for the umpire.
Anyway last Sunday I sat down to consider the pros and cons of the same PBEM campaign. I am completely sold on the idea of PBEM, so another campaign is not in doubt. But I wanted to see how I could improve the model based on my 6 months experience of this one.
From my point of view it has mostly been a great success. I have managed to keep a team of eight players going for 37 moves, and provided nine wargames. It has been great fun, and a great challenge. The only disappointment is in losing three players, all without reason or explanation. Fortunately I have been able to replace them, and the flow of the campaign has not been affected at all.
I have completely rewritten the rules for the next campaign. It will cover many aspects of supply, off road movement and detachments. I have written the rules, but whether they will work or not remains to be seen.
But the thing I really wanted to change was player involvement. In particular I wanted a system where each player would have more corps and responsibility. This would work well with the campaign concept of five armies in five campaign areas. But when I got to working out how it would all work I realised it would involve a huge amount of extra work for the umpire – me! Worse if one player dropped out it would either stop the campaign for his opponent, or I would have to take it on.
The week was spent making five maps, one of each campaign area. Then working out revised orders of battle for each area. But the more I worked on it, the more obvious it became that it was not going to work.
It did not matter too much when I thought that the current campaign was coming to an end. But I suddenly realised there is another battle in this campaign, and we would have to fight it next week.
So it’s been a busy week, with pretty well nothing to show for it all at the end. It has all been put in a pending file, whilst I work out the “last battle” of the Hanover campaign. But it has been hugely enjoyable trying to make it work.
Meanwhile the PBEM battle looks like being very different. Most of the corps involved start the battle with heavy casualties. This is not something I would have tackled for a one off game, but can not be avoided in a campaign game. It will be interesting to see how it develops.
More news of the battle shortly.