Thursday 27 September 2012

Comments on PBEM Campaigns

Thanks for the comments on the last post about the popularity (or lack of) of PBEM Campaigns.

It’s interesting that most of the comments were about solo Wargaming, rather than whether PBEM wargames are popular or not.

I can entirely understand the popularity of solo Wargaming.   Indeed if I was not fortunate to have a wife who also wargames, it is very likely that I would have gone the solo route.  It is probably the only way you can get to wargame without any compromise on how you want to do it.

Over the years I have only attended two wargame clubs.    I found both to be disappointing.   The standard of wargames, in particular figures and scenery, was pretty poor.   Few of the members were interested in Napoleonic Wargaming, and those who were did not share my idea of how it should be done.   I might have been unlucky in my experience, but I think it is probably pretty wide spread. 

The one good thing which came from my membership of the club was a visit to Peter Gilders Wargames Holiday Centre.   I was bowled over with the scale of his set up.   I have never seen a more inspiring wargames table before or since.   To be honest I found the games a big disappointment.   Much too big, wargamers with very little knowledge of the period or the rules, complete lack of supervision or direction of the game in general.   We played Waterloo and I had the French right flank.  It was about 12 foot of table with hundreds of model soldiers.   After a couple of hours I had lost track of what I was trying to do and was worn out walking back and forth along the table.  However I did come away determined to try to achieve something similar, though on a much smaller scale.  The result was a 12 foot table in my garage where I ran multiplayer wargames for the next twenty years.  

I also experienced all the frustration of trying to keep a large wargame going over a period of two or three weeks when a player who made a mess the first night did not turn up for the second and so on.  I also found that I had to umpire each game, so I got very little actual Wargaming done.  But they were great fun to organise and run.   As they were my figures on my table using my rules I could achieve the sort of games I wanted to do.  And the input from the other wargamers was a great bonus and kept me on my toes.

But I can understand that other wargamers who do not have the time, or perhaps the resources, to do this sort of thing might soon tire of attending a local wargames club.   I have never been a solo wargamer, but I am sure there is a lot of satisfaction in a long running wargame where you can think about each move for as long as you like.  I remember reading about a solo siege game which went on for months, or perhaps even years.

So,  sorry if I offended any solo wargamers out there.  That was not my intention.   I was just surprised that more did not seek to share their hobby with other similar minded gamers via PBEM.  

I have only become interested in PBEM myself in the last three or four years.   And then I really wanted to take part as a player, not organise it all myself.   But when I did so I found that it added a whole new dimension to my long running 1813 campaign.   Again there are the frustrations of players dropping out and trying to find replacements at short notice.   But it beats solo campaigns hands down.

Thanks again for the comments.   I do appreciate them, and they do make me realise that I need to be a little more careful in my weekly ramblings.

Monday 24 September 2012

How Popular are PBEM Campaigns

I have always thought that there were quite a few solo wargamers around.   I have no statistics to prove it, but over the years I seem to have read a lot about solo Wargaming and how difficult it is to find an opponent.

If this is true, then you would think that PBEM campaigning would be an ideal solution.  Particularly in recent years when almost everyone I know has a computer and communicates by email or Skype.

For many years I have followed various Napoleonic Wargaming forum, in particular TMP.   Last week I was interested to read a post about PBEM.  The poster wanted to know who was interested, who has played, what did they like or not and what would improve their enjoyment of such a campaign.  

I am currently working hard on the next phase of my own PBEM, so I was very interested to see what response he would get.   I was very disappointed, as he must have been, to see only two replies before it went down the list to oblivion.

And this on a Napoleonic Discussion group where there were 12 replies to a post about “......a game based around an invasion of Mars by Napoleon's Grande Armée in 1812” !

Either I am wrong about general interest in PBEM campaigns, or those interested do not read or post on TMP.

I run a Yahoo forum for my own PBEM campaign, and in the past I have often asked for feedback on the previous campaign when I have started work on the next one.   Usually I get one or two comments.

Having read the post on TMP I thought it would be a good idea to do something similar on my forum.   But given the previous lack of response I thought it might be a better idea to send out a questionnaire to each member.   There are currently 93 members.   All have asked to join, so presumably all have an interest in PBEM in general and my campaign in particular. 

Anyway I spent most of yesterday afternoon sending each one an email with the questionnaire attached. 

Some years ago I started another Yahoo Forum, this one called Campaigns of Napoleon.  I had hoped to create an exchange of views.   But after a good start it quickly dried up.  I still get the occasional question, and even more surprising the occasional request to join.   There are currently 206 members on that forum.   I did not send each a questionnaire, but I did put one in the Files Section and posted to ask anyone interested to complete and send to me.

It is only 24 hours since I did all of this.   So far I have had a very disappointing 6 replies.   I suspect that anyone who is going to reply will do so within a couple of days.   So it does not look like my questionnaire will be a runaway success.

So it would seem that there is not the interest in PBEM campaigns that I had thought there would be.   Or perhaps there are lots of wargamers out there running their own PBEM who just don’t want to get involved in a discussion about it.

Some time ago I ran a wargame group in Salisbury over a period of 20 years.  It was quite successful, but I had to trawl for new member’s very year or so.   Just before I moved to Spain I happened to meet a solo wargamer who also lived in Salisbury.  H e told me that he had heard about my group, and had often thought of joining, but just never got around to it. 

 “Nowt as strange as folk” as my son’s northern neighbours would say

Monday 17 September 2012

Campaign Logistics

Campaign map at the start of battles of Jena and Bad Kosen

After a long period of inactivity the PBEM campaign has suddenly taken off again.

The campaign opened with four battles in the first 6 moves, three of them fought at the same time and adjacent to each other.   Then we had 5 moves when both sides resupplied and regrouped.   Now another two battles, again adjacent to each other.

It’s a pity that I could not fight the first three battles on one table, or indeed the two current ones.   But each square on the campaign map is a 2x2 foot scenic square on the wargames table.   So even though I have all the armies in 6mm and 15mm, as well as 28mm, I could not recreate the map on the table.

At nightfall I clear the table for the first battle, and set it up for the second.   It works well providing that there is a clear winner, or indeed loser.   Then the loser retreats for three moves (one day) and the action moves to a new location.   But if the result of one or more battles is a draw I then have to fight the first three battles, and set the table up again for day two.   This happened at the second battle of Possneck on move 4. 

Fortunately the scenic squares are all numbered, so setting up the same table is not a problem.   All of the buildings are also numbered, so I can make sure that the same ones are used to create the town.  But I have to make a decision where to place the figures.   It’s impossible to mark exactly where each regiment was at the end of the previous game, and anyway it would not work well if they started a new game in close combat.  Too much would depend of who moved first, and how lucky they were with the first dice throw.

But an even bigger problem is putting the campaign on hold whilst the battle is fought.   Each campaign move is four hours.   Each wargame move is one hour.   There are three campaign moves in one day, and 12 wargame moves works well on the table.  If the two armies start one square apart there are four moves for manoeuvre, four for musket fire and four for melee to decide the outcome.  So the logistics of the campaign work well.  But it is a long time for the players to wait.

I have recently increased the actual time allowed for each campaign move to one week.   So it would take three weeks to play one campaign day.   This is plenty of time to fight one battle, just about enough to fight two but not long enough to fight three.

Then there is the problem of umpire reports between each campaign move.    This confirms to the corps commander what has happened during the last campaign move.   So if there are three battles being fought I cannot write the umpire report for the first campaign move until the first two battles have been fought and at least move four of the third.  

I think it has all worked well so far, but I am always aware that there is a danger players will lose interest if there is too long a break between campaign moves.  It was for this reason that I used to publish one wargame move each day on the campaign diary blog.  But recently I have found that hardly anyone reads the blog.  It was a lot of work to take photos of each move and write up a detailed battle report, so I have abandoned it for a shorter battle report which will be published at the end of the battle.

I don’t suppose many of the campaign players know, or even care, just how much work goes on behind the scenes.   The administration of the campaign has developed a lot since I started this, my first, PBEM campaign three years ago.   It often reminds me of a swan on a lake – calm and graceful on top but paddling like mad below the water line.

Thursday 13 September 2012

PBEM Dilemma – Comments

It’s quite rare to receive comments on the blog, so I pay a lot of attention to them when I do so.   I appreciate any comments, and I always reply in the comments section.   This week I have received two comments, but they require a more lengthy reply than is possible in the limited space of the comments section.

MurdockK felt that I should allow the players to act.  By that I assume he meant do as they wish.   He went on to comments that I should have “no hand at all” in the strategic decisions.

These are valid comments and deserve a considered reply.

When I ran a test PBEM campaign to convert my 1813 campaign from solo to PBEM there were 10 command roles.   One CinC and four corps commanders per side.   I quickly found that the role of CïnC can be very demanding and to be honest beyond the ability of a casual player.   It requires a deep understanding of the campaign rules and objectives, and a good knowledge of the wargame rules.   It’s not good enough to just “do as Napoleon would have done”.   It’s not that sort of campaign.   It also requires a lot of work to plan the campaign in advance, and then monitor the corps commanders to ensure that they are following the strategic plan.   To find two such players, particularly in a PBEM where I don’t actually know them, is asking too much.

But the real problem is what happens if one of them drops out.   This is likely to happen after they have made a mess of the strategic plan and their Army is in a mess.   How do you replace them at that point?   Who would want to take on such a role?

I started the PBEM campaign in September 2009.   Since then 37 players have taken part.   9 of those have dropped out mid campaign without any reason or explanation.   If just one of those had the role of CinC it would have meant the abrupt end of the campaign, with resulting disappointment to the other nine players.   Because I play the role of CinC all 9 were replaced without any interruption to the campaign and the other players were not even aware that there had been a drop out.

It is not ideal for me to play the part of both CinC, but it is far better than the alternative.  I take great care to ensure that I take decisions in the role using only the information provided by the corps commanders and I try to allow them as much freedom as possible.  

It may well be “a weakness in my overall game concept” as MurdocK points out.  But how many other PBEM games have run non stop for three years – and are still going strong.

The second comment was from daveb, who is one of the corps commanders in the current phase of the campaign.   Dave makes the point that it’s reasonable to lose one division and probably take out two.   In actual fact by attacking two divisions with one, and crossing a river at the same time, the chances of surviving are slim.  There is no chance of taking out two divisions.  The most likely result is that you lose one of your three divisions and with it the opportunity to cross the river with odds of 3 to 2.

But that is not important, that is the corps commander decision.   My problem is what to do in my role of CinC.   The situation is actually much more complicated than I explained in the previous blog.   The whole Russian offensive has ground to a halt because one division is in the wrong place.  The CinC is present on the spot.   My dilemma was should he take command (as he surely would have done) or should I blindly follow the orders given by the corps commander?

Thanks for the comments.  They do give me pause for thought, and that is never a bad thing.   I make no claim that my campaign system is perfect, or even nearly so.  But it has worked for a long time and it does fill the primary campaign objective – it provides Jan and me with good wargames.