Tuesday 30 April 2013

A Short Break

The blog is a few day’s late this week.   I try to post it each Sunday, but we had a break this week.

We have just returned from a ten day visit to the UK to look after our grand children whilst my son and his wife had paid their first visit to New York.   Not exactly a holiday, but certainly a break – from Wargaming at least.

Wargaming and things Napoleonic have been a constant part of our life since 1969.   Since then, it seems in retrospect, hardly a day has passed when I have not been painting, building, planning or reading about the subject.  I am sure that cannot be true, there must have been many days when it was not true.   But that is how it seems looking back.

Since we retired seven years ago the subject has taken up even more of my time.   But now all the armies are painted.   All the buildings are completed.  The final wargames room has been completed and the final wargames table built.   The final reorganisation of my armies and campaign system has been completed.   All of my time is now devoted to running two campaigns and fighting wargames.

It’s not exactly a 9 to 5 thing.   We do fit in a lot of other things.   But most days I fit in two or three hours on the computer updating blogs or running the two campaigns.   And there is, almost always, a wargame in progress.

We are fortunate to have a dedicated wargames room complete with 6x6 foot wargames table.  It could have been bigger, but we agreed that is the ideal size for two people to game on.  Our armies are organised to fight on that size table, with enough space to manoeuvre the armies, but not a long table to walk around.   We used to have one 12x6 foot.  Great for multi player games of 4 or 6, but much to large for two players.

We tend to play for an hour or two four or even five days a week.   In the hot summer’s here in Spain the games room is the coolest part of the house.   In the colder winters it is the warmest.   So our few hours Wargaming provides a welcome break in the day.

So leaving our comfortable routine and going to look after the grand children, aged 2 and 6, was quite a shock.   It was lovely to see them again, and to spend some time with them.   But you do forget just how tiring two young children can be.   Or perhaps they just get more tiring as you get older.

I brought my laptop with me, intending to keep the campaigns up to date when the kids were in bed.   But I found that by then I was also shattered and just wanted half an hour in front of the TV and then bed myself.

So it’s a real joy to be back home and back in my routine.    It was delayed by two days due to a flu like infection the youngest gave me as a farewell present.   This resulted in a very uncomfortable flight back to Spain, followed by two days in bed recovering.

But all is well now.   I may not feel much like eating or drinking, but I am very happy to be back on the computer and working on the campaign’s again.

Sad really.   But sad in a nice sort of way.

Monday 22 April 2013

PBEM Linz – A Good Start

The campaign has got off to a good start, with two battles within the first four days.   So Jan and I have been kept busy on the wargame table.

Now we come to the more complicated part, when the corps commanders are confronted with the problems of supply

Supply in the campaign is really simple.   Each division starts the campaign with five days supply, which is the maximum they can hold.   To resupply the division must be within 15 miles (one days march on a road) of a supply base, not in contact with the enemy and have orders to do so.

During the first phase of the campaign, which we have just completed, it was all movement.   All of the corps started the campaign with one days march between their two divisions.   The French had to decide whether to join the two divisions before they attacked.    The Austrians had to decide whether to hold with their forward division and bring up the rear one, or the opposite.

No one seems to have thought about resupply.   For three days it was all movement and fighting.   All then realised that they had only two days supplies.   Worse still some were out of supply range of their depot.   They would have to decide whether to retreat to resupply, or hold and establish a new supply depot.

To establish a supply depot is easy.   It takes one infantry brigade one full day.   The rest of the division can do what they want whilst this is going on.

When I designed the supply rules I wanted to keep them simple.   I think these are as about as simple and easy to manage as any rules could be.  Each  player is reminded at the end of each  move how many days supplies he has left.   To resupply he only has to say so in his next days orders.  Yet most players seem to have given little thought to resupply until they have almost run out.

Supply is one of those subjects you read a lot about on wargame and campaign forums.   Everyone seems to think that they should be as complicated as possible, and take into account historical logical problems.   Nothing wrong with that, but I wonder how many have actually used them in a multiplayer campaign.   And more interesting still, how the players got on with them.

The more experience I gain of running a PBEM campaign, the more convinced I become that the principle KISS (keep it simple stupid) is by far the best to follow.

Sunday 14 April 2013

Keeping the Players Happy

The latest phase of my 1813 PBEM Campaign is only one month old, and already I have lost two of the six players.   Fortunately there were three reserve players, and the two posts have already been filled.   But it has made me consider whether it is something I am doing, or perhaps not doing.  In effect “Is it me?”

The campaign has run nonstop for four years.   During that time we have had six phases, or mini campaigns, and a total of 48 players have taken part.

I have kept a list of who has taken part, why and how they left.

15 left the campaign without reason or explanation
15 left at the end and did not want to take part in another campaign
5 left because of accidents or personal reasons
4 left because they did not enjoy the campaign
3 were removed because I did not want them in the campaign

6 are still playing

I try very hard to explain what is involved before inviting anyone to join the campaign.
I send everyone a written description of the role of the corps commander, and ask them to confirm that they still want to take part.   Experience has made me wonder whether some actually read the description.

The players are a very important part of the campaign, and I work hard at making it as interesting and enjoyable as I can.   But the campaign always comes first.   No one is allowed to ruin the campaign, either for me or for the other players.

The big problem with PBEM is that I don’t know the players, and they don’t know me.   I always start by taking a new player at face value, and accept what he wants to tell me.   But given the large number who have left the campaign without warning or explanation, I have to assume the worse as soon as they fail to respond to mail.   To do anything else would result in long delays which would put the whole campaign at risk.

It would be great if I could find a small group of like minded players who would take part in campaign after campaign.  

But life is not like that.  
People change.  
Circumstances change
“Real Life” just gets in the way.

So on consideration I don’t really see what more I can do to keep players in the campaign.   I get very little feedback from any of the players, so I can only assume that most have a very limited commitment to it.   I don’t mind that.  I certainly don’t expect any great commitment as a requirement to take part.

The two that just left do pose an interesting comparison.

One was new to campaigning, and I suspect also to Wargaming.  He made that clear at the start.  I helped him all I could with orders and reports, but he was clearly struggling.   Eventually he failed to reply to my mail, and I removed him.   A few days later he wrote to apologise, explaining that he was having problems with his computer.   I don’t know whether it was true or not.  It doesn’t really matter.  The important thing is that he could not keep to the campaign time table.

The other was a very experienced wargamer.  I had read his comments on forum, and he clearly had a lot of experience.  I was sure that he would be a great addition to the campaign.   However within weeks he was putting his command in a position where he was almost certain to lose it.   This in turn would have meant an early end to the whole campaign.  Despite my attempt to get him to adopt a different strategy, he refused to do so on historical grounds.  Pointing out that this was not a historical campaign, but a wargame one, did not help.  Eventually he decided to leave.   Very sad, but no doubt for the best.

So here you have two opposite types of player.  One left because it was too complicated.  The other because it was too simple.   I guess the only answer is to please myself and hope that I can continue to find sufficient like minded people to take part in future campaigns.

Sunday 7 April 2013

PBEM Campaign Map Deployment

I am often surprised how often the corps commanders in my PBEM campaign fail to deploy properly before a battle.   Failure to do so often results in defeat because the attackers are outnumbered or the defenders simply withdraw before the attackers can close with them.

As an example have a look at the map above.

Each square on the map is a 2x2 foot scenic square on the battlefield.  
Movement is at the rate of three squares per day on a road, two per day off road and one per day through difficult terrain.

1st French corps (blue) want to attack Vockabruck, which is defended by 2nd Austrian corps.

The map shows the position at the end of the second day.

During the first day the two French divisions advanced from Uttendorf.
The two Austrian divisions deployed side by side.

The French cannot enter squares G03, G02 or G01 unless they have orders to attack

Most often the French commander would order both divisions to attack Vockabruck.
1st division would enter the wargames table at the start of move one
They would immediately be within artillery range of the two Austrian divisions
Worse still the Austrians could attack the French at odds of two to one.
2nd division would not enter the table until the start of wargame move 5.

Alternatively the French commander could deploy to attack.
1st division would have to move north into F03, or south into F01
2nd division would move forward into F02
Because of difficult terrain this manoeuvre would take a full day

Meanwhile 2nd Austrian corps might have ordered an attack
In which case they would catch the French disordered as they attempted to redeploy.

Or 2nd Austrian corps might decide to abandon Vockabruck and retreat to Wels.

Of course it’s easy to highlight the opportunities and dangers when you know the exact locations of all four divisions.  In the campaign the French commander would be aware of the location of the two Austrian divisions.   But the Austrian commander would only be able to see 1st French division, who would screen 2nd division.