Sunday 28 July 2013

Most Difficult Wargame – Ever

The 1814 campaign has presented me with the most difficult wargame I have ever had to organise.

Both the French and British commanders write orders for their four corps based on incomplete information supplied by me.   The map above shows the position of each corps at the end of the previous day.  They are aware of any enemy corps within two squares (10 miles).

The previous day was a battle between 1st British and 7th French corps.  

The British won, with light casualties and one of their five brigades in rout

The French lost, have orders to avoid the enemy for 24 hours and have suffered medium casualties and have three of their five brigades in rout.

Marshal Soult ordered 19th and 25th corps to attack St Jean (the square with 1st British). 
7th corps was ordered to retreat to Bayonne.   17th corps to halt and resupply

Wellington ordered 1st corps to attack 25th corps.   4th corps were ordered to move into E03.
3rd corps were ordered to rest and resupply.   2nd corps was ordered to attack into I04.

You will see that the British orders do not really make a lot of sense.   The weakest corps, 1st corps,  is ordered to attack.   2nd corps is ordered to attack on their own.   3rd corps are ordered to rest.   4th corps are sent east instead of north.

Under the terms of the campaign Jan and I take command as soon as a battle/wargame is declared.   All corps on, or within supporting distance, of the table come under our control.   We can change the orders for each corps as soon as their turn comes on the table.

First I had to decide which parts of the campaign combat was worth fighting as a wargame.

If one side is outnumbered two to one I calculate casualties as a paper exercise.   1st British corps would have come into this category.   2nd British corps is one to one, so that would be fought as a wargame.

I decided instead to fight a large battle involving all eight corps and covering two wargame tables.  

I then had to decide whether 19th corps should remain with 17th corps, as the latter would face odds of two to one at Cambo.   I decided that the French player wanted to have odds of two to one at St Jean, and he would not have done so had I cancelled 19th corps orders.

It took a whole morning of working on the orders and maps to decide how best to tackle the battle.   We have set up the first wargame, the left hand square on the map above.   In the very first move we have had a huge upset when one body of cavalry charged and routed the enemy cavalry, blocking the column behind. 

If the remainder of the two battles work as well it will have been well worth the effort of setting it all up.

Sunday 21 July 2013

Uneven Battles

It’s been an interesting week in the 1814 campaign.

We are currently fighting the fifth battle of the campaign.

There have been a lot of questions raised about the campaign in general, which has kept me busy.   The campaign rules are more of an outline and reference rather than a full detailed set of campaign rules.    More like the “fast play rules” than the full rule book.   So it is not surprising that new players raise a lot of questions.  It’s good for me, because when I refer to the rules it’s often the first time I have done so since I wrote them, and I see them in a new light.

The battles resulting from the campaign have also been much different from previous campaigns.   This is probably because I no longer influence the strategy of the campaign in the role of CinC.   Some players are obviously struggling to master the finer points of the rules, and strategy is taking a back seat.

As a result there have been a large proportion of uneven battles.  That is to say odds of two, or more, corps to one.   These are not usually planned as a clever strategy, but the result of one side having their four corps too widely spread and not within supporting distance of each other.

The problem is that they make for very one sided wargames.  All of the corps are evenly balanced in terms of numbers of infantry, cavalry and artillery.   But also in fighting ability.  Some may have better firing, others better skirmish others longer range artillery.   So when you get odds of two to one the smaller side is almost certainly going to lose.

Given that the smaller side has usually ended in this circumstance as a lack of planning on the part of the player, it seems unfair to throw away one of his four corps in a very one sided battle.

So I have always allowed the weaker side to start to withdraw as soon as it becomes obvious that he is outnumbered two to one.   This is usually about move five, when the second corps arrives at the table edge three or four moves away.

The attacker can attempt to pin the defender by attacking immediately, and not waiting for his reinforcements to arrive.   But the only real way to pin is to have superior cavalry, and that can only be achieved by winning the cavalry melee.   If the attacker loses the melee it is almost impossible for him to pin the weaker side.

This problem has caused a flurry of correspondence on the campaign forum.   One player has suggested, very reasonably, that it should be possible for the leading corps to pin the weaker corps until his reinforcements arrive.   This certainly was possible in Napoleonic warfare.  But it is very hard to achieve in a wargame, unless the weaker side is not allowed to retreat with the result that he will be destroyed.

I have to find a solution which does not end in the destruction of the weaker side.  Otherwise the campaign will quickly disintergrate as one side after another loses one of their four corps and then faces the knock on effect of uneven combat.

I have not found the solution yet!

Sunday 14 July 2013

1814 – Three Battles in Three Days

Three battles in northern France

The purpose of my PBEM campaign is to produce wargames for Jan and I to fight, and it has not let us down.

We have completed three campaign days and they have produced three battles for us to wargame.

We hoped to achieve one campaign day per week, and have managed to keep to that target.  Not bad going as there are twelve sets of orders to process each campaign day, six maps to update and twelve sets of reports to send back to the players. 

In addition we have had to fight a wargame for each week, and also managed to complete them on time.

To be fair they were not very complicated wargames.

Most of the army commanders are struggling with the new campaign system, which puts a lot more decision making on their shoulders.   Some are very cautious, some very rash.   The battles have been produced by the latter.

 Battle of Strasbourg

All were one corps against one corps.   On the wargames table this translates to 32 infantry, four cavalry and one gun.  It is not long before one side starts to lose the battle, and it then becomes a pretty one sided wargame.   So we have managed to complete each wargame in less than the full twelve moves.

Next weekend our son arrives with his family for their annual two weeks in the sun.   The grandchildren are 6 and 3.   So I doubt we will have much time for wargame campaigns and fighting battles.   They take over the house and we try to keep out of the way, whilst preparing meals and performing nightly babysitting duties.  

We do have the occasional break when they all go off to the beach for the day.   Usually we just flop with a cup of coffee, or watch an hour’s TV.   But we might just get in an hour’s Wargaming or spend an hour updating the campaign.

It’s lovely when they come, but it’s quite nice when they go home as well!

Sunday 7 July 2013

Campaign Administration

The administration of the new campaign is proving much more time consuming than I had anticipated.

My previous series of PBEM campaign had developed over a period of four years, each phase learning lessons from the previous one.   But the basic campaign remained unchanged.   Six to eight players each commanding a corps and all playing on the same tactical map.  I took the role of commander in chief for both the French and Allied armies.   So I could keep the campaign on track and direct the flow of the action.

This one has twelve players, each an army commander with four corps each.    There are six campaign areas each with one commander per side.   Each has its own strategic and tactical map.   They each have complete freedom of choice as to how they conduct their campaign.

It’s very early days yet, the campaign is only two weeks old.

We have completed the initial deployment and also the first complete campaign move.

The previous campaign had run on a strict weekly timetable.   It had to do so because I had to have all of the orders in before I could start to plot that day’s move.

I had hoped that in this campaign I could spread the work over a longer period.   All I need is the orders from one set of commanders, the French and Allied commanders in one of the six campaign areas.   I should not be surprised that the first six orders I received all came from different campaign areas!

Already the timetable is becoming staggered.   As soon as I get one “set” of orders in I start work on the umpire report.  This consists of a map, order of battle and current supply situation.  That is similar to the previous umpire report, and can be completed quite quickly.   I have added a summary of the current orders to this page, so that I can more easily compare the orders from each commander.

Then I complete a summary of each corps, what they have done and what contact with the enemy.   I also write recommendations, which the player can follow or not as they wish.  I had thought this would add interest to the campaign.  I am not sure how the players feel about it, but I am coming to think I may have “bitten off more than I can chew”.   It is very time consuming and requires a lot of cross reference to put it all together.

So another very busy week, and a very challenging one.  I am sure that it will get easier once I get the flow of it going smoothly.   Or at least I hope so.

No one to blame but myself.  I could have carried on with the old system.  But I was getting bored it.   I can confirm that I have not found the past week boring.