Sunday, 11 July 2021

Campaign Casualties

Battle of Waterloo

I don’t get a lot of comments on my blog, so I do appreciate the regular comments of Bob Cordery.    He was one of the first to comment on one of earlier blogs.   He gave me some very good advice on blogging, and was very supportive in the early days.   He is a very successful blogger and author of wargames books, and his comments are often thoughtful and always positive.

Last week he observed how often one defeat in a campaign often leads to a series of victories for the winner of the first battle.   Normally I answer his comment, but I found myself thinking about this one, and realising that it needs a more detailed answer.

You will probably know that my 1813 campaign has been running for a very long time.   As a result I have learned a lot about what works, and more importantly what does not work.

First and foremost a wargame campaign is very much a game.   When I first dabbled with campaigns I wanted to make them as realistic as possible, and preferably follow an actual campaign.   I quickly learned that this usually ends badly.  Historical campaigns tend to be either short and sharp, or very prolonged lasting months if not years.   For example Waterloo was the former, the Peninsular campaign very much the latter

It is important to know which of those two extremes you want to model for your campaign.   If your aim is to provide exciting wargames, it is probably Waterloo style.   The Peninsular type will involve weeks, or even months, of map movement whilst both armies jockey for an advantage.   This can be very boring for your average wargamer.

I started my campaign with the clear aim of providing interesting battles to wargame.   I wanted them to have a flavour of the Napoleonic period, but I did not want to spend hours and hours moving around a map.   So my choice was a Waterloo style campaign.  One that would last four or five days and provide two or three battles to wargame.   That is fine for a one off campaign, but I wanted a long lasting campaign which would last for months, if not years.  So I decided on a series of Waterloo type campaigns, all within the overall framework of a major conflict involving all of the major armies of the period.   What better than the 1813 campaign.

But a large amount of compromise is required to make this type of project work.   It is not enough to study historical campaigns, because they did not follow this route.   Almost all were a series of major battles, often against different nations, spread over a very long period.  

First I had to model the armies on the figures I have available.   Then I had to work out a set of campaign rules which would result in the type of campaign I wanted to game.   The series of mini campaigns was essential.  At the end of each one I would move to a different area and two different armies. At the start of the campaign both armies would be full strength and fully supplied.

Hardest to model was a system which would allow armies to lose a battle, but be able to retreat and recover within a few days.   Clearly this would not happen in real life.  In our wargames, and as a result in our campaigns, armies suffer a much higher percentage of casualties than history shows happened.   This is because our lead or plastic armies will fight much longer, and suffer much higher casualties, than the flesh and blood armies they represent.

My answer was to allow a defeated corps to concentrate all of their infantry casualties, less 10%, in a single brigade.   This resulted in that brigade being removed from the wargames table for future battles.  It also meant that any brigade which suffered casualties in one battle would carry at least 10% for the rest of the campaign.   But that was far better than having those casualties spread throughout the corps.   This is because most of our dice driven wargame rules punish casualties much more than real life.   This is particularly so with my relatively simple wargame rules.   My compromise means that after a couple of days both armies can take the table again, without one side having a huge advantage, which results in almost certain victory.  This inflicts more casualties on the weaker side, making a further battle even more difficult to win.

So the answer is simple, but perhaps the compromise required is too much for many wargamers.   I am always depressed, if not surprised, to constantly read on wargame forums how to make wargames more realistic.   To constantly quote what actually happened as a justification for what rules should allow to happen.   In real life a well led army could recover win against higher odds.   In a wargame this is really hard to model, unless you make the smaller army supermen, and the larger one all ready to run at the first casualty.

My aim is to allow both armies in every wargame an equal, or at least reasonable, chance to win.   The result are enjoyable wargames whether you win or not.   Given that all players understand the rules, the outcome is then down to a small degree of preparation and deployment and a large degree of luck with the dice.   It also results in short fast moving games which are enjoyable for all players.


  1. I don't play campaigns as often as I would like to (primarily laziness but also maintaining too many interests) but I consider casualties in a wargame to include more than dead and seriously wounded, things like fear, fatgue, loss of officers and ncos, local ammo shortages etc and that some of these can be recovered if a defeated army manages to retreat as well as detachments left behind etc. Therefore, to keep it simple, I roll to see how much a defeated army can recover before the next battle.

    Always an interesting challenge to keep things enjoyable and challenging as well as plausible.

  2. Thistlebarrow (Paul),

    This is a very interesting explanation of how you deal with casualties in a campaign setting without it becoming over complex or making things too one sided after the first battle or two of a campaign. I think that your rational makes a great deal of sense, and judging by my reading of your campaign reports, certain leads to a series of interesting and intriguing battles.

    All the best,


  3. Hi,
    The article is interesting and I share the conclusion.
    Thank you.
    Good game

  4. Hi Ross

    Thanks for your comment.

    I can understand why you do not play campaigns much. To do requires a considerable amount of work, which detracts from time painting or wargaming. For me the campaign is an end in itself. It replaced the time I used to spend painting figures, and takes about as long. Mot days I spend a couple of hours on the campaign, whether writing battle reports or updating the campaign diary.

    The administration of the campaign could easily become an end in itself. It is a constant battle trying to keep things simple, yet still reflect command decisions. And your roll of a dice fills that need. I have made great use of the dice in writing my wargame rules to keep them simple but give a fairly historical outcome.

    The most important aim is to keep it fun and enjoyable.



  5. Hi Bob

    Nice to hear from you as always.

    My aim was to keep it simple, allow armies to recover from heavy battle casualties but still give some advantage to the side which inflicted those casualties. Works ok for me.

    Looking forward to seeing how your campaign develops



  6. Hi Syl

    Thanks for your comments, always good to get feedback.
    Glad that you found it interesting



  7. (This is my second go at posting a comment but I don't think the first one sent; please accept my apologies if you receive two comments saying much the same thing!).

    A very interesting post. Given your diagnosis of the problem as in the casualty levels incurred in tactical rules, I am curious as to why you have settled on solving the problem in the campaign rules rather than continuing to revisit the tactical rules to get the outcomes you want? I hope that sentence makes sense! Just curiosity, since clearly your campaign rules work very well.

    All the best


  8. Hi John

    Thanks for your comment. It only appeared once.

    I may not have explained it very well. The casualties appear on the wargame table, and result in one side or the other winning. High casualties are relatively unimportant. The break or rout point is much more important.

    The result is decided by 2D6 dice, moderated by plus or minus for casualties etc. To make the game more interesting I use all options (2 to 12) to give slightly different results. This means that a very poor dice will result in rout with 20% casualties. This is often on top of previous game casualties resulting in 30% or even 40% casualties. Not a problem in the game, but a big problem in the campaign.

    A brigade with 40% casualties will take at least three campaign days to reduce them to 10% casualties. If that brigade has to fight again it will lose one point for morale, melee or firefight for each 10% casualty. More than 20% usually makes a brigade more of a liability than an advantage.

    So I am trying to achieve the rout point in the wargame with less casualties.

    This is much harder to achieve than it would seem at first sight. I want an average brigade to withstand at least 10% casualties. But given that they could roll anything between 2 and 12 this can make them too hard to rout.

    Not sure if I have made things harder to understand or not?

    I love the uncertainity of relying to a large extent on the dice. I like it when the guard rout because they rolled a total of 2, and the conscript win because they rolled 12. But if it happens too often it can ruin a whole campaign phase.

    But its all part of the fun of accepting that even after all of this time the campaign is still developing and evolving.




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