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.