I suspect, although I do not know (a poll of local wargamers gave an overwhelmingly positive response, but since that is only me, this is hardly a surprise), that for most of us a wargame campaign is something we might dream of, occasionally sketch plans for but rarely actually get around to delivering on. And this is a shame, because my experience of wargame campaigns is that they can be extremely satisfying.
Of course, that raises the question of why, exactly, we should run campaigns as wargamers. A recent comment (I think by Ruraigh, but I could be wrong) suggested that the idea of a wargame campaign was to create battles or, presumably, a series of linked battles. A battle set in the context of an ongoing campaign has more hanging on it than a single “pick up” wargame.
I am reminded of a comment in one of the naval wargames books (although I forget which, perhaps some kindly reader with a better memory can supply the details) wherein the author comments that in a land based wargame, a cross-roads or village can simply be designated strategically important and hence provide a motivation for the battle. At sea, one cannot simply designate a stretch of water strategically important and then fight over it. Naval wargames, he argued, were better if fought in the context of a campaign.
Now, of course, the concepts of ‘better’ and ‘worse’ are highly subjective. I doubt if any wargamer worth his or her salt would seriously baulk at a wargame because it was not offered as part of a campaign. Any game is perhaps better than no game at all. But if a wargame is in any sense better for being part of a campaign, it rather behoves us to consider why that might be.
On the positive side of wargame campaigns, firstly, they tend to take away the dreaded ‘equal points’ battle so beloved of competition games. Smaller forces in campaigns can be forced to, or may accept, battle for entirely logical reasons. A weaker force may lose the battle but help to win the campaign.
Secondly, a campaign does provide reasons for having a battle, and also a context within which to have the wargame. Often, a win or loss is defined by one side getting to a certain morale level, or losing so many bases, or whatever, and, in a pick up game, that is so far as it goes. In a campaign a player on the losing side, instead of holding out until the last, might start a withdrawal sooner, so as to preserve a force in being. A beaten army is a more potent force (in many circumstances, at least) than a routed one.
Thus, a battle in a campaign context is different from one where the battle is the focus and end of the activity. As wargamers (and, indeed, as humans in general) the battle is the final activity of a lengthy campaign. If we read modern accounts of battles, we get lengthy accounts of the forces, the strategy, the grand tactical manoeuvres and so on, and then we get the battle. Perhaps this is followed by a brief ‘aftermath’ and account of the follow up and consequences, but it battle is the high point of the whole account. But, I suspect, real generalship is not, particularly, about the battle, but on getting to the field and getting off it afterwards. Certainly, I think, in ancient and early modern times, generals had little control of the battle itself, only the deployment, following up and retreat were theirs to organise.
On the downside of campaigns, there is, of course, the necessity to organise one and to play out map moves rather than to bang the figures on the table and get on with rolling dice. I suspect that this is the biggest block, psychologically anyway, to campaigns. Why fiddle around with bits of paper and maps when we could be having a wargame? My only response to this is firstly to agree, and secondly to point to the positive effects of a campaign as outlined above.
Secondly, I think, and this is confirmed by my own experience, that often the campaign is viewed rather as a grandiose scheme. Perhaps we have, in the long run, been badly served by accounts of Tony Bath’s Hyboria campaign and similar huge, multiplayer games. The complexity of running these is, even in these computationally sophisticated days, mind boggling.
I do not mean to be negative about such campaigns, of course. ‘The Campaign that Grew’ was some of my favourite reading in Battle and then Military Modelling, but it does give the impression that this is the Holy Grail of campaigns. In fact, if you read Setting Up a Wargames Campaign, Bath actually developed a wide variety of techniques for running campaigns in various forms and formats. Nevertheless, I suspect that Hyboria is, in the back of many wargamer’s minds, the gold standard for campaign games.
However, I do think that campaign games can add dimensions and purpose to wargaming. My own Fuzigore campaign is not complex. It consists of a scrawled map, some tables of international relations, and a narrative thread. As I have already documented here, this has led to a Gaul vs Gaul bash, followed by a raid by the beaten Gauls into Roman territory where they besieged and captured a city, ambushing and defeating the relief force, and finally a stand up battle between the Gauls and the miffed Romans which lead to the heavy defeat of the former.
Apart from the first of these, the battles were not heavy duty campaigns, but the narrative thread strung the three combats together, and made each one greater than just the pushing of lead on a table. Of course, I am now in a narrative quandary about what to do next, but that, in fact, is part of the fun. If I want another battle, I’ll roll a few dice and make something up.
But I think the campaign games need not be complex, but do need a strong narrative. A bit like normal wargames, really.