I do not know about you, of course, but I like campaign games. The idea of a campaign is attractive; a motivation for each battle is given. Personalities emerge, units become heroic and carry all before them in game after game. And so on.
There is, however, a problem with a given campaign game. I have been following with interest Prometheus in Aspic’s English Civil War campaign. It has been carefully planned, tested; the troops and armies have been lovingly assembled, and so on. The rules have been adjusted, the scenario tweaked and games have been played.
Now, here, unfortunately, is the rub. After two battles, Mr Foy has more or less defeated one side. As umpire, of course, he is throwing in some extra forces, having a final big battle and thus deciding the war. But I suspect that there is a bit of a twinge. With all that set up, do we not deserve a bit more return?
Here, I think, is one of the problems of a campaign game. We set it up carefully, thoughtfully. Enjoy the map moves and manoeuvres. Fight the battles. And one side wins. Often, it seems to me, in a campaign, one battle is enough to decide the outcome. I think it was Don Featherstone who remarked that in one of his ACW campaign games, after a couple of battles, one side was in no state to continue.
This seems to be a terrible down-side to a campaign game. In my own case, while Fuzigore is set up just to provide a narrative reason for a few games, the time I did set a campaign up ‘properly’, that is drawing maps, plotting moves and so on, it did finish in one, large and decisive, battle. All that work for a relatively limited quantity of gain. Perhaps I could have just placed the figures on the table and got on with it straightaway, as it were.
I think, however, that most real life campaigns, at least before the world wars, were similar. I cannot really think, for example, of English Civil War campaigns which had more than one or two battles in them. Marston Moor, for example, had the siege of York, and Rupert’s blast through Lancashire (I do not recall any battles there, though, a few places were captured and relieved), but the main event was the Battle of Marston Moor and that was pretty well that for the campaign.
So far as I can recall, most other ECW campaigns were of a similar nature. There might have been the odd skirmish before, perhaps a rear-guard action afterwards, but even when events did interlock there was not much in terms of continuous campaigning; even for something like the Cropredy Bridge to Lostwithiel to Second Newbury campaign, there were substantial breaks in the movement of troops, recruitment and reinforcement and, of course, some truly awful decision by assorted high commanders. There were, of course, a number of battles along the way, but the whole thing lasted from April to October and so the number of battles per month was not that great. A wargame reproduction of the campaign would probably have lasted about half an hour, and resulted in the Parliamentarian capture of Oxford at the beginning of June.
In the last paragraph, I might have exaggerated a tad, but the point might be germane. As wargamers, as people conducting wargames as our hobby, we actually want action. In real life (or history; the two do not necessarily correlate) often commander do not, particularly, want to join battle. Again, in the run up to Cropredy Bridge, the Royalist high command was actively seeking to avoid battle. The main action was to take place in the north and the aim of the Oxford army was to tie Waller and Essex up in knots, but not to actually fight. As it turned out, of course, Waller and Essex proved to be quite capable of tying themselves up in knots and were defeated in detail. Better cooperation could, quite possibly, have ended the war a year or so earlier.
I think there is also a question of scale, or scope, of the campaigns. Most campaign games seem to me to focus on limited areas, limited forces and limited objectives. Given these parameters, it is quite likely that the game will end with a decisive victory in a battle by one side or the other. In that sense, a campaign game is perfectly accurate: many campaigns in history were ended by a major battle, with perhaps a few extras along the way. Even the Waterloo campaign only had four battles, in three of which the major strength of the armies involved were not deployed.
Larger scope campaigns could remove the feeling of a lot of work going into a single battle. If we imagine a campaign of the whole ECW, then as well as Marston Moor and Cropredy, there would have been battles in Scotland, Wales and probably Ireland as well. While these are separate campaigns, they also interlink and become strategic drivers for further operations. Mr Foy has also run a Spanish Peninsular campaign which has not run out of forces, so far as I am aware, although the scope might be limited by having to invent the rest of Europe as drivers.
The problem with the bigger campaign is, of course, the increasing amount of work which might be required to keep it going. For some, like Fuzigore, this is not an issue, because I decided to ignore things like unit histories, the relationship between land, taxation and armies, and so on. I have a narrative driver or two and do not worry about the rest. The idea is to generate interesting (and not necessarily balanced) wargames with the minimum of fuss and bookkeeping. This may not appeal to everyone.
So, while I (and others) do recommend the campaign game as a way of keeping interest in wargaming and avoiding the lack of motivation in continuous single battles, campaigns do not come without a whole new set of problems of their own. But they are worth a go.