Saturday 26 December 2015

The Count

Most people do it. They do it in private, of course, although the results are often blazoned in public across the internet. It is a very personal thing. Perhaps we should keep it quiet, but part of being human is to make the private public. Otherwise, there would not be so many salacious stories eagerly snapped up by a public that just cannot get enough of private stories.

This is, it seems, as good a time as any to go public. The dark and storm of winter (unless you are in the southern hemisphere, of course) lends itself to introspection, to doing things in private that would not be dreamt of in summer.

I refer, of course, to the phenomenon we observe on many wargame blogs to counting what we have painted during the previous year. One problem I face is that I cannot really remember, but, ignoring that fact with dignity, here is the count.

I think I started the year with these. I vaguely remember painting more pike men than I believed possible, so it must be them. A total of 29 bases, by my reckoning, of which 12 are pike. 192 pike men, 60 heavy cavalry, 16 Galatians, 12 light cavalry and four elephants. An opening total of 284 figures.

I found a couple of hoplite strips lurking, and, as I had just run out of hoplites for a campaign battle, painted them. Two bases, sixteen figures. A total of 31 bases and 300 figures.

I also ran out of officer markers during the battle, and so painted another boxful. Twelve figures, twelve bases, giving a running total of 43 bases and 312 figures. I also needed some new sorts of markers, and, after an appeal to the collective wisdom of the blog, made 8 bases thereof, so a total of 51 bases, but I won’t claim any figures for that.

The campaign is looking like it will need a Thracian army. Now I have Thracians as components of other armies, but I needed to create a few more, so nine bases, eight as dense and one as light peltasts, so 68 figures on nine bases. 380 figures and 60 bases.

Strange as it might seem, I do not have a painted army of Moors. I have had the figure for ages and ages, but not painted them. This is now being rectified. So far, 23 bases have been painted (but the basing is incomplete). 43 light cavalry, 48 light infantry on 23 bases so far. I realise that the numbers do not work, one of the cavalry bases is waiting for an extra figure from the next batch to make up the numbers.

So work in progress is some more Moors, but the total so far is 471 figures on 83 bases. That is quite a lot more than I would have thought. Mind you, there are a lot of pike men there.

On the downside, of course, as wargamers we cannot help but obtain more figures. I have not done too badly for that this year, having only acquired 45 cavalry, 96 infantry and two extra elephants. These are all for the Moorish armies, as the Moors will be the first army which has been immediately doubled. That is a  total of 143 figures, leaving me with a net gain of 328 figures over my lead pile.

Mind you, that lead pile is still fairly substantial, consisting in a few odds and ends, plus Spanish, Parthian, Sarmatian and Pontic armies demanding to be doubled, a pile of early Persians claiming to be part of the doubling of them, and doubtless a few other things needing painting.

Plus, of course, my buildings project, which has acquired another 5 building to its unpainted pile and I’m not sure that I painted any this year, so that is not looking good. And finally is that fact that Santa has delivered 150 ancient galleys. Now I need to work out what I am going to do with them….

And a very happy thingumabob to you.

Saturday 5 December 2015

Events and Probabilities

Insofar as there is ever a theme in blog posts, there has been a bit of a trundle around ways of conceptualising, or at least considering, the shape of rules. Firstly, I noted perturbation theory, the rather pretentious name I assigned to the idea that units, in battle, are slowly reduced in capacity until they run away. Secondly, I considered a crisis sort of rule, in that a unit can crumble immediately a threat is perceived.

As has been observed in some of the comments, the outcome for a unit is more than a function of simply shooting and being shot at, and the ratio between the two. While casualties may have some impact, perhaps more important is command and control within the unit, and this includes the ability of lesser commanders, or even ordinary soldiers, to take control at a point of crisis.

The modern wargame rule set, however, tends to focus on the unit as a whole.  The argument is that a general would not know that the Grenadiers have just had their colonel wounded and that the major is taking over command. He might note that the unit is hesitating, slowing in its advance or whatever, but the cause would be opaque to him. He might just mutter ‘Tell the Grenadiers to get on with it’ to an ADC and then turn to other matters.

This sort of approach leads us to consider much more widely the statistics of battles, and here we hit a snag. There are many reasons why a unit might hesitate. A disruption to the chain of command is just one of them. So far as the general is concerned, a unit hesitating in its advance is an event, and that event might be replicated in many other units across the army. The cause of the event, on this model, is irrelevant and unknown by the observer.

However, if we focus in more closely on the unit and what is happening to it in detail, we can say that the event of the colonel being wounded is a specific thing. On this, more detailed, look, the chance of the poor chap being hit would be, at least to some extent, more calculable. We could consider the colonel in his recognisable uniform, and ponder the efficacy of skirmishers sniping. We could classify the density of shooting incoming to the unit, and calculate the chance of any individual being hit. And so on. I am not suggesting that we could, in fact, do this calculation, but we could possibly come up with something plausible.

If we stick with the more global view, however, we have to simply try to work out the probability of a unit hesitating, whatever the root cause might be. Here, we have a problem, because we simply do not have the data required. An event is an event. Its cause is a unique set of circumstances, hidden to us as observers.

In theory (if not in practice) we can calculate the portability of an event happening. We could do this by observing how often a unit in an army does hesitate, and work from there. I have, of course, no idea what the outcome of that might be, but suppose we come up with a number that states that one fifth of the units in an army will hesitate once in a four hour battle. Or, put another way, one twentieth of the units will hesitate per hour.

Now, there are two problems, at least, jumping out here. The first is the difference between the set of events and the ideal probabilities I have just stated. If the process is statistical, then there will be fluctuations away from the ideal probabilities. The only way to try to cure this is by increasing the number of tests. We know that the ideal probability of tails in a coin toss is ½. Even if we make 5,000 such coin tosses, we will not land up with exactly 2,500 tails. If we were seeking to define the ideal probability from the empirical results, we would land up with strange probabilities.

Of course, we are not so naïve. We can work out the possibilities and proceed from there. But in a battle, or even in all the battles in history, there are not, I suspect sufficient unit histories to define a probability of hesitation. We might be able to say that units seem to hesitate with a probability of one in twenty per hour, but that is not necessarily helpful. Along the same lines, we might be able to say that infantry squares were broken twice in the Napoleonic wars, but that is rather hamstrung by the issue that we do not know how many times squares were charged. We have no idea how frequently squares were charged, and so can make no stab at the probability of the square collapsing. In short, we cannot approach the ideal probability, because we do not have sufficient evidence.

Ideally, of course, we would work out the ideal frequency and use that, with suitable fluctuations, in wargame rules. If we could suggest that ‘a unit under fire will hesitate one time in twenty’ then we can roll a die and get on with it. The sort of calculation made tends towards the unrealistic, in that firing a musket one hundred times at a battalion sized sheet might give us some interesting data of ‘accuracy’, but it takes little account of the (average) battlefield conditions, where what is important to most people is not getting hit yourself. While these sorts of experiment might provide a useful upper limit, it is only that – no more than (say) eighty per cent efficacy.

So statistical ideas are necessary to wargame rules, but their application is by no means as simple as we would like. We can, only to some extent, monitor events. We can try to classify events, although, of course, that classification depends on what we are doing and the level of detail we are interested in. but we do not seem to be able to access the ideal probabilities, unless we persuade the world to have a lot more battles and that is almost certainly a bad idea.

Saturday 7 November 2015

Critical Points

I wrote last time about perturbation theory. This sort of things occasionally gets one smirked at, as being a pretentious wargaming geek with no friends and no life at all. Well, possibly. But that is not going to stop me.

Anyway, perturbation theory, as applied to wargame rules, has an assumption underlying it. This assumption is that things deteriorate slowly for a unit in a battle. It arrives at the battle all smart and shiny. Stuff happens to it. The unit takes casualties, comes under sustained fire, has a few frights and gets into combat and so on. The idea of perturbation theory is that these are relatively minor items, any one of which the unit will survive as a fighting force. The combination, or accumulation, of negatives, however, slowly undermines the unit and its ability to fight coherently.

This sort of model underlies, I think, many wargame rules. When I started, it was all the rage to have a defined man to figure ratio, usually of 20:1, and to calculate casualties in “real”, so for each twenty casualties a figure was removed. I always found this a bit fiddly, and also a little illogical, as a unit with nineteen casualties would fight as effectively as one with none.  I also came to a bit of a halt when some rules required that you calculated the number of casualties per figure to see if some extra factors were required to be included. Surely, I though (and still think, if I ever do think about it) that we can either have a figure removal, or calculate the number of casualties per figure. Doing both seems a bit incoherent.

Further reading around military history has led me to think that the model adopted, of casualties calculated, is, in fact, wildly incorrect. Early rules had a tendency to permit units to fight on until they are reduced by fifty per cent (or so) in strength. History shows that units became ineffective at levels much below that.

For example, Charles Cartlon, in ‘Going to the Wars’ (I think, it is not on my shelf) argues that casualties in English Civil War battles were low. The scepticism often shown towards the casualty counts from ECW battles is incorrect. Montrose really could win a battle with the loss of only a handful of men, while his opponents could lose hundreds. This is because most of the casualties were inflicted during the pursuit phase.

Similarly, in Greek hoplite battles, the winning side had a casualty rate of around five per cent, while the losers clocked up about fifteen per cent. Again, the difference would seem to be that the losers ran away, which was a fairly dangerous thing to do. Actually, it would seem to be fairly dangerous in all circumstances, most particularly if you are an infantryman and the opposition has cavalry who can pursue. Even so, the psychological trauma of battle, plus the exhaustion of having fought and then run away makes anyone on the losing side leaving a battle vulnerable even to unarmed non-combatants. Carlton relates a story of a router killed by a milkmaid with her bucket as he fled.

So, the original ‘casualty count’ model seems to be incorrect, historically. We can argue, of course, that counting casualties is simply doing accountancy for loss of cohesion, and to an extent we would be entirely justified and correct in that. On the other hand, however, we could also argue that if we are using ‘men’ simply as an accountancy term, we should use some other word that does not make us think of people being blown apart, maimed or otherwise traumatized. And even then, we should stop removing figures.

The other point is that this model, based on a perturbation approach, does not really account for the sudden crisis that causes units to really run away, or at least, render them ineffective, either permanently or temporarily. To some extent the clue is in the rule I have just criticised. The number of casualties per figure in the unit is a way of assessing the impact of a sudden trauma.

More modern rules do not make use of counting casualties, on the whole. The argument is that the counting method gave wargame commanders far too much information about the state of their units. This, coupled I suspect with the idea that not that many casualties are, in fact, inflicted during the battle part of the battle, has led to a move away from such systems and into looking at the unit as a whole. It might be advancing, halted without orders, falling back or running away. The unit is viewed in terms of its current activity, rather than the precise status of its internal functioning.

What, then, changes the status of the unit if it is not some sort of wearing down pattern based on perturbation theory? I think the answer is in the ‘crisis’ model. The key here is that a wargame unit only does something when provoked by a crisis. For different units, of course, different things cause a crisis. An elite guards unit is unlikely to be particularly perturbed by an inaccurate long range bombardment, while a levy unit might just take the opportunity to ‘go as see their friends’, as the Earl of Essex so delicately put it.  But now, in such rule sets as the De Bellis… series and even, I suspect, Piquet, the underlying model is of a sudden crisis which causes the unit to respond, sometimes positively (by winning a combat, for example), sometimes negatively, by running away.

The fact is, I suppose, that both models are required by a wargame. Certainly, some units get worn down by ongoing minor combat. Some units, say, get hit in the flank and disintegrate. Perhaps, in some of the rules, the focus is too much on one sort of underlying model. There is, for example, no unit attrition in the DB* series of rules. A unit can fight, flee and return to combat in the same condition. On the other hand, the perturbation model can make us accountants, not wargamers.

Saturday 3 October 2015

Perturbation Theory

I have often mentioned that what we have in a set of wargame rules is a set of models. These cover such things as movement, ranged combat, close combat and morale. Each of these models can be well founded, based on empirical data and so on. I am sure I have commented on what exactly that might mean in the past, and how, in fact, fudge factors have to be introduced because, for example, men under fire take longer to spread out into a line, or do not, themselves, fire as accurately (or even, at all) as those who are not, or who are in parade ground situations.

Perhaps the interesting thing is how the models interact, however. The situation being modelled is not that of a specific model but of a set thereof. A model of movement, for example, can be modified by a model of firing. If the soldiers moving come under fire, then we expect that, in some sense, that will affect how the movement is carried out, potentially at least.

In practice, of course, we have modifiers and reaction tests. If a unit is moving and come under fire, we might apply a reaction test to it. We sum up the various external and internal factors such as surprise, cohesion, and training, cover and so on, roll dice and reach some sort of conclusion. The firing model has interacted with the movement one. As another example, many rule sets state that some troops can move half a full move and fire. Again, one model has changed another. Similarly, we might assess the damage from combat as being more than one man per figure (I think that was a Tercio thing) and make a forced morale check on that basis. In that case the combat model and the morale model have interacted and modified each other. It can work the other way around, as well. A morale failure can mean that a unit recoils and hence, if reengaged by their opponents, then fights at a disadvantage.

I think that there is a little bit of a problem for the unwary rule writer here, however. Our models can conflict, and hence we can arrive at odd situations. I am sure we have all seen them on the table. A rather shaky D class regiment of new recruits sees off two regiments of superb cavalry in short order. We shake our heads and mutter ‘these things happen’ and get on with winning the battle by other means. What has happened is that a combination of a morale model and a combat model has given some low probability event; somehow the models have conspired against the normal course of events.

In a sense this is not a problem. I dare say we could find examples all over history where unreliable troops have performed well above expectations. But it is as well to be aware of what is happening here. The models are throwing up low probability events. It is a bit like the interminable arguments over breaking squares in Napoleonic wargames. It did happen, but not very often, and our models probably make it too probable.

One way of looking at how models interact is using perturbation theory. This is a quintessential physics viewpoint. It arises when we want to model something a bit more complex than the normal. We can solve, for example, the quantum mechanical equations for a particle in a box, or a hydrogen atom in a vacuum. That we, we can write down a mathematical equation for the electron in a potential well produced by a proton, and solve it. The solution gives us a set of waves, of states in which the electron can exist.

We would like to solve more complex problems, however; for example, a hydrogen atom in an electric field. Unfortunately, we cannot write down the Schrodinger equation for this and solve it. The mathematics does not work out easily. So what we can do is treat the electric field as a small correction to the already known solutions for the atom in a vacuum. This is fine, so long as the electric field is fairly weak.

I won’t bore you with all the mathematical bits of how this is solved, but the upshot of it is that the extra bit, the perturbing field, mixes the solutions we found before. That is, instead of being in a pure state, say state 1, as a given solution, the electron in the hydrogen atom is in a mixed state, a bit of state 1 plus a bit of state 2. Given that normalisation is upheld in this (that is, the electron has to be somewhere) we can see that the application of the electric field could force the electron to shift from state 1 to state 2; the probability of this is given by the ratio of the ‘bits’ of each state the perturbed electron has access to.

Thus the electron can jump from one state to another by the application of an electric field. Classically, we would say that it gained energy from the field (or lost it, it can go the other way), but quantum mechanically, I hope you can see that it is a bit more complex than that. Nevertheless, its application to wargame rules is, I hope, fairly clear. The models perturb each other, and we need to be specific as to how that happens, and clear as to which models can modify which other models.

The thing is, I think, that if we do not do this modification clearly, we can end up with situations where one model tells us something (for example the combat model says ‘run away’) while another model tells us something else (for example ‘stand firm’). We need to be clear as to which model takes precedence. In Polemos: SPQR it is the combat model. In older rule sets, as I recall, it was the morale model.

I am not saying that one is better or worse than another, but we do need to be clear as to which model is the perturber, and which the basis. And of course, what we have here is weak interaction of the models. This leads to a slow evolution of the states of our units. Another approach is via catastrophe, but that is another story.

Saturday 19 September 2015

The Final Round-Up

This blog is starting to have as many farewells as Frank Sinatra, but here goes. The last bit of unfinished business was about some markers for recoiled but otherwise undamaged bases. Aaron came up with a good idea which has been implemented.

Slightly out of focus, I know, but you’d expect that from my camera abilities by now, and given they are only 10 mm wide by 20 mm deep I don’t think I’ve done too badly.

And here is one in action, marking an unfortunate base of Thracian peltasts down as losers. The peltasts are only unfortunate, however, to have been completed in the same batch as the markers, and so used for an example.

And now I really am going to have a rest, but I do have an idea for how to take to blog very slowly forward, so do pop back in October.

Saturday 12 September 2015

The Last Ditch

I know, I know. Last week’s was the last. But this is in the nature of tidying up.

The Mad Padre (perhaps proving his name) asked for some ditch pictures, so here goes.

Some badly painted hoplites by some ditches.

Some different, but still badly painted hoplites, by the same ditches.

And, just to prove that wargames are occasionally perpetrated chez Polemarch, this is a Gaul vs Gaul bash from Fuzigore, from a while ago. I found it on the camera; amazing that it has survived.

Don’t ask me what is going on, but you can see my order counters, generals and casualty markers in action.

And now, the quiz question: How did I make the ditches, being a poor modeller but having which resources? 

Saturday 5 September 2015

Even the Hero...

As some of you might have surmised from some of the recent posts, I am struggling a bit to find topics of interest to post about. For most wargame blogs, I suppose, this is not an issue. They simply put up a few more pictures of finely painted model soldiers and away they go. However, this blog, if it has a claim to fame at all, has rarely put pictures up and then only to show off my massive amount of painting, not the quality thereof.

Perhaps the trick is to try to see what the blog has become. The overall theme, as it developed, was ‘what are we doing when we are wargaming?’ As such, I suppose the subject matter could be touching upon the philosophy of wargaming. If we construe philosophy as ‘thinking about thinking’, then the philosophy of wargaming is thinking about thinking about wargaming. As a second order undertaking, I suppose there is a limit to what one person can really obtain from doing it.

Of course, practically, over the five years of the blog, I have covered a bewildering array of topics. At least, they often bewilder me. I have discussed the ethics of wargaming, and why people sometimes look at us as if we have just grown horns and a tail when we admit to being wargamers. I have discussed the mechanics and models of wargame rules and how they function. I have tried to suggest that wargames, their rules and the history that they represent might be part of modern culture, might reflect that culture and be shaped by it. I have also tried to discuss how our understanding of history and its meaning is taken up by wargaming and transposed into a different set of meanings.

I have not done this alone. There has been a community of readers and commenters out there, who have given their time and attention to the issues I raise, corrected me when I have made a too sweeping generalisation, mistake, error or misjudgement. I have, I think, only ever had to remove two posts, neither of which were of any relevance to the subject in hand and which were simply, I think, trying to be rude or practising the author’s ability to write a ‘bot program.

A blog is nothing but an individual’s attempt to talk to themselves. Any audience that the blog receives is a bonus, and any comments are even more of a bonus, if not an actual boost to the writer’s ego. Unless the writer has something to say, however, which chimes in with that of an audience (even if that audience is only the writer themselves) then the result is silence. Over the summer my ability to interest myself in my posts has been limited. Perhaps there is such a thing as writer’s block, or burn out, even in terms of a blog about wargaming.

I do, however, find myself at this point with nothing much left to be said. I could, I suppose, spin things out until I thought of something more substantive, but I would fear that the blog then would simply peter out. I set the blog up with the idea in mind of it being sustainable, and reckoned that I could manage to write one thousand words a week, or so, of coherent thought about wargaming. That has proved to be the case in the past, but I can find in myself that I have no guarantee that it will be so in the future. If the writing of the blog has become a burden, then it is time to stop, for something that is a burden for the writer will surely be a burden to the readers.

And so, with something of a heavy heart and decidedly mixed feelings, I have come to the conclusion that, at least for the moment, I shall cease publication. I would like to thank you all, followers, commenters, readers for your attention over the years. I hope that, even if occasionally, the blog has indicated that there might be things to think about in wargaming other than plonking soldiers on the table and pushing them around. If it has done that, then it will have served its purpose well.

I am painfully aware of the shortcomings in my thinking, in the vision of wargaming that I have tried to set out. After all, that vision can only be a personal view and, as such, will always change anyway. My ideas about wargaming are not those of the me of five years ago, and that evolution has been, in part, determined by the writing of the blog. But my perceived inability to think of anything particularly new or innovative seems to indicate that my ideas need some freshening up, some period of reflection before further laying out.

I am not wholly abandoning the blogging idea. This blog will remain here so long as Google / Blogger / whoever allows it to be. I might pick it up again at some point in the future, when the idea of writing a piece about wargaming no longer fills me with an ill-formed sense of dread and anxiety. Not that I am at the edge of a nervous breakdown or anything; it is just that the thought ‘what am I going to write about this week?’ has started to become hard to answer, to even conceive that there might be an answer.

And so, rather than allow the blog to peter out, I declare this blog to be over. It has been a lot of fun, interesting and engaging, for me, at least. In the words of Sellars and Yeatman, this blog, like history, has come to a .

Saturday 29 August 2015

The Art of Destruction

So, there I was, in the middle of what the estimable Mrs P describes as a ‘battle’. The said conflict was part of my shiny new Ancient Greek campaign, and had turned out, through a complex series of events, as a 29 base Spartan army against a 21 base Theban army, as part of a Spartan civil war (there was one Spartan base on the Theban side, and one of the Spartan kings, so it did make a little sense).

There had been some frantic terrain making just before the battle, as I realised that I needed a table width’s worth of ditches. These random terrain generators can throw up some awkward bits of terrain, and I rolled for ditches and did not have any. I had the resources to construct them, of course, but had never got around to it. So the day or two before the battle deadline were spend cutting out bits of foam, gluing, painting and sticking things to them and so on. I got them done the morning of the battle. I am now fully prepared for the next requirement of ditches.

Anyway, I do not want to give a blow by blow account of the battle, but it did throw up a few things with respect to the rules I was using (my own, naturally. The original purpose of the blog was to record ideas and progress on them).

Firstly, I discovered in myself an urgent urge to simplify. Perhaps I am just getting old and even less fit, but a two hour wargame left me exhausted both physically, from walking around the table (which is in fact my desk, so it is not that big) and mentally from trying to remember which bases were which and what had just happened. I think there is an issue here about markers. I have casualty bases (half size to normal ones) to record ‘shakenness’ in the rules, and I also have single officers mounted on little triangular bases to order indicators. These are, to me, intrinsically aesthetic and work nicely. I cannot abide painting little blobs on my carefully painted bases to indicate the morale or training level of the troops, nor do I like putting chits, blobs, caps or dice with the bases to indicate status.

However, I have discovered that in the rules there is a level of casualty below that of shaken (the recoil) which does have consequences beyond the current turn or phase. This is easily remembered when there are only a few combats, but in a bigger battle such as this one outside Corinth, something more is needed, and I need to think of what to record the recoil as having happened. Suggestions are welcome, but must not include off tables rostas, blobs, plastic caps, poker chits or anything that would not necessarily have appeared on an ancient battlefield.

Still, the next problem involved the infinite push-back. One pair of bases was locked in combat almost all battle, and the Thebans pushed the Spartans back half-way across the table. There were no casualties from this, the results were all recoils. When the Thebans retreated, they simply turned and walked off the edge of the table behind the rest of the Spartan army, as they were so far advanced.

Now this is all well and good, except it felt a little odd. All right, the possibility of getting a string of such results is fairly small, but it does happen. In terms of a phalanx of hoplites, of course, it does break the line (assuming that the bases are supposed to be in a line). I could prevent bases in a group and line from advancing to follow up, preserving the phalanx. Or I could insist on a limit to the number of times two bases can fight without a rest. This would need some accountancy, again, and 
I am back to the problem of how to record it in an aesthetic, visual manner.

There was also a related matter over the ‘turning-in’ of successful hoplite bases. If a base routs its opponents, is it legitimate for it to turn onto the next enemy base along and take it in flank (which would usually defeat it)? Again, it seems to break the line of phalanx (I know that the bases would be articulated, so I might be worrying unnecessarily). This seems to be a problem related to the one discussed here a bit ago about ships. The individual can step into a gap in the phalanx and make a bigger hole. But can a whole unit turn onto the flank of another one and roll up the line? Something feels a little wrong.

The final thing I felt about the whole exercise was that the rules needed an awful lot of simplification. It has been about a year since I last looked at them from the point of view of the wargamer. Gone are all the twiddly bits. I felt, for example, that there were far too many command points about. Both armies were moving forward within two game turns. So a lot of CP generators, such as general’s ability, subgenerals CP rolls and so on have gone.

Gone too are the different values for offensive and defensive ranged and close combat. To those who rail against the idea that hoplites should have a vale for ranged combat, the answer is in the definitions: they cannot shoot. This seems an awful lot simpler than assigning them a zero offensive ranged combat factor. Mind you, re-reading Xenophon I realise that they ought to be permitted to skirmish.

Finally, I have also got rid of the factors for training and morale. I could not remember which was which and, as mentioned, do not want to paint blobs on bases to show the status (aside from the fact that it changes). I did, in this game, try out a long held idea that the morale and training of the troops should only be rolled on first combat. Even Cromwell’s Ironsides had off days. This would have worked if I could have found some way of recalling which was which. It has gone because the effects on the game were marginal, because my reading of ancient history suggests that the effects in real life were marginal, and my poor head cannot cope anyway. It seems to me that in the ancient world (I’m talking Ancient Greece until the early Successors, by the way) only the Spartans could really be described as ’trained’ anyway, and then only before Lecutra. So the complication has gone.

As for the battle, the Spartans won, quite handsomely as it turned out. The ditches were fought over, but the Spartan numbers enabled them to punch through the Theban centre and roll up the right. The Thebans did hold the ditch, however, but that only protected their left. As a campaign game, and considering that it was not really their war, the Thebans withdrew and the Spartans let them go, on the same basis.

Now, the next battle seems likely to be between the Persians and Thracians, and I need to paint up the rest of the latter. A wargamer’s work is never done….

Saturday 22 August 2015

Crisis? What Crisis?

My summer reading has encompassed J. H. Elliott’s ‘Spain, Europe and the Wider World’. This is a collection of (fairly) recent essays and, as such, is wide ranging. A fair bit is on the cultural history of the Spanish court, as opposed to say that of England, France or Brussels. In itself that is quite interesting. As Elliott notes somewhere, even when peace came at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the courts did not stop competing. Their diplomats, even as they negotiated treaties of truces were instructed to look out for neat pieces of artwork for their master’s collections. To some extent, high culture was a continuation of the war, but by other means.

I bet no set of wargame campaign rules include the use of art as a weapon. I do not think that even Tony Bath managed that.

Anyway, in one essay Elliott returns to the question of whether there was a general crisis in the world in the 1640’s, or in the seventeenth century generally. There were, he notes, rebellions aplenty in the middle of the century: Scotland, Ireland, England, Portugal, Catalonia, Naples, Upper Austria among others, and those just in the 1640’s. In spite of the normal instability of early modern societies this does seem to be rather a peak of rebellious activity, and, further, some of the revolts were even successful, such as those of Portugal and England.

These crises were set against the background of the ‘little ice age’ where the weather was terrible. For societies which still relied on traditional agriculture, this was a disaster in terms of peasant society being unable to cope with the stress of poor crop yields and higher prices for food. The courts, also, started to distance themselves from the populations. The elaborate masques of Charles I, or the plays of Philip IV bore little relation to the experience of the populations. Major palace building projects and investment in the visual arts, as noted above, did little to endear the monarch to the population either.

Here, then, we have some of the conditions for a rebellion or revolt. A stressed population, hunger, conspicuous consumption by the elite and a lack of understanding between the people and their leaders. Add in a toxic brew of representational bodies believing that their rights, or activities or, in some cases, religion were under threat, and perhaps we can see why some bits of Europe broke out in armed uprising.

Of course, each rebellion was of a different nature. They regions of revolt differed in detail. The Scots had (despite their king becoming James I) lost a fair bit of autonomy and were governed by a council which took orders from London. In Naples there was a fairly similar lack of leadership. If the leading nobles of the place lost trust in the monarch, then revolt was more likely. And, in what Elliott calls the ‘Europe of composite states’, absentee monarch added to the political problems. When you, as a noble, are dependent on royal largess for your continued prestige, financial probity and increased domain both territorially and politically, and that monarch is a long way away, then you are, perhaps, more likely to take a view that the revolting peasants have reasonable grievances and need a bit of leadership from yourself.

The local conditions then vary, and every rebellion is contingent. However, a consistent point of view about these rebellions might be possible. Paul Kennedy’s ‘Rise and Fall of the Great Powers’ introduces the concept of ‘Imperial Overstretch’. Here, a power (he starts with sixteenth century Spain) has more strategic problems than it has resources to cover. Thus Spain had to face the Turks in the Mediterranean, a chaotic France, and heresy across Europe, the Dutch revolt, war with England and defend her possessions in the Indies (both east and west after taking over Portugal). The overstretch of resources that this implied left the monarchy vulnerable; there simply was not enough money to go around, enough military resource equal to all the tasks.

At a smaller scale, Charles I’s government had a similar problem. It was a composite monarchy of three kingdoms, and two of them were only slightly under control. Of course, the king himself managed quite adequately to upset people in all three kingdoms, but his regime clearly did not have the resources to contain rebellion in any one part of the realm, let alone two or three. Sometimes the wonder of the sixteen-thirties in Britain is how long it took people to get around to revolting.

From a wargamer’s perspective this is all rather useful and interesting. We can consider a wargame, let alone a campaign, as an exercise is resource allocation. We have certain resources – an army – with certain capabilities. We have a set of goals, normally driving the enemy army off the field. We also have an evolving set of threats to our resources and goals, that is, the presence and activity of the opposing army. Within each turn we might have even more limited resources, that is, our ability to order some of our troops to do stuff.

The trick is to work out which are the most important and assign our resources to that item. The complementary approach is to attack our enemy’s resources and overstretch him. If he cannot meet all the threats we pose, then one of those threats should be able to overwhelm him. Thus, while Charles I could, just about, manage in peace time, the moment he needed to raise an army he was broke and needed taxation authorised by Parliament.

From some perspectives, this might sound a bit depressing, or at least culturally conditioned. Kennedy’s main point is that in a war of alliances, the side with the last dollar wins. In  a wargame, the side with the best resource management wins. This starts top sound rather like wargaming by accountancy. Where we might ask, is the heroism, the brilliant manoeuvre, the defining battle of the age? Or is modern wargaming simply a game of resource allocation and accountancy?

Saturday 15 August 2015

The Silly Season

Most of the world seems to be on holiday, including blog readers. The rest of the world seems to wish it were on holiday, or back on holiday. I do have a feeling, however, that this might exclude any antipodean readers. On the other hand, why would anyone not want to be on holiday, at any time.

Anyweay, it does seem to be rather the silly season, and so it is rather time, I feel, for a rather silly post, or at least, a post sillier than usual. As a wargamer, of course, this has to be something to do with warfare and wargaming, which one might argue is not silly at all (or at least, war is a serious and deadly affair for those involved). As a historical wargamer, of course, it also has to be something silly by at least loosely historical.

Having considered all this, and bearing in mind the hours I spent procrastinating while reading the old alt.history.what-if newsgroup, I have come to the conclusion that one of the silliest bits of near history was, in fact, Operation Sealion, the invasion of Britain that never was. The issue around Sealion, of course, usually revolves about what could be changed historically to make it viable, to make the invasion feasible, at least without the intervention of alien space bats. It was something of a permanent feature of the alternate history group.

I do not, of course, have a problem with alternate history. Historical wargaming is, after all, a fairly broad application of the practice, and, as Jeremy Black remarks somewhere, it can be useful as a check on what happened and a reminder, at least, that history is contingent. To make Sealion work, however, we have to bend history so much that it seems to have broken.

That might seem to be a sweeping statement (or it may not, most readers probably know an awful lot more about this that I do; I am not a World War Two wargamer, as I have mentioned). Let me try, briefly, to summarize why it is highly unlikely that Sealion would have been anything other than a disastrous defeat for the Axis.

Firstly, of course, we have to obtain air superiority, at least over the beaches. It is known that the Luftwaffe did not manage that in the Battle of Britain, although the switch to bombing cities rather than going after the fighter bases is usually blamed for this by apologists. However, it is clear that even if the Luftwaffe had managed to serious damage the RAF, the fighters would simply have been withdrawn to bases outside bomber range and kept in hand to oppose the invasion. Air superiority might look like it had been gained, but the invaders might be in for a large surprise on the beaches.

Secondly, there is the issue of command of the sea. As an initial point here, the Germans had no suitable invasion craft, and were having to bodge up Rhine barges and the like to carry troops, supplies and equipment. An issue here is both the low speed of the invasion force and the low seaboard, meaning that, say, a Royal Navy destroyer passing at twenty knots could, quite possibly, have sunk a barge without firing a shot. Secondly, of course, there is the issue that the Royal Navy’s job was to stop invasions of Britain. The home fleet, since at least Stuart days, was tasked with the very role of preventing invasion. That is why it was there. An extremely potent naval force was lurking, roughly two days steaming distance from the putative invasion beaches.

Of course, minefields and aircraft can damage such a fleet, but there are two things to bear in mind. While some naval assets were sunk off Dunkirk, it is a lot easier to hit a stationary target than a moving, zig-zagging one. Secondly, there would probably be decisive combat air patrols over the fleet which could rather spoil one’s aim. U-boats could also be deployed, but they did find it a bit uncomfortable in relatively shallow waters. Some home fleet assets would certainly get through and ruin the day of the invaders. And this ignores that fact that the RN had significant assets within the cordon of minefields the Germans planned.

It could be argued that the invaders would have surprise, and that would suffice. Indeed, it is also true, but once landed, it would quickly become clear where the invaders were and, perhaps more importantly, where they were expecting re-supply. Given this, it could be expected that a concentration of naval and air assets against the re-supply vessels (assuming there were that many left; there are significant problems here which I do not have space to describe). The invasion divisions would be fairly quickly cut off on the beaches. Even paratroops need air resupply, which is predicated on at least local air superiority which, again, once it is clear where they are, is unlikely to be forthcoming.

Of course, crack German invasion divisions would be pitted against defeated, demoralised and ill-equipped British divisions. The only problem here is that the majority of the army in England was not from the BEF and, even if it had been, against a lightly armed invasion force (without most of its tanks, artillery and transport) it might well have been effective at least at causing the invaders to use their supplies up a lot faster than they could be replenished. After all, if the Germans had managed to land a few tanks, the British could simply have let them drive along until they ran out of fuel, so long as stockpiles had been removed. A fuel-less tank is known as a vulnerable pill-box.

There are a whole load of other reasons why Sealion would have become an embarrassing dead duck (beached whale?). To make it successful, either Alien Space Bats would be required or the German government would have had to decide that war with and a successful invasion of Great Britain and her Empire was the specific aim. And that was politically hugely unlikely; after all, the UK government was trying to avoid war up to 1938. A build-up of, say, landing craft in Kiel would probably have ended Appeasement rather sooner than that.

I hope that none of that needed explaining to the assembled readership. As I say, it is the silly season, but there is a slightly more serious point underlying this: at what point does a scenario become unhistorical?

All at Sea

As you might have noticed from the previous post, every once in a while I discover in myself a liking for naval wargaming. Quite why this is so I am not sure. Perhaps it is due to long days as a child reading about Nelson, or school visits to HMS Victory (I was bought up a reasonable coaches’ drive from Portsmouth. I suppose that there may be other influences, as well, like the relative unpopularity of naval wargaming and, even, its natural place within campaign games as opposed to the one off wargame.

If I examine my shelves I find books on many different aspects of naval history, from Ancient Greece, as mentioned last time, to the Armada, the influence of the Navy on the English Civil Wars and then through the eighteenth century to Nelson at the glory days of British naval supremacy. It is a bit hard to believe that there is really so little of wargaming interest in this, but so often naval wargames are reduced to a somewhat desultory looking affair of a few ships shooting away at each other. I suppose the main question here is whether naval wargames are really the poor relation of land based games.

According to the wargame campaign bible, ‘Setting Up a Wargames Campaign’ they do tend to be. The chapter on Naval Campaigns remarks that sea transport in the previous chapters has just been an adjunct to land warfare. This is something of a shame, as he goes on to describe, taking in the Peloponnesian wars, which often focussed on the supply of grain to Athens via the Black Sea, and the Punic Wars where the Roman challenge for naval superiority has to have some degree of interest.

I do have, in my cupboard, extensive fleets of ‘Renaissance’ galleys and English and Spanish fleets for the Armada period and also for the Anglo-Dutch wars. I do confess that, painted and based as they may be, I have not used them extensively, despite the interest of the period, both my personal predilections and the intrinsic fascination. After all, Geoffrey Parker identified the advent of the all gun naval vessel as the most important single factor in the European conquest of the rest of the world. For all the naval power of Indian, South East Asia and China in the fifteenth century, they did not produce ships and a navy that could stand up to an East Indiaman.

That comment returns us to the reason for considering naval campaigns. As part of my work, for example, I have been examining in some detail (not for purposes of research, I admit, but for teaching) the triangular slave trade of the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The wealth of nations, particularly the British Empire was, in large part, built on this trade. It is not a particularly pretty bit of history, and no-one, European, African leader or Caribbean planter comes out of the story well, but the interest for my purposes is in the naval aspects.

For example, in the Liverpool slave trade (and if you want to check, the information I use comes from shows significant dips during times of international conflict: the Seven Years war, American Revolution and less so during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. This suggests quite strongly to me that the blockade of the French navy during the latter wars, and the relative paucity of privateering, enabled the Liverpool trade, at least, to flourish. By contrast, Bristol never seems to have recovered from the American Revolution. I am sure there is an interesting bit of historical research to undertake here as to why this might be. Quite possibly it was due to the different routes taken by the voyages. From Liverpool the natural route is to north about Ireland, while the route from Bristol takes you directly past French ports, and hence the increased risk of running into privateers. But I do not actually know.

The point here is that, given the slave trade was so lucrative, the fact that British voyages could continue while the French trade did not suggests that the blockade of French ports was about an awful lot more than simply bottling French military naval units up in port. If you look at the recorded voyages of the French slave trade (cantered on Nantes), the record shows pretty well no voyages at all during the period in question. The cost of that to the French state must have been considerable. There was only a brief period, during the Peace of Amiens, when the French trade revived.

I suppose the point here is that naval wargames only really make sense in the context of a larger narrative, a bigger picture about the aims and objectives of the forces on either side. Trafalgar, for example, only makes sense in the context of the blockade and ideas about breaking it and invading England. The question of whether the latter was even slightly feasible is a bit moot, of course, but that would only arise at the end of a process which included the defeat on the Royal Navy blockading squadrons.

Perhaps this is why I am actually more interested in earlier wars. By the end of the eighteenth century British naval mastery was, in some senses, pretty well a given. While other countries could, from time to time, threaten it, and technological advances would eventually undermine it, the chances of a major British loss to the French (for it was manly they) in actual combat was not huge. Of course, if the Spithead mutinies had been exploited, things could have been different, but as it was, in wargaming terms, it would take a major and unlikely defeat of the fighting units to actually prevent the British naval supremacy continuing. After all, the country lost the American Revolutionary war and still managed to continue maritime supremacy.

All in all, then, the interest for me is in how the British managed to acquire naval supremacy. For example, in the seventeenth century Charles I build a ship called ‘Sovereign of the Seas’ and attempted to enforce a rule that other nations would acknowledge this sovereignty. They did not, but that did not stop Cromwell and Charles II fighting major wars about it. Given that under Charles I Algerian pirates were raiding Cornwall, there must have been a significant change in naval achievement over the fifty years covering the accession of Charles I to the end of Anglo-Dutch wars.

But perhaps I will save that for another time.

Saturday 8 August 2015

The Black Ships

I have been reading about the Athenian navy. John Hales’ book ‘Lords of the Sea’ is an interesting, populist account of the rise and fall of Athens seen from the point of view of the navy. For example, he argues that it was the navy, or at least, the employment of thousands of lower class Athenian citizens that was the causal factor in the growth of Athenian democracy. If this is the case (and I am no expert classicist) then the Athenian navy could be claimed as an idea from the world of warfare which projected back into other worlds. A trireme, he suggests, was a true leveller. The one hundred and seventy rowers had to be in tome no matter which class they came from.

That is in the nature of something of a digression. What I really wanted to talk about is the colour of the Athenian navy. As is inevitable for a wargamer reading a book about, well, almost anything, I have started to imagine what having a Greek navy would look like. There are a number of aspects to this, but the first issue is what colour the ships would be.

The fact is that the ships should be black. Now, my mind’s eye does not really do black ships. Ships from the age of sail and before were made of wood and should look wood coloured. We can of course argue as to what colour wood is, exactly. It can vary from light to dark, and, of course, weathered wood is a different colour again. Nevertheless, in my painting of a variety of wooden vessels, somehow brown, of various shades and hues, has come to the fore.

And yet Greek poetry, from Homer onwards, indicates that Greek ships were black. They may have been Athens’ wooden walls, but the ships timbers themselves were black. The blackness comes from the fact that the timbers were coated with pitch, to preserve them. If the shipwrights could get hold of it, they are alternatively painted with tar. Now again we can argue over the precise meaning of black. It could be anything from a rather faded grey to the blackest of, um, pitch black. But I can certainly put away my ‘Natural Wood’ paint tin for another day.

Here, of course, I have a problem. Black ships just do not look right. I can manage modern ships which are grey, with occasional rust spots and dazzle paint. But wooden ships are wooden, and should look it. I appear to be suffering from some sort of cognitive dissonance, here. I know the material is wood, and I know that the material can be painted, but I also seem to think that wooden ships should look wooden, and that is brown not black, even if I know that they have been painted with pitch.

That is the first problem with my Greek navy, quite aside from the fact that I do not have any Greek naval vessels. The next problem is the sheer size of the fleets. I do not think that this is a problem unique to ancient navies, by the way. As I recall, the British and Dutch fleets in the seventeenth century were a fair size as well. The problem is how to wargame such an armada (the Armada was pretty big too).

I think the issue is this. In a land wargame we can pretty well choose our basic unit at the level we want to wargame. The basic unit can thus be an individual, a squad, platoon, company, battalion, regiment, brigade, division, wing or army, and I suspect you can find wargame rules to cover all of these levels. Thus, depending on the tactical level we wish to play at, we can select our unit size and get on with it, tackling the emergent characteristics at the appropriate level.

For naval wargaming, the obvious unit is the ship, the individual fourth rate, trireme or whatever. The thing is that although the navy can be divided into higher level  units, such as squadrons and divisions, the basic unit of operation remains the individual ship.

For example, often in accounts of ancient naval action we have lines of ships which face each other. So long as the lines hold, the action is muted. There is manoeuver, to attempt to flank the enemy, or brute force to try to get through them. If one of the lines charges, however, this unit level breaks down. Ships have different sailing / rowing capabilities. Some outdistance others. The faster ones become vulnerable to being rammed by alert captains on the other side. The action is no longer at a level of a number of units of ships, but at individual ship-to-ship activity.

The problem is that as a wargamer, I want to have my cake and eat it. With an Athenian fleet of say, one hundred and fifty triremes, I need, to make the game sensible, to group them in units, squadrons, if you well. But to do the determining ship to ship stuff, I need a much finer grain of detail. I cannot even really say, as we do in land wargames, that the unit is doing stuff but remains a coherent object on the battlefield until it runs away. Naval units do not remain that coherent anyway. The basic unit reverts, more or less quickly, to the individual ship.

The alternative is to have a sort of ‘stands for’ view. One ship stands for twenty. My two hundred strong Athenian fleet is represented by seven or eight galleys which act as a trireme would be expected to act. This might work, but on the other hand it does seem to miss the point slightly. These were big actions. Representing the Greek fleet at Salamis with a dozen models would be like representing the Royalist army at Naseby with fifty toy soldiers.

So I admit to being doubly baffled, here. I am in difficulty over the colour of the (as yet hypothetical) ship models, and dubious about the rules, or even the scale of the rules, by which the actions could be fought out. The only positive I can see is that the water is usually described as ‘the wine dark sea’. Now wine I can deal with.

Saturday 1 August 2015

The Jacobite Campaigns

I have been reading, not for any good reason at all, a book about the Jacobite campaigns, the ’15, ’19, and ’45. I have little or no intention of actually wargaming the period, but it came to pass that I felt I needed to read something that was not aimed at doing something specifically from the period, just to read some history for pleasure.

The book in question is by Jonathon Oates, and is about the response of the British government to the threats, or perceived threats from the Jacobites and their allies. For example, he comments on the deployment of the British army, noting that a fair quantity of its strength was around London and on the south coast. The reasons for this were firstly, it was perceived that any government that lost control of the capital had lost the war. Charles I quit London in the 1640’s and only returned as a prisoner. James II lost control of the capital and the army defending it, and so had to leave the city, the throne and the country.

Secondly, of course, there was the anxiety about the French, which is a perennial bit of British (or, at least, English) strategic thinking. There is always a problem, given the location of the British Isles that just as your army is defeating the rebels in the north or the west, the French will arrive on the south coast and cause you a good degree of embarrassment. Thus, for the Jacobite campaigns, a fair bit of the strength of the British army was tied down in the south.

There were, of course, further complications. In the ’45, at least, the British army was also fighting on continental Europe. This had a number of consequences, mostly along the lines of an inability to shuffle troops around as might have been desired. On the other hand, troops were borrowed from allies. This had some irritating aspects, of course, like the Dutch troops sent because they could not fight the French (having been besieged and surrendered to them) who had to be withdrawn as soon as the Jacobite – French alliance was confirmed. There was also the fact that it took time to withdraw troops from the Continent, even though with the Royal Nay’s command of the sea they could be moved close to the actual war zone. Several battalions sailed straight into Newcastle, for example.

There is also some information about the strategy and tactics of the various sides. Obviously, given the book’s focus, there is not much about the Jacobite strategy, but there are one or two sidelights. The main, somewhat amusing, observation is that the Jacobites would never have wasted men, time and material besieging Fort William unsuccessfully if they had not had a couple of siege guns. Having the equipment dictated the strategy and, quite possibly, cost the campaign more than it gained.

The second main idea lying behind the book is the activity of militia and volunteer units. These are often disparaged by historians, who observe, quite correctly, that they achieved little and were no match for the Jacobite army in the field. Oates’ response to this is to admit it, but to go further and observe that the volunteers were never meant to match the Jacobites in the field. Their role was to dissuade risings in other parts of the country and so let the regular army dealt with Prince Charles and his troops. Granted, if there were serious signs of an uprising, the volunteers and militia needed some assistance from the regulars, but in the main they were there simply to hold the land, protect their homes, cities and people.

If the militia or volunteer forces had met the Jacobite field army in battle, the result would almost certainly have been very messy for the former. And historians and, no doubt, wargamers, would have been lining up to say ‘I told you so.’ But that is not exactly the point. If we subtract the volunteers and militias from the loyalist account, we probably get a much larger number of pro-Jacobite uprisings in the country, a situation which the regular army would have found much harder to deal with.

Now, as I said above, I am not intending to rush into yet another period, but the whole did get me thinking a bit. Firstly, of course, there is the question of how one could wargame such a campaign. It would be quite possible to track the main armies, even down to the battalion level. But what about the activities of the volunteers and militias? Could that be abstracted away; indeed, should it? The problem is that at a low-ish level, there were skirmishes, night marches and general confusion and misinformation flying about which led to a few clashes, but mostly to volunteer units racing around the country and nipping rebellion in the bud. Not much in terms of wargamable action, but plenty of military activity.

Secondly, of course, there is the problem that the Jacobites are unlikely to actually win the war. Of course, they had a chance but, given the strategic and tactical options available in 1745, they were not that likely to win. But as wargamers, unless we are solo players who want to simply follow history, would like something that is a bit more evenly matched. This might mean adding in the continental context, in which case a rebellion in part of the British Isles suddenly becomes a major European campaign, or at least adding in a bit of something extra. The obvious point of departure here is a French landing in Southern England.

Of course, purists might throw up their hands in horror and argue that the French were never that interested in invasion. The true historical wargamer might object to an Anglo-French battle somewhere near Sittingbourne, and ask how close our scenario might be to history. One answer is to shrug and get on with it; another might be to observe that this is what the contemporary scene was concerned about.

A final response might be simply to change the game period. Take it away from the Eighteenth Century and make it, say, a game where the Romans were the British, the Picts the Jacobites and the French a rebels Roman Emperor.

Then, perhaps, we could have a wargame without worrying about historical accuracy.

Saturday 25 July 2015


In January 1494, Charles IX of France and his council decided to press his claim to the kingdom of Naples by force. Ambassadors were sent out to all the important Italian nations. The lazy Sixtus IX and the ambitious Livornois of Lucca replied favourably, the other equivocated or were hostile. Ferrrant II of Naples was persuaded to await more reliable reports before taking action. His allies, the Spanish, warned Charles that they will protect their interests in Italy. The reply angered but does not particularly concern Charles.

In February, resistance to French plans from small Italian states started to grow, with Modena and Savoy to the fore. Charles threatened to reduce their palaces to rubble and their families to penury, but his position was poor, as, with the exception of Saluzzo, the mountain passes were closed and much of northern Italy hostile. Ferrante, however, still dithered, although he was aware of the French mustering a siege train.

The French army mustered in Provence in March, and the King joined it in the middle of the month. Ridolfi of Modena tried to rally the Italian states to oppose him, but only Savoy, Mantua and Florence joined. Given that Ludovicio of Florence had already joined the French side, his agreement was somewhat surprising. Nevertheless, the Medici started to recruit condotta. The Savoyard garrisons are alerted.

The French moved into Saluzzo in April, but paused there. Sforza joined the anti-French coalition but made no further move at present. Manuta and Modena started to raise a joint army to defend their territories, but troops are slow to come in.

At the beginning of May the French invaded Savoy. The Savoyard garrison at Monte Carlo surrendered at their approach. Both Bernard of Savoy and Luis of Montferrat refused alliance with the French. After a consolidating pause, the French moved on to Genoa. Charles’ initial demand for passage was ignored, but the city surrendered quickly enough when the French siege battery was established against it. Not wishing to be deflected from his grand plan, Charles extracted only an alliance from the city. He now stood on the border of Modena.

The French crossed the border, and the Duke of Modena fled. The city surrendered in June. Sforza, however, attempted to build another anti-French alliance which both Bernard of Savoy and Ferrante joined. Milan and Naples both started to muster armies, but again, troops were slow to come in.

Ambassadors from Ferrante reached the Holy Roman Empire in July. Maximillian looked favourably on the idea of intervening, but for the moment made no move. Charles moved from Modena through the Papal States. Medici declared for the Italians and also moved into the Papal States, via Urbino, to cut Charles’ communications in Romagna. He also let Ridolfi and his half-formed army return to Modena to continue recruiting. At an emergency meeting of the Papal council, the Cardinals agreed to raise an army to defend the territory. They also called upon Charles to defend the integrity of the Papal States. Charles agreed, but actually intended to continue to the destruction of Naples.

At the beginning of August the Pope excommunicated the Medici for invading the Papal States. Ferrante appealed to both Span and the Empire for help, finally being convinced that Charles had designs on his state. The Spanish crown did not respond, and their viceroy in Sicily could not move without royal sanction.  Both the Neapolitan and Modenese-Mantuan armies had mustered, and resistance to Charles was growing. He advanced into Aquila. Maximillian is concerned at the French invasion of Naples, but could offer little practical help.

In early September a confusing set of manoeuvres left Medici back in Florence while Ridolfi overran Lucca, a French ally.  Further north, Bernard of Savoy retook the province hand bullied Genoa into repudiating its French alliance. Medici then moved on Sienna, intent on capitalising on the confusion. Charles’ drive on Naples continued. Moving down Italy’s western coast he encountered Ferrante’s small army entrenched across the road. Some hard fighting saw the French gendarmes outflank the position and the Swiss punch through it. Ferrante, leading a counterattack, was unhorsed, and his army fled (Battle of Mondragone, 28th September 1494). Charles entered Naples in triumph while the Neapolitan army disintegrated and Ferrante fled to Sicily.

As Charles consolidated his hold on Naples, both Cordoba in Sicily and Ferdinand and Isabella realised the threat to Spanish interests. Cordoba had already started to land in Reggio when authorisation arrived, and Spain started to muster a siege train. Ferrante, his nerve restored, started to collect another army. In the north, Bernard of Savoy entered Saluzzo, forcing the duke to flee to France, while Medici entered Piombino.

I ran across the above account of a campaign in what I am pleased to describe as my ‘archive’. In fact, it was scrawled in an exercise book, with the neat account reproduced above on a separate sheet of paper. In fact, there was also a more detailed account of the Battle of Mondragone on another sheet. However, the campaign seems to have ground to a halt in October 1494, and I vaguely recall that I was starting to have difficulty in keeping track pf all the different people, decisions and, in particular, the ambassadors and news that was starting to fly around Europe.

My campaign diary was in weeks, and I had to start with things like ‘news of invasion arrives Spain week 7’ and then remember, in week 7, to check how the news was received in the Spanish court. I seem to remember that responses were governed by a card draw, a heart being required for a response. A die roll determined how long a decision took, and so on. It all became a bit complicated. I also had accounts for each state, army lists for what was being mustered, and, for example, the French army suffered significant casualties among its Swiss pikes at the battle. And so another promising campaign was abandoned.

But I am starting to wonder whether, with the application of a little information technology, something similar could not be attempted. On the other hand, do I want to spend all my wargaming time sitting in front of a computer?

Saturday 18 July 2015

More Leisurely Wargaming

According to Sarah Broadie (‘Taking Stock of Leisure’ in Aristotle and Beyond (Cambridge: CUP, 2007)) human selves are essentially practical agents. That is we put a lot of effort into making practical decisions and achieving practical things. We have to deal with the practical necessities first, in order to survive. After all, the first of Douglas Adams’ questions in the scale of civilization was ‘What shall we eat?’

However, Broadie also points out that human selves are essentially much more than practical. In her example, consider what food would be like if the only point of it was to fulfil a biological need. Animals, in general, do not cook; they do not add ingredients together.  Our cat occasionally eats a mouthful or two of cat food, and then turns to the dried stuff. But that is hardly cooking or fine dining. And yet almost no human food consumption consists of something that has been processed, either by the consumer or by someone else, into something that is not the original product. Even if the food is, say, a salad, which does not need much in the way of preparation, it has still been arranged, flavoured, considered in its combination with other food and so on.

Furthermore, consider what the world would be like if we had only practical knowledge. Our knowledge would be patchy, superficial, incoherent and inconsistent if we simply stuck to the practical. In Bernard Lonergan’s realms of meaning, the common sense world (which is roughly equivalent to Braodie’s practical one) is the world we live in most of the time, but our ideas and insights about it are only completed by the concrete problem before us. For example, turning some patchwork into cushion cover is a practical problem. I asked someone (whom I regard as an expert needle-person) how they did it, and they looked at the piece puzzled. ‘I can show you,’ they said eventually, ‘but I cannot tell you.’

Practical knowledge, therefore, is patchy, reliant on unstated assumptions, and cannot wait for adequate reasoning to emerge. This is how most of life is lived. How I decide between two different flavours of marmalade in a supermarket is not (usually) a product of abstract reasoning. It might be guided by some reasons, such as price, supply, whether I like lumpy or smooth marmalade, and so on, but the decision is not a rational one, but a practical one. I take that jar, and move on to the next thing.

Leisure is different, Broadie suggests. We go with the flow of an activity or subject matter. It has its own standards of excellence, its own agenda of questions and challenges. We can aim, in our leisure time, for perfection, or at least, something beyond the simple ‘good enough’ of our everyday existence. These activities can deliver improvements in quality of life, in human welfare, and even generate new industries and practical concerns.

Leisure, then, is something that is supported by practical agency, which supplies the necessities of life. But leisure itself should be construed as one of those necessities; otherwise we would never get beyond eating lettuce. There must be a balance between the obtaining of practical necessities, using the practical human agency, and the leisure activities which may, in due course, improve life. Leisure is to do with the sublime, the beautiful, the interesting or the adventurous. Society should support these activities.

Within leisure, then, there are activities which turn their backs on the everyday. These sorts of things might include the study of stars, abstract sciences, mathematics, philosophies, music and so on. The aim of these is not to obtain a practical end. We cannot travel to the stars. Most abstract mathematics does not find a practical use for a generation or two, and when it does it is usually in another abstract science, such as general relativity.

As an alternative, there are leisure activities which are about something. They re-enact, celebrate or comment on something. For example, a play might comment on current events, even though it is set in the distant past. An example of that would be Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This is, in part, a comment on the origins and longevity of the Stuart kings. Terribly diplomatic, that Shakespeare, you know. Other aspects of the practical world can be incorporated. Sport, for example, could be interpreted on this view as taking its theme from conflict. The decathlon, for example, is claimed to be based on the skills that a messenger in wartime would need in Ancient Greece. I am not arguing for the veracity of that claim, but for how the idea is thematised within the sport itself.

Wargaming, as I am sure you will have deduced by now, falls into the second camp. It comments on, re-enacts, and celebrates events in history. If it is objected that some form of wargaming do not do this, such as science fiction, my only reply is that most science fiction is, in fact, a comment on the present day. The themes of the latter, are extended, taken to extremes and then worked out in a form which does comment on the here and now.

Wargames, then, take a target, that is warfare, and attempt to comment on and re-enact the event. In doing so we aim to understand something of what happened, or what might have happened, or what could have happened. We might not consciously do this, because much wargaming is simply sticking toy soldiers down on a table and pushing them around. But if we have done our painting properly, if the rules are in any way an attempt at being realistic, then the whole activity is an imaginative exploration or a narrative space, whether or not the wargame itself is based around historical events. That exploration is therefore, at some level, an exploration of human potential, or contingency, of our own actions and reactions in a given place and time which is set apart from the normal requirements of human necessity.

And, therefore, O gentle readers, I put it to you that wargaming is a leisure activity of the highest standing.