Saturday, 29 October 2022

The Solo Wargaming Guide

Have Amazon voucher, will buy a book, I suppose. After all, that is why the company sends out money off vouchers to customers who have been falling behind their normal purchasing habits. It works, as the following will aver, although until they send me another voucher I might not buy anything else.

Still, the purchase was:

Silvester, W., The Solo Wargaming Guide, Precis, 2013.

I had noted the existence of this book a while ago, during my perusal of recent additions to wargaming books (recent in the sense of post-about 2005, you understand). It looked interesting and so it winged its way to me on a Sunday. Not that there was really any reason for it to be delivered on a Sunday, but that is just Amazon’s way.

It is an interesting book, I think, although not without its flaws. It does have some general ideas for solo wargaming, including the Solo Campaign Mobilization Rules (SCMR) which have a bit of potential. It also covers naval warfare and, very briefly, air wargames. The book is rather dedicated to solo campaign games, although some ideas for tactical wargaming appear, rather mysteriously, towards the end.

Noticeable in much of the book are problems with dice and probability. I have touched on this before, but a lot of the author’s dice rolls for controlling campaigns are based around a single D6. This means that the key commander’s competency rating, for example, goes from a 1 rolled for a bloody idiot to a 6 for superb. This is fine, but actually, most people are average; that is what average means. You are not going to get more than one-third of your commanders as average by this system. The next paragraph notes that most commanders should be rated between two and five. Quite so, but how does that happen in the system?

This sort of problem rather propagates in the rules. A flat roll of 1D6 does not allow the wargamer to adjust the outcomes to favour the most likely route. For example, in starting a campaign it is recommended to select three routes and roll a dice to see which is chosen. With more than 1D6 you can, of course, weight the roll towards the most likely outcome, which while it might make your campaigns or wargames a bit more predictable also removes some of the more outlying (read ‘weird’) results. The problem with the flat roll system is that the wargamer has to adjust the result according to their judgment after it has been decided. My suggestion is to build in the adjustment into the system to start off with. Given a table of probabilities for a 2 or 3-dice system it is really not that hard. And you can still get weird results.

That is not to deny that there is a lot to like about the book. The author adopts a ‘take it or leave it’ tone, which is fine and how wargames should be played. He also refuses to accept that solo wargaming is second best, a position which I agree with. As I have mentioned, many of his systems do need a bit of juggling with to make them accord to probability. As another example, I am not sure that minor damage to a sailing ship in a storm and the ship sinking should have exactly the same probability. I also suspect that steam-powered ships are a bit more resilient when it comes to storms at sea.

I suppose it all comes down to what you want from your campaign game. Loads of low probability results give something that can veer around rather wildly in terms of outcomes and progress. Perhaps I am just a bit boring and want a little extra predictability in my games. On the other hand, even Napoleon might have struggled with rolling for his subcommander’s competence and getting a load of ones. A few sackings in his Human Resources Department might have ensued.

A bit surprising is the lack of personalisation in the book. There is a chapter on it, but that refers mainly to journals and unit histories recorded therein, rather than to the personalities of the commanders. I do feel that this might be a little bit of a missed opportunity, but, on the other hand, personalities do rather equal paperwork or at least a little bit of it.

A strength of the book is that it urges the wargamer to keep administration to a minimum, something I would entirely agree with. I am not sure about his recommendation that you should simply record on a sheet the positions of units rather than stick pins in a map. While the latter does, of course, perforate the map, and heavily fought over areas can start to resemble confetti, it is, in my experience, very easy to miss units when they are just given a map reference. Perhaps I am just not very observant in these things, or my memory is a lot worse than most wargamers.

Still, I do applaud the author for their suggestions for varied wargaming over their imaginations. He seems to have an imaginary world and uses it for different eras, sufficiently far apart both geographically and temporally for the results of one not to affect another. Hence the ancients campaign is about the rise of something that sounds like the Roman Empire, while the Napoleonic era campaign is just that, but between different countries. In Europe, of course, the Roman had long gone before the modern nation-state arose, and a similar view can be taken for an imaginary world.

Overall, then, it was a worthwhile read, but not enough to turn my wargaming world upside down. It is good to read about other people’s take on solo wargaming and their views of how to go about it. I might be adopting one or two aspects of the book to my own games, which is the greatest accolade that one solo wargamer can give to another, but they will, of course, be adjusted, if only because of my views on probability.

Saturday, 22 October 2022

Information Flow

One of the things which have slowly come to my attention in wargaming, perhaps particularly in campaigns but not exclusively, is the question of information flow. That is, who knows what and when, and the movement of information between participants.

I suppose that this is particularly acute in pre-modern times before telecommunications came into existence. How often do you read a campaign report where the orders were inflexible because they had to be, and the subordinate commanders struggled or failed to adjust to a changed situation? I think it happened quite often. A decent commander might be one who trusted and was trusted by their subordinates sufficiently to adapt to circumstances and one whose network of information gathering and order dispatch was at least adequate to the task.

As you might guess this has been reinforced for me by the Jersey campaign, where at least three companies of Jersey militia are busy guarding their villages and beaches in blissful ignorance that the enemy is already ashore and their colleagues could really use their presence. The orders to march failed to get through. No one is being insubordinate or dense, they just do not know the situation and therefore cannot react. At the current rate of progress, the first they will know of the successful landing is when the Parliamentarian army marches into their parish.

The wargaming problem here is manifold, of course. The wargamer, even if not a solo player, has a somewhat omnipotent view of what is going on. If Colonel Bright on the left wing can see that the enemy has failed to deploy before him, then the commander in chief and Colonel Dime on the right are also going to know. We can introduce rules which try to simulate the latter two not knowing but it is very difficult to remove knowledge once it is in the wargamer’s head. It is hard not to react to the knowledge even if the ‘men on the ground’ would not know the information.

There are various ways around this problem. We can assume instant telepathy between our commanders (perhaps some science-fiction or fantasy games do so). That seems a little too much for a historical scenario, of course. In Twentieth-Century games, we can assume radio communications (although there were not necessarily reliable) and so more control is available to the commanders. On the other hand, there can be too much information. One of the problems at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant (which nearly went bang) was that so many alarms went off the operators could not see what was important. Similarly, when there is an emergency event there are so many mobile phone calls about it that switchboards are overwhelmed. Too much information can be as difficult to handle as too little.

Assuming that telepathy and radios are unavailable in our historical period, most news travelled by people. These include couriers and aides dashing around on horseback delivering messages from the commander or a scouting party to good old rumours, which may travel less quickly than a man on a horse, but may not. This is information flow, which we can conceptualise, should we feel so inclined, as a network of nodes, some of which light up when a new piece of information appears.

As a node is illuminated, we have to decide what happens next. The node should be programmed to pass the information on to the next node. Hence the scouting party reports back to the unit commander ‘We have seen a troop of cavalry’. That node then also has to decide what to do. Is the report useful and reliable? Does it fit in with the overall picture emerging from other scouting parties and other knowledge received from headquarters? Do we pass it on or seek clarification?

If the decision is to pass the information on, then it goes up the chain of command (hopefully). If the force is fairly small it can go straight to the commander-in-chief, possibly (in ECW armies) via the Scoutmaster (which must have been an unenviable job, it has to be said). But then the commander has to wonder: so what? What does this mean, and how should I react? So the light cavalry has seen a troop of horse. Is that the enemy scouting screen? Is that where they are advancing from? And so on.

We can of course replicate some of this in a campaign game, or even a tabletop wargame. But the thing is that we know, as the wargamer, what is going on. That troop of horse consists of the third troop of the 6th Lancers and they are the lead for the enemy’s fourth division. I know that, but my little lead commander does not. We have to try to persuade ourselves to react to the limited information disclosed rather than the fuller picture we have at our disposal.

I have found it rather hard to control this. Courier cards and their equivalents help. I can record the information sent ‘Enemy in sight’ and to whom it is sent, and when it arrives. I can even control how the recipient reacts. Often that is obvious, but using personalities and an initiative roll helps. Some people will ignore the blindingly obvious, while some will overreact to the slightest news.

In a larger campaign, this does get complicated. I recall one campaign set in Ancient Greece where couriers and ambassadors were zipping around the map in their multitudes. It started to get difficult to record when they arrived where and what information they were bearing. I am sure I missed a few crucial treaties or declarations of war along the way. I cannot be sure. As this was not really a map-based campaign I could not resort to pins for the couriers, although that would have solved part of the problem, at least.

I do not think there is an easy answer to all of this. I suppose that if I had the time and inclination I could write a bit of code that would ping up a message each time a courier arrived somewhere, but I am not sure I want to tie my wargaming to an electronic device. I shall have to stick to map pins and a campaign diary, I suppose.

Saturday, 15 October 2022

The Battle of St Brelade – Jersey Boys Part IV

‘Sergeant? Sergeant!?’


‘What is that infernal racket?’

‘I’m playing music, sir.’

‘Is that what you call it? What instrument is that?’

‘It’s a sort of a whistle, sir. It is in harmony.’

‘What with, for heaven’s sake, man? A banshee?’

‘No, sir. It is in harmony with itself, and the surroundings.’


‘No, sir, not Specifically. I was thinking more of being alone on this weird island, miles from anywhere, with an enemy close by but invisible due to the fog, sir. So I was playing some music to cheer the men up.’

‘I think you have done that, sergeant, by stopping. Anyway, we are not alone. There are six companies of Hatter’s regiment here, all ready and raring to go at a moment’s notice.’

‘Yes, sir. Except for Captain Jeffrey’s company, who are having a nap.’

‘It has been a long and damp day, sergeant. Anyway, nothing has happened so far.’

‘It is very quiet, sir. Too quiet….’


As they say: famous last words. As anyone who has been following the invasion of Jersey will recall, the Parliamentarians stormed ashore at St Ouen’s beach this time. As the Royalists retreated (or ran for it) the invaders split into two forces, a central one, commanded by Colonel Harme with his own regiment (or the remaining eleven companies thereof, one company having been scattered on the beach). This one has struck inland towards St Peter’s, following the main retreating Royalist force. The other force, commanded by Major Scott has struck south with six companies of Hatter’s regiment with the idea of capturing St Brealdes and St Aubins, as neither of the militia companies from these parishes were present at the beach. However, due to circumstances beyond Major Scott’s control (i.e. bad dice throwing by yours truly), the southern advance has rather ground to a halt in mist and general bad weather.

The above shows the campaign map, with Hatter’s regiment and the St Brelade’s militia in the south-west of the island. The orange pin is a courier from Sir George Carter summoning the militia company to St Peter’s, where the yellow map pin is. That pin marks the dragoon company of the island garrison, and the green one next to it is four militia companies. Two more militia companies are forced marching there (St Aubin’s and St Lawrence’s). To the south, incidentally, you can see that the fleets are (just about) in contact although the wind is against the Royalists taking any action. This turn the weather has become light rain, so visibility is limited anyway.

The St Brelade’s militia is led by Captain Ralph LeDieu, a fairly courageous and enterprising sort of chap, who has decided that as the invaders are stationary and it is a bit misty, a surprise attack might be in order. And so a small game was born.

The militia is on the left here, and the camp of Hatter’s regiment is on the right. Dice rolling against the company commander’s initiative score indicated that only the company in white coats (they should all be red I know, but we’ve had to go for a bit of wargamer’s licence here) are not on alert. While visibility is two base widths it does not look that good for LeDieu’s man, although they do not know it yet.

Unfortunately, I did not get many decent pictures from the game, fairly short as it was. The militia met Scott’s own company (in brick red in the centre) and, after a bit of a serious fight, actually bested them. By that time, however, even Captain Jeffrey’s company had rallied, and the militia was under pressure.

I told you that the pictures were not that good. Still, the left-hand militia half-company is about to break, while the right-hand company will actually win its fight against the flankers, but then decide that withdrawing is the better part of valour. You can just see the remnants of Scott’s company departing on the right-hand side of the picture.

Under the campaign rules I am developing, incidentally, a company that routs during a wargame automatically disperses, which is why Harme’s regiment is missing a company which routed on the beach. Here, Scott’s company (both half-companies) have routed, so Hatter’s are down a company. The militia lost half a company routed, while LeDieu managed to bring off the other half. Dicing decided that the militia went home, having done their bit.

As a further aside on the rules, units which finish the game shaken or doubly shaken also dice with a risk of dispersing, so the Royalists actually lost an extra unit of militia above those who were routed on the beach, which is why they have no units in the north of the island. If you are wondering why the eastern militia units are not, apparently, doing anything, that is because Carter’s courier summoning them with all speed to St Peter’s went astray; I’ve adopted something along the lines of Henry Hyde’s courier rules, so they have an 80% chance of getting through. It had to be that one which failed, of course.

There are negotiations going on between the forces near St Peter’s. Carter was all set to surrender, but his captain of dragoons, Eric James threatened to arrest him unless the island forces resisted. He is now trying to spin the negotiations out until the reinforcements arrive.

In the aftermath of the St Brelade’s skirmish, Hatter’s have occupied the village and will set about advancing on St Aubin’s, which is undefended except for the garrison of St Aubin’s Tower (red pin). At sea I am not sure what is going to happen; a lot depends on the wind. The most advanced Parliamentarian ship is Tresco, a sixth rate, with the fleet not far behind, Behind them are two small merchants which are carrying the Parliamentary horse, looking for a safe harbour to land them. The rest of the merchant fleet has been sent to collect the Guernsey militia and should be back in two days or so.




‘If you play your whistle thing will my company return?’

‘I can’t, sir. It got broken in the excitement.’

‘We must praise the Lord for small mercies, sergeant.’

Saturday, 8 October 2022

Source for the Goose

It is all right. I have not lost my remaining marbles, I really do mean ‘source’. I have banged on before, I am sure, about the historical wargamer’s use of sources to inform their rules, army lists, and games. On the whole, I fear many wargamers, and not a few writers of popular history, are guilty of rather naive reading of what sources we have.

I am not saying that I am much better, of course. We have to treat our sources for warfare with respect. Whoever they were they probably had better access to information than we do. But that does not mean we should treat everything they say with unquestioning belief. As I am sure I have mentioned before, as wargamers we like some sort of firm knowledge about what happened, who was there, and in what numbers, and that information is rarely available to us.

The spark for this little rant has been starting Eleanor Parker’s new tome, which is titled ‘Conquered’, and is about the last generation of children born in Anglo-Saxon England, that is before the Norman conquest. Her argument is along the lines that what we have in the lives of heroes and saints, and the chroniclers, tell us rather more about the times of the writer rather than the times of the written about.

I suspect that this is rather generally true. After all, I think it is acknowledged that Tacitus, for example, rather wrote up the strength, virility, and vitality of the barbarians to contrast them with the effete, wealthy, and lazy Romans of his day. When a half-decent general arrived and put some discipline and backbone into the legions they put the enemy to flight with no problem at all. But the decent Roman commanders incurred the wrath of the useless and incompetent Emperors and were recalled, dismissed, and if they were lucky never commanded again. That is really making a point about the Emperors and those in Rome, not particularly about the commanders, perhaps.

Therefore, we have to be very careful with the sources that we read in order to glean anything about what happened in battles, campaigns, and politics of any particular time. We might think that an ancient source, or one contemporaneous with events, would be the most reliable. But that might be untrue; the source might be the most biased possible. Granted such sources can rarely change the outcomes of events, but they can emphasize or de-emphasize them, and distort the relations between actors in the story and events. As has been noted in popular psychology, people rarely distort the events, but they do distort their relation to the event (consider the difference between ‘The gun went off and he was hit’ and ‘I shot him’).

As the attentive reader of the blog might be aware, I dabble in little or no wargaming after about 1720 or so. The sources, even for events in the Seventeenth Century, can be a little dubious, not to say downright contradictory. I have little idea whether things improved after that. It is possible that they did, but I suspect that confidently bandied around paper strengths might have only a passing relationship with the truth. As a place to start they might be all right, but as soon as a battalion started to march my guess is that it started to lose strength.

Even if no one actually physically deserted or got sick, most armies were depleted by going on a campaign. The lines of communication had to be protected. Places of importance needed garrisons. Other strongholds which had not been captured needed masking and blockading, and so on. More and more people would be needed to bring forward supplies, and all these other forces, rather than the main army, would also need provisioning, reinforcement, and munitions. It all adds up to what I have heard about the modern army, which suggested that for 10,000 men at the sharp end, 40,000 are needed to keep it going. I have no idea if that is correct or not, but it does sound plausible.

The argument is that sources are rather unreliable, and anyway present the viewpoint of the author and the sources they may be drawing upon. A case in point from Parker’s book is Hereward the ‘Wake’, the well-known Anglo-Saxon rebel, exile, freedom fighter, and, well, more or less anything else the sources want to make of him. Some authors want to make him an exemplar of all that was and is (at the time of writing) good about Anglo-Saxon culture. Some blame him for pillaging Peterborough Monastery. The earliest source, the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, does not really say a huge amount about him, but he became popular, so much so that a radio station based in Peterborough was named after him in the 1980s.

The point is that we can read the sources about Hereward naively, and construct a pleasing wargame or three from the events. The attack of Peterborough, the skirmishes, and the siege of Ely along with lengthy bouts of amphibious warfare. That is fine and is what (some) of the sources tell us. But they also tell us other things, and Hereward is a more ambiguous figure that we might like. Or, in other words, he is a bit more real than we would like, or that fit into our games.

I suppose this feeds into my musings about narrative recently. The Hereward tales are rattling good ones, with plots that probably fit within the ‘taking on the monster’ genre. Hereward, unjustly deprived of his inheritance by the invaders who murdered his younger brother, takes revenge by raising the locals in rebellion and defies the might of the Conqueror from his Fenland fastness, outfighting and outwitting the Normans until the end. At that point he either makes his peace with the king, having established the right of Anglo-Saxons to exist culturally and as landholders, or he dies gloriously in battle against his perfidious assailants, or, in the earliest versions, he simply disappears, back to the obscurity from which the authors plucked him. I have no idea of what really happened, but there are some good wargames in there somewhere.

Saturday, 1 October 2022

Jersey Boys Part III

‘Off we go then, captain.’


‘We’re landing. At St Ouen’s Bay, remember? I distinctly saw you at the Council of War that agreed to it.’

‘But sir, the wind…’

‘You’ve just said that the wind was fine. Unicorn and Elizabeth are leading us in. Then we will enter the bay and land, while the transports do likewise and the little warships provide more fire support.’

‘Very well sir. Um. Right hand down a bit.’



‘I know I am not a sailor, but I do happen to know that turning right while the bay is to our left and Unicorn and Elizabeth are over there is not the correct thing to do.’

‘Set loose the mainsails.’

‘Captain, we are stopping. Why?’

‘Um, well, sir, you see it's complicated because, um….’

‘Lieutenant, do have any idea what is going on?’

‘No, Colonel. I think Captain sir has made an error, sir.’

‘Very well Lieutenant. Captain sir is relieved of his command and you will take us in. Captain sir, below decks if you please. We will discuss your behaviour later.’


Well, of all the captains in the Parliamentary fleet to fumble their initiative roll it had to be the naval commander of the whole lot. Fortunately for the invasion, the orders had already been sent out and the leading elements of the fleet were making landfall. Colonel Block actually aced his roll to relieve the hapless fumbler of his command of the ship and order the First Lieutenant to take them in. Better late than never.

The picture shows the situation after the first few moves. Unicorn and Elizabeth are closest in at present, bombarding the militia units on the beach. In the right background, you can see St Ouen’s manor, and right on the edge of the picture, Sir George Carter is moving up the cavalry and dragoons. In the foreground, the first wave of the beach assault is embarking. For the purposes of the game, as they were under direct orders, the initiative rolls of the commanders were doubled. The wind, incidentally, is southerly, blowing from left to right across the board.

As the militia units were standing back a bit from the beach itself, some of the landing foot were able to get themselves organised before being engaged. You can see the first three companies formed up on the left, while the two companies from the second ‘wave’ have just landed to their right. More Parliamentary ships are arriving, and Unicord and Elizabeth have scored some hits on the militia. You can also see between the landing parties and the merchant transports a sixth-rate New Friggot, which is about to supply crucial fire support to the Parliamentary right.

Having landed and got organised, Captain Webb took command on the beach, given that the general officers aboard Lion had not arrived as yet. He moved towards the militia companies opposite him, hoping that the new arrivals would sort themselves out to oppose Carter’s cavalry and fusiliers.

A few moves later and the key moment is being approached. More landing parties are approaching the beach. While the Parliamentary left is doing well against their opponents, Webb has moved a company across to support the centre, the right hand most company of which has not managed to rally from the landing and is being threatened by Carter’s cavalry as well as being shot up by the fusiliers. To the left, you can see the Tresco, commanded by Block’s son, which has just arrived and is shooting at the Royalist's right. Unicorn and Elizabeth are further right, off camera, shooting ineffectually at the rest of the militia.

The key moment was the charge of Carter’s horse on the disorganised landers. They were easily disposed of, but then the horse was left stuck between a newly landed company of foot and Webb’s two companies on their flank. Meanwhile, New Friggot has pounded the fusiliers sufficiently to take them out of the action. After manful resistance, Carter’s cavalry broke and fled, as did the fusiliers after another good shot from New Friggot. At the extreme left, you can see more Parliamentary foot landing, and the first wave moving in against the island militia.

The end was not far away, and the above is a wide shot of it. The cavalry and fusiliers are routing, while on the Royalist right two of the three companies of militia are routing also. One of the latter is as a result of bombardment from Tresco and the newly (finally) arrived Lion. More Parliamentary ships and troops are arriving and these will soon be depositing their loads on the beach (two of the transports have cavalry which takes longer, of course). At this point, the Royalist morale sank to withdraw, so they did. On the other hand, if you look closely, you will note that the wind has moved to blow north-west to south-east, which means that the fleet is now on a lee shore. It shouldn’t be a problem. Probably.

As this is a campaign game I have a bit of administration to do, of course, not to mention extracting the Parliamentary fleet from its lee shore. The game took over a map move, incidentally, which is why the wind changed. It has also affected the Royalist fleet attempting to get out of St Helier harbour on the other side of the island and forced them to tack back towards the harbour. Sailing ships do make things a lot more complicated.


‘Good to be on terra firma, what?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘You did well Captain Webb.’

‘Thank you, sir. The men were not going to be defeated once we got ashore, sir.’

‘Excellent. I shall write to the Committee about you and your men. Now, what shall we do with this snivelling wreck of a sailor?’

‘Perhaps we should be merciful as the Lord is merciful, sir. God has, after all, made our enemies as stubble to our swords today and so we should accept His mercies and pass them on, even unto snivelling wrecks.’