It is always fascinating to see what other people are up to. That is one of the advantages of the wargame blogosphere. There is the chance to eavesdrop on other people’s games, just to see what they are up to. It is also nice when the accounts match up, that is when you get two accounts of the same game. Sometimes they set me wondering, however, but that is just me. In what follows no criticism of any wargame or wargamer is intended; it is just me being a bit puzzled.
As someone who has a more than a passing interest in the Hundred Years War, I was drawn to an account of a refight of the Battle of Auberoche, 1345, initially by Peter of Grid Based Wargaming, subsequently by Jon of Palouse Wargaming Journal. As I am sure you know, this came about in the early years of the conflict when a bunch of English and Gascons under Henry, Duke of Lancaster jumped out of some trees at the French forces besieging Aucberoche and, after a bit of a fight, routed them. The actual details are a bit obscure.
The game, which was played remotely, was based on Neil Thomas’ One Hour Wargames scenario 22 (Ambush). This itself was based on Donald Featherstone’s account of Auberoche in Wargaming: Ancient and Medieval. Featherstone, I seem to recall, actually wrote about the battle several times, at one point re-inventing it as a rescue by British paratroops of a party trapped in a ruined castle (I think it is in Featherstone’s Complete Wargaming, but I could be wrong).
The puzzlement which arose in my mind was how the final wargame (as I said, I am not criticizing the wargame at all) was related to the original, historical battle. After all, the original has been filtered through a number of levels. I suspect that Featherstone based his account on that of Burne’s The Crecy War because he uses that quite often, as well as being a fan of Burne’s ‘inherent military probability’ theory.
So we have a chain from the sources, whatever they may be, to Burne, to Featherstone, to Thomas and then to the wargame we have blogged before us. Perhaps I have a slightly twisted mind, but I could not help but wonder ‘is this really a wargame re-fight of Auberoche?’
It chimes in with one or two other thoughts and puzzles I have come up with over the years. I have in my possession Asquith and Gilder’s The Campaign of Naseby 1645 (Osprey, 1979). The last section is on wargaming the campaign. There is a discussion of the ratios of real troops to wargame figures to be used. The suggestion is that there should be 540 or 409 figures for the New Model, and 300 or 227 for the Royalists. It is asserted that strengths based on a 1:50 ratio detract from the fact that Naseby was a major action. Even as a youngster that always irritated me, in that I wondered why Naseby fought out with, say, 90 figures for the NMA and 50 for the Royalists should not be a re-fight of Naseby, especially as I think might have managed to muster 140 wargame figures, but had no chance at 636.
There are also questions raised towards the end of the section about ‘injecting alternative courses of action’ into the re-fight game. The response there is of a horns of dilemma format: either you re-fight Naseby or you stage a typical ECW battle. You can do either, but they are not compatible. Again, I do find this a little questionable. History, including battles, is contingent. Part of the aim of wargaming, in using dice throws, is to model that contingency. If we only follow the historical script we are no longer wargaming.
I do not pretend to have an answer to all of this. It all gets a bit Aristotelian, as the Estimable Mrs P. observed when I discussed it with her. For those of you whose classical philosophical education was a long time ago, I will refresh your memory with a brief excursus into Socrates’ boat.
Suppose Socrates has a boat. After a while it needs mending, so he removes some of the planking and replaces it. Not wishing to let anything go to waste, he preserves the planks. A little later the boat needs a new mast. He removes the old one, replaces it, and preserves the old one. And so on. Eventually, when Socrates has replaced all the parts of his boat, his brother comes along and uses the old bits to build a boat. The question is now: which boat is the original? Is it the one rebuilt by Socrates with all new parts, or is it the one built by his brother, with all the original parts?
I hope you can see the analogy with wargaming historical re-fights. We have already replaced a great deal of the original, an original of which, in all probability, we have limited knowledge. And we now have to try to tell the story of the battle. How closely do we need to stick to the original before we have to say ‘this is just a typical ECW battle’ rather than ‘this is Naseby’? How much can we deviate from the historical script before someone shouts foul?
Perhaps we are back to Burne’s inherent military probability. Can we invent stuff because it looks plausible? Could the French have noticed the English army creeping up on them at Auberoche? If we allow that, can the subsequent wargame be given the Auberoche? And so too with Naseby. For example, if Goring had arrived with the Royalist cavalry reinforcements and reinforced the left with some experienced troops, would Cromwell’s wing have had such a relative walk-over? The New Model infantry was struggling in the centre, after all. But if we allow that, are we still doing Naseby?
I do not pretend to have any answers to these questions, but I do find them intriguing. We can go a lot further, of course, and re-fight Naseby using Space Marines and Imperial troopers: would that count? But, mercifully, I have run out of words….
In another context I was asked to define a Historical Wargame as opposed to a Fantasy one. My view was, and is, that a historical game is one where the uniforms, tactics and organization of the armies involved can be researched in historical studies, not by reading a novel of some relatively modern author. Thus Aztecs vs. Romans would not bother me any where as much as recreating the battle of Pellanor's Fields!ReplyDelete
I enjoy recreating battles where all the the terrain and units and mission are as historical as possible, then let the players see if they can do better than their historical counterpart. As most Historical Gamers are amateur historians too, I often had to disguise the battle, For Instance, running Quatre Bras as a American Civil War game!
Perhaps the question is when the refight begins to drift from historical record? If some of the struggles on the battlefield have different results from history, then the outcome diverges at that point. If the reinforcements fail to arrive, or additional forces march to the battlefield, then the divergence is a few hours up to a day before the battle begins. If Cromwell dies as an infant and some other figure is left to lead the parliamentarian cause, so there is no new model army etc, then we have strayed a long way from the historical Naseby,ReplyDelete
I suppose it comes down to decision points, where the wargamers can and do make different decisions to those of their historical counterparts. As you say, the problem with a lot of 'what-if' history is where to start the divergence. Maybe a few days and you have something recognisable; forty years and you are in the realms of fiction.Delete
Interesting post. I think that if you take any conscious decision to alter things away from the historical scenario, then you are more-or-less playing an 'ECW scenario' rather than 'Naseby'. That doesn't mean you have to include every conceivable detail - indeed, you can leave out lots - but it does mean that if you put in a 'what-if?', then it loses its claim. My justification for that is that a model (here, rules+scenario+tabletop implementation) that 'could' produce the historical result is in scope, one that makes that impossible isn't.ReplyDelete
I suppose some of the 'refight' experience depends on whether your actions are reasonable ones that could have happened, and where you draw the line at 'they would never have done that'. It seems to be a line that we know when we see it, but I'm not sure it can be defined in advance.Delete
A couple of years ago I wrote a lengthy article on Thapsus for Slingshot (Society of Ancients), and ended up with five different scenarios, each one based on one of the four different accounts of the battle (Pseudo-Caesar, Dio, Appian, Plutarch), and an extra scenarios for good measure. Each of these scenarios was of course an interpretation of an interpretation, strained through the rules of choice. Did any of them get close to the actual historical battle? Who can tell?!ReplyDelete
Thanks for another thoughtful piece.
There is that, of course. Mercifully, few wargamers at present have experience of combat, and even fewer of ancient of early modern battles. Phil Sabin's Lost Battle approach is possibly the best, where we can vary the parameters and see how close or far we get from the results of the original. Often we know who won and who lost (admittedly, not always). So we can work through the possibilities and test things out, but it still depends on our model rules and interpretations. Certainty is impossible.Delete
Those were in fact the rules of choice!Delete
I would agree that game vs simulation is a false dichotomy. After all, most historical generals aimed at beating their opponent, whatever 'beat' might have meant to them. I suppose the other side is that a refight of Naseby which followed the historical events exactly would be a bit dull and certainly predictable, plus we would have no potential for gaining any insight into the original.ReplyDelete
As a solo player I can't really comment on adversarial rule sets. National characteristics are anathema in many quarters, largely because they are fudge factors to give the historical result. More modern rules might be a bit different, granted. I've not read them.
Lots to ponder....
Interesting piece not the least due your inclusion of the recent Auberoche game between Peter and myself. You may have run out of words but I have a few more to add on this observation.ReplyDelete
Thank you. Jonathan has written an interesting response here: https://palousewargamingjournal.blogspot.com/2023/01/refighting-history-in-miniature.htmlDelete