Saturday 20 April 2024

That Book Again

Well, it is still a while until publication, but someone on the Lone Warrior site has asked about the content of the book. Well, not exactly asked, but grumbled there was no list of chapters and doubted that there would be anything new.

Fair enough. If you put a book out there you can expect grumbles and criticism, although it might be a tad unfair before the book and its content have been revealed. Authors have feelings too!

Still, it is probably a good idea to reveal, even slightly, what is in the book, and, possibly, whether there is anything new. That, of course, is rather subjective. None of it is new to me, naturally, because I wrote it. On the other hand, it was submitted to the publisher last June (or thereabouts) and my memory of the details is getting a little shaky. There may be things in it that will surprise even me.

Still, with little further ado, here is a list of the chapters and some idea of what the content consists of.

Chapter 1: Why Solo Wargame

Naturally, the book starts with a discussion of solo wargaming and why it is a reasonable proposition. It is a bit of a surprise to find people around who still denigrate solo wargaming, but they do. So a bit of justification might be considered to be required, although I’m not really sure it is necessary. Anyway, the answer to ‘why wargame solo?’ is ‘why not?’ of course. There are advantages and disadvantages, but that is life, and I try to discuss them.

Chapter 2: Battles

By a ‘battle’ I mean, here, of course, a wargame. The chapter covers setting up a one-off wargame, choosing a historical period and size of the game from role-playing to large-scale actions. There is also a consideration of how to generate terrain, and two incompatible systems are suggested. That might give the reader a bit of a warning that the book is not a consistent set of rules for solo wargaming. It is, more, a compendium of ideas for the wargamer to take and use to their own ends.

The chapter also contains a discussion of how (and whether) to general both sides – dubbed the divided general and the automated general, and finishes with a discussion of bias and how to detect and correct it.

Chapter 3: Campaigns

Campaigns are, of course, sets of wargames strung together, but how they are strung together is the backbone of this chapter. Various historical periods are considered, as are the assorted scales that can be used. The use (or not) of maps is included, as is my ‘campaign in a day’ system, which some readers of the blog might recall. There are discussions of map moves, reconnaissance, communications, and getting from the map to the tabletop and back. Finally, there is a discussion of recording your campaign and mixing scales.

Chapter 4: Personalities, Logistics and Randomization

It might possibly be thought that the content of this chapter is a bit of a rag-bag of stuff that wouldn’t fit in chapter 3, and to some extent, you would be right. However, a couple of systems of character-creation are described (compatible ones, this time), and then some suggestions for how to use personalities in campaigns. Next, unit histories are suggested – units have personalities too. This is, admittedly, an old idea but worth reviving, I think, if only for the entertainment of the solo wargamer.

Next up, logistics, that topic most wargamers shy away from, is considered, with a couple of ways of dealing with it which, hopefully, will mitigate the pain. On the other hand, I did land up looking up the payload of a Dakota while writing it. The scars still show….

Finance, recruitment, and diplomacy are also thought about in this chapter. There are, of course, a number of ways of dealing with this and it depends on your campaign and its scale; an imagi-nation will have to consider it, a simple theatre game not so much. Still, it is quite interesting to ponder, and I make a few suggestions how to handle such matters.

Random events of various kinds are suggested, ranging from high command demanding half your units to the weather grounding the enemy air force. All sorts of things can and did happen in warfare; I think all you need is a table and a bit of imagination, and I make some suggestions.

Chapter 6: Siege, Naval and Air Wargames

Those slight prima-donnas of wargaming are then discussed. Every time I say that, actually, I am bombarded with examples of siege, naval, and air wargames, but really I think most wargamers are interested in land warfare. Sieges in a campaign can be thought of as a slight inconvenience or as a potential set of wargames, and ways of dealing with both are suggested. Naval wargames are also discussed with thoughts about scope and scale. It is inevitable that these are different from land wargames, of course. It is similar to air games, and there are a variety of ways of dealing with it, again. There is also an example here of what you can do as an air campaign, which is interesting (I think – I lost Malta when I tried).

Chapter 6: Advancing

This, the final chapter (who cheered?) discusses how to keep going. I consider sources of inspiration – books, films, magazines, and even an opera. I ponder why reading military history can be less useful than expected. There is also some discussion of taste in wargaming, although I refrained from a full-blown examination of wargame ethics. I also explain what I had to miss out of the book and reiterate the purpose of writing it.

So, there you are. That is what is in it. Does it contain anything new? The footnotes will indicate from where I have obtained ideas and suggestions, so I will grant that not everything is new. There are also one or two bits from the blog included, but I do deprecate self-plagiarism. A lot of it is, in my view, fairly new or ideas that really should be looked at again.

There are no photographs of nicely painted soldiers in the book. Firstly, that would have massively increased the price point and, secondly, I would have had to find out how to take nice photographs and how to paint wargame figures nicely. I know my limitations. It is much more a book for ideas of how to wargame solo, rather than show off my wargames. There might be a place for both in the wargame canon, but pretty pictures are not me, as a quick review of blog posts here will reveal.

So, there you have it: a bit more than the publisher’s blurb, but a bit less than the actual content (you’ll have to buy the thing for that, I’m afraid). I should imagine that the website also takes cancellations of pre-orders if you are put off by the above.

If you have questions, please comment. You can check on progress (what progress?) toward publication, and what else I’m doing, on Facebook.

Saturday 13 April 2024

Of Dungeons and Things

Well, more of the things, really. The dungeons part of the title is really because I saw the other week that 2024 marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Dungeons and Dragons (TM, no doubt) by Gary Gygax and David Arneson. This was brought to my attention by an article in the Guardian, which is quite interesting in its own right.

I confess I have never played D & D. My own role-playing days started with Runequest and progressed through Call of Cthulhu, various science-fiction-based stuff, and finishing up with Steve Jackson’s Toon and Flashing Blades (which is still available, I notice). I once got banned from playing Toon as a character because I was too good at it. The knack of playing Toon was to do something, no matter how silly, rather than to hesitate and get ‘boggled’. Possibly I am so saturated in TV cartoon lore that I just do silly naturally.

Flashing Blades was very much up my street. I recalled watching the badly dubbed series on daytime TV when I was off school for the summers (and doubtless my parents were out; they didn’t approve of daytime TV. O tempora, O mores!). Still, having got all the science-fiction and fantasy out of my system, perhaps all that was left was historical silliness. And Flashing Blades provides that.

Of course, now, as a fully paid-up solo wargamer without a role-playing group to boot (they all stayed in the south), I have to try to figure out how to role-play on my own. Now, this is not a problem, really, but the Guardian article has an interesting take on the whole idea of role-playing games, which I agree with and which will, I think, be of considerable assistance in my ruminations.

The article suggests that role-playing games are ‘collaborative world-building’ games. The idea is not to win something necessarily, but to construct as believable world, most often, of course, a fantasy world with monsters and the usual plethora of weird and wonderful creatures. It does not have to be like that, of course. Any sort of world can be built.

The rules of the game then become more like guidelines for the collaboration of world building. A monster that takes a swipe at the player characters is not necessarily a mindless brute, but in a properly run RPG has a purpose of its own, is set in the landscape (mental or physical) for a reason, and has some sort of motivation. In a world like that, simply killing a monster because it is a monster, or because it has a gold coin, or whatever, starts to get frowned upon. A world is more complex and subtle than that.

Another way to look at RPGs (and indeed, wargames in general, I think) is that they are exercises in telling stories. We do not know the outcome of the story when we start, which is why a wargame is not a novel, but we tell the narrative in such a way as to start to progress towards some sort of end, some sort of satisfying finish, or at least, end of a chapter or scene.

Writing a RPG campaign, or a wargame scenario, is not as straightforward as writing a novel. While novels are (the best of them) character-led, an RPG is player plus chance-led. We cannot know when planning, whether a particular outcome will occur. I once had half the PC party jump off a tall building in pursuit of something or other, and die. So I had to consider how to get them out of that and back on the track of the plot. This is not necessarily something that can be planned for. Similarly, in a wargame scenario, it is difficult to accommodate one side rolling a load of sixes and the other ones. But such things do happen.

As a solo wargamer, things are both a little more pointed and a little less. They are more difficult because there is no collaboration in the world-building. This might be an advantage in that as the dungeon master I might have a vision of the world that the players do not grasp; that cannot happen in a solo RPG. On the other hand, the world relies on one imagination only, and my character’s actions within it. This might be somewhat limiting.

I think the overall design of the scenario and campaign in solo RPGs is one which, even more than group games, is episodic in nature. Thus, there is an overall narrative arc – escort the ambassador to the port – and a series of scenes within that – meeting the ambassador, getting him from A to B, avoiding ambushes, the ambassador’s own attempts to get captured and so on. As a solo player, I can be more flexible, not deciding on the next scene until the last one is completed, keeping within the overall narrative arc.

The fount of these musings has been the painting I have just been doing. As seen recently, I have finished 5 more dismounted cavalrymen, and just now a bunch of civilians (Parisian folk, by Warbases). The question arises as to how to use the, of course. I have in mind reviving the Treaty of Corbie scenario and reworking it a little better than the original. There is certainly enough scope for a bit of skulduggery (hard to do as a solo player? Not necessarily), with different interest groups hoping to lay their hands on the treaty – pro and anti-English factions, French factions, and Spanish factions, and probably quite a few bystanders (hence the civilians). I have also been building some 20 mm scale card houses, which fit in quite nicely.

All I really need to do now is some design of the initial scenario or two, and the overall arc, which I already know. I might invest in some trees and hedges and so on, but most RPGs dispense with such niceties, and so I probably will as well. I shall have to see.

Saturday 6 April 2024

Running Another Marathon

It is always nice to re-enter known territory, and for me the most known territory wargame-wise is Marathon. This is not particularly because I have re-fought it a lot, records suggest that this is the fifth time, but, as I am sure I have mentioned before, it was the first account of a wargame I read, many years ago, in the now apparently defunct Military Modelling. This was by Charles Grant and I recall reading the first article, which was about the historical background and battle. I remember, all these years later, the anticipation of the account of the wargame in the next month’s issue.

Even then, as I carefully traced the (colour) illustrations of the hoplite, Persian infantry and cavalry and dreamed, I hoped that one day I would have Greek and Persian armies to call my own. It took decades, but eventually I managed it and the Persian Wars were ‘on’.

As it happens I have done a bit of campaigning with the Greeks and Persians. The best campaign I had was set in the fourth century BC and involved the Greek cities you would expect. Before much action took place on the mainland a Persian expeditionary invaded an island lair of pirates, who happened to be Athenian allies. The complication was that Athens did not want a full scale war with Persia, so the Athenian forces could not directly engage Persians. This led to some unusual, shall we say, manoeuvres.

Still, I decided it was time for an ancients battle and, after a few minutes consideration, opted for Marathon. Ibt is an easy battle to put on the table, after all, and time was a little limited. The basic tactical issue is whether the Athenians can get in contact with the Persian line before the arrows cause too much disruption. While Persian cavalry was present it seems to have had little influence on the action.

The picture shows the situation as the Greeks (on the left, obviously) have just about come into range. A little damage has been inflicted by the Persians, but a lot depended on who got the tempo for the next move, that is, whether the Athenians would have to stand another round of shooting before contact. In the original battle, according to Herodotus, the Greeks doubled through this zone to minimise Persian archery. The model here is that it depends on who wins the tempo.

The Persians actually won the tempo, and, say you can see, inflicted a fair bit of disruption on the Athenian right and centre. On the Persian right, the Greeks have got in, and the wing is under pressure with one equal fight, one losing and one which looks seriously dodgy. Still, there is a lot to play for.

A turn or two later and the Persian right has collapsed, more or less totally. The remaining bases will rout in the next combat turn. However, all is not lost as the Persian centre and left is still stalling the Greeks very nicely. A tempo win would be nice to launch some local counter-attacks here, and maybe get the cavalry moving towards the vaporized right wing.

Alas, it was not to be. The Athenians won the tempo and turned the bases under their general (the only ones which could receive orders, incidentally) onto the flank of the Persian centre. A decent combat roll meant that they routed, and, more to the point, routed away from the direction of the oncoming enemy, which meant that they swept away the rest of the Persian centre, including the general.

In the final analysis, the Persian morale was so negative that no dice roll would have retrieved it. That seems fair enough, given the absence of the centre and right wings, plus to loss of the general. The Athenians had done it again. Actually, I don’t think I have ever run Marathon with anything but a huge Greek win.

That raises interesting questions, of course. Was the original battle so unmatched that really the Athenians did not need to hesitate for a week before committing? On the other hand, it was one of those situations where the Athenians could have lost the war in an afternoon. If the army had been defeated, Athens would be defenceless. A bit of caution might have been wise.

On the other hand, whether it was so one-sided is a bit moot. Now, granted, the rules might not be very good (I wrote them, after all) and perhaps the hoplites get too much of a bonus. But, on the face of it, while the Persian infantry are outmatched in close combat they do have their chances, as shown by the Greek right, in particular.

The other option, pointed out by Phil Sabin in Lost Battles, is that the Persian infantry can be strengthened to balance the game up. From my account above, a second line of Persians would have made it much more difficult to destroy the Persian centre, and so that seems like it might be a productive rote to take for re-fighting the action. A reserve line would mean that the Athenians could not as readily turn on the flank of the Persian centre, and that would give the archery a better chance in those places where the Greek advance had stalled.

It has to be admitted, in the above, that some of the Persian rolls for both tempo and in combat were rather poor, and things could have shifted in their favour a bit more. On the other hand, they won the crucial tempo roll and got the Athenians subjected to two rounds of archery and on the second round they did inflict some damage. Keeping their general out of trouble would also have been an idea, as would have been the ability to launch local counterattacks, as I said. The thing is, with the archery, the Persians have to sit back and wait for the Athenians to get into range and then into contact, which automatically gives the hoplites and advantage in combat.

So, lots to ponder, but given that I have some more bases of Persian foot painted, I might well investigate further and will report back, unless you beg me not to...

Saturday 30 March 2024

A Promise is a Promise…

A while ago I announced to the world and to the reader of this blog that a book, written by me, about Solo Wargaming was going to be published. I also said that I would let you know when it was available for pre-order, and that time is now. So, there you have it: Solo Wargaming: A Practitioner's Guide is now available for pre-order from the publisher’s website:

Not only that, but the book is available for pre-order at a very healthy discount of £6. Even if you add in the postage, it is still a good deal, in my view. Additionally, as orders over £40 are post-free, you can justify adding in some other books that you might like and get the lot – Pen & Sword seems to have a special offer at the moment on wargaming books, at least.

I suppose I should mention that you can get the book from Amazon, as well. However, leaving aside any accusations of dubious business practices Amazon may or may not be guilty of, it seems that the big A gets their books from a wholesaler, who gets them from the publisher. This adds an extra layer and hence delays to the supply chain. Thus, if you are eager to get your wargamer’s mitts on the book, order directly from the publisher, who will send the book out as soon as they receive stock from the printer.

I suppose it is rather time for me to start to talk a little about the content of the book. I will not reproduce the publisher’s blurb here. After all, you can read that on the website linked above. But it might just be worth trying to describe the bits that went into the writing the thing.

To start with, the title. In the dying days of my professional work, there was a lot of talk about ‘practice’. We were all becoming practitioners, it seems, although what we were practicing, and whether we got any better at it or not seemed to be moot. Still, ‘practice’ as a term was terribly trendy and right on (but not, it seems, ‘woke’, mercifully). Slightly intrigued, as I rather enjoy seeing how languages evolve, I dug a little further.

A practice is, of course, a way of doing things. It seems that a practice is defined against a theory on one side and a set of rules on the other. A practice is not abstract, hence it is not theoretical, but then it is not something that is constrained by already worked-out rules. A practice is, then, something concrete, that we can actually work with, and with which we can engage our critical and creative faculties. At one level this is, of course, obvious and, in these terms, practice covers more or less everything humans attempt to do. At another, I realized, it starts to sound quite a lot like wargaming.

So, somewhere in the dim recesses of my mind an idea was born, I suppose. At work, I was notoriously bad at titles. I still remember the laughter at the other end of the phone when I was talking to a colleague about my latest course and mentioned the title. ‘That needs a bit of work’ was the usual response. Too long, too vague, and not expressive enough of the contents was the usual feedback. And, to be fair, it was exactly correct, although I discovered that students could and did quite quickly come up with their own titles for our courses.

So, when I came to writing a book proposal, I realized that I needed a title, at least, a working title, so I could talk and write sensibly about the contents. I do not have, in my notes, a record of where and when the title came to be, but it was there in the initial outline and has, remarkably, survived without changes. I have only ever written one other thing that managed that.

A title is supposed to give some clues as to the contents, however convoluted some postmodern writing and titles might be. The book is, as you will have surmised by now, about solo wargaming, and the sub-title has, hopefully, just been roughly explained, at least as far as the practitioner goes. I am, of course, the said practitioner, and it is my guide to solo wargaming.

Perhaps also surprisingly, my outline chapters survived more or less intact. There is, of course, an introduction that discusses why someone would want to wargame solo. There turn out to be quite a few reasons, and I dare say my list is not comprehensive. We then move on to stand-alone wargames and the various ways these can be created and played. The focus is more on the creation of interesting battles than on anything else.

Next along, of course, comes running campaigns. Avid readers of the blog will recognize some of the ideas here, such as using plots to keep the campaign running nicely. Some of the nuts and bolts of running a campaign are discussed here as well, along with my admission that my campaign diaries are pencil scrawls on pages of notebooks, not the works of art that you sometimes see as journals.

Still next up are all those things that can make a wargame, and particularly a campaign game, much more interesting, such as personalities, random events, and logistics. I spend a bit of time trying (and probably failing) to take an accountancy approach to the latter. This is followed by a chapter on the prima-donnas of the wargame world, sieges, naval and air wargaming. Many wargamers still seem to avoid these topics, in spite of some very creative ideas published recently as to how to handle them, but if we are to wargame with some degree of realism, they have to be there.

The final chapter discusses how to keep things moving along and a bit about why academic military history is less useful than it should or could be for wargamers. It explains, at least in part, why Oman and Delbruck are still so popular. I finish up, of course, with an apology for everything I have missed out of the work.  

I will try to keep you updated; in the meantime, more timely news should be found on my new Facebook page, which should be here:

Saturday 23 March 2024

The Evolution of Strategy

As the long-suffering reader of the blog might have vaguely surmised, I have been thinking a little about strategy recently, and how it might impact on our wargames. The answer is, of course, both more and less than we might imagine. It impacts less because tactical warfare, which is, after all, mostly what wargamers are interested in, has relatively little impact on strategic warfare. That is, looking at it the other way around, it is hard to translate a tactical victory into a strategic victory. If your enemy is determined to carry on, no matter what the cost, or how badly defeated they have been, the war will continue. And you still might lose.

There are several cases around which prove the above assertion to, at least, have legs. Hitler defeated the Western allies in 1940, for example, but the war continued because the British Empire and Commonwealth refused to either surrender or negotiate. Similarly, it was observed that the US never lost a tactical encounter in Vietnam. It is just that, in the strategic picture, it did not matter much.

On the other hand, strategy, at its grandest level, does have some impact on how and where wars are fought. For example, after the First World War, some powers decided that all they really needed was a strategic bomber force to deter any invasion by threat of massive attacks on enemy cities. Whether the technology of the time was up to the job is rather moot, but the idea was there and the concept of a defensive air force took time to evolve. This idea did not, incidentally, die with the Second World War, but morphed into nuclear strategy.

As you might have guessed by now, I have been reading again, this time a large tome on strategy:

Heuser, B., The Evolution of Strategy: Thinking War from Antiquity to the Present (Cambridge: CUP, 2010).

This would seem to be something of a university-level textbook for international history, politics, peace (and war) studies, and so on. It really covers what people have been writing about strategy over the centuries, and how what happened in the real world changed that.

There are quite a few interesting points in the book, which is just as well because it is 500 pages long or so. It has to be said, however, that as someone who mainly wargames in the ancient and early-modern periods the coverage of these is rather light, largely because no one particularly wrote about strategy in its modern definition until roughly Machiavelli. I know that there are exceptions, and they do get a chapter or so, but really the picture starts to get interesting in the Eighteenth Century and beyond. For something that is supposed to be a rational human activity, there is a lot of trendiness and muddled thinking going on, by the way.

Still, everyone was mesmerized by the Napoleonic Wars. Heuser really does not think that there was a ‘Western Way of War’ before the French Revolution, but that Napoleon, with his focus on the decisive battle, rather invented it. Maybe, and maybe not. After all, Frederick the Great wrote a lot about decisive battles but rarely managed to engineer one. We return to the point above, that a campaign or battle is only decisive if it persuades your enemy to give up.

Still, at sea, the idea of the decisive battle was also all dominant after Trafalgar. The concept that your battle fleet put to sea and decisively defeated the enemy battle fleet, gained command of the sea, and then won the war was the key concept. There were arguments among the British as to whether the army was really necessary, and among the French as to whether the navy was superfluous. These were theoretical arguments, of course, among the emerging academic and retired military classes. No sane politician ever really considered scrapping one or the other.

This all rather changed with the First World War. There was no decisive battle at sea. Both sides in reality had a more realistic goal of retaining a fleet in being to deter any silly stuff like invasions by the other side. On land, the concept of a decisive battle expired in the trenches.

Views of warfare switched, somewhat, but in different directions. One school went for technology – future war would be dominated by tanks, aircraft, and submarines. Everything else was irrelevant. To an extent, of course, that was perfectly correct, but only, as with so many things, to an extent.

On the other hand, other strategists argued that the whole strategic idea of the First World War was incorrect and that more should have been done to attack indirectly, with such things as the British blockade (which did cause starvation in Germany, eventually, but which did not contribute to the surrender) bombing (which did not cause too much damage in WW1 and did not cause surrenders in WW2) and defeating the enemy by attacking command, control, communications and logistics (Liddell Hart and the Blitzkrieg, of course).

The advent of nuclear weapons, as noted, did not really change things too much. The idea of a (nuclear) force in being simply continued. This is deterrence. The concept of imposing your will on the enemy, as practiced by Napoleon and the decisive battle brigade, started to decline as it was realized that a decisive battle in a nuclear sense would be the last battle. Ever. Nevertheless, as the small wars started up again, wars of decolonization and the ideological clash between superpowers, the concept was never entirely lost. Even large and successful campaigns, such as the defeat of the Tet Offensive, could not,, win wars, particularly when the resource base for the enemy was off-limits, as it was in Vietnam.

As might be expected from a large book there is a lot in it which I have not covered here. The chapters on asymmetric warfare are interesting and give a lot of ideas for how such activities are fought on the tactical and political levels. And so on.

The final assessment is that is well worth reading, and might inform your wargaming. After all, grand strategic assumptions tend to inform weapon system procurement. If you assume your navy will fight the enemy navy in a decisive battle, you will invest in battleships. Otherwise, you might decide that commerce protection and raiding are more important and invest in smaller warships. And that controls what you can do, in general, tactically.

Saturday 16 March 2024

Moving on….

… in random directions.

As you might recall, I have more or less stopped painting. That is, of course, untrue, but (aside from one) I am not planning any major painting projects at the moment, and I am trying very hard to curb my enthusiasm for buying any more models, either soldiers or ships. Some more ships were mooted for my recent birthday, but the Estimable Mrs P. spotted her husband’s slightly cold feet at generating even more ships to paint. The idea was thus placed firmly on the back burner and I got a coffee bean grinder instead.

Still, painting after a fashion has been taking place, so this post is a bit of a matter of record for my own interest and hopefully ability to build some momentum. The first lot finished (more or less) was a bunch of scythed chariots. Now, I do not think I need another six scythed chariots, but there they were, sitting in my painting shoebox of shame, and so I hoicked them out and set about applying paint.

As you can see above, the addition is of six Baccus 6 mm scythed chariots, all rather gaudily painted, I think. But then, if you are about to embark on a near-suicide mission, why not flaunt it, I feel.

There are a couple of points of interest and irritation, here. I already have 4 scythed chariots in the Persian army box. The addition of these will, of course, mean the box is over full and so further consideration to storage will have to be made. This is a tiny bit irritating, but perhaps some of the chariots could go in the Pontic army box, or with the Macedonian successors. Of such decisions, a wargamer’s life is made. On the other hand, I’ve a load of Persian Immortals living outside their box at the moment, so another Persian storage box might be due.

The other thing which, if you look really carefully at the picture you will note, is that my standard basing green colour ran out halfway through painting this lot. The bases are 40 mm square, so there is really quite a lot of area to cover. I had to switch to my newer alternative, which, on the base wet, looked terrible but has dried darker and less artificially green. So that was all right then. Consistent sourcing of base colours has bugged me throughout my wargaming career, at least since I moved off cardboard bases and onto plastic card and polyfiller. My local source of paint keeps switching suppliers, which is a tad annoying. The latest colour is from Hobbycraft, which should be reliable (I hope) but is a bit further away.

Still. I am pleased to have this lot out of the box and into a temporary storage tray, with hopes that my organisational abilities and interest will be sparked sufficiently to actually move them into a proper storage box soon. I mean, the Immortals have only been waiting a year or so….

Anyway, moving on. I may have mentioned the acquisition of the 25+ mm Warbases civilians at Christmas. They are still in the box, of course, but when I put them in the pending tin for big figures, I discovered 5 or so assembled but not painted ECW figures, so, in a moment of whimsy, I decided to paint them. I am not used to painting big figures, and I suspect it shows. I am also not a good painter, and that shows too, but they pleased me somewhat.

I think these figures are all Redoubt Enterprises and have been in stock for an embarrassing length of time. Part of the problem with them is that they are multi-part figures – legs, torso, and head – and I am an even more rubbish modeller than I am a painter. It takes a while to stick them together, for them to dry and then test whether they will survive undercoating. If they do then they are usually fit for painting.

These have now joined my skirmish figures, which include a few Border Rievers, some Irregular cavalry whom I painted last year and quite a few others including Landsknechts, French Musketeers and more dismounted ECW cavalry. The idea is for a role-playing or skirmish campaign. I have far more figures than I need, plus another 16 or so waiting to be painted. No wonder I am also working on very fast play sword fighting rules.

And finally, the new project, which is (if you were paying attention earlier in the year) Far Eastern fleets. I have had Japanese (Samurai), Korean and Ming Chinese armies for ages, but was always frustrated by, firstly, the lack of information on the Japanese invasion of Korea and secondly, by the lack of suitable ships for the period. Both of these deficiencies have now been rectified thanks to Osprey Books and Tumbling Dice miniatures respectively.

That means, of course, that I now have three fleets to paint. I do not mind painting ships quite as much as I do soldiers. The ships, at least at 1:2400 scale are reasonably easy to actually paint. Assembling them is, of course, much more fiddly, and I refer my reader to the comments above about my modelling skills. It also has to be admitted that the names of the ship types are not normally in my naval vocabulary, so I am trying to record the ships as they are painted so that at least I have some record of what they are.

The picture shows the first sixteen results of my efforts. At the back are four Korean P’Anokson. These were the sort of main Korean battleships of the era, and there were usually more of them than there were of the famous Turtle ships. At the front are 12 Kobaya, which are the smaller vessels, scoutships, coasters and small merchantmen. Next up, partially painted, are 5 turtle ships. At least they are assembled.

Interestingly, Korean tactics in the war were to stand off and use cannons, while the Japanese aimed to close and board (hence the spikes on the roof of the turtle ships). This reminds me of the battles of the era of the Spanish Armada (same time, different continent) where the English stood off and shot while the Spanish aimed to close. There is something here about the construction of the ships, and neither the Spanish nor Japanese hulls seem to have been able to stand the strain of constant cannon fire, being much more lightly built.

Still, there is a long way to go: just over 50 more vessels to paint by my reckoning. Bit at least I have go the Persians finished.

Saturday 9 March 2024

An Announcement

It is now about 18 months or so since I left paid employment. I was, shall we say, eased out by post-Covid management irresponsibility and incompetence. At least, that’s my story and I am sticking to it. In my last conversation with my line manager, before I was declared persona non gratia for resigning, he asked what I was going to do. To my surprise, and to his, it seemed (it is a bit hard to tell over Zoom) I immediately replied ‘Write’.

Post-paid employment I sat at my desk and considered. ‘Write’ is all very well but it lacks, shall we say, detail. The normal response in creative writing courses to the question of what to write about is to write about what you know about.

My thought process thus turned to what I know about. Hopefully, the long-term reader of these pages will have picked up that I have read about a variety of things, even though knowing about them, still less understanding them, remains somewhat elusive. So, I thought, what do I really, really know about, from the inside (to use a possibly unhelpful spatial metaphor).

Eventually, the answer struck ‘Solo Wargaming’. Counting back the years I have been a mostly solo wargamer for over four decades, with a few breaks for role-playing games among my student friendship group, the occasional Napoleonic wargame with a friend, and so on. But, as this blog, which has been going for well over ten years it seems, shows, most of my wargaming is done solo.

Those of you with very long memories might recall a post here in April 2022 on the subject of what there should be in a solo book. At the time the idea had not occurred to me to try and write, but clearly, a seed was being sown. I would like to thank everyone who responded in the comments, which seemed to suggest that the idea was viable.

So, slowly and painfully, my fingers were applied to the keyboard. My usual mind-mapping sorts of scrawls (which the Estimable Mrs. P. describes as ‘bubble diagrams’) were sketched for some chapter outlines and some ideas were collected. Some draft chapters started to grow, and I wondered what to do with them. There seemed to be a book gestating.

To get a book published you can either do it yourself (self-publishing) or involve a publisher. There are pros and cons to each, granted, but given that your correspondent is a shrinking violet (we will come back to that) I went down the publisher route and put together an outline of the bits I had written (about three chapters, as it turned out) and the bits I thought would make the thing whole. I settled in for a long wait (used to academic publishing timescales) and was a bit surprised to receive a response from the editorial office of the publishers asking for any chapters I had so they could pass it on for consideration by the commissioning editor within a few days.

There the matter rested. Again, I expected a long wait, but a few days later the commissioning editor was in contact saying that he liked the outline and would read the chapters. I sent what was probably a rather pathetically needy reply.

That was all in September 2022. By the beginning of October, I had a contract to write the book. Rather surprisingly I managed not to get too stressed or panic, but I sat down and actually tried to write and revise the originals and, working from my outline, do the rest. In the meantime, there were a few questions about the number of pictures and maps (not many) and the timescale, which I found difficult to answer but did a rough calculation based on writing 3000 words a week, plus a bit for the maps.

I did not want the book to reproduce the blog posts. I have seen non-wargame books that have done that and very annoying I find them too. So, while the ideas in the book might come from the same mind as the blog posts, and have some of the same themes as them, it was all supposed to be original stuff.

Rather to my surprise, the book was nearly finished by April last year. It was then put to bed for a week or so before I did proofreading, and eventually, submitted it to the publisher. Things went rather quiet until November, when the jacket was designed (my idea did not work, but that is life), and then in December copy-editing happened. This is a potentially traumatic occasion for an author where all the errors, repetitions, lacunae, and continuity lapses are ruthlessly detected and exposed. Actually, I think I got off rather lightly on this – the worst was a reference to Cannae which certainly did not belong in the paragraph. I wondered long what I was thinking at the time.

January ticked around and I got the first proofs, which I returned with, as I recall, 26 errors and two or three bigger points, and, presumably the cogs of the publishing industry were turning. Then, the dreaded email arrived, the occasion on which most authors head for the hills or hide behind the sofa (remember the shrinking violet thing?). The time had come to start the marketing.

I am trying to be rational and reasonable about this. After all, the book is the one that I would like to read about solo wargaming. It has gone through the process of being written and edited and everyone who knows about it so far has been kind and encouraging. If people do not know that the book exists (or, strictly, will fairly soon exist) they cannot choose whether to buy it or not. On the other hand, whenever I have had an article published I have had to ask the Estimable Mrs P. to open the package in which the item is published because I dare not. It is hard to know which route this one will go down.

Anyway, enough of this and the apologia. I will, almost certainly, be giving more detail in the next month or three about the book, its contents, and its route to publication. It is listed for publication in June, by Pen and Sword Books, although the last time I examined their website it was not up there yet. You probably want to know what it is called and so on, so here is the cover. I have reduced the resolution to make it a smaller file, so the original looks better than this.

As I said above, there will be more on this in the coming weeks, and I will also be setting up a Facebook page for shorter comments and discussion of it. In the meantime, comments and questions are welcome in the usual manner here.

Saturday 2 March 2024

On Artillery

I have, on and off, been pondering early modern artillery and its usefulness, effectiveness, and, above all, why armies bothered dragging the pieces over the countryside. After all, I think it was King Charles I who commented that the artillery train was a sponge that soaked up all the money.

By the War of the Three Kingdoms cannon had been around for a while. I think the first illustration of one dates from the early 14th Century, and they were certainly deployed by the English in the 1327 campaign, not that they were particularly useful on that occasion.

Still, by the 17th Century, things had improved. Powder, for example, was more powerful, and improved construction techniques meant that the pieces could take the strain, although a full charge of corned powder could well be too much for many gun tubes. That, I imagine, comes down to the skill of the individual gunner and his knowledge of his piece.

Gunpowder weapons of all sorts were horribly inaccurate. Bert Hall’s excellent book on early firearms reports a test of 325 discharges of smooth-bore muskets (dating from the 16th—18th Centuries). Surprisingly high muzzle velocities were reported (averaging 454 m/s, or 1490 ft/s), although that depends, of course, on the charge weights. There are some similar results for ACW artillery.

Spheres are the worst regular shape possible for generating drag, and the bullets decelerated at about 2.5 m/s for every meter of travel. About half the kinetic energy is lost at 100 m from the muzzle. Hall reckons that early modern weapons only have a possibility of being lethal at 100 – 120 m. At Blenheim and Fontenoy the high casualty rates were generated by shooting at about 40 meters. Drag meant that under normal circumstances at best 10-20% of shots hit the target, and, frequently, it is more like 5%.

Of course, artillery kept its velocity better, or at least, because the bullet was heavier they maintained lethal velocity for longer. But both firearms and artillery were notoriously inaccurate. Frederick the Great of Prussia calculated that 650000 rounds had been fired at Chotusitz (1742) killing about 2500 Austrians and wounding a similar number. That is, 1 in 130 discharges hurt someone. Other numbers bandied about were even more pessimistic.

Inaccuracy was also measured. At 100 meters the size of a square enclosing half the bullets is about 1 foot on each side. Actually, rifled muskets from the same period did not do much better. So the chance of hitting someone at 100 m was about 50%. Some weapons were better than others.

The problem is that spherical balls with windage – the difference between the diameter of the ball and the inner diameter of the barrel – bounce along the barrel. Ward reports that the standard windage was about a quarter of an inch in cannon. So the ball strikes the sides of the barrel after the gun is discharged, and picks up spin from such collisions.

As any cricketer or baseball player will know, balls with a spin on can behave in unusual, counterintuitive, ways. In a controlled spin, such as in a sport, this can be helpful. When aiming a weapon with the spn in an unknown random direction, it will move in the air. Hall reports an amusing experiment with a slightly left-bent barrel where the ball actually struck the target to the right of the centreline.

Artillery, although with longer ranges, suffers from the same issue. The ACW artillery deviated by 3 feet at 600 yards and 12 feet at 1200 yards for a 12-pounder. Lighter pieces seem to have deviated more. The aim of gunners, of course, was also to keep their shot below the height of a man. There is also the consideration of ‘point blank’ range, where the shot starts to drop away from its expected trajectory. Ward records point blank to a saker (5 ½ pounder) as 300 paces and a culverin (19 pounder) as 420 paces, which is the furthest in the list. Ultimate random ranges were 1500 paces and 2100 paces respectively, although the deviations Hall records for smooth bore artillery indicate that you were unlikely to actually hit what you aimed at at those ranges.

I have long suspected that part of the impact of artillery is simply the noise. A cannon discharging is, from my experience of attending re-enactments, very, very loud. Musket fire is less so, but these noises were probably the loudest ones available to most people. It would, at least until you got used to it, be frightening. Along with the noise the smoke and the possibility of being hit by a cannonball (which could damage you if it hit you at even extreme ranges), there was quite enough to perturb most people.

In Polemos: ECW we have a maximum range of artillery as 4 base widths and a factor of 3. At over 1 base width the artillery loses 1 from its factor. This, as JWH has pointed out in the past, seems a bit too swingeing. I suggested an alteration, making the artillery fire as normal over 4 base widths and then losing 1 per base width from its factor. That seems to make artillery too effective, as my experiment with Beatrice last week might suggest. I also added a second dice roll at over 6 base widths – the cannon needed to roll a 6 to hit.

In my homebrew Wars of the Counter-Reformation rules, I have adopted the above model. It attempts to depict the problems with the deviation of cannon shots, as well as the disruption artillery fire can cause. Beatrice disrupted the attacking Parliamentarians but did not cause any problems other than command and control. That seems about right to me, although I still suspect that the factor is a little high – perhaps it should be 3 rather than 4, although firing at dense pike blocks might give a bit of an advantage. But I am trying not to have too many factors in the rules.

So, in summary, I think early modern artillery should be a disruptor in battles, rather than a critical element. The hope of early modern generals must have been to shake the enemy and disrupt their deployment and advance rather than anything else unless there were specific tactical situations, such as narrow bridges or flanking fire, which would give the cannon an advantage. Sieges, of course, are a different thing again.  

Saturday 24 February 2024

The Bridge at Muchado


One of the great advantages of wargaming, particularly when you have been a wargamer for a number of years and have built up various collections of toys, is that you can switch from, say, one period to another, or from a ‘serious’ game to something just played for fun. You can get embroiled in heavy-duty campaigns, for example, and then just put a few bases on the table and have a wargame, just for the heck of it, or just because you can.

The Estimable Mrs. P has been a bit concerned about my wargaming, worried that it has become bogged down in concerns about painting (which she knows I don’t much enjoy) and also in campaigns. It gets, she argues, too complex for her husband’s overheated little brain, and she is probably right. I tend to overthink stuff.

I woke up one morning with an idea for an English Civil War / War of the Three Kingdoms action. In a sense it follows on, or is at least parallel to, the gunrunning scenario of a few weeks ago. But it is different and stand-alone. The idea of the scenario is that both sides have to try to seize a bridge, to permit (or deny) the passage of carts to where the supplies are needed. Hence the bridge at Muchado was born.

The peculiar name, for those who are interested, arises from Mr Shakespeare’s play. He evidently had these three villages in mind when he wrote, about 1600, a play about them. Granted, he transposed the action to Italy and so on, but I find that these sorts of things do spark the imagination.

So, we have the hamlet of Muchado, with a bridge over a fordable stream (except by carts, of course). We have two other villages, Nodding and Abbot. Put them together and you do have (roughly) the name of a Shakespeare play. A quick look through my complete plays of the Bard yielded some commanders, as well.

The Royalists, based at Nodding, were led by Sir Peter, with Benedict’s blue regiment of foot, Claudio’s buff coats, Claud’s cavalry, and two companies of dragoons, led by Dogberry and Watchman. On the other side, Sir Peter’s illegitimate brother Sir John leads the Parliamentary forces. He has Conrad’s and Leonard’s regiments of foot, Francis’ cavalry, and Verge’s and Sexton’s dragoons. Both sides are also blessed with a gun, although I did not name the commanders. Possibly, on the face of it, the Royalist gun should be called Beatrice.

The picture shows Sir John’s troops deployed on the right, with Sir Peter’s on the left. Sir Peter decided to stand, more or less, on the defensive and let Beatrice do the talking, as it were. Perforce, then, Sir John took the offensive, aiming to cross the stream with his cavalry while storming and holding the bridge.

A few moves into the game and you can see the plans developing. Beatrice has certainly disrupted the Parliamentary foot, and Sir Peter has moved his cavalry around the wood to oppose Sir John’s cavalry. What the picture doesn’t show, however, is that Claud’s cavalry is uphill of the Roundheads, which will cause them a problem. Poor tempo dice rolling has rather hampered Sir John’s attempt to get his attack moving, however, and he is having to now spend a lot of time persuading Conrad’s regiment to start advancing again.

The main clash was on the near side of the bridge, of course. Claud’s cavalry charged downhill and routed two of the three squadrons of Francis’ immediately. The third squadron held out for another move before turning tail and running, incidentally collecting Verge’s dragoons (who had dismounted) on their way and routing them. Four bases down, Sir John’s army decided that discretion was the better part of valour and decided to beat a retreat.

The Parliamentary cavalry had been caught with their backs to the stream, disorganised and downhill of the Royalists. It has to be said, however, that Sir John’s dice rolling was poor, and that his combat dice were even worse. To be several points down in the cavalry combat and then to roll a one does not indicate that the combat will last long. It also indicates that crossing obstacles is difficult under my rules, which is at it should be. While Verge’s dragoons tried to cover Francis’ reorganisation, they were under fire from Dogberry’s dragoons in the woods anyway and could not really face three bases of Royalist cavalry looming on the brow of the hill. They beat a retreat to behind their cavalry, who, when blown away, took them with them.

As I said earlier, this was really just a bit of fun. It was nice to get the ECW boys out again, and have a proper battle (as it were) albeit with small armies. The whole action did not take long, it has to be admitted and I think Sir John’s tactics were flawed. He could probably have done to have crossed the stream with both infantry and cavalry, at different points on the nearside of the table. Then the Royalists could have been a bit overstretched. As it was, Conrad’s attempted to cross the stream on the far side of the bridge and discovered it was a famous ‘crocodile-filled’ stream, and failed. Sir John did not have the tempo to get them going again, especially as they were under fire from Beatrice (who was alarmingly effective, as it happened).

Still, the use of the play gave a bit of extra depth and fun to the proceedings, so it felt a little bit more than just a stand-alone scenario, or a bash just for fun. I might use the idea again, especially as my complete plays is stored in the same room as the wargames take place (I’m not allowed to call it the wargame room – it is the snug). Sir Peter and Sir John and their merry men may well make another outing. We shall see.

Saturday 17 February 2024

The Campaign Paradox Revisited

My recent post on campaigning and why we, as wargamers, tend not to run campaigns seems to have sparked a bit of interest and comments, for which I thank everyone who has engaged. In particular, JWH posted a response on his Heretical Wargaming blog, and the comments there are interesting too, and worth a look.

To attempt to summarize the comments, campaigns do happen and are usually regarded with fondness in retrospect. The reasons for not running wargame campaigns seem to cluster around the time constraints, the complexity of campaigns, and the desire to actually get the toys out and fight tabletop battles, rather than move pins or counters around a map.

That said, a fair number of campaigns have been run. Some of them are linked scenario campaigns, where, for example, a battle group or platoon is followed through a series of engagements. As was noted, these tend to be the more resource management sort of games, deciding which resources you are going to commit to a given action, and resting up and conserving elements you might need later. While this is certainly giving a wargamer pause for thought before committing the reserves to a final charge, it is not quite a strategic decision.

The other end of the telescope gives us board games. Aside from self-consciously tactical games, such as, I imagine, Squad Leader, these tend to be inherently strategic in nature. Even a single battle board game gives the wargamer pause for thought about deployment and axes of advance, although again the strategic scope is distinctly limited. Many board wargames are, of course, on the scale of a front or theatre, or even a whole war. These tend to be enormous, quite detailed, and take a great deal of time to set up, let alone play. I think Phil Sabin observes in Simulating War that hobby games are far too complex and lengthy to be useful teaching aids.

Of course, to a great extent, wargame campaigns, as with wargames themselves, are open and flexible objects, and wargamers can and should do whatever floats their boats, as it were. If delving into the logistical arrangements of the war in the desert in 1941-2 is your thing, I am not the person to stop you. Similarly, if all you want to wargame is big battles in the Napoleonic era, that is fine by me. But many of the wargame books you see around do seem to suggest that a campaign is another level of wargaming, as JWH suggested in his survey of books on his blog response.

I suspect that one thing that has not really happened is rule writing for campaign games. I know that there are quite a few rule sets around which include campaigns, and even a few rule sets specifically for them (there is a set in Henry Hyde’s book, for example) but, in my view, they tend to the rather complex. If they do not, they have a habit of being severely simple, as a sort of afterthought to the rules themselves. Neither of these outcomes, in my view, are really conducive to encouraging people to run wargame campaigns.

A wargamer who would like to run a campaign is faced with some more or less complex decisions. There is the level of campaign, whether the participants are squads or armies or anything in between. There is the scope of the campaign, whether it is open-ended or aimed at specific objectives, in a specific time frame. There is also the question of what is to be modelled within the campaign. Are logistics included? Personalities? Replacements and reinforcements? And so on.

In part, I suspect, the question revolves around the campaign rules to be used and the complexity (or lack of it) involved. My narrative campaigns are very simple and easy to run. The outcome of the first battle leads to some choices for both the winner and the loser as to what to do. Normally the winner will make a decision, the loser responds and another battle will be set up, possibly with a few quirks. This is how the Armada Abbey campaign ran, and it still makes me smile when I think about it.

It is not always easy to think of the narrative, however, and, sometimes, the lack of detail might prove to be frustrating. Some wargamers might like the reconnaissance element of campaigning, for example, and the narrative process, while it can incorporate this, might well get bogged down. It is, as I have said, a question of what you want to model.

While many campaign rules do exist, as I mentioned, none have really caught on widely, it seems to me, and many of them tend to the complex. There is no real campaign equivalent to DBA. Whether you like DBA or not, it certainly encouraged wargamers to fight battles. It might even have encouraged a few campaigns at the very abstract level it included. But therein lies the rub: it was very abstract, a vehicle for creating tabletop wargames. Aside from the armies involved, it could have been any period.

I do not, of course, have any answers. DBA was a rule set that arose from long experience of wargaming by the authors, and much practice in wargaming. It may or may not have worked for a given wargamer, but the systems were quite elegant. We do not seem to have an equivalent elegance in wargame campaigns. War is, I suppose, inherently complex.

Clausewitz noted that everything in war is easy, but that the easy things are very difficult. Wargame campaigns should be fairly easy. After all, they are ‘only’ wargames writ a bit bigger. Perhaps if we had some truly elegant rules for wargame campaigns, one which ideally had zero record keeping and many opportunities for strategic thought and decision-making, we might have something that provides a satisfying vehicle for tabletop wargames with context.

The problem seems to be that these two objectives are mutually opposed. We cannot, it seems, have a strategic campaign system that is simple and has zero record keeping, but keeps the interest and decision points that wargamers need. Perhaps we just always land up in this bind and prefer to get the toys out (or do painting) after all.

Saturday 10 February 2024



It might mildly surprise some of the readers of the blog (you think they are plural – really? (ed)) that I have an interest in naval matters and that naval matters during the English Civil War (or Wars of the Three Kingdoms, or whatever the latest name for the conflicts are) were significant. Unfortunately, they are also heavily neglected in the historiography, although that is starting to change with an eyewateringly expensive academic tome titled ‘The British Civil War at Sea’. At £75 or so, I’ll have to wait for the paperback.

Fortunately, I have a few ideas on the matter. There is some stuff around. For example, the failed naval expeditions to La Rochelle in 1627 and 1628 were expensive, cost Charles I his favourite and led to dissolving Parliament in a huff. Ship Money, of course, caused further tensions in the 1630s, and the wars with Scotland brought the nation to the brink. After the Irish rebellion, the navy went over to the Parliamentarian side.

The consequences were serious for the Royalists (and Irish Confederates). They turned to private enterprise, but still needed foreign arms and munitions, which had to be imported. Slowly the Royalists gained strength at sea – capturing West Country ports helped. Henrietta Maria, famously, landed with arms at Bridlington in February 1643, under fire from a pursuing Parliamentary squadron.

The big ships in the Royal Navy were fairly useless, being too slow, for the war of intercepting merchant ships, convoys, and privateers. Both sides hired armed merchantmen, and Parliament even built some frigates. While there were no big battles there were bloody hostilities at sea, not to mention the relief of various ports by naval forces.

As I mentioned, that was also the question of the importation of guns and ammunition, and it was this that gave me an idea for a scenario. As the Royalists were the worst off for domestic production, they had to try to get cargo across the Channel, while Parliamentary forces, of course, tried to intercept and stop them.

The scenario is shown set up above. Really boring I know, but it gives the idea. The Royalists are in port, and the Parliamentarians are patrolling the sea with their heavier ships nearest the camera. The royalists have to exit by the nearest or near right-hand table edges. Each ship getting to the corner will score 3 points, the middle third of each side will score 2 points, and the last third of the near table will score 1 point. For Parliament, each ship taken will be worth 3 points, while each ship damaged will be worth 1 point per point of damage (for either side, in fact), or if the ship is forced off the table elsewhere than the Royal exit areas Parliament will gain 1 point. Each damage level a Parliamentary ship receives will lose them 1 point.

I should note at this point that the Royalists could fight back against the Parliamentary light ships but would surrender if the heavies (1 third and 1 fourth rate) came into close range. This is because, under the rules, mostly the merchantmen and 6th rates will be at least badly mauled by a close-range broadside from even a fifth rate. I should also note that the rules are my own, and are now covered with scribbled pencil notes.

I have recently discovered that naval wargames and describing the action is even more difficult than land-based wargames. Furthermore, the interaction of wind strength and direction makes things even more complex. The basic problem here was that for the first half of the game, the winds were light and so no one really moved very far or very fast. The wind veered from a north easterly at the start of the game and then round to south-west, which gave the Royalists the wind advantage from the second half of the game especially as the wind then strengthened, meaning that all the ships could move faster.

The game caused a lot of thought and manoeuvring, even more than a land game. The lighter ships clashed and Parliament lost one ship crippled and one seriously damaged (minus 5 points, oops). The main question was whether the Parliamentarian heavies could get among the main Royalist convoy. They were, at one point, getting close and the Royalists tacked (135-degree turn under the rules). The Parliamentarians were slower to turn and the Royalists gained but then reversed their tack and, moving a little faster than the Parliamentarian heavies managed to leave them just about behind.

The picture shows the final situation. While it would seem that the Parliamentary heavy ships are about to sail through the convoy, in fact, the next Royalist move will take them off the table and, due to the wind, there is nothing the Parliamentary ships can do about it. In the distance, on the right, you can see the two damaged Parliamentary 6th rates, as well as one in the foreground and one in the background which are in the wrong place and going the wrong way. Two Royalist sixth rates are already off the table, incidentally.

So, that was interesting. The rules, which I have not used for quite a while, seemed to work quite well, although they now need revision. The Royalists came out of port into a headwind, but the wind veered and gave them the weather gauge, which helped considerably. The Parliamentary ships contested the progress of the convoy bravely but were bested by lucky Royalist shooting rolls. The heavies never quite got into combat as they were extremely slow in the wind conditions.

So, the question now is what next, aside from rule revision. As Paul Hague remarked, naval wargames are best in the context of a campaign narrative, so the choices are either a chase at sea, with various Parliamentary ships trying to intercept the Royalists, and/or attempt to blockade the port to which they are heading. Mind you, the Royalists are on +13 points and the Parliamentarians on -5 at the moment, so there is a lot to catch up.

Saturday 3 February 2024

The Campaign Paradox

As the regular reader of this blog might have surmised by now, I am something of a fan of campaign games. The ideas of linked battles, the movement on the map, the decisions of strategic import, and so on interest me. Perhaps I am much more of a big-picture wargamer than most others, I am not sure. The Estimable Mrs. P. keeps arguing that I think in the abstract, so maybe the interest in campaigns is a consequence of that.

Still, it is a little hard to find evidence that campaign wargaming is particularly popular among wargamers. I know that some campaigns are played (I could name a few blogs that report them) but, to be honest, most battle reports in the blogosphere, at least the slice of it that I read, are of either historical battles or of scenario games, with Neil Thomas’ One Hour Wargames as the source of choice.

Now, to be clear, I do not have the slightest problem with that. Again, the regular reader will be aware that I have indulged in not a few scenario-based games from OHW, as well as a few historical games. But the hankering after campaign games does not, for me, go away. Perhaps, as a solo wargamer, I have imbibed too much of the advice that, to keep the solo interest going, we need to move to campaigns.

There are, of course, campaigns and campaigns. There are sequences of scenarios, where the sequence is fought out step-wise, with results and casualties carried forward. Indeed, OHW suggests taking those scenarios and linking them. Then there are ladder campaigns, where the sequence starts with a middle-ground scenario and the action moves one way or the other until either the top or the bottom of the ladder is reached and the campaign is won and lost.

I suppose somewhere in this my ideas about narrative campaigns, where the detail of the map moving is ignored but the moves are conducted with reference to a map to decide where the next game is to be fought fits somewhere alongside these forms of campaigning.

The next logical step from narrative and ladder-style campaigns is probably to use a proper map, gridded or hexed, and plot out the moves properly. I tried this out with the Jersey Boys campaign and it did work quite nicely, but there is, of course, a bit of a penalty to be paid in terms of preparation. It might be at this point that some wargamers decide that an off-the-shelf scenario game is preferable.

Of course, as in real life, the complexity of campaign games is potentially unlimited. Jersey Boys did have personalities created for the officers, although it has to be admitted that most of the effort expended on this was rather wasted, I feel. It also made use of a proper map, with pins to locate the units, weather, and couriers. These latter bits worked quite nicely, although the invasion had to wait until the weather cleared.

At the most complex end of the spectrum are those imagination games where the action spans continent(s) and decades. These take a lot of work, I think, to set up and, if my own memories serve me correctly, a fair bit of effort to maintain. The gold standard in such campaigns is, of course, Tony Bath’s Hyboria campaign, as documented in Setting Up a Wargame Campaign. I have tried this sort of thing, and much simpler settings, but the sheer size of it tends to overwhelm me.

I am aware, as you might have seen, of most of the wargame books that cover campaigns: Bath, Grant, Featherstone, Hyde. But the fact remains, it seems to me, that campaign games are a thing that is more honoured in the breach than execution. That is, not many people actually carry out campaigns, even though they might like to in principle.

I think there might be a fundamental paradox lurking behind this. The idea of a campaign is to achieve an objective – capture Jersey, for example. The objective for the other side is, of course, a mirror image of this. However, the next idea along is that the objective needs to be achieved with minimal casualties because for each combat you might lose forces you will need shortly. The campaign paradox emerges.

The campaign paradox is that the wargamer wants to fight wargames, fairly obviously. In a campaign game, however, the idea is to fight as little as possible while winning the campaign. The nature of the campaign game, therefore, is to limit the number of wargames to be fought out, while maximising the paperwork. This is not an attractive proposition to many wargamers, I suspect.

Given the popularity of OHW, I was wondering if there was any scope for (and perhaps it already exists) a sort of similar book, packed full of smallish campaigns. A set of easily transferable campaign outlines might work. It would be the sort of thing that OHW does for scenario games, crossed with Featherstone’s actual examples of small campaigns.

Or, maybe, the scope should be bigger. The Featherstone games are, mostly, what could be termed grand tactical rather than strategic games. The introduction of strategy is, naturally, opening a whole extra can of worms, and there would be no telling where it would end. Nevertheless, it is fairly clear that generals of times gone by had strategies, even if they did not use the term (which seems to have got its current meaning sometime in the Eighteenth Century).

So, I open the discussion to the floor, if there is any interest. What would persuade you to get the maps out instead of starting another scenario? Is there anything, or do time constraints preclude such things? I suppose, somewhere in my mind, is the question of whether we have to dash on to the next wargame all the time. Slow wargaming, anyone?