Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My New Campaign

Good grief, a month nearly past with only one post! Never fear, as there’s been plenty of activity. Time for an update! A few things have come together over the last few weeks and formed into the notion of a campaign I could try out, and – because if I delay I’ll get all distracted from the original idea and get bogged down in details – I thought I’d just throw myself straight at it and see what happens. After all, even if I end up relating a step-by-step guide of how not to do things, there’ll always be someone out there who benefits!

First, I’ve got a set of 15mm ACW figures a month or so back, which I have been painting up to completion. They are modest sized armies, which I was intending to use in a DBA-esque sort of game. This was inspired by the blog MrFarrow2U (listed on ‘my blog list’ to the side) which is made up of photo-reports of DBA battles from an extension that runs up from 1500 to ~1900. I bought and painted a set for each, intending a DBA-style campaign.

Next, there came a search for other rules which I could possibly use. I discovered the 2x2ACW rules at freewargamesrules.com as a further option for small-scale battles, and also considered my old (and excellent) boardgame ‘A House Divided’ by Phalanx Games. Well worth a look! The link below is for boardgamegeek’s description:


So, there were plenty of low-complexity rules for tactical and strategic campaigns, but I was a little vague about how I would link them. Next, there was some straight-out googling of ACW campaigns to see if any other clubs had helpfully posted details of how they did it. There were indeed, and I as particularly caught by this one:


These gamers had even (like myself) based it all on A House Divided, but had the excellent method of drawing up extremely large 12ft x 12ft maps for each box on the strategic board (the ones you actually fought in at any rate, to save you drawing a continent!) So, it looked like that was that.

However, as all this continued slowly, some other ideas which I thought were totally separate continued to bubble away. First was a hunt for an out-of-context campaign, which was inspired by a comment in some old book I remembered. I think it may have been in the Osprey Campaign Series book for The Ardennes 1944, but basically it pointed out that if you set up a campaign with Americans in a forested region in winter, a player would instantly think ‘it’s the battle of the Bulge’ and fight defensively, but if you set it in 1941 with Germans advancing on Moscow through woods in winter, they would have the attitude of the Allied generals that they were moving in to finish off a defeated enemy. Their reaction would then be all the more authentically confused when they were hit by an unexpected armoured counter-offensive.

I think it’s called a ‘disguised scenario.’ I do solo gaming, so it was only really of use to generate ideas from mixing up different times and situations (my best one was an Alexandrian Successor Campaign but transplanted into the 19th Century, when Napoleon was unexpectedly assassinated in 1810 and his marshals fought it out to hold his empire together.)

Anyway, this idea came in when I stumbled across a link (sadly lost, as I didn’t bookmark it and now can’t re-find it! Aargh!) to a report somebody had written on an ACW campaign but in Ireland. Yes, Ireland. They were fighting a conventional battle between the Blue and the Grey, but the map just happened to be of Ireland rather than some fictional back-water state. I liked the idea, and it grew on me. The final eureka-moment came from this:


And this led to this:


So, after Wargaming Miscellany once more fixed me up with some good signposting, I was reading about somebody running a fictional campaign in their own country. An interesting idea, appealing, and with a touch of quirkiness to make it fascinating. So, finally it all came together and I thought ‘what if I did the ACW campaign and set it on a map of Scotland?’ There are at least a few similarities for the strategic situation:

a) Large population and industrial concentrations in one area (the ‘North’)

b) Geographically large hinterland with small rural towns (the ‘South’)

c) Very large and complex coastline to be blockaded (the Anaconda Plan)

d) Large regions for irregular warfare (‘Kansas and the frontier’)

e) Close-proximity critical cities where fighting could focus (‘Northern Virginia between Washington & Richmond’)

So, I’m currently drawing up maps everywhere, and mainly on MSPaint (the most infuriating drawing package in the entire universe) so I can post updates for people to follow the whole strange experiment. I’ll keep battering away at it and hopefully the map should follow soon, along with a full explanation of how I devised it. Wish me luck, and thanks to all the disparate/desperate people above who helped in whatever way to give encouragement!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Treffenwasser post-mortem

First, a big apology to all for the long delay in a post: I had it in mind to wait until I had another battle report ready to give, and then publish all the 'intervening' stuff in a big rush! I decided against this however, and shall just post as I go. So, here's the analysis as promised for the last post - the battle of Treffenwasser! I don't know how others' tastes run, but I always like these sort of things in history books and it's a good way of examining how a game went and making yourself rethink things.

Good grief, but Napoleon was having an ‘off-day’: in a nine-turn game, the first seven turns saw the allies take the initiative! Despite this lack of ‘double-moves’ by either side, the game still proved massively back-and-forth. I’ll just quickly round up my thoughts on how each sides’ strategy unfolded, and the review of the rules set – which I’ve used for the first time on a big scale.

The allies called the tune for most of the battle, so we’ll look at them first. The flanking swing, reaching right to the far side of the board, worked nicely – or would have done, if the allied right wing hadn’t been annihilated by the French attack! Similarly, the allied grand-battery in the centre didn’t do anything like the job it was meant to – the fight took place further south from it, and didn’t really develop around the Grosshugel at all. The allies, if anything, swung too wide! A smaller turn would’ve kept the French fighting close in under the hostile guns and would’ve also enabled the two wings of the army to provide a bit more mutual support.

What of the French? Well, the attack on the left went well, after the jager-infested woods were finally cleared. Sadly by that point, the troops weren’t able to roll up the allied line but rather had to go rushing back to stop the French from being swept away! Mind you, the French had some lucky rolls, particularly in their first attack that collapsed the allied right and in their last-turn counter-attack which took handfuls of units off the table. The allies’ continual winning of the initiative proved something of a blessing in the end, as it meant the French counterblow was made at the very tail-end of the game, when each side had virtually no reserves left and the blow proved mortal.

The French also handled their reserve Guard well. Each side had guard troops, but the allies never brought theirs into play until it was too late while the French made energetic use of their Guard to hold up their right flank and finally threaten to take the Grosshugel. I was always told units in reserve are powerful because they can ‘potentially’ be committed anywhere and so influence several sectors, but they do ultimately have to be committed somewhere to avoid just being well-dressed spectators! The French timed the commitment well and ultimately made the transition to ‘actual’ commitment and scored crucial kills in the sectors that mattered.

So, a valid strategic lesson? I think so, anyway. The rules proved good, and provided a colourful back-and-forth effect to the battles. Terrain like woods and hills were fought over and over by each side, changing hands several times. It was fast-moving and a lot of fun, so I’d recommend them! As to our (literally) little Napoleon, what did the victory mean? Size-wise and casualties-wise, it was on a par with massive battles like Bautzen, which the allies recovered from. Plus, the French lost all ther cavalry and the allies kept all theirs largely intact, so no pursuit for our rotund Corsican. Looks like the battle of Treffenwasser will be just another entry in Napoleon's list of glorious but futile victories in the run-up to Leipzig!