A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Proposed Solo Campaign Rules - First Bunch of Thoughts

My notebook is now full of jottings, crossings-out, re-writes, circles connected by arrows, and doodles - all evidence of my thinking about campaign rules during spare moments while I was away on holiday. The rules are nothing like complete yet, but I thought it might be interesting to describe some of the ideas that I'm working with.

I have a fair amount of experience of campaigns - all of it a good many years ago, and most of it pretty successful (in the sense of "the campaign worked well" rather than "I won"). Usually I was the umpire and co-ordinator, which was a lot of fun anyway, but the generals involved enjoyed it too. These games were postal, though the other players all lived in the same town as me, and could easily get together for a tabletop wargame. They were also, now I come to think about it, all played using normal maps with set movement rates (which weather and the umpire could alter most unfairly). Not a square or hex grid in sight. I can remember a Roman campaign and at least six Peninsular War campaigns which went well. I can also remember one which ended rather awkwardly when one of the generals, having arrived to fight a battle, took one look at his position and announced a retreat into his Winter quarters, which left us with the problem of what to do with the evening apart from eat supper. I think we managed to improvise some other sort of game to keep ourselves amused.

I kept all the campaign records and correspondence in a big file for years but - infuriatingly - lost them when I moved house 12 years ago. Not to worry

I need a very simple, boardgame type operation which will enable me to fight an extended solo campaign over a period of months. Battles will, for the most part, be fought using Commands & Colors: Napoleonics (CCN) with miniatures. Battles which have more than (say) 25 units on one side will be fought out using my Grand Tactical extension to CCN (I half-jokingly call it GTCCN), in which the “units” are redefined as brigades. Otherwise, battles will be fought using normal CCN, with whatever national or scenario-based extensions are necessary. For actions which are too trivial (or inconvenient) to merit tabletop action, I intend to use the NapNuts algorithmic system to produce results. Similarly for sieges - it would be wonderful to use my fortress models and fight actual sieges, but the timescale sits awkwardly with the continuing campaign (unless it were possible to have a siege set up in a separate room - hmmm - no - what if a second siege started at the same time?). The NapNuts site is a good source of campaign ideas, many of which originate from a couple of articles by A Duckenfield in Practical Wargamer from March/April 1992.

Which brings me on to my sources. There is some wonderful stuff out there - Bruce Quarrie's famous book gives you more numbers than you could shake a quartermaster's pencil at, though very little idea how to make use of them, and is a bit short in the old sense-of-proportion department. I have the standard wargamer's books on campaigns by Featherstone, Charles S Grant, Tony Bath, I have a number of boardgames to pinch ideas from - notably War to the Death by Omega Games (which is mind-blowing) and the Empire campaign system (which is rather less mind blowing, but a huge amount of work), and I also have a copy of the unpublished campaign system created to support Battle Cry. Since I intend to conduct the campaign solo, I will not have any collaborators to gee me up - this will be a completely synergy-free exercise - so it is important to get the pitch and scale of operations correct, or I will just get fed up and pack in. The classic Old School campaign books are all interesting but a little vague - they are a pool of ideas, but a bit short on instructions and glue (as it were). The boardgames, and Quarrie's book, are more like a real campaign than a game so that, for me, they are inspirational but over-the-top.

I need sufficient abstraction in the rules for the events to be reasonable without being oppressively complicated. I want simple mechanisms and phase sequences (or I will forget something), but I do not wish to overlook anything important - for example, assuming that armies can roam freely, living comfortably off the land, would give a very free-flowing version of the Peninsular War, but would be wildly unrealistic. Might as well give them aeroplanes.

Starting topics for today, then, are the map, army organisation, movement rules and a sketchy look at a simple supply system.

First off, dice. Throughout these rules, I use dice numbered 1-1-2-2-3-3, which I call D3s. These are easily obtainable from educational suppliers. I like them. When you see reference to D3s below, that's what I mean.

Now - the map. I have experience of playing on maps with hexes superimposed - it is a commonly used set-up, so obviously it does work, but it is not ideal for my purposes at present. An even spread of hexagons looks as though you can march all over it - in fact, you are restricted to roads. I am impressed by the War to the Death style zones-&-corridors board, because of the simplicity and lack of ambiguity, and because of the disappearance of the knotty issue of cross-country marches. There aren't any. I am even more impressed by the work Rafa has done with Gamebox boards based on the WttD board. Gamebox is intended to support online computer versions of board games, but the map looks good in this form, and can be edited with a normal graphics tool. Rafa corrected Omega's original map in some respects (factual knowledge of Spain being an important element of this!), and I've made a couple of further tweaks. I emphasise that I am simply using this map as my campaign board for my own game - I won't be using Gamebox (other than the picture) and I will not be playing War to the Death. Thanks again, Rafa, for your work - I have amended it again only to rationalise the approaches to Lisbon, and to bring the border forts more into line with my understanding of them.

The map consists of geographical districts, which, provisionally, I am referring to as "Areas". Yes - I know it's a pathetic term, but it'll do for now. These Areas come in two colours - brown and green. I have made a huge, bovine assumption here: the brown Areas are assumed to have more rugged terrain, have inferior resources (for forage) and - in addition - to be more susceptible to the activities of guerrilleros and other irregular forces. I confess that this is an ambitious assumption - the correlation between these factors, not to mention the accuracy with which I have assessed the Areas, is at best arguable, but I'm ignoring all that in the interests of convenience.

A brown Area:

(1) will require more rugged terrain for battlefields

(2) will support a maximum of 1 Division without other means of supply, but not during defined Winter months (Oct-Mar?). (Green Areas will support 2 unsupplied Divisions, or 1 Division in Winter)

(3) for purposes of the French line of communication (and supply), is regarded as hostile and therefore a break in the LOC unless the French have at least 1 regiment stationed there. Green areas do not cause this problem, and this whole issue does not affect the Allies anyway.

Areas are linked to one another by roads, which also may be green or brown. Brown roads are roads of inferior quality or roads which are difficult for some reason of geography. The movement rules will explain how this works (maybe). Unlike the colour-coding of areas, the brown roads are a problem for everyone, not just the French. No land movement may take place other than along the marked roads (though guerrillas can sometimes disappear and appear again somewhere else!), but the Allies also have the possibility of moving by sea, using ports which are not held by the French.

Army organisation: this begs some definitions, to keep things sensible.

Each army will have a full OOB, but for campaign purposes the army acts as a series of “combat groups”, which will move and fight together, normally under an identified commander at the appropriate level. The composition of these groups can change from time to time as the army is reorganised, or as the result of detachments and the arrival of reinforcements or new units. Groups can be:

Army (or Divisional) HQ: this has no fighting strength, and is primarily required to show the position of the CinC. It moves as cavalry, and can be stacked with any other group if the CinC is with them.

Brigade: a collection of individual units (infantry battalions, cavalry regiments, artillery batteries) under a brigade commander. A brigade may include attached artillery, and it must contain no more than 9 units in total (this total does not include staff officers). A grand battery or siege train is treated as a brigade.

Division: a higher level grouping, under the command of a division commander. The Division is the grouping used to work out supply requirements. A division may contain no more than 3 brigades, with an overall maximum of 20 units (unless scenario rules say otherwise).

Corps or Army: in principle, higher groupings are possible, and are treated the same way, but the number of Divisions will always be required for purposes of checking supply.

Individual units may be detached (“dropped off”) from a larger group for purposes of garrisoning Areas. These units subsequently may only move independently if they are marching to rejoin their parent group. Units (usually cavalry, though irregular infantry may also be used) may also be detached as a separate reconnaissance force. Detaching and picking up units from a group, and the strength of the units, are the most important bits of record-keeping required.

Although units may be reduced by losses and wastage, no organisational unit smaller than a battalion, cavalry regiment or battery can be given orders.

Supply: The intention is to include an element of supply (since ignoring the matter is unrealistic) without getting the game bogged down in the problem. The supply rules are thus kept very simple. Guerrilla forces may ignore supply, since they are assumed to be able to obtain (or extort) what they need from the area they are in. They may not, however, move or operate outside their home province (Castilla, Navarra etc). Guerrillas apart, the principles are the same for both sides, though the definitions and the details are a little different for each. A combat group which can show an unobstructed road back to a supply Base is considered to be adequately provisioned by wagon/mule trains. If the line of supply is broken, a group becomes Unsupplied, and will be required to fend for itself. Armies of any size may pass through any Area, but if they end their move there then supply limits apply. Note that garrisons in fortresses are considered to have unlimited supplies as long as they are not under siege.

Bases: Initially, for the Allies this means Lisbon and Porto. For the French, this means any area in France, plus Madrid, Salamanca and Seville. A supply base is lost if the Area is captured, but may be restored once it is won back. I have to work on some means of shifting bases - especially seaports (for the Allies). Ship-borne movement of a base and its garrison (available only to the Allies) can be anywhere to a friendly port. An army which finds itself without bases is in big trouble!

Lines of Supply: The Allied LOC can be broken only by a French group (or garrison) occupying an Area on it. The French LOC may, in the same way, be broken by an Allied group (or garrison), but may also be broken by an unoccupied brown area, which is assumed to be held by guerrilla forces if no other group or unit is visible there.

Unsupplied Groups, and Demoralisation: A group which is Unsupplied – i.e. does not have an unbroken road back to a supply Base – is required to fend for itself. For the French, this means foraging and “living off the land”; for the Allies it means purchasing or requisitioning supplies as necessary. The effect is the same – a green-coloured Area can support a stationary force of 2 Divisions maximum size during the months of April to September, or 1 Division during the remainder of the year; a Brown area can supply 1 Division in April-September, and will not support troops at all the rest of the year. Large forces will have to spread themselves if they are not to be weakened or Demoralised by lack of provisions and materials. A group which is Unsupplied and is too big to subsist is Demoralised - during the organisation/reinforcement phase of each turn, it will dice to determine losses due to desertion and sickness.

Scorched Earth: For the expenditure of additional order(s), a force may carry out measures to “scorch” an area. A scorched area will have its capacity to support troops reduced by 1 level – thus a green area becomes a brown area until the following Spring, and a brown area, when scorched, cannot sustain troops at all until the following Spring. A Division can scorch an area as it leaves it, at a cost of one additional order (this needs a lot more work).

Movement: All land travel must be by means of the defined roads. The map is not specifically drawn to any numeric scale, but the intention is that the distance from one Area to the next represents a week's march for troops on foot. Activation rules (still being worked on) will generate a number of available Orders for each CinC each turn. These Orders may be expended on a number of activities, of which marching is one. A single Order will move a single group one step - this is to an adjacent Area, but in the case of a group which is all mounted (including horse artillery) it is 2 Areas. Addition of an extra Order can make the march into a Forced March, which - in theory - allows a further move of 1 Area. This is where the bad news starts:

The Bad News

I'll (temporarily?) adopt the term Step to mean the distance between one Area and the next one along a road. Movement along a green road is automatic, but a movement step requires a test (only 1 test) if any of these apply:

* Group is Tired
* Group is Demoralised
* the road is brown
* the move is the extra one for a Forced March

Test is:

* Add the general's leadership rating (motivational; 3 = good to 1 = poor) to 2D3. If no general is with the group, count zero for the leadership rating. Be honest here, if Genl de Bde Crapeau is rated 1, that's what you use if he is the man on the spot. It doesn't matter if he is in Davout's Corps if Davout is not present.
* Add a further 1 if the group is mostly veterans or elites
* Deduct 1 for each of the following that applies:
    - Group is Tired
    - Group is Demoralised
    - the road is brown
    - this Step is the extra one for a Forced March
    - it is Winter (Oct-Mar)

Outcome: depends on total score
5+    successful
4      Step completed, but group is Tired
3      Step completed, group is Tired and Demoralised
2-     move fails - group is Demoralised

Tiredness and Demoralisation may well become additive scores, so that a group may have a Tired score of 2, for example. At present I am thinking only of them as binary states - a group is or is not Tired etc. A group which remains stationary for a week will lose one Tired point, provided it has supplies. Demoralisation is the subject of a test each turn for desertion etc, and thus clears itself. I am trying to avoid the need for explicit bookkeeping for hospitals, a heavy extra workload which I remember with a shudder from campaigns of old.

That's probably more than enough of all that. I have made no attempt to set this out in an organised manner - this is just a first-cut cloud of bits, for interest (or not). Activation, ports, forts, sieges & off-table battles, reinforcements, how we get from the Area blocks to an actual battlefield and the esoteric subject of scouting can all wait for another day, when I've thought about them some more. The map shown is a scaled-down version - if anyone wants the big version, email me through the Blogger profile.


  1. That looks like a sound and promising start.

  2. Hi
    A new life for an old map! I like the coat of arms of the towns, and naturally I want it!

  3. I go with Ross Mac - very good start... not sure if it's of direct interest as you seem to have everything well in hand, but the following is a link to the campaign diary of an American War of Independence campaign I played some time ago - the first section deals with set up and rules... it may have something there that you can use, if only as a checklist of what not to do! ;o))


  4. Thank you, gentlemen! - Steve - I will definitely check out the link with interest - thanks for that.


  5. It sounds well in hand, but time could be near endless with every week for seven or so years.

    In '1776' the Avalon Hill game long campaign even with monthly turns, over a seven year war, I could never get more than three years or so in before some form of life intervened, causing me to eventually start over.

    That is solo. With an opponent we never even got through the first year and went to shorter scenarios due to scheduling.

    It was very absorbing while deep into it though, with the British having to garrison and control, with really not enough resources, sort of like the French are doing in the Peninsula. That makes for a challenge.

    Another campaign generating game was Frederick the Great, with half-month turns, but that one never tried to link year upon year, only doing one year scenarios, which were much easier to handle, but left you longing for the linking.

  6. Hey - absolutely! I've no intention of trying to act out the actual PW - it would all go wrong anyway, and that's too much like work. I intend to do single-summer campaigns, and fictitious ones at that. The Summer of 1811-and-a-half - shades of Harry Potter. I'll probably start with reasonable (or justifiable) geographical positions, and with pretty accurate personnel (I'm a real trainspotter for that stuff), but thereafter it will be free fall. And if I don't like how it's going, I'll stop and start again!