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

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Solo Campaign – Nearly Time to Get Started

It would be possible to tinker about with details indefinitely, and never get under way - there is something of that in my character. I have to remind myself why I wanted to do campaigns again, and I also have to focus clearly on some of the advantages of doing it solo.

I have been involved with campaigns before, though never on my own, and they always seemed a satisfying way to generate tabletop battles. They were absorbing at many levels and, apart from setting the wargames into a more meaningful context, they also helped to encourage more general-like behaviour - in particular

(1) since the survivors of a battle will be required to continue to play a useful part in the continuing war, it is a good idea to avoid unnecessary casualties; thus the concept of a controlled retreat becomes important.

(2) armies have to be positioned so that the component parts can support each other, without starving each other to death - not everyone is going to be available all the time, and not everyone is going to be on top form.

This next bit is kind of cyclic logic - it isn't strictly speaking the reason why I have grown my armies far beyond what can fit on a single battlefield, but viewing them as the participants in a grander scale, map-based game has almost become the justification for continuing to add to them. I am impressed by Charles S Grant's recommendation that no units should appear in your campaign OOBs unless you actually have representative figures for them. There will be a need for spare, generic bataillons de marche to provide gap-fillers here and there, and some re-use is a good idea in such circumstances, but my army has built up slowly enough for me to cherish the personalities involved, However silly it might seem, it wouldn't seem right to field my 42nd Royal Highland Regt, who are mostly ancient Garrison figures and have had this ID since about 1974, and pretend for the day that they were the Gordons. Obviously I could do it if necessary, but my instinct would be to come up with another unit of highlanders for this alternative role. Given a choice, I would prefer to bend history a little. It's not just that the facing colours would be wrong (though there is that, now I come to think about it...) - it's the feeling of a slight betrayal of some old friends. Does that make any sense, doctor?

A practical example of a historical fudge is offered by my sketched-out, first-cut deployment of the French. My starting point will be loosely based on January 1812 - how loosely is still a matter for consideration. Historically, the 2-battalion Hesse-Darmstadt regiment Gross und Erbprinz should be in the garrison of Badajoz. On the other hand, I am rather fond of my little Hessians, and would like to see them on the tabletop at some point. The siege of Badajoz looks like an obvious early event in the campaign, which probably means that the units in the garrison will never be seen again if the place falls. Given the choice, I'll fill Badajoz with unspecified units (which can develop an identity later if required), and I'll put the Hessians somewhere else.

Another big selling point for a campaign is that everyone (within reason) in The Cupboard can get involved - even the siege train and the engineers and the logistics boys. Not sure about the Band of King Joseph’s Guards, mind you.

I'm running out of excuses for delay. I have a map, I have my fancy new magnetic map counters, and I have rules. Aha - the rules - they're not complete, though, are they? Well no, they aren't, but they are about 90% complete, I would estimate, and this is where the "solo" bit of the solo campaign scores heavily. There are some inherent features of solo campaigning which are obviously advantages anyway - a campaign will generate some battles which are not finely balanced (in fact, many of them will be, realistically, skewed in favour of one side or the other), and some which are not suitable for fighting on the tabletop for some reason or other - in particular, mathematical sieges are going to be pretty much devoid of anything worth looking at. None of this matters a jot for the solo game - there is no need to dignify the evening with an elegant game, supper, all that. One does not even have to look one's best, as the ancient joke goes.

But there's more - if I have to improvise or alter rules where gaps become apparent (and they will), if I have to re-run things that don't work - even if I have to give up and start all over again - then if I am on my own it is not a problem. So my 90% rules will be fine for a start.

There are 3 remaining areas where I have a little work to do before I am ready.

(1) Intelligence and scouting – it is not easy to have any level of Fog of War if I can see from my magnetic map and my spreadsheets exactly who everyone is, and where they are, complete with the minutiae of weekly strength returns, and all that. My approach to this will be that I (as the Great Panjandrum) will know everything, and will have a system for working out the imperfections in what the units know about each other. Each group commander will have orders and objectives, and a personality (historical or not). The Fog system will allow for relative proportions of cavalry, the anti-French bias of the local population, plus a few random numbers to help each local commander to act on the information he has.... Since it is my game, if I don’t like the way it shapes up, I shall cheat as necessary until I like it better.

(2) I really can’t model the whole Peninsular War – I don’t have enough model soldiers or enough brain power, so determining how to scope it and restrict the field of operations is a challenge. My current plan is to declare most of Andalusia out of bounds (by reasoning that Soult is so obsessed with the siege of Cadiz and the irregulars in the South, and so unlikely to wish to help anyone else, that this area is self contained). Similarly, I hope to ignore the East coast area around Valencia and Tortosa, since Suchet and his Spanish opponents in these parts can keep each other fully occupied. Galicia, too can be off-limits for this first campaign.

So, in my cut-down bit of the map, the French will have an Army of Portugal with, instead of the historical 8 divisions, 3 oversized ones, with artillery and cavalry in proportion. The Army of Portugal will probably be about 60% of the strength of the real one. There will be a scaled down Army of the Centre based around Madrid, and (very much a simplification of the real war) a representative Army of the North to look after the forts and communications in Navarre and Biscay.

Wellington will have an army consisting of his First, Third, Sixth, Seventh (one brigade missing) and Light Divisions, each being overstrength at the start. Cavalry and artillery, like their French equivalents, will be scaled to suit the reduced force.

The Spanish field army is not large (since I am choosing to ignore most of the areas where they were heavily involved) but does exist, and there is an arrangement whereby the irregular partisans of Castile, Navarre, Biscay and Aragon may pop up all over the place in their own province – not bound by the normal movement rules – but may not move or fight outside their own patch.

I’m doing quite a lot of work on this bit. I’ll post a detailed OOB when I’ve got it firmed up.

(3) One area of the rules I would like to test out before I start is my in-house tweaked version of Commands & Colors:Napoleonics, intended to cope with very large battles. I have not actually fought a battle with this yet, and would feel a lot more confident if I had that experience under my belt (so to speak). In this grand tactical variant of CCN, “units” are brigades, and there are still some changes being worked on to cope with Divisional artillery, which (at this moment) may be attached to a unit or detached from it in a manner very similar to Leaders in the standard CCN game.

I still have a lot of notes from my attempt to fight Los Arapiles last year, and it should be easy enough to borrow heavily from those to do it again using the CCN variant. I intend to stage that battle in the next couple of weeks, and after that the campaign should be ready to go. If the wind blows in a favourable direction, there should be an outline of the GT modifications to CCN here shortly, plus some kind of report of a Salamanca refight using them.

I do realise, of course, that much of the flexibility and informality which I would expect from doing this solo is seriously compromised by writing it up here, so I hope any readers will accept that I am feeling my way, and will cut me some slack accordingly!


  1. MSF

    Looks good. As a solo gamer looking at the same period and theatre, I'll be watching with interest.