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

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Solo Campaign – Questions from the Floor

I received a couple of emails about my solo Peninsular War campaign, in particular one from Francis (who, alarmingly, is thinking of maybe basing a solo campaign of his own on what I am doing), which asked some very perceptive questions, and reminded me that a few things here are maybe not obvious to anyone other than myself, and there are quite a few things I hadn’t thought of!

The main questions were:

(1) Are there some strategies at work here, or are the armies just blundering about the map, making it up from move to move?

(2) How do the Intelligence rules work?

(3) Is this really a solo game, or are you scripting it to keep it interesting?

(4) What happens when Groups meet in one of the Areas?

First thing to own up to is that, since this is a solo effort, and a new activity for me, I am going to massage it a little if I need to, to keep things reasonable and make it worth continuing. Some of the rules are evolving (which means that if they are not working I will drop them or change them on the fly).

Here’s an attempt to answer Francis’ questions – the photo of the map in the previous post might help make sense of all this.

(1) Strategies

The starting position was loosely derived from the actual historical situation in January 1812 – I took a number of liberties to avoid being forced down the acting-out-strict-history route, such as handing Ciudad Rodrigo to the Allies, and I limited the campaign area on the map to keep the thing playable in terms of the available troops in The Cupboard and the amount which my poor old brain can cope with. I am beginning to regret putting Galicia (top left corner) out of bounds, since it may be the only way for the French to provide any threat at all against Portugal – I may reconsider this...

Strategy, both initial and developing, is mostly a question of looking at the map, considering any standing orders, how much each commander knows of the true position (and this bit isn’t working brilliantly), what they would be likely to do, and throwing dice to choose between options where necessary. I also have a vague collection of random Events which can affect things, and the most useful innovation has been occasionally to ask someone else what they think. Naturally I usually ignore the input, but it is a useful sounding board! If all else fails, of course, I shall make it all up on the spot – why else would anyone play a solo campaign?

The chief strategy for both armies is really to destroy the enemy army – there are some technicalities like capturing Lisbon or getting the French out of Castilla, but the reality is that the French will not get anywhere near Lisbon unless something pretty awful happens to the Allied army, and the only way the French will pull out of Castilla is if they become too weak to hold it. The border forts are a major obstacle – the French objective at the start was to get Wellington to spread his forces too thinly (e.g. siege at Badajoz and a separate force in the Salamanca area), and destroy the bits in detail – this requires the French to optimise the grouping of their own forces, without leaving the key supply route from France (and now Sevilla) unprotected.

The French plan has not been helped by their unsuccessfully attacking Espana at Zamora – an action which was not at all necessary.

Wellington’s strategy initially was to do something about Badajoz, attack any French army which is small enough to make a likely prospect, and attempt to cut the supply through Pamplona and Burgos and Valladolid. Groups without supply risk the dreaded Demoralisation, which can melt away an army through desertion and sickness, particularly in mountainous (non-fertile) areas, and particularly in winter. Also, Groups which are not In Supply do not get their monthly injection of reinforcements and replacements.

After 4 weeks, with some cajoling from Paris, Marmont has now fallen back to the line of the Duero near Valladolid, taken in reinforcements from outlying parts of his Armee de Portugal and the Armee du Centre, and has his supply route from Bayonne protected. After his defeat at Corrales, his original plan was to fall back to Burgos, but the pursuit has been less vigorous than he expected and the reinforcement has been quicker than it might have been. He now has something like parity of numbers with Wellington's army. Wellington can only feasibly cross the Duero at Toro, a position which the French have well defended. There is a lesser road across country to Tordesillas, but I have assumed it would not be practicable in February – it’s Toro or nothing.

Wellington might have done well to attack the retreating Marmont at Salamanca before the French supports were available, and before Marmont crossed the Duero. He did not because of a dice throw, and also (partly) because I was a bit concerned the campaign would be over in a few weeks! As things stand after 4 weeks, he will not risk attacking Marmont in his current position - he has no superiority of numbers now, and the river is a major obstacle. He could make some movement to his left, through Zamora to Leon, but this would remove or weaken the force separating Marmont from Ciudad Rodrigo and the Portuguese border. Or Wellington could move to his right, through Avila, threatening Madrid, but the roads are not good, and the French could cover that with some ease.

Wellington is some 5 weeks march from his supply base at Lisbon – an unfavourable Event could screw up his supplies very badly – and he is thinking of falling back to Almeida and Abrantes, where he would be close enough to the border to react to any initiative the French might take, and where he presents a threat to Badajoz, and wait for better weather (Spring starts in April!).

Yes, it is a bit vague – I agree.

(2) Intelligence

The answer to “how does this work?” might currently be “not as well as I hoped”. There are a couple of the random Events which influence this – captured orders, the activities of spies and partisans – but mostly I have lifted the Scouting & Intelligence rules from Battle Cries, the unpublished campaign system for Battle Cry. I have recently tweaked this yet again – rather than talk around it, here is the current version from my draft rules:

8.0 Scouting & Intelligence
This is an optional addition to the rules. Groups on the map will be aware of each other to varying degrees. When they need to know who is near them, their knowledge will be based on reports which may be of 4 types:
8.1 Types of Reports: There are four types of intelligence reports (No Information, Fragmentary, Partial, and Detailed) that can be obtained by scouting and other information gathering.
8.1.1 No Information: The Group is unaware of the enemy’s presence.
8.1.2 Fragmentary Report: The report merely indicates the presence of an enemy and, if D6 > 3, the identity of one (screening) unit – dice for which. Overall details of Group strength, name of commander and type of troops are not known.
8.1.3 Partial Report: Report reveals presence of enemy, and reports the strength as [2D3]/4 of true strength. Also identity of one (screening) unit – dice for which. No details of commander.
8.1.4 Detailed Report: Accurate estimate of enemy strength, plus the name of the commander.
8.2 Effectiveness of Intelligence: Only Areas that are connected by roads can be scouted by Combat Groups. The following five sources provide (or influence) intelligence reports on enemy movements. In the event that more than one Report can be given on an Area, the most informative report will be employed.
8.2.1 Combat Groups with No Cavalry and with no Irregular Infantry: The Combat Group gets a Fragmentary Report on adjacent Areas.
8.2.2 Combat Groups with Cavalry or Irregular Infantry: The Combat Group gets a Partial Report on all adjacent Areas unless the Area has enemy cavalry or irregulars located in it. In that case a Fragmentary Report is issued in its place.
8.2.3 Cavalry Combat Groups (including scouting patrols): all-Cavalry Combat Groups get a Detailed Report on all adjacent Areas unless the Area has enemy cavalry in it. In that case a Partial Report is issued instead. In addition, a Partial Report is issued for all Areas that are two Steps away, unless that Area has enemy cavalry in it. In that case a Fragmentary Report is issued instead.
8.2.4 Civilian Sympathies: Because of the anti-French stance of local citizens and partisans, the Allied/Spanish side always gets Reports enhanced by one status level (thus a Fragmentary Report is upgraded to Partial, etc), while French Groups in “brown” Areas have their Reports degraded by one level (a Fragmentary Report becomes No Information).
8.2.5 Naval Patrols: In addition to land-based scouting, the British Navy can obtain a Fragmentary Report on any Area which is a Port.

(3) Scripting or not

I think I’ve probably answered this – it is amusing to add extra details to the narrative of why something happened, though it shouldn’t distort anything. If the survival of the campaign requires a bit of distortion, however, I’ll probably go for it...

(4) Inside Areas

To keep the game simple, the Areas on the map are big – they may be named after a city which is contained in them, but there’s a whole pile of countryside in there too. It’s also necessary for me to remember that the map is merely a representation – however it looks, there is no land between the Areas, and the roads simply show how the Areas are connected.  Areas are roughly classed as rugged or not (brown or green), which will influence the terrain on any battlefield, but the main job when contacts occur is to get a detailed map out and see what is what. I have modern maps, but the most valuable resource is the reproduction of the contemporary map from Foy’s Histoire de la Guerre de la Peninsule sous Napoleon (1827) – this map is also reproduced, in sections, in Napoleon’s War in Spain by Henri Lachouque, and probably elsewhere.

The old map shows the roads as they were at the time, especially the river crossings. A bit of reasoning will identify suitable battlefields, and the trusty dice will clarify areas of doubt! Oman – or any other military appraisal – also provides invaluable analysis of the geography, and there’s a pile of useful stuff in Marmont’s memoirs and Wellington’s Despatches, so I get a lot of fun reading out of this aspect, which, now I think about it, might not work so well with an opponent, unless an umpire did the study and the set-up!  

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting thougths. Waiting to see more!