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


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Wanted: Time Machine - a Whiff of Foy's 10th Law


Following on from yesterday's posting on the Solo Campaign, and with particular reference to the second week of my Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo, I received a comment which bothered me a little more than I would have expected. For a start, it was something of a put-down - informative in a way which is clearly intended to demonstrate the superiority of the informer rather than to provide help. For another thing, it was anonymous, which I don't care for either, so I didn't publish it. So there.

I am reminded of my old Hooptedoodle note about Foy's Tenth Law, which you can find here if you are interested.

To clarify a point, I am aware that a siege was a complicated process, involving a series of formal, defined steps, a lot of science and received methodology, a load of back-breaking labour and in incredible amount of bravery. I'm certainly not an expert, but I've read enough to understand roughly how it worked. My nameless correspondent felt that my reducing something as "immense" as a siege to a series of "stupid dice rolls and a look-up table" was trivialising an "important and dingified" [sic?] aspect of warfare in a way which he considered to be pathetic. My own irritation is probably at least partly due to my recognising some truth in this(!), but sadly he did not go on to explain how I could have done a more satisfactory job of fitting open-ended sieges into a map campaign with a weekly order-cycle. If you're still out there, my friend, I'd be pleased to hear more.

All wargames are by definition artificial and unrealistic to an extent - a favourite hobbyhorse of mine - otherwise we would not survive them. What we really need, for complete realism, is to be transported back to the actual event and take part in it. I haven't any good ideas how to do that, either, but if Mr Anonymous has, I hope he will take the trouble to stand right on the top of the Great Breach during the height of the action.  

16 comments:

  1. I had a longer post developing as I read through your thoughts but this sums it up very nicely:

    "All wargames are by definition artificial and unrealistic to an extent ... otherwise we would not survive them."

    If anything, it is the die rolls we use that bring a poor sort of dignity to what is otherwise a vicious and ugly pursuit.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Been there. Didn't actually punch the person on the nose on any of the occasions, being a non-violent wargamer, but usually argued with them in my head off and on for 3 days.

    My own argument to myself is that it takes considerably more ingenuity and expertise to reduce a complex issue to workable simplicity than it does to just do things straight up heedless of practicalities.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 'Argued with them in my head' - that's the one! While mowing the lawn I regularly have a real go at all sorts of people I have had disagreements with since I was about 10. Is that certifiable? I don't do it so much at other times - maybe I don't like mowing, or maybe I've come to associate the two activities.

      Clive S once told me of the expression 'esprit d'escalier', which is a reference to all the things we realise we should have said, as we are going downstairs on the way out. It's a lifestyle thing.

      In fact, the guy is right - my little siege system is brave but feeble, but it is still preferable to ignoring sieges altogether, which is the usual approach. He is still an asshole, however - with respect.

      Delete
  3. I think the comment is correct. Your siege simulator is not nearly 'dingified' enough. What we need is much more dingification.

    Seriosly, he has to be a Premier League asshole. - Lou

    ReplyDelete
  4. Well we may never know who the commenter was. So maybe you should go out in your backyard, start digging a trench and post some pictures of your attempt to learn about the intricacies of digging trenches to besiege a fort? Maybe you can do it on a rainy day, eat nothing but bread and soup. Maybe this would make the guy happy if you were reenacting the event?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great Idea, majesty - watch this space. No, seriously.

      There is a classic story (I'd like to think it is true) about someone meeting the notorious Scottish wargamer George W Jeffrey out in the countryside one wet Sunday. George, it is said, was checking out how much muddy ploughed fields would slow down marching troops with heavy packs. Now there's dedication.

      Not quite dingification, though. MSF

      Delete
  5. Dignifies? Possibly, Stately? Absolutely; in a Louis XIV sort of way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think I would have liked to be present, but the sieges of Louis and Vauban etc seem to me to have been a bit more formal in the choreography department. In those days of professional armies, if I see that you have dug your trenches and approaches and batteries nice and straight, and according to the rules then, if you offer me terms after a decent interval, I will surrender like a good chap, march out with bands playing, and expect a jolly good dinner for my officers. That is war for gentlemen. All gets spoiled a bit when Napoleon says no fort governor may surrender before he's suffered at least one storm, when the Spaniards are unschooled enough to fight to the death - that's not cricket at all!

      Delete
  6. I recall once during my re enacting days sitting before the camp fire trying to look all authentic as the coffee brewed (ACW)and enjoying the inquisitive looks from the 'public' when a woman in running gear came bustling towards us and shouted "What is wrong with you lot? Don't we have enough of war in this world, enough killing and slaughter, that you feel the need to play silly soldiers" .. and resumed her morning run. Some people simply don't get it I suppose.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She might well have been right, though presumably we are better playing at it than doing it. I assume one of the sentry guards shot her through the head?

      Delete
    2. Yes, it made me think, but then I already knew that what we did was to some extent 'glorifying' warfare in some people eyes, but I always thought of it as 'research' and it was just a fun way to spend a weekend. I think I may even have considered it to be some kind of tribute to the courage of those who endured that terrible slaughter. I'm not sure how this ties in with your post now..... I think I was trying to agree that re enactment be it on a table top or in a muddy field is always a compromise of course.

      Lee.

      Delete
    3. Hi Lee - I liked your story, and I think the point was well made.

      I suspect the lady was not particularly given to understanding other people's views - she maybe wasn't such a liberal pacifist as she liked to believe - like certain extreme animal rights people who are prepared to hurt or maim people to demonstrate their gentle concern - let's not go there!

      I think all of us who re-enact or play at warfare, or study it as a hobby, have a little soul-searching to go through. I am fascinated by warfare because it has been such a huge shaper of history, whether we like it or not, and because it gives an insight into human behaviour - both good and bad - which I find difficult to fathom, and which feels important. If we have a comparatively prosperous way of life in Britain today then it is not because we take regular exercise or make nice cakes - it is primarily a legacy of having once been powerful enough to acquire and exploit an Empire - a fact, again, which I am not always comfortable with, but a fact, I think.

      Anyone who has spent any time studying or playing at war is likely to have a very clear idea of its cruelty and inhumanity - you very quickly come to realise how little chance the rank and file on your tabletop stand in the overall scheme of things. I don't think wargaming either glorifies or trivialises actual war - I think it just allows us to look at what is (probably unfortunately) an inescapable part of human nature.

      Overall I am a pacifist, I think, but I see more that is admirable in, say, Napoleon than in, say, Rupert Murdoch.

      Delete
    4. Monsieur General Foy,

      You are right, sentries are needed in some cases to protect the equipment. I did some ACW reenacting, sleeping in the cold, wearing those horrible shoes, marching miles in the heat etc. In the end, you learn not to write off the rank and file and you begin seeing all those officers on horses really aren't as neat as they appear on a table top.

      On a side note, I did meet some interesting folks and yes, women do like the uniform, even if you're dressed up as a Yankee infantryman trying to "liberate" their great state. In the end, the table top approach is much less stressful and you have temperature control in the house.

      Delete
    5. Votre majeste - good story! Is it true that the boots were made so they would fit on either foot?

      In the real event, especially in very rural areas, I guess any stranger would potentially be of interest to the women, to shake up a limited gene pool?

      I read less of them now, but I used to have a great fondness of published personal memoirs and letters from wars - less so from the generals, since they always felt a need to cover themselves and display their grasp of the strategy. The other ranks and the junior officers give a better idea what it was like to march for days on crappy roads, with not much to eat, no comfort at all and little idea where they were headed. This is the stuff that tends to reinforce my admiration for the human spirit.

      Bonne chance - MSF

      Delete

To avoid spam and advertising material, comments are moderated on this blog, and will appear once I have seen them.