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

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Solo Campaign – where is it?

Back in February I got a nice email from Francis, which prompted a time-out discussion of how my solo Peninsular War campaign worked. I was a bit shaken at the time to learn that Francis was sufficiently excited about my efforts to think about having a go himself.

This week Francis was in touch again, asking what has happened to the solo campaign – have I abandoned it?

It’s a good question, but the answer is no – the campaign continues, but has been delayed for a number of reasons, some of which are not really very good reasons at all.

(1) Recent bad attack of Real Life – I have been involved with banks and lawyers and an accountant and all sorts of people, trying to make sense of my mother’s finances (which are not in trouble – merely obscure) and also to do some work on a trust fund of which I am the managing trustee. Boring but necessary. In truth, the impact on hobby time has been less to do with the actual time spent on these tasks than with the dispiriting effect that they have. Spending an hour trying to have a sensible discussion with my “personal account manager” at RBS, for example, is a depressing experience for both of us.

(2) The English Civil War – my reading and the arrival of the first real troops have absorbed a lot of the available enthusiasm. Much of the hobby time I have had has been spent on this. That’s all fine – there’s no rush, after all.

(3) The amount of joy I get from the campaign has been dimmed a bit by a couple of early decisions I made which I now regret. This is not a terminal problem, and I intend to carry on anyway, but I wouldn’t do this campaign the same way again. The particular issues are:

(a) The intelligence rules don’t really work very well – more seriously, they are tedious enough to prompt me to take shortcuts or marginalise them. They would work well for two players with an umpire – this is a comment which is of general application to a number of the problems I’ve come up against, and is maybe a reflection of the inherent difficulty of making sense of a solo campaign – or at least of my failure to understand these difficulties fully in advance.

(b) The theatre of operations is hugely complex, and I thought I was being clever by adopting the game map from Omega Games’ “War to the Death”, which represents the peninsula as an array of “Area” boxes connected by notional roads. This greatly simplified the movement and supply rules. I also declared some parts of Spain off-limits for the game, to concentrate activity into the area around the Portuguese border and the roads back towards France and Madrid. In reality, this has forced the campaign into too few areas – the tendency is for big clumpy armies to march around the same parts of the map. I would have been happier with a more detailed map, and more detailed distribution of the forces, but the workload would have been impossible. Again, this is an area where the campaign would have worked better with two players and an umpire...

(c) This one is a real pain – I originally intended to write a little computer program to handle attrition, recruitment and battle losses and recovery for all the units. I didn’t, since I was not confident that the rules were firm enough, and since the dice-throwing rules I had drawn up looked simple in operation. This paper-based book-keeping is proving to be a lot of work – even with a battery of spreadsheets, it is a problem. I wish I had written that program – it would have reduced the workload of running the campaign by about 40%. The campaign will not work without the numbers, but I would rather spend my time on map movement, battles and writing up the account. An umpire would have had a problem with this too. I could still write the program, but it’s a bit late now.

Not another letter from my mother's lawyer?

So? So I’ll get back to the campaign very soon, with due apologies to anyone who has missed it, and with thanks to Francis for giving me a prod. The arrival of November and the greater emphasis on indoor activities will be a help.

I have been thinking of uniting the two separate parts of the Spanish “4th Army” by sailing one part around the Spanish coast on British ships, but need to add a few rules to make this work. I must read up on how fast ships sailed in 1812, and maybe introduce a random event which can sink the lot in a storm!

The campaign was still a good idea. I just needed more time and a new brain. 


  1. I am often surprised at how what a toll superficially minor personal affairs can take or at least how disruptive they are to active leisure.

    re campaign, how would you know without trying?

  2. looking forward to what Mr Tarlton has been or not been up to???

  3. I admire you for having a go at this campaign as a solo venture. Years ago I umpired a Napoleonic campaign by post (all the players were at a club on the other side of the country). This way of doing things has the advantage that you don't really need any campaign rules as the umpire can just make it up as he goes along, as long as the result is realistic and the battles generated are fun. Some of the players got right into character - I remember after one British victory that I received a beautifully painted miniature French Eagle along with Wellington's battle report!
    Involving another person as umpire also helps to keep things on track when campaign fatigue sets in. Of course these days it would be so much easier by email!

    1. Hi Ian - Like you, my past experience of campaigns has been as umpire and organiser and - provided the players stayed enthusiastic and got their weekly order sheets in the post (postal in those days) it worked well. As you say, any holes in the rules could be improvised by the umpire, and if things got dull, or if the armies started marching in the wrong direction, the umpire could improvise something or "leak" some captured intelligence.

      The rules package I drew up for the solo effort was mostly based on what I knew of the umpired game, and such insight as I had gained by being involved in it. Given that it is a solo campaign, and since I am by default the Supreme Umpire, I could easily have made the campaign a charade, and just scripted a framework to generate battles. I was pleased to have the thing visible on the blog, because that sort of forced me to play it as straight as possible.

      I have, in any case, always been fascinated by the wargame as a facilitation of a piece of simulated (i.e. fake) history - I'll run the game, but as much as anything I want to see what happens - so for a solo game I am a combined umpire/spectator! That is also why I am never too worried about winning a game - even if it's my game, I'm somehow privileged to have the chance to be there to watch it develop. (It goes without saying that I would have been appalled beyond anything by a real battle!).

      My attempt to make it map-based at all has been brave(!) but maybe ill-advised - I could have constructed a campaign which used randomly selected bits of the armies in randomly assigned terrain/scenario settings, and awarded points for results (or something) - it would have been less realistic in one sense, but I would have got bogged down less.

      My plan for the continuation is to be less dependant on the rules, which have more inadequacies than I had hoped, and be more prepared to script things to keep them moving. At the present moment, with the French back on the Spanish side of the border, the armies could spend 3 months just glaring at each other - wouldn't make much of a game, though!

      Cheers - thanks for your comments, as ever - Tony