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

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Solo Campaign – Strategy Time-Out

When I started the campaign, and the kick-off date appears to have been 24th January last year, I hoped to play it through a single game year, ending around November 1812. I didn’t expect to keep up with the 200-years-ahead time schedule, so never seriously adopted that as an approach (though it would have been nice). I tried to avoid committing myself to anything which I was unlikely to be able to keep going. The game has slipped, of course, and the rules have sometimes caused me less delight than I had hoped, but I have kept at it (with gaps) and am very pleased that it has gone as well as it has. The delays were partly due to a couple of major family problems this year and partly (of course) self inflicted – viz. the accumulation of a pair of English Civil War armies from scratch during the same period.

I have no regrets – in truth it has gone far better than it might have, but recent developments in the game have left me with cause to ponder carefully what happens next. The Allied side are now in a strong position – the French have abandoned Madrid, have taken but then lost Ciudad Rodrigo and have almost been pushed out of Castile, but any further progress towards the Pyrenees looks unlikely. The possibility of the Spanish army cutting north behind Burgos and cutting the French supply routes has been removed with the disaster at Vinuesa, and, with about 6 weeks left before the Winter weather returns – which affects both the roads and the ability of any force of greater than divisional size to move away from the established wagon train routes – I have something of an impasse.

One of my clearest objectives in the time that is left (for the campaign – not for me!) is not to mess it up by doing something silly – fun though that might be. The Allied position, with large armies in Zamora and Salamanca, is solid enough. If they optimize the supply arragements from Porto and Lisbon, and if they get provisions from the Spanish, then the Earl of Aigburth can probably just about set up his winter quarters now, in mid-September, without retiring to Portugal. His position could be turned by a French army coming round from Galicia into Northern Portugal, but such an army would be isolated and almost certainly doomed.

The French have three fair-sized armies at Leon (Marmont), Valladolid (Clauzel) and Aranda (Jourdan), and the area between this line (roughly the Duero River) and the French border is stiff with a lattice-work of fortresses held by second line troops. With the (temporary?) removal of the Spanish threat, it appears that the French are best placed to make the next step – if there is to be one.

That’s the issue – the next step. My rules include a series of external random influences which can crop up as the result of one of the weekly dice checks, or they can also crop up if I think things are flagging a bit – this can also be termed “cheating”, but why else would one run a solo campaign? These influences have worked well, without too much unseemly scripting – Joseph’s dithering between his instructions to take a more aggressive stance and his fear for his capital at Madrid, for example, has had the French marching back and forwards a few times, and resulted in the main field army now being split into three, rather than two.

So I decided that I would write down a number of options which the French might go for, attach rough probabilities to them, keeping in view some recent external directives such as the need to preserve the armies in case they are needed for Russia, and stage some Great Ritual Dice Roll.

Appropriately formal proceedings
I am not so comfortable with the idea of a GRDR, to be honest. It could result in a quick and undignified ending to something that has occupied part of my brain for the last 20 months – something which I would hope to read the notes for, years from now, without embarrassment and with fond memories. The other bit of GRDRs which doesn’t seem right is the ease with which one can choose to reject an unpopular result and declare another roll – OK, OK - this next one is definitely it…

So I took it all seriously – no messing about. I wrote out a list of possibilities for the French, which included fairly dull options such as settling down for the Winter immediately, some pretty crazy ones such as sending Marmont in a loop into Portugal to turn the Allied left, some gallant-but-foolhardy ones such as collecting the armies into bigger lumps, ignoring the exposure of the supply routes, and attacking one of the Allied armies opposing them (that would be exciting, but I can’t see why the French would do that, so it got a lowish probability), and some extreme ones like a complete withdrawal from Spain – give the thing up as a bad job. There were all sorts of mix-and-match compromises on the list as well. Once the list and the odds were finalized, I got out one of the posh dice trays, poured myself a celebratory brandy (not sure how that fits in, but it seemed to add to the formality), decided against dressing for the occasion and got on with it.

If you’re still reading this ramble, you’re probably wondering why I have taken so long to come to the point. What unspeakable cataclysm has befallen the campaign? If I’m embarrassed about it, why didn’t I just quietly re-roll and cheat in the time-honoured manner?

All right – I’ve camped this up and apologized for it too much already. It is not good news.

The orders will be cloaked in Napoleon-speak when they come, but Joseph has been advised that a strategic withdrawal from Spain is ultimately inevitable. The place has turned out to be more trouble than it is worth anyway, but the thing that clinches it is that events in Russia are going much worse than they did in actual history. As a first stage, a proportion of the troops are to pack up their stuff and start marching for Bayonne as soon as possible – if they start now they should make it over the Pyrenees before the end of November. The troops to be withdrawn are:
  1. Bonet’s French division (which is mainly deployed in the coastal fortress towns on the Bay of Biscay)
  2. All the Italians
  3. All the contingents of the Confederation of the Rhine (and there are a lot of them)
  4. The remaining troops from the Vistula Legion
  5. All Garde Nationale units in garrisons (who are destined to be converted to regulars)

Nassauers - going home soon? - well, not exactly...
This has the immediate effect of reducing the total French force in Northern Spain from about 81000 to about 41000 – which is pretty much a cataclysm, right enough. In particular, Jourdan’s Armée du Centre is left with no infantry at all, so at the very least a major reshuffle will be required. It is difficult to see how the general withdrawal can be delayed much after that.

There you are – I’ve done it. I’ve even drunk the brandy, so I can’t just re-roll the dice now. There will be appropriate formal announcements in the normal campaign reports shortly, once Minister of War Clarke has thought how to break the news to the Marshals – a major challenge for the Imperial spin doctors.

I guess this means that the Allies are going to win after all. I haven’t felt much euphoria yet myself, but Wellington will be as sick as a parrot.


Late edit: I would welcome suggestions as to what job King Joseph can be offered next, to present this in a good light, to preserve the dignity of the Imperial family and to offer the poor beggar a little consolation. He has already been forced to give up a rather idyllic career as King of Naples to take this Spanish gig, so his feelings are not to be ignored - though it will be OK if he takes a little blame. It doesn't seem likely that the job of Tsar of Russia is likely to be an available opening, but something of that sort of stature would be good...


  1. So we may see Wellington in southern France early in 1813?

    1. I've a little way to go with the campaign to finish off the year - it would be nice if it could end with a series of dots - the possibility of a sequel. Once the French start moving backwards, it becomes increasingly silly to ignore the French army in Andalucia, which has grated a little - the campaign should have been better defined in scope, and if i do this again I'll use a different map system, vastly different intelligence rules, and computerise the hospitals/losses/reinforcements procedures, which have been a real grunt (as I have found with previous campaigns, the book-keeping was a big chore).

      So - a campaign in Southern France in 1813 is a possibility, but not for a while, and in any case it wouldn't be Wellington if it were a continuation. First, I want to try a smaller (and less intimidating?) ECW campaign - probably in somewhere that is very similar to Cheshire and Lancashire...

      No, no - FIRST I have to get the Peninsular Campaign of 1812 finished off tidily.

      If you have any thoughts on the ECW campaign, I'd be very appreciative of suggestions - I might well ignore them, of course, but I'd think about them first.

      Cheers - Tony

    2. I've never tried a solo campaign so I don't think I have anything useful to suggest in that respect. I did though many years back run an 1809 campaign across a map of the whole of Europe. The players were all members of the same wargames group and I ran the whole thing by mail (pre email !) from a distance of 200 miles. I started out with a set of rules but quickly did away with these and just winged it (the players of course had no idea how I was resolving things).

      I say this really just to make the point that it might be a lot less work to involve a remote umpire (so much easier these days with email) for your next solo campaign so that you could focus on strategy and tactics rather than book keeping - just a thought!

    3. Like you, just about all my previous experience of campaigns has been in the role of umpire/organiser, and that was pre-email too! I really believe that umpires are a terrific asset in any kind of wargaming, but not many people would want the job. I am aware of the problems that Paul Lenister(?) had with one of his campaigns - he fought the battles and organised everything, and the remote players (to me, at least) seemed to have a very peripheral involvement - I assume his later campaigns have been more comfortable in this respect. I didn't mean to digress there, nor to take a poke at Paul - my point is that i am generally very positive about umpires, but it has to be organised at the right level, or you don't encourage commitment from the other players. I'm happy to do it all myself again - for the map system for a small ECW campaign I'm keen to try the Perfect Captain Battlefinder system (with my own tweaked cards), and I'll certainly set up some kind of proper spreadsheet system for the book-keeping, which should be less of an overhead with a smaller campaign.

      Your thoughts are good and useful - many thanks! I would be interested if it were possible to involve someone else in the ECW campaign - that requires either that the rules are bomb-proof or you have an umpire. Hmmm.

      Cheers - Tony

  2. Hi Tony,
    A victory, even if a bit anti-climactic, is still cause for celebration. Hurrah for the boys in red!
    And in this butterfly-minded hobby, completing anything, especially something as involved as a 20-month campaign, is a personal victory. Well done!
    As to Joseph, here is something you could add to a table of possibilities that might prolong the war. What if there were some kind of major shakeup in Germany, e.g., the 1848 uprising came early, a dynastic gap, something that would allow Nappy to set up a larger and more united entity than the German Confederation? A German nation, with or without Prussia, would attract many who would otherwise be indifferent, and might provide more support when the Russians and Austrians move West next year. And who better for a supposedly-temporary ruler than the Emperor's brother?
    Anyway, it's been a pleasure to watch your campaign unfold.

    1. Thank you John - for the kind comments and especially for your idea, of which I have adopted a scaled-down version, as you may bee in later posts....

      I've really enjoyed the campaign - I've never done this before, and I still have a little way to go with it, so I'm looking to do more of the same in future.

      Cheers - Tony

  3. Better a campaign that ends earlier than planned than one that slowly peters out, dying of dust asphyxiation.

    So, Joseph, he's settled Spain now, perhaps its time to have him sort Argentina out if someone can get a frigate through.....

    1. If the French are shrinking and pulling back, there may be more fighting before the year end. There are plans for Joe - two posts later!

      Cheers - Tony