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

Sunday, 4 January 2015

ECW Campaign – Erm…? – a quick time-out

A detached look at running a solo campaign
This follows from an email that Martin S sent me - he is one of a few regular correspondents I have who comment by email since they refuse on principle to have Google accounts in any shape or form – I respect this, but choose not to have a view on it (of course). His email was, as always, friendly and amusing, but his main message was a large question mark in response to my ECW campaign – what the hell is this?

I do the blog and the campaign for my own amusement, of course, but it has been fairly apparent that reaction to the campaign thus far has been less than rapturous, shall we say, and I wondered if there were others who felt, like Martin, that it seems to be, in his words, “a vague sort of fairy tale with toy soldiers”.

This is not intended as a justificatory piece, but it might at least help me to get my own head straight about what I’m doing – and if no-one reads it, it doesn’t matter anyway!

I very much enjoyed the Peninsular War-type solo campaign I did a year or two ago (or whenever it was), but a few things cropped up which could have been better (as in “easier”, or “more fun”). First, the scale of the campaign was very ambitious for a solo effort – the book-keeping and the application of the very detailed intelligence and supply rules drove it, pretty much, and that took a lot of hard work. The bits I enjoyed most were when I was getting stuck, or bogged down, and I took some kind of sideways political swipe to change the game and keep it moving – thus the occasional sacking of generals, and having Napoleon overturn the French strategy from his armchair in Paris, produced some of the best moments. This is, after all, the greatest single advantage of a solo game. In essence, my Peninsular narrative was driven by the rules, but the most enjoyable bits were when the narrative took over for a while. Also, my attempts to isolate a bit of Spain so that I could ignore the off-map goings-on (to keep the scope finite) did not work too well. At best, some distortions arose; at worst, the game became a little silly at times – some of the events just would not have happened in the real history.

OK – that was Lesson One – let’s spend less time on the hospital returns, reduce the scale, put more emphasis on the narrative as the driver and – for the context of the ECW campaign – try to get away from the constraints imposed by real places and real people – they always push you towards real events. [I remember reading some of the paperwork that some friends were producing for yet another postal Peninsular campaign years ago, and I was struck by the fact that they used an overall map which (I think) came from one of Michael Glover’s books – which showed the principal towns that featured in the real war, the roads which featured in the real campaign, and even the battlefields. I made a jocular suggestion that one of the generals was going to have to get a move on, because otherwise he would be late for the Battle of Albuera (which was, of course, marked on their map), and the total humour failure which greeted this comment revealed that I might have hit a nerve. These chaps had not intended to do a botched-up re-enactment campaign, but they had accidentally forced themselves into something very similar.]

So my ECW campaign is narrative driven. The fake geography is the easy bit. It is also peopled by fake individuals – this is my first ever look at an imagi-nation style storyline, and I spent some time reading Tony Bath and others on how you define (and use) the personalities of made-up people. I also had a look at a booklet which I downloaded from the world of fantasy gaming – a field I thought might lend itself ideally to what I had in mind – but I confess that I got scared very quickly, so abandoned it, for fear that I might end up living in some kind of parallel universe, with people I had invented (and didn’t like).

I also backed off quite a way from the thorough treatment Tony Bath describes; thus I have stuffed my OOB lists with individuals whose rough, high level character is known to me, and the decision points in the narrative (the theory goes) are to be driven as required by roughly assessing some probabilities, and rolling the odd die. As an example, given Lord Porteous’ lack of confidence, the most likely scenario in Week 4 was that his army would sit tight until the reinforcement from Northumberland arrived to hold his hand – in the event, the dice threw up a bit of a shock, in that his self-obsession and his taste for intrigue (let us say) produced an unlikely decision to take the offensive, without waiting for them. The surprise adds to the fun, I find.

Porteous’ performance at Midlawton was also something of a long-shot. Having found himself on the battlefield, the most likely strategy was that he would dither around until he was forced to react to the enemy’s taking the initiative. In fact the dice said otherwise – improbable though it seemed, he would attack immediately. Since I felt that such an attack would ruin his army, and thus possibly wreck the campaign at an early stage, I considered giving the dice another chance(!), but decided to stick with the surprise strategy to see what happened.

Which brings us up to date. The Sir Henry Figge-Newton character (Parliamentarian C-in-C) is a political appointment, and my reading of the machinations of the Parliament leadership suggested it might be fun to make him a mystery figure – we don’t really know why he is there, we don’t really know what he is like. I thought it was amusing that he appeared on the battlefield at Midlawton in his carriage – where he stayed throughout. It is said that he was there with his military secretary, but we don’t really know if he was there at all. He appears happy to let Aspinall do all the work, and – potentially – take any blame that is going. He also seems content to live as well as possible, Puritan values or not, so he maybe feels he has a lot to lose – these appointments do not come along very often…

That’s really more than I wanted to say about this (but you would expect that). I might add that, from a wargame point of view, my return to the C&C-based tabletop rules for the big battle was a joy and a delight – like getting back into a warm bed on a cold morning. I was particularly pleased with the variants to cope with using the 10-foot table, and the “brigade move” tweak – the brigade structure of each army is denoted by attaching coloured counters; the units in a brigade, and their brigade commander, each have a distinctive colour attached. On “section” type Command Cards (those which refer to a flank, or the centre), this tweak allows an order to be given to a Leader who is attached to a unit in his own brigade, and he may issue additional orders to a concatenated group of units from the same brigade – no gaps – a daisy-chain system. It worked really well – for a big battle on a big table, it does away with the need to have bonus moves or double card-plays to keep things moving. Very pleased with that. The brigades stayed together, the brigadiers were proactive – and, as a result, they took a few wounds.

I’m also very pleased with a comment received from Michael, who has entered into the spirit of the thing sufficiently to suggest that Lord Sefton, the excitable cavalry commander on the Royalist side, could be played by Trevor Howard. Excellent – apart from the fact that this is great casting, I am heartened to consider that I might not be the only bloke around who is daft enough to think of this stuff. As a background project, I am now taking suggestions for who should play the various characters in the eventual movie of this campaign. Let us not worry that the movie might turn out to be very short – nor that such an idea is even more far-fetched than my fairy story. Let us not concern ourselves, either, with taking all our players from the same time – thus far I have Stephen Fry pencilled in as Lord Porteous, and I have Russell Crowe and Michael Redgrave on my short list for other roles.

It might be a weird way to run a campaign, but I’m really enjoying myself!

Once upon a time, long, long ago, there lived a king...


  1. My 1st reaction which is probably ingenuous if not downright dishonest is "what does it matter as long as you're enjoying it?". Life isnt that simple esp since you are taking the time and effort to blog it.

    My 2nd is that I whole heartedly approve of the approach you have taken.

    My 3rd is that I have enjoyed the pictures and battles but am far too ignorent of the social and geographic etc background of the English portion of my forebearers to really grasp the campaign narratives so just nod approvingly rather than comment.

    Carry on sir.

    1. Thanks Ross - that's supportive and encouraging. You're right - it really doesn't matter what I do, nor how people react to it, but as a general rule of thumb it is as well to notice if people cross to the other side of the street when they see me coming - there may be something I should usefully know!

      In my spare moments I am currently pondering what the future holds for Lord Porteous, who has not done well, and it is a fine luxury to have stuff like that to play with in my head - it offers a lightweight balance to wrestling with the accounts, or (today's challenge) assisting with my son's maths homework...

      Cheers - Tony

  2. Carry on! Carry on! It all sounds wonderful.

    Best Regards,


    1. Oh - right - thanks, Stokes...

      ...well, anyway, it seems this king had some rather old fashioned ideas about how he should rule his people...

      Cheers - Tony

  3. Yes, I strongly agree that you should carry on regardless. I think your campaign is more cinematic than simple narrative. More fairy tale and less bean counting.

    As an interested observer my only requirement is for a dramatis personae so I can tell who is who and, most importantly, what side they are on. As we are in panto season I strongly favour booing the bad guys and cheering the goodies. I can be partisan because I'm not running the campaign so that makes it a great, and unpredictable, story.



    1. Hi Jay - thank you, sir! Nearest thing to a dramatis personae currently is the OOB at Midlawton (previous post) - when the more northern chappies arrive, there'll be more details. Some of the characters have still to develop, anyway - LOOK BEHIND YOU...!

  4. I'm in the same position as Ross because I don't really know much about the period (although I don't have the excuse of living in a different country!) but I enjoy seeing how you are playing out the game. I admire the way you can undertake something like this solo as my own solo attempts at games have been poor and I've never tried a campaign that way at all.

    I would say that a lack of comments doesn't necessarily mean a lack of interest!

    1. Thanks Ian - no, it's OK, I'm not wounded by lack of comments(!), the numbers of hits on the campaign posts have been pretty low - probably because it's a bit specialised - my post on tangerines did far better! I think the Bold Martin's concern in his email was that it doesn't seem like yer average campaign report, which is fair enough. I've read blogs like Stokes' and a few others for years, where we are told a lot about the domestic arrangements and protocols of various fictitious royal households etc - I've always enjoyed that stuff very much, but never tried it before.

      As for knowledge of the period, I believe you are surrounded by battlefields of the ECW where you are - the whole area is dripping with history!

  5. I say carry on too! I find myself not having the leisure to study your narrative in depth but do enjoy the campaign grid and the BatReps. Without a good grasp of what you are striving for, a comment from me might simply prove my ignorance.

    An Executive Summary of the politics and operational aspects of the campaign to set up the battle would be ideal for me.

    1. Jon - as soon as I've worked out what I'm striving for, I'll let you know! Thanks for your support, I shall always wear it.

  6. I love this approach to campaigning, and am taking lots of notes for a Napoleonic campaign I want to run myself. It's lots of fun and is a good, simple way to generate complex games with interesting dynamics, which is the only proper function of campaign mechanics. All extra complications are unnecessary.

  7. I'd say keep on keeping on Tony. It took me a while to get into it, but once I started to read the last posting on the Battle of Midlawton, it came to life for me.

    As for the screen version, there's got to be a role in it for Alun Armstrong (not the one who played for Stockport County).