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

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Siege Testing - (5) Afterthoughts

The Siege Test was a success – there were a few things I now understand better, a few things I won’t bother with again, and a few things I didn’t get to try out properly – specifically mining and the little matter of provisions. These last bits I’ll look at again; for the moment, the chief success is that I played through a siege and it worked. It would have been awful if I had collected all these houses and fortress parts and trenches and gone to all this trouble and then the game had been a complete washout. So I’m very pleased with that.

Another valuable lesson was that it reminded me, once again, why I play wargames in the way I do, and what does or does not work for me. What (in short) I get out of it.

Well, I mostly play solo, for a number of reasons, and one reason that this is good for me is that I regard myself to some extent as a privileged witness to a bit of fake history. I’ve written this here before, and, yes, I am the presenter and the facilitator, and the fake history is more or less compromised by my own understanding and preferences (and bias, however unconscious), but the reason I still get a buzz from it, after all these years, is because I want to see what happens. It’s fun, it’s kind of educational, and in a solo setting I can attempt things which would not necessarily make an attractively balanced social game. So I can have campaigns which have heavily one-sided fights, I can even attempt a siege, for goodness sake. The concepts of victory and defeat – even the idea of the points value of an army – I understand what these are, but they are not things I normally consider as a priority.

One thing that I have learned in the past is that, in this kind of solo setting, a re-enactment, or any kind of walkthrough, doesn’t work. If I know what is going to happen then grinding through it is not worthwhile – no point – only passing moments of interest – no surprises. Nothing to learn, except about myself. Just a little fiddling around before it’s time to tidy the toys away. On the face of it, a siege might just be a perfect example of a procedural activity which doesn’t entertain for exactly that reason. Well, it was OK. In fact, I think I have demonstrated that a solo attempt at a siege has certain advantages.

I have read a lot of the better-known sources on how to make a siege into a game. The most useful, I think, is the famous Sandhurst game described very concisely in Chris Duffy’s Fire & Stone (David & Charles, 1975) – this sets out the important concept of accelerated time for the boring bits and the spadework, and dovetails this with a (Charge-based) tactical game to handle the exciting bits. It also sets out the pitfalls to be avoided and the need for a simple approach – I can’t recommend this too highly as a starting point. The snags are that the Sandhurst game uses simultaneous moves (and thus written orders) and – that’s right – an umpire. Ah. You can do anything with an umpire, I think.

The Duffy game is expanded a bit in Part XII of Henry Hyde’s The Wars of the Faltenian Succession, which appeared in Battlegames magazine a few years ago. This applies an alternate-move structure, and gets into more details about orders, event cards and Old School ideas like shell-burst templates and all that. It is a more detailed game, but it is still fundamentally the Duffy/Charge concept.

I also have the Perfect Captain’s Siege component of their Spanish Fury game (which is a free download from their excellent website). Like all the Perfect Captain games (and I’m sure they are very good), this relies on data cards for units, and some of the concepts are getting towards role-playing. That  excellent fellow Nundanket kindly loaned me the König Krieg documentation, which includes the famed (but rarely seen) siege game Festung Krieg – again, a source of good ideas, but to me it lacks the simple appeal of Duffy’s game.

One thing to avoid, I think, is stuffing as many tactical sequences as possible into a siege – for the leaguer of a fortified house that might be just the thing, but in a large siege it is also a means of avoiding the fact that it is a siege as far as possible. I tried to meet this head-on, rather than fudge the game into something more familiar.

Gary asked a very good question in response to my previous post – why, he asked, was there no attempt to put a secondary barrier inside the breach at Middlehampton?

I gave this some thought at the time, though, to be honest, in the absence of a sensible reason to fight on, my own Resolve was beginning to droop! In Chester, in the ECW siege, they marshalled gangs of civilians to pile earth (and dung, apparently) in all the gates and behind the stone walls. In my test, Lord Bloat was handicapped in this, since the townspeople's Loyalty had slipped further to zero, at which point they are not a valid workforce, and his two remaining infantry units were all he had available to do any kind of work of this type (cavalry, dear boy, never dig). On average, at 2-hex range in my rules, a siege gun has a 5/12 chance of damaging the wall during a strategic (1 day) turn, so I reckon (and Lord Bloat may have reckoned) that two cannons might take best part of a week to generate 5 gravelsworth of damage and effect a viable breach - so there was maybe time to do something - one possibility was demolishing the buildings near the wall and piling up the rubble, but maybe he felt (? - we'll never know) that surrender to the Scots would be the less disastrous of the options - certainly their reputation at Newcastle and York was not too awful - they were ravenous and tended to nick stuff, but slaughter, rape and ransacking were off-limits to the Presbyterians. I think the 5-chips collapse rating is maybe too high (though this might have been an exceptionally strong wall) - from memory, I think the breach at Chester (the one above the Roman Garden!) came down within a day, once the Parlies got a few big guns inside the earthwork defences and set about it, and I think that particular bit of wall had a bank erected inside it, but it was soft, Bunter sandstone (never accept the job of Governor of a red stone fort). Methinks 5 chips is too high...

Big lesson for me from these few days is that it is very important to put more effort into a thorough context and scenario narrative. There should have been better reasons for doing things, there should have been clearer time constraints, the supply issue should have been more central and there should have been some threat of Mad Prince Rupert appearing from somewhere to give the Jocks a jolly good bashing.

I enjoyed my few days at Middlehampton very much - it had the rather academic resonance which is common to many solo games, but it looked and felt like a game. I need to re-examine some of these numbers in the rules - the old walls were too tough, the digging was very straightforward (especially since the garrison did very little to interfere) and mostly procedural. The Sconce didn't last long, but was a threat while it lasted - the Sconce, by the way, could have been used as two half-sconces, and placed against the walls as hornworks, but that would have brought the siege closer to the town more quickly (which, in the absence of a sensible storyline, maybe doesn't make a lot of difference).

If I had been Bloat, I think I might have agreed with the townspeople's guild that the best strategy would be to meet that nice Lord Leven and his pals on the lawn with a tray of drinks, and discuss terms right at the start. Mind you, my mindset, my library of books and (importantly) my religious views are not likely to coincide with theirs.

An interesting few evenings - time to tidy up now! I’ll set out my thoughts on mining and supply in a week or two. As ever, my humble thanks to anyone who took the time to read about the test game – I am still delighted but rather surprised to hear from readers.

Next test siege I run will be a Napoleonic one, with the Vauban fortress bits.


  1. Thanks for posting this report(mini-series?). I found it inspiring as I've always wanted to do something similar and always bottled it. I worried that it would turn out to be a bit of a foregone conclusion unless external factors intervene (aka Prince Rupert.)
    Good stuff. I loved your rationale for playing the game by the way.

  2. Hello Tony: I am catching up to your siege posts a bit late in the day but I found them quite engrossing. I think there is huge suspense and dread as the defender in watching siege works advance remorselessly, though as a game that watching and waiting may be as much fun as dreaming in slow motion about being hit by a bus. However, as you say, part of the joy of solo play is that one only has one's self to please (cue Guy Lombardo's Enjoy Yourself). I think also that you are quite right about about how the local civilians would be an ineffective workforce as the siege dragged on and the chances of relief waned. Who wants to willingly help the defenders and have a bunch of irritated attackers finally pouring through the breaches to knick the silver and take the daughters?