Jay's Wargaming Blog

December 5, 2017

Odd

Filed under: General — Jay @ 11:33 am

ohorten

Odd Horten, the eponymous hero of the wonderful Norwegian film O’Horten, fully lives up to his name. Perhaps my empathy for him is down to the fact that I’ve always been a bit of an oddball myself.

This has been brought home to me over the past week as I’ve dipped a toe into the seductive waters of online multiplayer wargaming, only to withdraw that toe in short order and thoroughly towel it off.

Here’s what happened. I was taking part in a discussion on the Field Of Glory II forum about whether a prospective buyer should invest in the game, and up popped the question of using Slitherine’s PBEM (Play By Email) facility to play against other ‘real’ players – rather than just the AI. I pointed out that the AI provides a challenging opponent already, and that ‘multiplayer’ (‘MP’) is really not for everyone. As a result, I was invited to give MP another try. Not one to shirk a challenge, I’ve now played around a dozen MP games, and the results have been interesting.

I’ve discovered, or re-discovered, the simple fact that I don’t much like the competitive side of myself that is brought out by taking on a real live opponent. It actually spoils my enjoyment of the game. Maybe that’s why, in recent years, my tabletop gaming – when it isn’t solo – has been restricted to amicable games with close friends and (more recently) with my partner.

In the rush to gain a competitive edge, my focus on (a) having fun, and (b) immersing myself in history, both get lost. The experience is very different, and actually feels a little bit unhealthy. A simple game, and a trip into the past, become something else. Something less enjoyable. Something that has more of an edge.

And there’s the rub. I suppose that edge is what other wargamers enjoy. It seems, somewhat to my own astonishment, that I don’t.

Odd? Certainly. But I daresay it’s another reason why solo wargaming has been my ‘go to’ mode for so many years.

Now this is a purely personal thing. And I’m not, for one moment, suggesting that it’s necessarily a good thing either. It is what it is. But I wonder if maybe it’s another reason why some people prefer the less competitive, more immersive experience of solo gaming to the rigours of facing a human opponent across the battlefield?

 

 

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November 15, 2017

Dodge City Delights

Filed under: General,Reviews — Jay @ 2:47 pm

Theodore Ayrault Dodge

For those of us wargaming on a budget, one of the delights of modern tech is the ease with which we can access free and nearly-free resources that would have been beyond our means in an earlier age.

A case in point is the military writing of Theodore Ayrault Dodge.

After a military eduction in Berlin and further studies in London, Dodge fought in the union army during the American Civil War. He lost his right leg at Gettysburg, and rose to the rank of brevet lieutenant-colonel. He subsequently served in the US War Department.

But the real passion in Dodge’s life was the history of warfare. Despite his disability, he travelled the length and breadth of Europe to visit the battlefields and other landmarks that dot the careers of warfare’s great captains. His extensive field research came to fruitition in his substantial volumes on Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus Adolphus and Napoleon. When he died his final study, on Frederick the Great, was not yet finished.

To date I have read his books on Gustavus and Hannibal, and have just started his volume on Caesar. The writing is clear and elegant, and he includes a wealth of maps and battle plans. While his personal judgements on some matters – for example the military abilities of Sulla – have not all stood the test of time, Dodge always presents a cogent and well-argued case for his views.

Moreover his books are available free online as PDFs, or for a minimal cost via Kindle. Given the prohibitive amount that one sometimes has to spend on specialist military texts, this kind of resource is a real boon. I can highly recommend Dodge’s work as an addition to your reading list!

Gusty

February 4, 2015

Campaign Maps – The Easy Way!

Filed under: Campaigns,General,Scenarios — Jay @ 12:06 pm

Part of the island of Nylandia

Wargame campaigns have been on my mind a lot recently, after reviewing William Silvester’s book on the subject.

I’ve dusted down my copies of Tony Bath and Don Featherstone’s ground-breaking books covering the same topic, and have been mulling over some of the possibilities.

All three books spend time discussing that first essential of any campaign, however modest or ambitious – the campaign map. In this regard, it’s surprising how little things have changed over the years. Don’s book was originally published in 1970, with Tony’s following a few years later (though it subsequently went through several reprints). William Silvester’s book came out just two years ago. All three books consider the various types of drawn or printed map that are available, and the options for measuring and recording map movement.

Back in the ‘good old days’ the possibilities for acquiring suitable ready-made maps were somewhat limited, and could be expensive. Old classroom maps of the biblical Middle East, tourist souvenir maps, and Ordnance Survey Maps were among the most popular (and, in the first two instances, rather quaint) options. Map movement could be recorded using plastic overlays and marker pens, or coloured pins, always bearing in mind that the map itself was valuable enough to be treated with respect and re-used again and again.

When it came to creating a map from scratch, particularly a map of an imaginary continent or other geographical area, drawing the map by hand was the obvious – indeed the only – option back in the day. Tony Bath famously created his mythical continent of Hyboria, where he fought out battles with other well-known wargaming figures like Charles Grant, in preference to re-fighting a purely historical campaign or using an existing historical map. He makes a convincing case for going down the ‘imaginary’ route (Setting Up A Wargames Campaign, page 7):

“Having at various times tried all three courses, I have no hesitation in saying that I believe the third, of setting up your own continent, to be far and away the best. With a world of your own, the limitations are only those of your own imagination together with a certain sense of realities. For instance, within the boundaries of my own continent of Hyboria existed armies and cultures ranging from the Ancient Egyptian to the 13th Century mediaeval enabling me to make use of the whole ancient-medieval period.”

This is certainly the approach that most immediately appeals to me. Creating my own mythical continent, peopled with a mixture of ancient and mythical nations, has an innate ‘wow’ factor to it. The opportunity to give my various DBA and HoTT armies a run-out against each other, as part of an over-arching narrative, feels too good to resist. I’m planning to start work on this shortly!

So what options are there for creating my map, and for tracing movements on it once it’s been brought to life? My drawing skills are not exactly my strong point, and it would certainly be nice to produce something that has more visual appeal than a rough hand-drawn map. And working with a ‘physical’ map, drawn up on squared or hex-based paper – or using a square or hex acetate overlay – sounds like a rather messy option in this digital era.

In the past I’ve tried one or two cut-price computer-aided drawing packages (CADs), but I’ve found them a bit fiddly to use, and the results less than impressive. Nor has the end product solved the problem of logging and marking map movement as a campaign progresses. So I’ve got to thinking whether other options might be available – preferably ones that come in at a budget price.

The solution, it turns out, was close at hand all along. And I’m sure it’s one that has occurred to other wargamers too, so I certainly wouldn’t presume to claim any originality for the idea!

Like many other gamers, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time over the years playing the various incarnations of Sid Meier’s excellent computer game Civilization, with Civ4 my favourite version. Now, Civ4 happens to have a fantastic in-game editing facility called WorldBuilder. Indeed, one of the keys to the success of the game is the ease with which an enthusiastic community of online gamers is able to create new scenarios for the core game, and – crucially for me – new maps and worlds as an essential part of that. Over the last year or two most of my games of Civ4 have been based in worlds that I’ve either tweaked or that I’ve created myself from scratch.

Civ4‘s WorldBuilder – which comes free with the main program – may seem a little daunting at first, but with a bit of practice it turns out to be straightforward and intuitive to use. The results, once you’ve learned the basics, are visually impressive and highly flexible. You can build an island, a continent or indeed a whole world to your own personal specifications, then drill down to whatever level of detail fits with your campaign requirements. You can add production facilities, resources, fields, mines and buildings to your cities and their environs. You can build new roads and railways, surround a strategic location with a string of forts, or colonize an island to expand your nation’s borders. You can keep it as simple as you choose, or add layers of complexity if fine detail is your thing.

Even better, via a few mouse clicks you can go back into that self-created world any time you like to add or change its features and the location of the units depicted on it. You can mark the movement of armies, the capture or plunder of cities, the progress of fleets and supply trains, the stock-piling of munitions and the building or burning of villages, towns and forts. You can use the program to chart small actions or large – to monitor off-table movement in one small corner of your continent, to set and execute an ambush in a wooded valley, or to move whole battalions at the grand strategic level.

By opting to switch on the ‘grid view’, you have a built-in tool for measuring map movements, one square at a time.

Civ4 will also help with record-keeping, enabling you to save multiple copies of each map to give you a permanent record of your campaign. You can zoom in or out to print maps at whatever level you choose, providing you with a hard copy to work with, or a digital copy to add in to your virtual campaign diary.

Once you’ve got used to the idea of using Civ4 not as a game per se, but purely as an editor, it really does seem to tick all the boxes as a campaign and mapping tool. Note that this is quite distinct from playing Civilization with the world you’ve created in the usual way – what I’m suggesting means that you’re restricted to using it in WorldBuilder (i.e. ‘edit’) mode only. Each time you load the scenario you’ve created, you go straight back into the WorldBuilder to continue your campaign moves, edit the map and so on.

Whether you use one of the many worlds created by the online Civilization community, tweak a computer-generated world, or build your own new world from scratch, I would seriously recommend giving it a try. Retailing for just a few pounds, I reckon it’s a sound investment for the budding wargames campaigner!

Illustrations

Top of page: part of my newly-created island of Nylandia – an imaginary island created for a mini-campaign set in the Pike & Shot era. As you can see, this mini-campaign is going to be nice and simple!

Bottom: zoomed-in shot showing the Swedish port of Svalbard, part of Nylandia and the base of operations for Gustavus’s invasion force.

Resources

Civ4 Fanatics Forum – Creation and Customization Section. Everything you need to know to build your own world!

Svalbard

 

April 8, 2014

The Joy Of Dave

Filed under: General — Jay @ 10:23 am

Soccer referee

When I lived in London I used to wargame with a bloke called Dave. Now, Dave had firm views when it came to tabletop battles. One day we were playing an ECW game at my place using home-made rules (this was way back in the 1990s). Dave’s Royalist musketeers were positioned behind a low wall when I charged them with my Roundhead horsemen.

“My cavalry will be fighting at minus one,” I announced, “on account of the wall”.

“No,” said Dave. “No, that’s not right mate.”

I was perplexed.

“What do you mean? Look, it’s here in the rules – your lot are behind a wall, so my lot are minus one in the melee.”

“No,” he repeated, “that’s definitely not right mate.”

Dave was adamant. His view was that my cavalry would be quite unable to “reach over the wall”, as he put it, so his musketeers were safe as long as they did the natural thing – and adopted a crouching posture. I couldn’t attack them at all. I must have misinterpreted the rules.

“I don’t think so Dave,” I replied. “I wrote them.”

“It’s still not right mate. I’m not having that.”

And so it went on. Dave had very firm views, and generally won out through sheer attrition – in real life as well as on the battlefield.

The Daves of this world are one of the reasons I prefer to play solo. Dave is a bit of a one-off, but you often find pronounced Davidian tendencies in the wargaming community.

Dave lived alone. He’d had a relationship many years before but it hadn’t worked out. “I don’t understand women, mate,” he’d say, as he downed another lager and carefully searched for loopholes in our latest ruleset. “They’re different from us.”

Dave didn’t have a regular job, but he used to referee football matches on Sundays down the park. One day he sent five players off in a single game, and got chased off the pitch by the remaining players. He had to lock himself in the dressing room till the other refs could rescue him. “I’m telling you mate, it wasn’t right. It wasn’t right at all,” he explained plaintively some time after the event. “They didn’t have any respect for the ref.”

After another year of gaming with Dave I was beginning to feel the same way. Eventually our wargaming sessions petered out, doubtless to his relief as much as mine. As for the refereeing, Dave eventually gave that up too. He decided it was, and I quote, “too dangerous”.

Dave and I stumbled across each other again in cyberspace many years later, and eventually I invited him to come and visit me in my new town. We got on well. Better than ever in fact. And we talked a lot about DBA, which Dave had bought when it first came out and which he had tried – unsuccessfully as it happened – to introduce to our little group back in London.

Next time he visited we decided to play a few games. I’d got into DBA in the years since we’d parted company, and Dave had owned a copy of the rules ever since the old days. He still had the figures he’d painted and based for it, and he brought a couple of his DBA armies along with him on his second visit. I had a few DBA armies myself, so we set up our first battle and got stuck in.

Everything was going swimmingly until my wing advanced towards his camp. “Dave,” I reminded him, “you’ve got to protect your camp.” He ignored my advice, so I warned him again. He ignored my advice again. “Fair enough,” I thought, “he must know what he’s doing.”

A few rounds later Dave lost his camp, and consequently – given combat results elsewhere – he lost the game.

“It’s worth two elements,” I explained patiently.

“That’s not right mate.”

“I did warn you.”

“It’s not right.”

“It’s in the rules…”

“It’s still not right mate.”

And that was it. Dave refused ever to touch DBA again. It was not, all in all, a happy weekend. In fact Dave hasn’t exchanged a single word with me since.

By then, in any case, Dave had discovered FoG Online. In the absence of anything else to distract him (friends, partner, social life) it became the epicentre of his existence. By the time a couple of years had passed he’d realised, judging by his FoG forum posts, just how inadequate the PC version of the game was from both the gaming and the historical perspectives (click here for more on FoG). But by then he’d severed most of his links with the outside world. He currently resides in cyberspace. In a keep, presumably. With a moat. With the drawbridge up. I get the impression he doesn’t game much these days, either online or in the real world…

Nowadays I mostly play solo, apart from occasional sessions with my wargaming buddy Jammers. Jammers is affable, good company, and averse to rules lawyers. He doesn’t take his gaming too seriously. In all the time I’ve known him I’ve never once heard him utter the dreaded words “I don’t think that’s right mate”. That’s a big plus in the post-Dave era, believe me.

Another big plus is the ability to play solo. As time goes by more and more creative systems are being produced to facilitate solo play, to turn solo games into a challenge that is constantly fresh and endlessly rewarding. Of course, it’s never going to be cool. People turn their noses up and ask “why on earth would you want to do that?“. I’ve got an easy answer for them. A one word answer – “Dave”!

Footnote: This article is not intended to offend people called Dave. In fact, “Dave” is a pseudonym – using the guy’s real name somehow just felt wrong. Anyway, some of my best friends are called Dave…

March 6, 2014

Marco Solo

Filed under: General — Jay @ 2:56 pm

For any solo gamer who isn’t already familiar with his YouTube videos, Marco is a prolific and erudite video blogger who discusses and reviews all sorts of boardgames, often discussing their solo playability as part of the review. I can’t recommend his stuff too highly. Although not a tabletop/figure wargamer as such, his reviews are a terrific resource, covering as they do primarily military (and sometimes magical/D&D type) games. His reviews are short but comprehensive. The main page for Marco’s reviews is here – http://www.youtube.com/user/marcowargamer?feature=watch

Below are a couple of examples. First up is his review of Battle Cry, a Richard Borg game with obvious solo potential (the review was good enough to persuade me to go out and buy a copy!). Second is his review of Thermopylae, a free print and play game available here – http://battreps.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/thermopylae.html.

I’ve found that Marco’s video reviews are a great way of sorting the wheat from the chaff.

March 23, 2011

Typical Army Behaviours

Filed under: General — Jay @ 10:06 am

Jim Zylka: Enemy Behaviour In Action

The April-June 2009 issue of Lone Warrior featured a fascinating article by Jim Zylka called Enemy Behaviour In Action: Renaissance Swiss. As Jim puts it:

“One of the very first solo systems I developed many years ago and still use today is Army Behaviour. What that is can best be described as how your solo enemy’s…forces will act on the battlefield. It is not a list of orders on what to do or where to go but how these actions will be conducted.”

Jim proceeded to outline six typical deployments for the Renaissance Swiss, and then set out guidelines as to how they would conduct the battle – for example how their pike columns would advance and what role their limited artillery and cavalry would have. Jim also included notes about Mindset and Unsure Action with an associated table of actions based on a D6 roll.

If you haven’t come across Jim’s article already I’d strongly suggest that you acquire a back issue of the relevant Lone Warrior. The kernel of his approach is to model the typical behaviour of an historical army based on meticulous research, with some chance factors built in that can be triggered by specific conditions on the battlefield, but which will still fall firmly within the range of authentic options that the army would have had at its disposal.

Jim’s article was quite simply one of the most thought-provoking pieces on solo wargaming that I’ve ever read. It suggested a very fruitful approach to a perennial problem for the solo wargamer – how do you prevent your “automated” opponent from doing things that are either (a) incredibly dumb, or (b) incredibly ahistorical/atypical. I’ve recently started looking at my collection of armies – mainly DBA and HoTT armies – to think about defining “typical army behaviours” for them. And one of the things that struck me immediately is that it is, of course, perfectly possible to do for fantasy armies something similar to what Jim did for the Renaissance Swiss.

My Dwarves are a case in point. Thinking about how they’ll generally approach a battle means looking both at the source material for the army and at the actual make-up of the forces on the tabletop. And it provides a quick thumbnail sketch of how Jim’s approach might be applied to a very different kind of army from his Swiss example. My HoTT Dwarves consist of the following elements: 8 Blades (including the General), 2 Shooters, and 1 Behemoth (a stand of friendly giants). They’re based on the standard image of fantasy Dwarves as primarily a heavy infantry force. On this basis I found it fairly straightforward to devise a simple TAB (Typical Army Behaviour) for them:

Dwarves: Typical Army Behaviour

Blades will form up wherever possible in single line as the main battle formation, with the General towards the centre (either in the front rank or to the rear). A single Blade unit may be detached to protect the Stronghold, where relevant.

Blades may fight in bad going but will avoid doing so against Warbands (who quick-kill Blades in HoTT).

Shooters will generally be placed on the flanks, often to cover or advance through bad going. If facing an enemy with significant mounted units, the Shooters may instead mingle with the Blades.

The Behemoth will be placed either in the centre of the Blade line near the General, or towards a flank – where its own flank can be covered by a Shooter unit.

Dwarves favour a steady, coordinated advance. They will tend to focus on maintaining the cohesion of their main battle line until they have succeeded in breaking the enemy formation by sheer muscle and persistence. If their line is fractured they will hold position and regroup rather than plow on regardless.

Dwarven Generals may be cautious or steady, but will very rarely be impetuous. They will favour open battlefields with a minimum of bad going, unless facing a primarily mounted opponent. They may choose to place impassable terrain to maximise the effectiveness of their heavy troops and minimise the risk of being outflanked.

Conclusion

This TAB has resulted in a couple of close-fought games. Where different options have been listed, I’ve assigned a probability to each and diced accordingly. The Dwarves have given a good account of themselves, and when I’ve needed to think about what the Dwarven general is likely to do next I’ve had a clear set of guidelines to base my probability calculations on.

Of course in some ways this is a rather tongue-in-cheek application of Jim’s approach. But I think it shows just how flexible the army behaviour model can be, involving as it does both firm guidelines and carefully boundaried chance elements. In time, I hope to develop a detailed TAB for all of my armies – with rather more research and detail going into the historical armies than was the case with my Dwarves! Indeed, it would be possible to develop a very elaborate TAB for an army based not only on their historical performance and capabilities, but also on the type of opponent they face and the sort of terrain they will fight over. Combined with other mechanisms, I think that the army behaviour model is a very useful tool for the solo wargamer.

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