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