The French invasion of Ireland, 1796, a Napoleonic What if? Megagame.

Last Saturday I went over to Leeds for another megagame, this time however I got to be a player rather than acting on the control team. I was looking forward to the game as I really enjoyed the game designer Rupert’s previous Napoleonic outing Jena 1806 (where I got to indulge my megalomania as ‘N’ himself) and in the game, I got to play an intelligence/ political/ counter insurgency role which I knew would be fun. As with the previous Jena game movement was blind, players wrote down their daily orders and the control team adjudicated any moves on a hidden map reporting back any items of interest or when contact was made with the enemy. When two armies met, the players moved to a series of generic battle boards that were used to fight the ensuing battle out face to face. The game however continued around any fights allowing delaying actions to be fought or reinforcements to be rushed up to support.

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Ireland’s long troubled history with Great Britain doesn’t really need to be retold here but suffice to say that a growing nationalist movement, centred around the Protestant Wolfe Tone, wanted to take advantage of Britain’s distraction of the burgeoning Napoleonic wars on the continent to make a push for Irish independence. For the French, an invasion to provoke an Irish uprising would draw British attention away from the continent to ease their strategic situation. A French invasion fleet was assembled and slipping past the Royal Navy’s blockade sailed to the Irish coasts getting as far as Bantry Bay before being hit with a storm that scattered the fleet and ended any hopes of invading. Rupert’s game starts the storm abating and the landings taking place.

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There were three teams on the game, the British, the French and the revolutionary Irish.  On the British team the players were split between the regular units and fencibles, the militia and the yeomanry. I commanded the last group as the Duke of Leinster. Rather than having any units in the game that could stand in open combat I could activate 5 groups of yeomanry across southern Ireland to spy, sabotage, try to drum up support for the British or conversely stamp out any signs of insurrection. I was pleased to be assisted in my task by a young lad on his first megagame that had first been introduced to them at one of the demo games that I’ve helped Pennine Megagames put on at various wargames shows in the North. One area in which this game differed from the previous one was in the intra- team communications. A letter had to be written and placed inside an envelope and handed to control. They would then deliver it, after a suitable amount of in game time had passed, to its intended recipient.

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After a somewhat ineffectual briefing I had only a vague idea of the operations of the British that I was to support so our team had to work on what we thought best.  An initial attempt to get the Irish population on side was met with very little enthusiasm which left us with a bit of a dilemma over how to proceed with the game. Counter insurgency warfare is difficult enough as it is but being faced with a hostile population and no ‘carrot’ to bribe them with we were only left with the ‘stick’. We had to find a path that saw us being effective enough against any uprisings but not so severe that it brought the peasantry out in open revolt. The sectarian divisions in the population just added to this difficulty. This problem would be tricky enough on its own but it was made even more difficult as the revolutionary Irish team had an equivalent team of players trying to ferment the very revolution with were trying to damp down.

 

One thing that became clear quite early on was the postal system between teams was very slow. Information was coming to us several turns after it would have been useful or were requesting information from us that would be out of date after the time had passed for us to collect the information and to dispatch a rider to get the report to them. A lack of direction from the Commander in Chief didn’t help either; we were on our own. It felt a bit like we were playing a separate but parallel game, not a criticism per se rather than it didn’t have the communications that is common in most games. This wasn’t helped by the revolutionary Irish interfering with our mail, we just couldn’t work out if our letters weren’t getting out (which would indicate a problem close to us) or our replies were getting to us (which could be a problem further afield). We did get in on the postal interference act intercepting the French Commander in Chief’s letter. Sadly, our overzealous Yeomanry captured some of our post too so that was sent on its way.

 

The real fun started when I received a letter from someone signing themselves as ‘Celtic Soul’- I wasn’t sure if this was a wind up to waste my time or a player who was going against his team and trying to put out peace feelers. Either way I thought I’d best reply and try to get them onside. This prompted a game long exchange of letters which I kept a record of.

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Later, I got a letter from Wolfe Tone which made me think that ‘Celtic Soul’ was a genuine player going against his team, but perhaps according to his own personal brief? The paranoia was beginning to set in. The Duke of Leinster was a sitting member of the Irish parliament as well as Commander of the Yeomanry so I could offer Wolfe Tone some degree of political appeasement (especially as I noted in my player briefing that the Duke of Leinster had previously supported Catholic emancipation. The letter writing and debating with the two other players whose characters were sitting MPs meant that towards the end of the day I had left the day today running of the counterinsurgency side of the game to my teammate. It did pay off though as an Irish player did swap sides with a large number of troops and took to the field against his previous comrades.

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The politicking and letter writing was good fun and a role that I had not previously done in a megagame. The game ran its course with the French winning every military engagement they fought but unable to provoke a widespread Irish rebellion, partly because their slow movement meant they had to requisition lots of supply from the local population turning them against them. So, it was probably a tactical/ operational win for the French but in strategic terms they failed to create a big enough problem in Ireland for British to withdraw troops from mainland Europe. As with all megagame it is best to decide in the pub afterwards who the real winner was.

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Over a pint in the pub it was good to catch up with my opposite number on the revolutionary Irish, we had a good laugh over similar attempts to steal each other’s letters. The ‘Celtic Soul’ pseudonym was a wind up (still something I couldn’t afford to ignore in game). One bit of gallows humour came from him trying to spread a false rumour in Wexford that protestants were hanging catholic priest at the same time I had sent the yeomanry in to check on seditious preaching, they had exceeded the brief I had sent them with and decide to hang the priests….

 

The control team did a great job, special thanks to Holly for having to decipher my poor handwriting all day. Another enjoyable game and a role that I would like to try again in a later game.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

http://www.penninemegagames.co.uk/

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4 comments on “The French invasion of Ireland, 1796, a Napoleonic What if? Megagame.

  1. Paul Howarth says:

    Good write up Pete – glad you enjoyed your role. I first became aware of the rapprochement between the two sides when Jason and Ben turned to up to battle and immediately parlayed.

  2. Chris Kemp says:

    Sounds as if you had fun, Pete. The joy of megagames for me is in the roles that just don’t exist in tabletop face to face games.

    Regards, Chris.

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