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/

Napoleonic Wargaming for fun and Little Cold Wars- book reviews.

As I enjoyed my short stint as Napoleon so much in the Pennine Megagame’s Jena 1806 (see an earlier post) I decided to pick up a copy of Paddy Griffith’s Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun from the History of Wargaming Project. Whilst it is really not my period (other than a fondness for the Ridley Scott film The Duellists and subsequent desire to do a retreat from Moscow skirmish campaign) I was intrigued by the inclusion in the book of high level games hence my purchasing of it.

The late Paddy Griffith seems to have a reputation in gaming circles as something of an iconoclast famously and publicly swearing off miniatures gaming sometime in the 80’s. This book (the HoWP being a reprint) pre dates that proclamation as half of the book deals with miniatures games; that it was republished within his lifetime implies to me that he still saw some worth in what he wrote and he was not as dogmatic as his reputation at times suggested.

As alluded to earlier the book is a compilation of seven rule sets all on the theme of Napoleonic land warfare, they cover different scales of engagement, starting with the skirmish level, passing through, brigade, division and army level, all of which are miniatures games the book concludes with a generalship game, Kreigspiel and advice on TEWTs (Tactical Exercises Without Troops). It was these last three I was interested in. Not that I am giving up on miniatures, I’m still keen on the toy soldiers but for one thing I’ve not got the space for a giant collection in another period. Rather I’m wanting to use the Napoleonic Wars to add a bit of variety to my gaming.

Dealing with the first four sets of rules first they are very straightforward games, interestingly it is noted that apart from a few special circumstances/ theatres there is not that much scope for little actions within the Napoleonic period and even Brigade and Divisional actions are best assumed to be part of a much larger action. Being honest this middle part doesn’t interest me much. My gaming interests lie at either extreme, the larger extreme being adequately covered by the Army game, also the shortest of the four miniatures rules. Indicative of the time it was written perhaps is the fact that you would still have a multitude of little bases to move about. If I were to dabble at this level in 6mm I’d want to have more figures representing a higher formation to speed play. In any event this rules set would form an ideal starting point.

Following on from this is my favourite part of the book: the generalship game. Essentially it is a time management roleplay where you have to plan your day as a general running a campaign against an opponent who is doing the same. I’d love to use this system to re run the Jena campaign, also the example used in the book, I think it is eminently possible, maybe as a PBEM too.

The nineteenth century origins of Kriegspiel are well known enough now for me to not detail them further. Unsurprisingly playing the 1824 Kriegspiel is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but like many things remains on my gaming wishlist Paddy Griffith’s notes and observations makes me want to get organised and put on a game. Any pointers as to where I could get the blocks to play the game with would be much appreciated.

The final section deals with yet another part of gaming that I want to try but have yet to do so a TWET, essential a country walk with a moderated battle taking place in the participant’s mind’s eye(s). It has a similar heritage to the Kriegspiel in that it originated as a training technique for nineteenth century officers, known then as a staff ride. I think how ever I shall wait until someone offers to run one of these locally as I fear any attempt to dive in at the deep end myself and run one would be a little beyond me.

Overall the book is ideal for those wanting a little more from gaming, I think that in today’s hobby market the miniatures rules themselves are unlikely to get any new adherents, the market is not structured in that way. However they still have worth as examples of rule sets written by a professional (i.e., holds a PHD in History) historian rather than an enthusiastic amateur, not to belittle the latter rather I want to highlight the different viewpoint that the (rarer) professional historian who also writes rules brings. In gaming as well as his academic work Paddy Griffith wasn’t afraid to follow his convictions even if they went against the orthodoxy (at this point I’ll recommend his ‘Forward in to Battle’).

On a completely different tack but in the same order I bought a copy of Little Cold Wars: Wargaming the Cold War using Toy Soldiers by Tim Gow and Betrand Plastique. This rule set takes a nostalgic and delightfully whimsical approach to the often technologically obsessed genre of Cold War gaming. Channelling HG Wells the authors have developed hybrid of a floor game with toy soldiers to the warm glow of remembering a childhood living under the bomb. Eschewing dice for all but the Close Combat mechanisms Little Cold Wars sees a mix of scales (1/35th for toy soldiers, 1/48th for vehicles, 1/72nd for aircraft) do battle by matchstick firing cannon, dropping darts into targets and throwing scrunched up bits of paper. The thing is it really works, I can vouch for this having played an early playtest version of the rules.

Early hobby gaming all started out by using physical props to determine the results of combat, it was not until after WW2 that the dice rolling obsession took hold. It is really pleasing to see a return to these mechanisms are carefully put together is a game that relies on two lots of nostalgia, not that any gamers alive today would have played any HG Wells style games pre war so that nostalgia at least is vicarious. Being 11 and just starting at secondary school when the Berlin Wall was opened I am probably amongst the youngest gamers who remember the Cold War with any clarity, I’d be interested as to what a millennial would make of Little Cold Wars. My uncle was in the Army in Berlin at the time it was knocked down and brought a piece back for me which I still have.

[A little piece has broken off from the larger lump which gave me the idea to crush it up and mix it with plaster to create a scale model of a section of the wall to have a physical link to the place on the table top]

Either way it is a game I want to play myself, albeit all in 20mm, though I need to assemble a few props and toy cannon… and buy some silly hats… I just wish I still had my DDR flag too.

Both books are available here:

http://www.wargaming.co/

Cheers,

Pete.

The Jena Campaign 1806 at Huddersfield- Napoleon’s view.

Last weekend saw Pennine Megagames run their first game in Huddersfield and me take on the role of Napoleon himself. The game was a re- run of the 1806 Jena campaign- the French advanced into what is now Germany to knock the Prussians and their allies out of the war before the Russian could enter the war. I must confess that the Napoleonic period as a whole is a bit of a historical black hole for me which is why I volunteered to be part of the control team initially. However Rupert, the game organiser, was short of players and offered me the top job on the French team; I couldn’t resist giving my megalomania a stretch so said yes.

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The games was played with a hidden map and umpire adjudicated movement, however battles were resolved face to face on hand drawn tactical maps using a combat system crafted by Rupert. Therefore while you were fighting a battle the rest of the players could still manoeuvre around. This meant that desperate holdouts could be reinforced and escapes blocked.

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To quickly gen up on the subject I reached for the wargamer’s standby of the relevant Osprey campaign book and a copy of Haythornthwaite’s Napoleonic Source book that I had lurking around. The biggest difference between the two sides seemed to be that the Prussian command structure was all over the place whilst the French had a tight hierarchy extending downwards from Boney.

My reading gave me a decent idea of what I want to and needed to achieve in the game so when I arrived at the venue early on Saturday morning a look at the map and ORBAT firmed up my ideas. In my experience a simple plan that everyone understands but executed well works better than some convoluted but potential brilliant scheme. Accordingly I arranged my Corps in quite a wide spread, about a day’s march apart as we advanced to the North East from Wurzburg. Going from my left flank I had 3rd Corps hooking round to try to reach Halle, next was 6th Corps, in the centre was 2nd Corps with first Corps in reserve behind along with extra cavalry, extra artillery and Napoleon’s HQ, to their right was 4th Corps while holding the right was 5th Corps with orders to reach Leipzig. This is evidently not the historical arrangement but there was method to it. Having played a fair few of these games I have come to know the idiosyncrasies and styles of some of my fellow gamers so this allowed me to put the best person in the role I wanted. Given I couldn’t reassign players to different Corps (all the casting was done by Rupert pre game) it was the best solution. The general plan was to advance on a broad front with a large cavalry screen until contact with the enemy was made then those Corps adjacent but not engaged would try to catch a flank while the outer Corps would try to either get right behind their back or push forwards to occupy their supply points. I know that meeting on the field of battle and winning a victory there would be more honourable but I wanted to out march and out manoeuvre the Prussians. My only concern was that my plan was a bit too obvious and could be easily exploited.

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That was the plan and we all known the maxim about plans… so it was on to the game. After a few tense early turns to get through some hill ground that would have meant lateral movement would have been difficult we, the French team, got into a good rhythm. Orders were issued for the day, with an opportunity to change them at midday then a night phases allowed for team time and a chat as during the day only written messages could be passed between Corps. Movement rates were dependant on your food- either supply wagons, forage or carried rations, additionally forced marches could be made with the risk of losing some of the divisions within that Corps morale.

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Early contacts with the Prussians seemed to happen with all the French Corps simultaneously, I was quite pleased by this as it meant that they were quite spread out, given the strength of some of the Prussian Divisions I was concerned that they would gang up on one of my Corps and defeat it before I could bring enough reinforcements to bear. 3rd Corps powered through their opposition and blazed a trail to Halle being followed half heartedly by scattered Prussians. John pushed his Corps as fast as possible including an epic 72 hour march. Given I knew John’s style of play and that the longest route was the northern one I knew he was the right man for the job. On the right flank 5th Corps (Kieth and Ian) faced a Prussian players who fought a tough delaying action, however a splitting of the force meant that the Prussians followed the diversion not the main body so the drive to the supply point continued. In the centre things bogged down with all the Corps engaged. Jason commanding the 1st Corps got the chance he was itching for and got stuck into a tough fight on day five, so much so that I personally intervened as Napoleon with the reserve cavalry in an encounter at Kranichfeld. The side effect of this was that I got bogged down in a drawn out three day battle which was decided in the French’s favour. Whilst I was at a tactical map I completely lost touch with the strategic picture and had to rely on Robin to keep things together in the role of Berthier the Chief of Staff. To his credit he made an excellent job of it and held things together after I returned to the table and took a while to get my head back into the strategic picture. By day eight it was clear to me and Robin that the Prussians had concentrated themselves at Jena around the King whilst we had broken through their defensive line, next stop was their two supply points then after that Berlin. I decided to apply a bit of psychological pressure and sent an offer of surrender to King Friedrich Wilhelm.

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This was my reply:

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As I never fought a large decisive battle I took longer than my historical counterpart to reach a victory but my casualties were much less. One thing that I was lucky about was the late arrival of Simon to the Prussian team, he knows how I game pretty well so would have seen what I was doing and been able, possibly, to influence the Prussian King to counter me.

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As far as megagames go this was one of my favourites, easily in my top three as a player. My team was great, a pleasure to play with, once I explained my basic plan they all got on board with it and followed it through with out me having to micromanage any of it all. Jason as 1st Corp commander and Robin as Berthier on my table were great guys. One of the advantages I find of the high level of command in megagames is that you have a more relaxed time of it rather than having to write orders each turn so we had time for a bit of a chat. After a look at the umpires map and a debrief we went to the Grove pub for some beers and a chance to swap stories with the other side.

Cheers,

Pete.

Three weekends of Megagaming

Firstly apologies for the paucity of posts. I’ve been busy with postgrad work. Also with megagaming which is the topic of this post.

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Firstly Peninne Megagamers put on their first full home grown game: A Very British Civil War which was run in Manchester. Based on the popular alternative history gaming project (long story short: Edward VIII refuses to abdicate causing chaos and he invites Mosley to form a government, civil war starts between Socialst, Royalist, Fascist and Anglican factions) we had the four major factions battling over the Pennines from Liverpool to Hull, York to Chesterfield.

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Each faction had a number of players split by region and role. Military commanders moved forces on the main map and fought occassional battles whilst the political players played a seperate game trying to influence the population of each area with rallies and marches. Ideally this activity was controlled by the overall leaders so that when a military player took control of a town the population had already been won over to that faction’s cause. Control of the towns and cities meant extra income allowing the purchasing of bigger armies etc.

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My role in the game was as a military umpire. Whilst armies were moved on a main open map the actual battles too place on a gridded board. With four battle boards ready the three military umpires (John, Rupert and myself) were expecting plenty of business but other than selling massive amounts of ammo we were fairly quiet. A few changes that would increase the number of battle in the game were discussed post game and I’m sure they’ll be worked in to future games.

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The mixture of political, military and diplomatic roles seems to mean that there was something for everyone and all the players seemed to of had a good time.

The following weekend saw Paul, Rupert and I go to the Hammerhead Wargames show in Newark to run a demonstration of Rupert’s forthcoming Jena game, given that the Napoleonic period is not something I know much about I swotted up with an Osprey the night before. The game is similar to the VBCW one in that players move unit on one map then go off to a seperate battle board to fight out and battles. The biggest difference is that the moves in the Jena are done on a double blind system to really get that fog of war that is often hard to replicate in table top games.

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We had a good run through of the game at the show. It was pleasing to see one young lad wander over to see what is Dad was doing then get into the game himself. Being the only map based game amongst all the table top games made us stand out and hopefully it has resulted in extra interest and players for the game.

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A fortnight after Hammerhead it was myself and Simon’s turn to demo a game. A the Triples show in Sheffield we ran through our Korean Chosin game to drum up some interest.Simon had done a superb job with the map and I knocked up some counters with his help. I bought some flags to add a bit of colour to our table

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Different to the above games it is a true double blind game with both moves and combat being resolved by umpires who then feed back the results to the players. Although we only let the punters at Triples play the US Marines on the day as we presented a stripped down version of the game. Again those who played the game seemed to have a great time and it was encouraging to see younger gamers pick up the ideas of the game (there being no rules to learn) and get into the spirit of things. It was nice to be asked by another show’s organiser to put on a similar game at his event, must have liked what he saw.

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Please look at the following links to register for either game – and the Urban Nightmare and Dungeons of Yendor games that are upcoming too.

 

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

http://www.penninemegagames.co.uk/the-jena-campaign.html

http://www.penninemegagames.co.uk/the-chosin-few.html

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.