Monday, 7 December 2015

Army Lists and Other Campaign Ideas!

So now the Peninsular War collection is growing into one that now offers potential to do some more interesting stuff around campaigns and "what if?" scenarios I have been turning my mind back to some of my early ideas around the subject and re-crafting a few of them together. This aspect of the hobby is something I am sure we all dabble in at times; it is the full three course meal of the hobby, providing that all important context to our games and for me is a never ending series of possibilities and something I never tire of playing with. In addition it gives a focus to collection building plans and so I thought I would share my own thoughts.

I was really sorry to see the change of direction decided upon, earlier this year, by the "Napoleon at War" designers to park the Napoleonic project whilst turning their efforts towards the American Civil War. I like many others were looking forward to the release of further campaign books to follow on from the Waterloo release to include the 1813 Campaign and a talked of Peninsular War Campaign book.

I was never one of those who was enthused about turning Napoleonics into tournament play "Flames of War" style gaming, with contrived mechanics to produce a simplistic win/lose style of game often devoid of historical context. That said the lists produced by these design concepts seem ripe for application to a more thoughtful use and can be an aid to scenario design without getting hung up on points balanced games (Wellington and Massena didn't seem to bother much with points and always strove to bring on an unbalanced battle favouring them).

So in the best traditions of "adopt, adapt, improve" I have spent a bit of down time producing my own game lists worked out using Carnage & Glory unit definitions and points and adapting the principle of normal-strength, over-strength and under-strength units which I thought was a very clever mechanic to allow gamers to produce standard looking units that model these characteristics without having to use different bases combined with multiple combinations of numbers of figures.

The idea of applying points to units has its supporters and detractors and I think the idea has its place more for guiding the wargamer who wants to create historically based formations than those who are more interested in "power-gaming" and creating "uber-armies". When the historical principle is applied to the grand campaign model, points can allow interesting scenarios to be created around a limited number of figures that can give a game context and enable the tabletop battle to be translated back into the campaign situation. In addition as we are talking about a campaign situation, we are not concerned with "game balance" as just like their historical counterparts, both opposing commanders will be striving to maximise or minimise the advantages of the their position versus the opposition. Obvious one sided contacts can be dealt with on the map, but the larger more interesting contacts can be constructed using the lists and fought out on the table.

Earlier this year I picked up a copy of the revised edition of "L'Empereur Napoleonic Strategic Game" rules by Albert Walton, that offers the chance to play your Napoleonic table top games within the wider scope of a major grand campaign such as the Peninsular War, very much in the mode of a Battlefront "Firestorm" WWII campaign.

I have long toyed with the idea of bringing Mr Walton's campaign game together with the army lists of Napoleon at War and the game mechanics of Carnage & Glory (C&G) and see what hybrid monster I could create by mixing up their respective DNA.

The lists above are some of the early drafts of formats to include the French, French Allies and Spanish and the map below shows my adaptation of the L'Empereur map for the Peninsular War campaign module plugged into Cyberboard. The various flag pieces show the different army groups dotted around the peninsular in June 1808 with Dupont's "doomed" expedition down in Granada (Hex G4) and Junot's tenuous and out of supply hold on Lisbon (Hex I2), with the Spanish held fortresses of Cuidad Rodrigo (Hex I3) and Badajoz (Hex H2) sealing him off from the other French forces clearly standing out, together with the supply rout from France via the other French controlled hexes and those closest able to take a waggon marker among those mountains soon to be crawling with guerrillas.

The forces yet to enter the stage are shown with the French allies gathering in Bayonne (Hex K5) and Perpignan (Hex K6) together with Napoleon and his Guard set to arrive in September and the British under Wellesley and Sir John Moore set up to arrive in August and October respectively. The former French allies in the form of the Spanish army groups can be seen gathering their strength following the Madrid uprising in May with the large armies under Blake (Hex K3) and Castanos (Hex G4) looking to pose the first threat to the extended elements of the French invasion force. The map encounters generated would then be ready to be translated into a tabletop clash using the lists above and C&G.

My forces are not yet complete with the Talavera collection set to enable most of the formations shown above to be modelled as required, and Bassecourt's regular Spanish division together with Albuquerque's Cavalry will provide a good core of figures to field the Spanish, leaving the Portuguese and some French allied formations (Italian & Neopolitans) to be built next year on the completion of the Talavera project.

One other idea I am toying with is to include an "events" process to add that little spice of un-predictability. The L'Empereur module sets up troop levels with withdrawals and reinforcements based on the historical record and it provides a simple campaign engine if a bit too predictable. The addition of some limited theatre level events could add a little more variation for players to deal with.

So my Napoleonic Grand Campaign ideas are gently percolating behind all the big battle mini campaign stuff, just as it should be, plus I have been putting together some "adopt, adapt, improve" paper based rules for those days when I haven't got the lap top to hand; but that as they say is another story for another post.


  1. Very interesting post, I will have to follow it closely. I have just switched from 28mm to 18mm for Napoleonics and would love to play out a peninsular war campaign. Having just played a Dark Ages campaign and in my 3rd WWII campaign, I find that campaigns really elevate wargaming.

    1. Hi John, thank you and I noticed you were moving your 28mm Napoleonics to a new home and taking up "God's own scale", at least for Napoleonics. I think 18mm is the way to go if you want to keep the detail and character in your units and be able to fight the big battles in the "grand manner" the era demands.

      Well for me it is a case of first things first, namely get the collection to a point where I can handle pretty much any scenario a Grand Campaign could throw up and then play out some mini campaign scenarios to develop the draft rules to a point where the bigger plan can run with a system that is tried and trusted.

      I absolutely agree that the campaign elevates the games we play by setting a context that can influence the decision we as wargamers make more to the level of the commanders we seek to mimic, that the one off scenario struggles to produce. If I take the current Talavera game, I know if I put those reserve formations on the table the players will likely use them because they can regardless of what King Joseph's/Wellesley's concerns were in the campaign as a whole that prevented them from using those troops with such gay abandon.

      The final part of the plan is to get more time to spend on the passion. Still as I said at the start of this blog, a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.


  2. You old "Power Gamer" JJ.

    I can see it now. You fielding your British infantry brigade, Royal Artillery battery, British Guards infantry brigade and topping it off with a British heavy cavalry brigade.

    The Portugese will be gathering dust.


    1. I knew I couldn't fool you Vince. You know I know I can't resist coming up with that ultimate list that will win in one move. Enough of this historical stuff, I just need to get back to working the numbers!

  3. Excellent post with much to dwell on. We have more often than not campaigned and gamed with unbalanced armies. We keep points based games for pick up games. But I get your idea here too. Where we diverge is the notion of God's own scale for Grand Manner gaming upon which I suspect history is with the 28's but we can park that for now ( we just sold our vast club 15/18mm nap collection to expand the 28's!)
    Keep up the good work here. Best wishes, Jeremy

    1. Thanks Jeremy, I am always amazed when I see comments on various forums that doubt, indeed poor scorn on, the possibility of finding anything entertaining in playing unbalanced games as if balance is the norm.

      The Talavera scenarios have all been about one side or the other trying to unbalance the situation by surprise attack or night attack and I have a feeling that some of the Warhammer generation expect a scenario recreating those kind of battles to be adjusted to off set the obvious imbalance, totally oblivious of the intellectual challenge that these scenarios offer by the way you measure the victory conditions.

      Of course in a campaign situation, the context sets the victory conditions and then the points serve only as a reference to set the ratio between the two sides and to reflect the casualties sustained to determine how many of those pretty flag counters can stay on the map.

      I know you and the chaps are confirmed 28mm fans and I love seeing the games that scale has to offer, I'm just doing my bit to promote the 18mm scale to get more players using it and appreciating the benefits it has to offer. Plus the more 18mm players there are, the more the options in figure and flag ranges that become available which I am keen to see - just selfish really.

      Cheers mate

    2. The whole point of a campaign is to see who can bring the enemy to battle with the odds stacked firmly in ones own favour - unbalanced - in order to win a great battle. Conversely one might want to tie down superior forces with a smaller one to strike elsewhere with a greater concentration. That's just how it worked. Terrain and supplies etc can also force concentration or dispersal of forces once again unbalancing forces. The art of generalship is to manipulate these factors in ones own favour to create an unbalanced battle in which you win - bravo.

      A points based game can be mightly enjoyable but in my view not quite the same - certainly more convenient!

      You do a great job of painting and presenting the 18mm game, keep it up!

      Best wishes, JeremyJ

  4. Wonderful post JJ - really touching on the holy trinity of wargaming as I see it as well.

    I often lament the lack of campaigning at my club and the excitement that campaign games and strategies can add yo any tabletop wargame. I too will follow ths thread with keen interest.

    BTW remember to remind your son that if he is keen for a game whilst in Perth to drop me a line.

    1. Thanks Carlo. I think one key issue with campaigns in getting them played more often is the commitment in time and attention they can demand even though the rewards for doing so can be much more interesting and fun than the simple scenario or one off game.

      My key guiding principles in what I want to put together is to have a system that keeps the campaign short and simple without being simplistic. Hence I am thinking about playing something like the Peninsular War in chunks, such as a year rather than the whole thing in one go, whilst leaving the opportunity of picking up where things were left off. Well that's the plan anyway!

      I have passed on your message to Tom. He apparently is about seven hours away from Perth working near to Esperance I think and has limited use of a car that is shared between him and his mates, so I am not sure how easy it is for him to get to the club. If you want to send me your email contact on the contact form up the top of the page, I'll forward on your address and then he can liaise direct.