A problem with tablets

When I wrote yesterday’s blog entry about Chris Engle’s latest card-driven combat system, I added links to the three YouTube video clips that he had created to explain how the system works. This morning I looked at the blog entry on my iPad … and realised that the links did not appear on screen. I have therefore added links from the titles for each of the sections (i.e. ‘Part 1’, ‘Part 2’, and ‘Part 3’) to the YouTube video clips.

A different way to fight a wargame: Three video clips produced by Chris Engle

Chris Engle is an innovative wargame designer. He devised the original Matrix Game and has continued to develop the concept in a variety of different directions ever since.

Recently he has produced a set card based rules for figure wargames, and to demonstrate how they work he has produced three video clips that can be viewed on YouTube.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Chris‘s rules have some novel features, and do produce a narrative-style of battle in which all the participants have an input. They may not be to everyone’s taste … but they are nonetheless an interesting experiment.

Matrix Games: An interesting development

Further to the recent Matrix Games that Chris Engle featured on Hamster Press (his blog), he has now sent an interesting message to the WDDG (Wargame Developments Discussion Group) that describes the developments he has made in the use of Matrix Cards in his games.

In his current design Chris allows players to draw a hand of five Action Cards which limit their choices. Instead of the old ACTION, RESULT, and 3 REASONS method (as used in THE MARCH TO THE SEA Matrix Game featured on this blog) players make up a short story about what happens using the cards in their hand to act as inspirations. The players can be as creative as they want to be in the way that they use the Action Cards.

In his message Chris gives an example of this:

So I might look at the terrain board and see that enemy reenforcements are coming up behind me, play the card ‘Freeze’ and say ‘The commander of the reenforcements hears the sound of battle up ahead. Fear grips his intestines and he freezes up. He tells his men to stop and take up a defensive position. No help arrives at the main fight.’

Since this is an interactive game, other players get one chance per turn to add to or challenge an action. They play a card and add to the story. For instance a player may play ‘Disobey’ and say ‘The men realize that their officer is wrong and that they need to keep advancing. One NCO distracts the officer while the others set up ‘defensive positions’ ahead of the position. They keep moving till they reach the fight.’ The two players then roll two six-sided dice each. The high roller wins, re-roll ties.

This is an interesting development and one which I would like to experiment with myself at some point in the future.

Chris also mentions in his message that he is experimenting with a card-based combat system … and this sounds very interesting indeed.

I look forward to reading more about Chris‘s latest Matrix Game designs in due course, and I will keep my regular blog readers up-to-date with the developments as they happen.

A trip to the shops

After my gardening session this morning, my wife and I went shopping in Dartford. Whilst she spent time in the local branches of Matalan, TKMaxx, and George at ASDA, I paid a visit to B&Q (where I bought a new lawn rake!) and WHSmith.

The latter had copies of all three major wargames magazines on show, and after looking through the two I only occasionally buy – WARGAMES ILLUSTRATED and WARGAMES, SOLDIERS & STRATEGY – I bought both.

The November issue of WARGAMES ILLUSTRATED has several articles about the Franco-Prussian War that I thought I might find interesting as well as a long obituary for Donald Featherstone that was written by Chris Scott, with an additional contribution by Duke Seifried.

Issue 69 of WARGAMES, SOLDIERS & STRATEGY has a Cold War theme, including a very interesting Matrix Game that has been developed by Mark Backhouse.

It was nice to see a Matrix Game featured in a mainstream wargames magazine, especially as it was not too many years ago when they were regarded by quite a few wargamers as being a bit too avant garde.

More about Matrix Games

Chris Engle of Hamster Press has been the driving force behind the development of Matrix Games, and over the years he has published – and continues to publish – books and booklets about them.

This morning I went through my collection of wargames publications and found that I own the following copies of Chris‘s work:

  • CAMPAIGN IN A DAY (1992): This explained how a Matrix Game worked, and included two examples; Peninsula Campaign and Ancient Sumeria.
  • CAMPAIGN BOOK (1992): This was the companion volume to CAMPAIGN IN A DAY and contained all the information needed to set up and run ten Matrix Game campaigns. Each section contained a description of the historical situation, orders-of-battle, and each player’s briefings and goals.
    • 1066
    • Bannockburn
    • 1494
    • Blenheim
    • Bonnie Prince Charlie
    • Peninsula Campaign (as featured in CAMPAIGN IN A DAY)
    • Russian Campaign 1812
    • March To The Sea
    • Zulu
    • Save Gordon!
  • MINIATURE BATTLES: STUPID SIMPLE RULES (1992): This was the third book in the series and featured rules that could be used to fight any battles that were ‘generated’ by a Matrix Game campaign.
  • THE MATRIX GAME! (1995): This book included a revised (and in some ways simplified) version of the original Matrix Game rules.
  • SCOTLAND THE BRAVE (1995): This book was a complete scenario (including player briefings) for a Matrix game set during the Scottish Wars of Independence (1295 AD – 1314 AD).
  • MATRIX GAME RULES (2000): A revised – and very easy to follow – version of the original Matrix Game rules.
  • SHERLOCK HOLMES CASE BOOK (2005): This book contains and explanation about how Matrix games work and the scenarios and player briefings for six murder-mystery Matrix Games:
    • Sherlock Holmes Mystery
      • The Case of the dead Duke
      • The Case of the Missing Bride
      • The Case of Bad Blood
    • The Fenian Murders
      • The Fox Hunt
      • A Shot in the Dark
      • The Fenian Plot
  • DESERT RATS: A MILITARY CAMPAIGN GAME (2005): This book contains and explanation about how Matrix games work and the scenarios and orders-of-battle for six Matrix Game campaigns:
    • Desert Rats
      • Rommel’s Advance
      • Jihad
      • Rommel in Defeat
    • Dar as Salaam: The 1880 British Invasion of the Land of Peace
      • A Small War for Empire: The Invasion
      • Allah U Akbar! : The Dervish Counter-Attack 1881
      • The Hunt for Ali Baba 1885

I am sure that I also have a copy of Chris’s POLITICS BY OTHER MEANS (PBOM) rules, which are a very simple set of wargames rules for fighting battles with toy soldiers. I think that a synopsis of the rules is available on his website here.

Recent Matrix Game developments

The man who came up with the original Matrix Game concept is Chris Engle of Hamster Press … and he is still developing new ways to use it. His most recent games have reverted to the use of Matrix Cards, and by the look of them he seems to have come up with yet another interesting and novel way to produce a ‘narrative’ wargame (i.e. one in which the players work with and against each other to create a story of what happens).

The two most recent games featured on his blog include a map-based campaign/battle set in East London/Essex

… and a Revolution in 1830s Paris.

I am pleased to see that Chris has revisited the use of Matrix Cards. They always seemed to me to be a real antidote to the mechanistic and mathematically-modelled approach to wargame design that is so commonly seen. They also allowed a wargame to incorporate the ‘human in the loop’ element without having to rely upon things like morale throws or reaction tests; these were replaced by something much better … a real human being!

My only regret is that I never found a way to use Matrix Cards in solo wargames … but with Chris on the case there is every chance that he may well find a solution to that problem as well.

The March To The Sea: An American Civil War Matrix Game – The Actual Events

Sherman’s army group left Chattanooga. It included:

  • Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland, 61,000 strong
  • James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, 24,500 men
  • John M. Schofield’s Army of the Ohio, mustering 13,500.

In front of Sherman was Johnston’s Army of Tennessee, 60,000 strong. In his rear, from the Mississippi to the Appalachians, Confederate cavalrymen John H. Morgan and Nathan B. Forrest roamed, disrupting communications and attacking Union garrisons. Johnston – outnumbered though he was – skilfully opposed Sherman in a series of delaying positions. Sherman – equally skilful – outmanoeuvred him by turning movements at Dalton (9th May), Resaca (15th May), and Cassville (19th May). Each time the manoeuvre was the same: a holding force in front of the Confederates and a wide Union turning movement around the Confederate left. Then Sherman drove due south, by-passing Johnston’s position at Allatoona (24th May). Johnston, retiring to Marietta, placed himself directly in Sherman’s path.

After a series of indecisive combats near Dallas and New Hope Church (25th to 28th May), Sherman made a frontal assault on Kenesaw Mountain, which was the key to Johnston’s position. The attacks were repulsed and Sherman lost some 3,000 men. Johnston’s losses were only 800. Once again Sherman (2nd July) turned his opponents left, and Johnston (4th July) took up a powerful entrenched line north of the Chattahoochee River.

Again Sherman turned the Confederate position. Johnston fell back on Peachtree Creek, just north of Atlanta, and prepared for a counterattack. He was then summarily relieved of overall command on 17th July. This could be viewed as an ungrateful administration’s reward for a really remarkable delaying campaign against very superior forces. For 2 months he had, with a minimum of losses, held Sherman to an average advance of 1 mile per day. He was succeeded by John B. Hood, who had a reputation for being somewhat impetuous.

Johnston had already foreseen that Sherman’s advance on Atlanta, on a 10 mile front, offered possibility for a successful counterstroke. Hood seized the opportunity, and attacked Thomas’ army. Although surprised, the Union forces were alert and the attack was repulsed. Some 20,000 men on each side were involved. Southern casualties were about 2,500 and Union losses were 1,600. The Union advance continued (21st July), forcing Hood to withdraw behind Atlanta’s defences. Sherman hoped to follow his enemy into the city and sent his left-flank cavalry division eastward to cut the railway. Hood, however, had retreated with the full intention to strike back.

22nd July: BATTLE OF ATLANTA 1864
William J. Hardee’s corps – the elite of Hood’s army – together with Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry division, hit the open left flank of McPherson’s army. Surprise was complete, but the veteran Federal troops reformed, despite the death of McPherson in the melee. The assault was repulsed with Confederate losses of some 8,000 men. Federal casualties were 3,722. Sherman – his strength insufficient for a siege – determined to swing entirely around to the western side of Atlanta and operate against the railroads. Sending most of his cavalry raiding south (27th July), he started the move next day.

An further assault by Hood was repelled – mainly by the Army of the Tennessee – with 4,300 Southern casualties against 632 Union losses.

28th July to 22nd August 1864: CAVALRY RAIDS
Part of Sherman’s cavalry – 6,000 strong – moving around both sides of Atlanta failed in its dual mission to cut the railroad and to liberate the Union prisoners at Andersonville. As a result Major General George Stoneman and some 2,000 men were surrounded and captured by the Confederates on 4th August. Meanwhile Sherman continued to build up the strength of his forces on Atlanta’s western side. Another Union cavalry raid was mounted of 22nd August but this also failed to cut rail communication between Atlanta and the outside world.

27th to 31st August 1864: FALL OF ATLANTA
Leaving one army corps to guard his own communications, Sherman swung his remaining troops forward in a great wheeling move towards the railroad lines south of the city, driving Wheeler’s cavalry before them. Hood sent Major General W. J. Hardee – with half of his army – to hold the railroads, but Hardee was thrown back at Jonesboro on 31st August. Hood’s communications line was cut now cut, and after destroying ammunition and supply stores, Hood evacuated Atlanta that night, moving east and south. Next morning Sherman’s troops marched in.

September to October: MANOEUVRING AROUND ATLANTA 1864
Sherman, turned Atlanta a military base, but found further any further advance almost impossible because of the need to protect his 400-mile line of communications to Nashville. In addition to the daring and successful attackes of Forrest and Wheeler, Hood had moved west and north with his entire army (1st October) to attack these lines of communication in the hope of forcing Sherman’s withdrawal from the city. After chasing Hood’s force through Allatoona (5th October) as far as Baylesville, Alabama (22nd October), Sherman came to the conclusion that further efforts to get to grips with the elusive Confederates would nullify Grant’s giant pincers concept.

14th November 1864: HOOD INVADES TENNESSEE
Reinforced by Forrest’s cavalry, Hood crossed the Tennessee River and moved rapidly northwards toward Nashville with 54,000 veteran troops. Thomas, building an extemporised army at Nashville around his own hard core of veterans, did not wish to withdraw garrisons from key points in Tennessee. He therefore played for time. Major General John M. Schofield, with 2 corps and Wilson’s cavalry division (about 34,000 men in all) was directed to delay the Southern advance. Schofield managed to avoid Hood’s attempts to box him in at Columbia (26th & 27th November), and he fought his way through the enveloping Confederate forces in a night battle at Spring Hill (29th November), and then moved into previously prepared defences at Franklin, 15 miles south of Nashville.

15th November to 8th December 1864: MARCH FROM ATLANTA
Sherman solved the problem – with the somewhat reluctant approval of Grant – by sending Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland back to Nashville and Chattanooga, whilst he abandoned his line of communications and marched eastward from Atlanta toward Savannah with 68,000 veterans. With him were 2,500 wagons and 600 ambulances carrying supplies (mostly ammunition); other that that, his men lived off the country. With practically no opposition he cut a 50-mile-wide swath of ‘scorched earth’ to the sea, 300 miles away. He was deliberately making ‘Georgia howl’ as he devastated crops and the war-supporting economy of central Georgia. He ignored Hood’s efforts to distract him when the latter mounted a full-scale invasion of Tennessee whilst – to his front – Beauregard, assisted by Hardee, tried to protect Savannah and Charleston.

30th November 1864: BATTLE OF FRANKLIN
Hood, impetuous as ever, attacked piecemeal with two-thirds of his army. He was thrown back after losing 6,300 casualties out of 38,000 men engaged. His opponent – Schofield – lost 2,300 out of his force of 32,000 men. Having successfully defeated Hood’s army, Schofield retired that night to Nashville.

15th & 16th December 1864: BATTLE OF NASHVILLE
Hood assembled his army outside the defences of Nashville from 2nd December onwards. In the meantime methodical Thomas, who was busy training his largely newly-recruited army – particularly Wilson’s new cavalry corps – would not be budged until he was ready. When he did finally attack, he destroyed the left flank of Hood’s army because it was exposed as a result of Hood’s decision to send Forrest away on a raid towards Murfreesboro. On the second day of the battle Hood found Thomas’ troops were enveloping both his flanks. In the end Wilson’s cavalry, which struck behind the Confederate left, delivered the final blow. Federal losses were 3,061 out of 49,773 men engaged. The Confederates lost 5,350 out of 31,000 on the field, and Hood’s army dissolved into a fleeing rabble. This was the most decisive tactical victory gained by either side in a major engagement in the war.

9th to 21st December 1864: OPERATIONS AGAINST SAVANNAH
Arriving in eastern Georgia, Sherman discovered that Hardee held fortified Savannah with 15,000 men. Sherman stormed Fort McAllister at the mouth of the Ogcechee River, 15 miles from Savannah on 13th December. After establishing communications with Union naval forces, Sherman’s army began an investment of the city. With his lines of communication about to be cut, Hardee evacuated the city and Sherman moved in at once (21st December), presenting the city (in a ship-borne and telegraph message to Lincoln) as ‘a Christmas gift’.

Umpire’s CommentsOne measure of whether or not the re-creation of a particular historical campaign works is to compare what happened in the game with what happened in reality, and it is interesting to see how close some of the events in the game mirrored those of the actual campaign. This may – in part – be due to the fact that several of the players were very knowledgeable about the period, but it is also due to the quality of the arguments presented by the players, most of whom took a very ‘cultural’ (i.e. historically correct) view of events as they unfolded. For my part I deliberately did not read up any of my sources about the Atlanta Campaign until I had typed in the last moves. This was in order to ensure that I did make any biased decisions as I ran the campaign. The result was a realistic and enjoyable campaign that was not a burden to the players – I hope – or the umpire. I enjoyed it very much, and I hope that you did too.