Thinking about campaigns

I have always enjoyed taking part in campaigns (I owe great debt to Eric Knowles and his Madasahatta Campaign for introducing me to their delights!), and over recent years I have set up and fought a number of mini-campaigns. For some years I have been planning an Eastern Front/Great Patriotic War, and over the past few days – whilst I have been unwell – I have been giving it some thought.

Setting up such a large-scale campaign needs a lot of preparation and forethought … and only a fool would try to do it without first looking at what other people have done.

The first place that I looked was at Frank Chadwick’s BARBAROSSA 25.

His approach was to ‘bathtub’ the whole thing, with both sides, the maps, and the timescale being scaled down by a factor of 25. This approach did appeal to me … but looking at my figure and model vehicle collection made me realise that it was going to take a lot of work to go down that path.

I then spent time visiting Chris Kemp’s NOT QUITE MECHANISED blog.

I’ve known Chris for thirty seven years, and took part in some of the very early battles that used his rules. Since then Chris has replaced his collection of 20mm figures and vehicles with equivalent 15mm-scale stuff, and his campaign continues to progress.

The third source I went to was Paul Leniston’s NAPOLEONIC WARGAMING blog. It has a complete guide to running a Napoleonic campaign, and is the result of many years of experience in running such campaigns.

This information can be found here:

My preliminary thoughts are to take a similar approach to that outlined on the NAPOLEONIC WARGAME blog. As to the rules I will use to fight my battles … well there are two possibilities; my modern PORTABLE WARGAME rules or my OPERATIONAL ART rules. I suspect that I will opt for the latter … but that is a decision for the future.

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When several different things seem to come together …

Archduke Piccolo’s interest in and use of my HEXBLITZ rules has encouraged me take a fresh look at them and my later OPERATIONAL ART rules, and during my recent cruise I started putting a few idea design ideas down on paper. At the same time I was reading the first volume of Quintin Barry’s THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR 1870-71 VOLUME 1. THE CAMPAIGN OF SEDAN. HELMUTH VON MOLTKE AND THE OVERTHROW OF THE SECOND EMPIRE (Published by in 2009 by Helion & Company Ltd) …

… and just after Sue and I got back to the UK, it struck me that I really ought to give some thought to writing a set of operational-level rules for the mid to late nineteenth century.

At present the rules are very much a work-in-progress, but the design decisions I have made so far are:

  • A base will represent a regiment-sized unit or a Commander
  • Regiment-sized units will be organised into brigades, divisions, and possibly corps
  • Units will have a basic Combat Power based upon its level of training and/or equipment:
    • Poor quality Infantry & Cavalry = 1
    • Conscript quality Infantry & Cavalry = 2
    • Regular quality Infantry & Cavalry = 3
    • Elite Infantry = 4
    • Artillery = 3
    • Command = Varying with quality of the Commander (Range of Combat Power from 1 [Poor] to 4 [Exceptional])
  • A card activation system will be used
  • Artillery will fire first every turn as per my PORTABLE WARGAME rules … but possibly subject to ammunition supply rules
  • Movement distances:
    • Artillery that has fired = No movement
    • Infantry that is going to fire = 1 hex
    • Infantry & Artillery not firing = 2 hexes
    • Cavalry & Commanders = 3 hexes
  • Weapon ranges are:
    • Infantry & Cavalry = Adjacent hex
    • Field Artillery = 4 hexes
  • Combat Resolution will be as per my OPERATIONAL ART rules (i.e. Both sides compare their D6 dice score + unit Combat Power + transient effects)
    • If the attacking unit’s Combat Power is lower than the defending unit’s Combat Power, the combat has been ineffective.
    • If the attacking unit’s and defending unit’s Combat Powers are equal, each unit throws a D6 and the unit with the lowest score stays in its current position and reduces its Combat Power by one.
    • If the defending unit’s Combat Power is less than the attacking unit’s Combat Power but more than half of the attacking unit’s Combat Power, the defending unit stays in its current position and reduces its Combat Power by one.
    • If the defending unit’s Combat Power is less than half of the attacking unit’s Combat Power, but more than a quarter of the attacking unit’s Combat Power, the defending unit reduces its Combat Power by two.
    • If the defending unit’s Combat Power is less than a quarter of the attacking unit’s Combat Power, the defending unit reduces its Combat Power by two and withdraws until it is at least one hex away from an enemy unit.
  • Transient effects are:
    • The unit’s Commander is in the same or an adjacent hex = Add the Commander’s Combat Power
    • If the attacking unit is Artillery firing at an enemy unit in an adjacent hex = Add one
    • If the attacking unit is attacking an enemy unit in the flank or rear = Add three
    • If the attacking unit is attacking an enemy unit that is in defence works, inside a wood, or inside a built-up are = Subtract two

I hope to give these outline rules a try-out sometime soon, possible using figures from my 15mm-scale Peter Laing Austro-Prussian War collection. (I don’t have any Franco-Prussian War figures, so I will have to make do with what I have available.)


Some of my 15mm-scale Peter Laing Austro-Prussian figures in action …

… back in January 2009 when they stood in for the forces of Laurania and Maldacia!


Grids and scales

David Crook – who writes the A WARGAMING ODYSSEY blog – is designing a naval wargame set in the early twentieth century, and in an exchange of emails we have been discussing the advantages and disadvantages of using a grid of Hexon II hexes for naval wargames … something that I have done in the past but in an abstract rather than a realistically scaled way.

This set me thinking, and I sat down with a pencil and paper and started playing around with the numbers … and what follows are the results of my thinking.

Assuming that the distance from face-to-face on a Hexon II hex (which measures 10cms from face-to-face) represents a nautical mile, a ship travelling at a speed of one knot would take one hour to move from one hex to an adjacent hex.

This gives gun ranges of one hex representing 2,000 yards, two hexes representing 4,000 yards, three hexes representing 6,000 yards and so on.

If the ship were doing a speed of six knots, it would take ten minutes (i.e. one-sixth of an hour) to move from one hex to an adjacent hex. I chose six knots because during the period David is setting his rules in this seems to work as a common denominator for most major classes of warships; on average battleships do 18 knots (3 hexes), cruisers do 24 knots (4 hexes), and destroyers 30 knots (5 hexes). All the thoughts and ideas that follow are based upon this six knot common denominator assumption.

Now ten minutes can be a long time in a naval battle, with even slow-firing guns being able to get off two or three salvoes, so if we reduce the time scale to five minutes, this has consequences.

For example, if we change the ground scale to one hex representing half a nautical mile (i.e. 1,000 yards) from face-to-face, the move distances per turn will not alter but the gun ranges will, with one hex representing 1,000 yards, two hexes representing 2,000 yards, three hexes representing 3,000 yards and so on. As the Battle of Tsushima began with the ships firing at 10,000 yards and hitting each other at 7,000 yards, the tabletop distances would be between 100cms and 70cms.

As the average heavy gun salvo rate in 1905 at the Battle of Tsushima was about one salvo every three minutes, it would seem to make sense to use that as the basic element of the time scale. In this case the ground scale reduces to one hex representing 600 yards from face-to-face, the move distances will not alter, but the gun ranges do, with ten hexes (i.e. 100cms) representing 6,000 yards.

Now all of the above works well if one assumes that one wants to fight a salvo-by-salvo naval battle … but as naval gunnery was still relatively inaccurate (most sources seem to indicate that only about three to five percent of shells actually hit their target and did any damage) this might end up as being a rather tedious wargame to fight.

So if we return to the original timescale where one turn represents ten minutes of real time, our pre-dreadnought battleship will fire three – possibly four – salvoes per turn. Assuming the latter, the ship will therefore fire sixteen shells and possibly – if they are very accurate and achieve a percentage hit rate of 6.25% – score one hit. In reality they are more likely to score one hit every two turns.

This begs the question as to whether or not the time scale needs to be changed so that more firing can take place each turn … and this opens yet another can of worms.

I cannot for the life of me come up with a way of realistically balancing the constraints of ground scale, time scale, and realistic gunnery … which is why I have always tended towards designing naval wargames where these elements are abstract rather than definitive.

Does anyone out there have a solution to this … or is it one of those wargame design problems that is best just ignored?


The Battle of Tsushima as depicted in a painting …

… and my attempt to model something similar to it!

It may not be art … but I know what I like!


Connections UK 2017: Games Fair

In response to several requests, here are some of the games that were featured at the afternoon session of the Connections UK 2017 Games Fair.

HOSPEX Tabletop – A Field Hospital Simulation (HQ Army Medical Services): Hosted by Colonel David Vassallo

Cyber Strategy Wargame (Royal Holloway College, University of London): Hosted by Andreas Haggman

Dogfight (King’s College London): Hosted by Professor Philip Sabin

Winged Exile (Air Warfare School, Cranwell): Hosted by Flight Lieutenant Colin Bell

RCAT – A Year in Iraq (2004-2005) (Cranfield University): Hosted by Jeremy Smith and Graham Longley-Brown


Connections UK 2017: Day 3

The programme for the day was as follows:

  • 8.45am – 09.00am: Arrivals and coffee.
  • 9.00am – 10.15am: Plenary 4: Wargaming in education.
  • 10.20am – 11.05am: Plenary 5: Simulating the intangible.
  • 11.05am – 11.30am: Drinks break.
  • 11.30am – 12.30pm: Plenary 6: Wargaming design and analysis.
  • 12.30pm – 1.30pm: Lunch.
  • 1.30pm – 1.45pm: Breakout introduction.
  • 1.45pm – 3.00pm: Breakout.
  • 3.00pm – 3.15pm: Drinks break.
  • 3.15pm – 4.15pm: Breakout back briefs and discussion.
  • 4.15pm – 4.30pm: Closing remarks.

Another relatively early start, but by 9.00am the lecture theatre was full of lively and enthusiastic attendees.

Session 4: Wargaming in Education
This session was chaired by Professor Phil Sabin (Department of War Studies, King’s College, London), and the contributions were made by:

  • Mauro Faina, who talked about the use of wargaming in an Italian school to give students a better understanding of certain historical events, to help expand their command of the English language, and to develop their self-confidence and leadership qualities. It was of particular interest to note that he used commercial games (‘Wings of War’ and Richard Borg’s ‘Command & Colors: Ancients’) and that the use of the word ‘war’ when describing the activities undertaken could be problematic.
  • Paul Howarth (Story Living Games), who explained how he used gaming in schools to enhance the ability of younger pupils to work together, to take responsibility, to understand human inter-action, and to communicate. It was interesting to note that he sees little or no gender-bias amongst the pupils he games with until they reached a certain age, at which point the split between boys and girls begins to grow. He also identified how games could meet some of the goals that schools are trying to achieve.
  • David Manley (Naval Authority Group Ship Division) and Dr Nick Bradbeer (University College, London), who described the use of wargaming by warship design students to assess their ship designs
  • Dr Richard Barbrook (Politics Department, University of Westminster), who described how the organisation ‘Class Wargames’ evolved from the work of Guy Debord and his ‘The Game of War’

Session 5: Simulating the Intangible
This session was chaired by Dr Aggie Hirst (International Relations, King’s College, London), and the contributions were made by:

  • Colonel (rt) Jeff Appleget and Colonel (rt) Rob Burks (US Naval Postgraduate School), who expanded upon their work modelling the human terrain
  • Anja van der Hulst (Netherlands Research Organisation, TNO) and Major Tom Mouat, who talked about the use of Matrix and Seminar Games as a means to try to model the intangible.

Session 6: Wargaming Design and Analysis
This session was chaired by Brian Train, and the contributions were made by:

  • Jim Wallman (Past Perspectives) and Professor Rex Brynen (McGill University), who discussed the strengths and weaknesses of Megagames
  • Erik Nordstrand (Swedish Defence Research Agency, FOI), who described the quite wide-spread use of wargaming in various elements of the Swedish armed forces, including military training courses
  • Ivanka Barzashka (King’s College, London), who examined the development of a strategic decision-making game about anti-missile defences

After lunch we returned to the lecture theatre to be briefed about the afternoon’s ‘Breakout’ session. The topic (‘The High North’ (Arctic)) had been requested by the DCDC, and we were asked if it would be possible to concentrate out game design efforts on this or ‘Failed Cities’, ‘Extreme Weather’, ‘Human Augmentation’, ‘Surveillance’, ‘Drones & Robots’, and ‘Corruption & Money’. Once briefed, we were split into groups and adjourned to our respective breakout rooms with our facilitators.

Breakout Session
I was very lucky in that I was allocated to the group being facilitated by Tom Mouat …

… and that included Brian Train.

The group was split into three syndicates, each of which had to develop the basic outline of a game design. These would then be voted on, and the best would be submitted to the conference as a potential game to take place at Connections UK 2018. Our group came up with a game that examined the impact of a new northern route from Europe to Asia via the Russian Arctic on the indigenous tribes who currently occupy the area. Would they confederate to protect their existing, fragile culture … or would they use the fact that they controlled the coastline to extract revenue (pilotage, piracy, tolls etc.) from users? Would the Russian Federation seek to stop them if they did, and what would the UN, NGOs and other governments do in these circumstances?

The end design was called ‘Aurora Borealis: Fire and Light in the North’, and it was selected by a narrow vote to be presented to the conference as a potential game for inclusion in the 2018 conference programme. (It is worth noting that the other two designs proposed by the other syndicates in our group were both worthy of going forward, and having to make a choice was somewhat invidious.)

The basic design for the syndicate’s ‘Aurora Borealis’ game.

The breakout sessions ended in time for us to return to the lecture theatre to listen to the game designs that the other groups had set down, and after listening to them, I felt that ‘Aurora Borealis’ was one of the better and more adventurous designs that was proposed.

The conference then ended with a few closing remarks from Colin Marston and the other organisers, and the date for Connections UK 2018 were confirmed as being 4th to 6th September 2018.


Connections UK 2017: Day 2

The programme for the day was as follows:

  • 8.30am – 09.00am: Arrivals and coffee.
  • 9.00am – 09.15am: Welcome and introduction.
  • 9.15am – 10.30am: Plenary 1: UK Military Tri-Service wargaming.
  • 110.3am – 11.00am: Drinks break.
  • 11.10am – 12.20pm: Plenary 2: US and UK military and Foreign & Commonwealth Office wargaming initiatives.
  • 12.20pm – 12.50pm: Keynote address.
  • 12.50pm – 1.00pm: Games Fair Introduction.
  • 1.00pm – 2.00pm: Lunch.
  • 2.0pm – 5.00pm: Games Fair Session 1. (Break for drinks at 4.00pm).
  • 5.00pm – 6.00pm: Plenary 3: Broader perspectives on wargaming.
  • 6.00pm – 7.00pm: Supper.
  • 7.00pm onwards: Games Fair Session 2.

We had a slightly earlier start to the second day, but this made little difference to the enthusiasm shown by the attendees in getting to the lecture theatre in time to start. After a short welcome and introduction to the day’s proceedings, the first plenary session of the conference began.

Plemary Session 1: UK Military Tri-Service Wargaming
This session was chaired by Howard Body (MOD), and the contributions were made by:

  • Lieutenant Colonel Nigel Jordan-Barber, who talked about the use of wargaming at the Standing Joint Force Headquarters
  • Commander Matt Payne RN, who explained how the Royal Navy was revitalising the use of wargaming and how he was using wargaming at the Maritime Warfare Centre
  • Lieutenant Commander Ed Oates RN, who explained how he was using wargaming as a training aid with an anti-submarine helicopter squadron
  • Flight Lieutenant Colin Bell RAF, who talked about the use of wargaming at the Air Warfare School in general and the development of ‘Winged Exile: Basic Air Warfare’, a warfighting wargame designed to help recruit potential RAF Air Warfare officers

Plenary Session 2: US and UK Military and Foreign & Commonwealth Office Wargaming Initiatives
This session was chaired by Colin Marston (Dstl), and the contributions were made by:

  • Commander Phil Pournelle USN and Matt Caffrey, who talked respectively about the current state of wargaming in the US military and  a long view of the development of wargaming
  • Owen Elliott (FCO), who explained about the gaming that was taking place in the FCO
  • Colonel George Wilson, who talked about the production of the MOD’s ‘Wargaming Handbook’ and the practical use of wargaming as a planning tool in Afghanistan

Commander Pournelle’s presentation included two particularly interesting slides which examined the relationship between the required outcomes, the nature of the problems being examined, and the different category of wargame …

… and the characteristics (and therefore efficacy) of different styles of wargaming in meeting a need. For example, Rigid Kriegsspiel is excellent for predictability, rigor etc., whereas Matrix Gaming is better if you want a more creative outcome.


Keynote Speech

This was delivered by Howard Body of the Ministry of Defence, and covered the interesting initiatives being undertaken with regard to wargaming within the MOD.

After a short introduction in the lecture theatre about the Games Fair by Professor Phil Sabin (War Studies Department, King’s College, London), we broke for lunch … and after lunch we dispersed to the various rooms in which the games were being held.

I was lucky enough to be able to take part in Brian Train’s game ‘Caudillo’, which can best be described as a competitive/co-operative game in which the players represent various political factions/leaders in a small South American country. They all vie for money, power, and influence in the face of a number of card-generated crises and what can be rampant inflation. The winner is the player who ends the game with the most aggregated amount of money, power, and influence!

Brian Train (on the right), explains to the players how the game works.

Two of the players were young King’s College students from Venezuela … and they had no problem recognising the game’s background!

One of the player’s hand of money, power, and influence cards. The numbers on each card showed how much money, power, and influence each card generated at the start of each turn. Players could acquire further cards during the game if the had the resources available to do so. (Cards ‘cost’ twice the value of the money, power, and influence that they generated.)

As the number of unsolved crises mounted, the players had to juggle what resources they had available to them to solve the crises by acting together and/or separately. Each player who contributed to solving a crisis gained additional resources depending upon how much they contributed.

This was a great game, with the players having to make lots of decisions. Thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended!

When the Games Fair was over, we returned to the lecture theatre for the next plenary session.

Plenary Session 3: Broader Perspectives in Wargaming
This session was chaired by Graham Longley-Brown, and the contributions were made by:

  • Charles Vasey, who talked about current design ideas in hobby gaming, including the ‘new New’, the growing use of card-driven mechanisms, Eurogaming, and in particular the COIN series of games which usually have lots of asymmetry and are designed for four (and sometimes three) players
  • Paul Strong (Dstl), who talked about the development of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit during World War II, and exemplar of practical, historical use of wargaming … sometimes to solve real-time problems! (The example he used was the development of tactics to counter the introduction and use by the Germans of acoustic anti-escort torpedoes.)

Western Approaches Tactical Unit in use. In these photographs the player’s orders are being processed.

Western Approaches Tactical Unit in use. In this photograph a player (unseen on the right behind a screen) is being given an update of the current situation.

I left to go home after this plenary session, and did not take part in the second Games Fair session that took place after supper.


Connections UK 2017: Day 1

The programme for the day was as follows:

  • 9.00am – 09.30am: Arrivals and coffee.
  • 9.30am – 09.40am: Welcome and introduction.
  • 9.40am – 10.20am: Wargaming 101 for new-comers or Megagame 202: designing the Megagame.
  • 10.20am – 5.10pm: Megagame – ‘Dire Straits’. (Breaks for drinks during the sessions, and for lunch from 1.00pm to 2.00pm.)
  • 5.10pm – 6.00pm: Megagame After Action Review.
  • 6.00pm – 6.30pm: Buffet supper.
  • 6.30pm onwards: Informal games session.

After registering in the main entrance hall of the Strand entrance to King’s College, London …

… we assembled in one of the large lecture theatres for a briefing.

The attendees then dispersed, some going to the Wargaming 101 session for new-comers and some (including me) to the Megagame 202 session to prepare for the Megagame. The room was set up as follows:

© Jim Wallman (2017).

The maps used looked like this:

Himalayas Sector Map

© Jim Wallman (2017).

South Sector Map

© Jim Wallman (2017).

Central Sector Map

© Jim Wallman (2017).

North Sector Map

© Jim Wallman (2017).

Once all the participants were assembled, there was a short briefing that included a video that covered the events and background to the political and military situation the game was going to cover. There was also a Twitter feed that was constantly updated by the Media Team and various participants throughout the Megagame.

During the game I acted as Central Sector Map Control … which meant that I had to translate the actions passed to me by the various teams and to adjudicate on any political and/or military events that occurred. The following records what happened in the area covered by my map and is not a complete description of all the events that took place during the Megagame.

Pre-game Positions
Before the game commenced a number of military units were already positioned on the map.

  • There was a large US presence around Okinawa
  • The Taiwanese had their armed forces at either ‘Ready’ or on ‘Alert’ status
  • The Philippines had a Surface Action Group at ‘Alert’ status and other units on exercise

Turn 1
During the turn the North Koreans launched a Multiple Re-Entry Vehicle test missile over Japan. At the same time the Philippines units in the south of the country went to ‘Alert’ status to undertake counter-insurgency operations against local guerrilla fighters.

Turn 2
In response to increasing levels of tension in the region:

  • The US moved their Carrier and Surface Action Groups near Okinawa up to ‘Alert’ status
  • US forces (including ABM systems) on Okinawa moved up to ‘High Alert’ status
  • The Chinese deployed two Surface Action Groups and a Carrier Group in the sea between the mainland and Taiwan, with the former at ‘Alert’ status

Turn 3
Things really started to look as if they were hotting up:

  • A US deployment took place in the sea area eat of Okinawa
  • Joint Chinese/Russian naval exercises began to the north-east of the Philippines … observed at some distance by a British nuclear submarine
  • US naval forces began to shadow the Chinese Carrier Group as it sailed off the west coast of Taiwan

Turn 4
The situation began to change:

  • The massive US naval force near Okinawa moved northwards towards Japan
  • The joint Chinese/Russian naval exercises moved eastwards and away from Taiwan and the Philippines … still observed at some distance by a British nuclear submarine!
  • The US naval forces that had been shadowing the Chinese Carrier Group moved to the east of Taiwan and to ‘High Alert’ status.

Turn 5
The situation remained as it was.

Turn 6
The French sent a Carrier Group to take point in joint exercises with units of the Philippines Navy, and these were joined by a British Surface Action Group.

Turn 7
Units of the Malaysian Navy joined the exercise off the western Philippines.

Turn 8
The Philippines Surface Action Group moved up to ‘High Alert’ in response to a potential threat to some of the country’s southernmost islands. At the same time the joint Chinese/Russian naval exercises came to an end.

Turn 9
The Megagame came to an end … and no military conflict had occurred!

We then all returned to the lecture theatre for a game debrief …

… led by Jim Wallman (left) and Professor Rex Brynen (right).

I left to go home after the debrief, and did not take part in the informal after-supper game sessions.


Please note that the maps shown above are © Jim Wallman (2017), and I have reproduced them to a size that enables readers to identify the main features of the playing areas but which renders them impractical to reproduce.