Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Thoughts on Selecting a Wargame Campaign

While one-off games are enjoyable, sometimes I yearn for a little more continuity and context.  What do I mean by that?  Well, often a one-off game whether played solitaire or in  a multi-player setting, results in a final grab for victory in the closing stages of play.  How often is an all out assault attempted in the waning moments of a game?  From my own experiences, these last ditch efforts to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat occur far too often in multi-player games.  In my own solitaire exercises, these hurried stabs for victory can be avoided by remaining within the confines of history and the scenario.  On the table, our actions ought to have consequences later. 

Returning to the notion of continuity and context in a game, I would like to see the results of this on-table struggle ported over to the campaign.  Decisions on the tactical level can impact the operational level.  Our games should not always be conducted in isolation.  Rather than launching an attack with low probability of success late in the game, perhaps, a savvy commander should opt to withdraw his forces to fight again another day under more favorable circumstances?

My campaign thoughts turn towards combining an operational or strategic mechanism for maneuvering troops into position and then transferring those "paper" forces onto the miniatures' table for resolution.  For this operational or strategic mechanism, boardgames come immediately to mind.  Many have accomplished this melding of board and miniatures gaming successfully.  Those successes provide motivation for myself to give it a try.

To make a step forward in the activity, a period needs to be selected.  What criteria to use?  In no particular order the following would be needed:
  • An operational system to conduct the operational elements of the campaign.  Preferably the operational system would be contained within a wargame I already own.
  • A tactical system to resolve tactical battles on the table.
  • Miniatures to field necessary forces for all combatants.
Considering my collections, many periods could be potential candidates.  They are:
  • Second Punic War
  • Spanish Reconquista
  • English Civil War
  • French and Indian War
  • American War of Independence
  • Napoleonic Wars
  • Risorgimento 1859
  • American Civil War
That is quite a long list of potential candidates!  Although an interesting campaign, the Risorgimento can be eliminated since I do not have sufficient French painted to field a sizable French force.  I should focus on getting French into the painting queue.  The Risorgimento has a superb operational game available in 1859.  Looking at the game components makes me wish I was in position to give this a try.  I really should focus on getting French painted!
Miniatures for any of the Franco-Austrian Napoleonic campaigns, the Peninsular War, or the 1813-1815 campaigns could be fielded for the game table to support a campaign.  The scope of the campaigns and forces involved may be greater than I care to tackle on the table in a protracted campaign.  Napoleonic Wars will be bypassed in this exercise.

What are some of the operational system choices for the other periods?  For Punic Wars, I could use Hannibal from Strategy & Tactics.

For the Reconquista, another Strategy & Tactics offering,

Reconquista looks very interesting but reviews are quite mixed.  Actually, most reviews are negative with the consensus being that there is a good game in there somewhere and to bring it out requires a substantial effort.  As a system for generating tactical battles on the miniatures' table, it might work well.  The difficulty might lay in absorbing the rules and resolving questions that arise.  

For the English Civil War, The King's War is a first rate choice.

For the French and Indian War, Montcalm & Wolfe would be my choice as an easy to use battle generator.

Since Montcalm and Wolfe has similarities to Habitants & Highlanders, H&H could also be utilized.

For the AWI, the companion booklet to Habitants & Highlanders, Whites of Their Eyes would make a useful campaign engine.  My 15mm AWI collection has not seen the table in far too long and a campaign might be just the ticket to get them out again.

Finally, for the ACW, Campaigns of R. E. Lee would make an excellent campaign engine for the eastern theater

as would the much simpler, S&T Campaigns in the Valley.

With so many choices, deciding which to undertake may be difficult.  Which would YOU choose?


  1. Far be it for me to say I'm up historically on all of the periods you mention, but I would humbly suggest Punic War, or something Hellenistic (Twilight of Greece). My buddies and I had envisioned a WAB campaign for this a couple of years ago. Alas, we all were overcome by events which prevented this, but it is still a possibility in the future. Best, Dean

    1. Punic Wars is a great choice and one I would enjoy doing. My Punic Wars collection in 28mm lacks elephants plus I could use more cavalry before launching out into a campaign. I could play the battles out in 6mm. There are plenty of those to field both Romans and Carthaginians.

  2. What a though provoking post!

    How many board games have I purchased over the years thinking "This would make a great framework for a campaign"? At least a dozen.

    How many of those have I actually *used* to do a campaign?
    Uh, right, next topic! :-)

    OK, well we used the MAP from Machiavelli and a bit of the plague rules, and nothing else. That's about it. The problem is that our needs are rather distinct from those of the board game itself, and thus the translation back and forth between the two rules sets can be a real challenge.Brent Oman's "Theater of War" is a very clever set of admittedly abstract campaign rules that can be pretty readily adapted to most board game maps, and a provide a campaign that will never use more troops than you have, generate interesting scenarios without having many that are impossibly lopsided, and will come to a definite end in 2 - 6 tabletop games.

    Anyway, my top choice for a campaign from among the above would be the ECW - indeed, I think that era almost requires a campaign to make sense of the shifting loyalties, and the changing fortunes of King and Parliament.

    1. Peter, we have much in common!

      I like the idea of an ECW campaign and completely agree that it offers a near perfect opportunity for both sides to actively participate. While I am quite smitten by the look of COA's The King's War, I have yet to play it and may be a bit on the complex side for my first campaign trial.

      It is certainly a campaign I would enjoy!

  3. I'm currently involved in a campaign by mail with a lot of the Rejects and over the years campaigns with figures have been started but never finished but campaigns are the way to go in my opinion.

    1. Never finished a campaign? I have heard that from others as well. Seems like in a campaign setting, once fate turns against a faction, that side soon loses interest and the campaign grinds to a halt.

  4. I agree with you, I prefer linked battles to one-off battles, as entertaining as they can be. I bought the Campaigns of RE Lee for the same reason, with the same thoughts that Gonsalvo had in his post. I haven't tried it yet, because I feel I need more painted figures to do the size of the armies justice, and even then I would have to scale the tabletop game at the brigade level, probably using TFL's They Couldn't Hit An Elephant rules.
    The Risorgimento setting would certainly be the most colourful.
    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

    1. My thought is that Campaigns of R.E. Lee would offer a perfect campaign engine. It has been years (decades) since I last gave the boardgame a try. Even then, it was only a small scenario. I have the figures in 10mm to pull it off on the table top. For smaller actions, I might use Regimental Fire and Fury. For larger battles, I would likely use my own, Republic rules.

  5. Both Maurice (18th century and possibly lat 17th) and Longstreet (ACW) have a good campaign systems. There is no strategic maneuver to speak of but the consequences of one battle do carry over from one battle to another. Both use a Point system to measure the "fame" of the general so while winning and loosing are important you can also win by racking up points for heroic defenses and glorious charges. I mean Pickett is was one of the worst Confederate Division commanders but also one of the most famous.

    1. I have Maurice so that would be a possibility and provide an opportunity to get my SYW collection onto the gaming table. For campaigning, my idea is to play out the campaign on an operational or strategic level and then telescope down to the tactical level to resolve the larger engagements. While Maurice could handle the tactical engagements, I am not sure it could handle my requirement for an operational scope.

  6. Brilliant, I'm right there with you Jonathan! In my early years, rare was the game that didn't end with the losing side charging across the board on the off chance they could snatch victory from defeat. That was sooo annoying and stupid.

    I'm always on the lookout for a campaign to frame up the one-off games. I find a campaign much more rewarding AND my buddies feel the same way. FoG had been getting long in the tooth until we fired up a campaign game of it. Now people are hurrying to get their "game" turn in.

    For simplicity, I've fallen back on rules that build a campaign game in Maurice and Longstreet are a success in this regard as well asDux Britanniarum as well. DB has a bit of RPG snuck in there as well that I love. It turns out Dead Man's Hand has a campaign game we're going to work in. All campaign, all the time I say!

    1. Monty, you are a lucky man to have gaming buddies ready to commit to a campaign setting. With both you and Adam recommending Maurice and Longstreet, I need to give those two games more thought.

      I have participated in WWI air, gladiatorial, and Old West campaigns years ago. All were great fun, indeed! Were they fun and successful because each player only controlled one or few characters? Maybe that had something to do with success. If your character died, you simply rolled another character and stepped back into the fray!

  7. I'm interested in 6 out of the 8 you mentioned, but since I'm currently in 18th century kick at the moment I'd like to see a F&IW or AWI campaign in particular F&IW. You see plenty of skirmish games done in this period, but not armies so I'd be interested to see how that works. I have H&H, but have yet to play it so I'd like to see an AAR on that.

    Campaigns are great if you can keep the momentum so I'd recommend keeping them short and flexible or ones with very little paperwork if you plan on running it a long time.


    1. Christopher, I agree that a campaign should be kept short and flexible. For an initial campaign, FIW seems the right size. Unit density is low and field battles ought to be rare and small in relation to other conflicts. The few battles that are generated within the operational engine ought to provide good games. In the wilderness of North America, concentrating for battle will provide many challenges and I imagine a deterrent to large scale battles.

      In FIW's favor is the nifty little DTP game Montcalm & Wolfe. Counter density is low and campaign rules tend towards the lower end of complexity.