A group of five of us are currently on turn 13 of an American War of Independence campaign. It is run using the free windows war-games campaign management software called Berthier.
This programme has cut out an awful lot of book keeping on my behalf. I recommend you give it a go.
The campaign is kept simple, with no supply (although ammunition and weather play a part on the tabletop), and campaign turns are roughly fortnightly.
Each player has played their part to a 'T', and even included some well written declarations on the first turn, setting the tone.
The naval tactical battles are fought using the computer moderated rules called - Clear For Action.
The land tactical battles are fought using the computer moderated rules called - Carnage and Glory II.
Several battles have already taken place, and due to the use of the above programmes, the fog of war is causing some real headaches for the players.
Even though the players are present at the tactical battles, due to the use of the computer programmes, they are unsure as to how much damage they have caused the enemy. Leaving them a little less confident, or cocksure, even after victory on the tabletop.
Add to the mix the delay in receiving orders, instructions and updates, due to 18th century communication, the players are getting a true flavour of that period of warfare. Some have confessed to new found admiration, and understanding for the frustrations and difficulties experienced by their namesakes in the actual campaign.
Obviously, as umpire, it is easy for me to sit on the sideline, with a full picture and decide what I would do in such a situation, but even with a full picture of all the dispositions, and movements, I can honestly say that the campaign presents a significant challenge.
The players are not absolutely certain where all their units are on the campaign map.
The only let up in the strict flow of information, is the campaign newspaper - The Yorktown Times. The paper contains a mixture of brief stories and accounts, and 'bends' the communication time restrictions.
It is designed to keep the players immersed in the campaign world, but even this is not without smoking mirrors, some articles are accurate, other less so, some are true, others not, intermixed with real information and characters from the age.
Some player submitted articles, and subtle propaganda have also featured. Some have even featured secret messages to allied players!
I know that all of the players are scratching their heads and trying to compare the information in the newspaper with their intelligence reports, sighting reports and messages from their subordinates. They can only know what they see, everything else is by letter, or message.
More than once I have heard the phrase "but I don't understand". Laid on a plate - it ain't!
Overall, the fog of war is both entertaining, adding flavour to the campaign but also frustrating - just as I wanted it to be. It is realistic, and has a big effect on the players.
I have had recent conversations with the senior commander for each side, it is apparent that neither was fully prepared for managing the operational side of the campaign.
I know they will not mind me saying this, but their command and control structure was woefully inadequate. In essence, they were keeping information in their head.
This was fine in the first few turns, but now there is such a build up of information, that their head is not storing accurate information. They are missing vital information, and are not building a picture.
Both are considering their options and techniques to rectify this shortfall.
A classic example of this failure to manage command and control can be seen in the battle of Cormacks Creek. See the account of the battle on this blog for a detailed summary.
I known that certainly one of the players has started to review all the information, from messages, letters, intelligence and newspaper reports in an effort to build up a better picture. I am not sure what the second player has in mind, but he is a devious bugger and no doubt will sort it!
The other thing, which I do not think any of the players have grasped is the interaction between allied 'human' players. The information sharing is not as I would have expected. Perhaps the fear of intercepted messages may be the driving force for this?
All the players have agreed not to contact each other directly, and only direct face to face communication can take place if players are in the same location on the campaign map. Then an umpired monitored 'Council of war' can take place.
Overall, and as a result of the above, the campaign appears to be mirroring reality.
There are a few twists and turns to come, but I for one am thoroughly enjoying it, the battles generated as a result of strategic movement have been realistic, and not the sort you would put on for a one off game, but seem to be more enjoyable because of that.
The players also seem to be thinking more like generals and admirals, than 'all seeing Demi gods'.
For some, getting used to limited information has been difficult to accept...........after all, standing over a war-games table seeing a birds eye view of the enemy and their location, and knowing what damage you have scored by throwing the right dice is the norm, having information withheld is not, and takes some getting used to.
The 'personal' moral of the players is also playing a significant part, much more than it would in a one off - 'charge and be damned battle' - I think this alone could decide the outcome of the campaign, something which has greatly surprised me.
The big question on three of the players lips is "where are the French? "
I like it, I like it a lot.
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