Wargame campaigns are one of the hardest of activities to organise, possibly even harder to finish. They often start out with a fairly simple basic structure or idea and then get bogged down in the detail as all manner of historical ‘realities’ are built into the system. The initial flush of enthusiasm settles into the mundane of actual ‘paperwork’ to keep the whole thing running.
I’ve played in several campaigns but most have invariably run out of steam due to the tyranny of distance between players organising face-to-face games, the lack of an ability to meet for campaign moves and the burden of generally one person doing most of the heavy lifting in running it all.
…can there be an easier way?
The last 12 months has seen many players separated by force of circumstances that has isolated many previous groups and gatherings of like minded individuals. The only ‘free assembly’ place left without restriction is online.
The ability to communicate and engage with others from anywhere has never been easier than it is now. So utilising that communications highway will be the method I propose to enable the play of a simple to run and manage campaign that drives a narrative from game to game with some player agency to influence events.
While there are numerous ways to run a campaign I was looking for something much simpler and low maintenance so anyone could engage with and it could be adapted to multiple eras of or conflicts. The objectives are to keep paperwork to a bare minimum, drive a narrative, but still allow player to have some influence over events (through the use of cards).
With that in mind I happened on an ingenious method from Steven Thomas’s Balagan site, itself derived from Peter of gridbasedwargaming. It uses a ‘Snakes & Ladders’ system of fortunes good and bad telling a story along the way.
As Steven points out several others have used this method with success and Peter has a very nice Jacobite campaign to illustrate the use of the method. Several other examples exist on other people’s blogs.
The core system described by Peter however is totally luck dependent as to the fortune that one side gains or loses ie there is no player influence over events. It is essentially a very good solo campaign system. I however wanted a two player game. So, thinking cap on, I decided to tweak the basic system and use ‘ fortune cards’ to add some spice to proceedings. This would enable some bluff and planning of things and keep player interest up. I’ll explain how they are used below but the whole campaign method is simplicity itself and requires no paperwork at all.
The original system used a ‘fixed battles’ idea where players were presented with forces for each battle that was fought. This idea would work fine for me also. Utilising Honour of Wars ideas of scenario force assignments it would be possible for players to mix up the quality, quantity and possibly type along with commander characteristics. This would drive a good narrative to the campaign with each battle representing a different action fought in what ostensibly can be thought of as a ’theatre of operations’.
I have formatted these into one document for ease of use – here.
Generic 18th century Snakes & Ladders campaign
When determining how many points each player should get for allocation for the units in each scenario we find a good balance to enable choice and force compromise is to multiply the units in a force by 80. Thus in the Scenario ‘Combat at St. Ulrich’ the Blue force has 5 units. Hence it is allocated 5 x 80 = 400 points to allocate to his order of battle. This should still allow for superior units to be taken but will need to be balanced against the other remaining units in the force. Player’s may adjust this number ’80’ as they deem appropriate to allow more or less choice in each army.
This ‘multiplier’ could be a useful mechanic to reflect an army campaigning with lesser quality troops vs one where the campaign represents the main force of a combatant nation. A good example would be a campaign based on a force of Prussians that fought against the Swedish Pomeranian invasion of 1757 – this ‘theatre’ had poor quality Prussian forces so a lower multiplier number would be appropriate – perhaps 70. Whereas, if you were reflecting a campaign based on Frederick the Great’s army then he might have a force multiplier of 90. This would enable his force to have Superior and/or large units in greater proclivity than the Swedish Pomeranian Prussian force.
Example – scenario 10.
Lastly, the question of meeting for play became paramount as what would be a campaign if no battles (games) could due played out? To overcome this possible limitation we step into the digital realm to engage with (IMO) the best online vehicle for miniatures based game play – Tabletop Simulator (TTS).
For those unawares, this superb program hosted on Steam enable full fidelity real time ‘face-to-face’ miniatures games to be played. The models are all 3D digital and you can have as many troops as you like! There is a multitude of different eras you can play games using TTS but for us it will be a campaign set in the Lace Wars, namely the Western Theatre campaign between the French and Allied armies. The single best online resource for the Lace Wars is off course Kronoskaf and much of our information comes from there…along with our library of resource such as Savory’s “His Britannic Majesty’s Army in Germany during the Seven Years War” and a number of other titles.
Here is the campaign system in TTS. After. a few minutes of die rolling the first battle was determined. The Anglo-German army are the attackers and the scenario rolled up to play (a score of 2) is Combat at St. Ulrich.
So how does this work?
OK, so you have the campaign track that each player’s game marker moves along. This marker does not represent armies, just the track of the campaign progress toward the game end with the good and bad fortune events along the way driving the narrative.
Steven Thomas did an excellent job of breaking down each game step so I shall let Steven explain (with some minor edits to account for my variations and use of the cards).
Armies begin on the start square and roll a D6 dice moving forward the number of dice pips shown.
When an army lands on a fortune square it must follow the fortune arrow. Fortune only takes effect when you land on a fortune square at the end of your movement. Fortune squares passed across earlier in the movement are ignored. There are two types of fortune square:
- Tribulations (bad fortune) replace Snakes: The army go backwards, down the board, along the red arrow. Examples of bad fortune are: muddy roads, desertions, no pay.
- Successes (good fortune) replace Ladders: The army go forwards, up the board, along the blue arrow. Examples of good fortune are: supports join the cause, intelligence arrives from spy in enemy camp.
If both army markers occupy the same square at anytime, then a ‘petite guerre’ combat is fought out. This may be done by a miniatures game of the player’s choice being played or more generally being resolved by a quick opposed D6 die roll. You may modify this die roll by +1drm if you play a Fortune Card that has a combat effect.
The winner then has the choice to advance 1 square, or force his opponent to retire one square.
Note – If this results in movement into a battle box by the army marker, players may decide to play another miniatures battle or ignore the result in this situation – this being a ‘special case’ that doesn’t generate a battle if players want to have the campaign progress immediately.
An army must stop if it reaches one of the double-sized battle squares, regardless of the number of used/unused pips. The player that stops, and initiates, the upcoming battle draws a fortune card up to a hand limit of three cards.
Fortune Cards can be downloaded here.
Fight a battle using Honours of War. Each battle is determined by die roll as per the scenarios in the Battle Box. The moving army is the attacker which is specified in each scenario. The scenario specifies forces, terrain layout, etc.
The result of the tabletop battle determines whether the moving army can move further. After the battle, if the moving army:
- Wins: the moving army gets a free move along the battle success arrow (green). Battle success arrows guarantee the move avoids tribulations. In addition, select two cards from the draw deck or select one card from you opponent’s hand, keep one of the two cards drawn or the card from your opponent – allows abiding by the hand limit of 3 cards. Discard any surplus cards not held.
- Loses: the moving army stays in place on the battle Stop square.
Final Battle Square
An army reaching the last battle square triggers the Final Battle. This can only be done when the player rolls the ‘exact’ score to reach the final battle or a lesser score that progresses him toward that goal.
The moving army gets an advantage in the final battle – “First army in the Final Battle box rolls a d6 (+/-1drm) to determine battle type and may choose to be the Attacker or Defender in the upcoming engagment.”
The winner of this battle is the winner of the campaign. Note, the winner of the battle wins the campaign regardless of where their campaign track maker is located.
Once the battle is complete players then return to the campaign track. The player who did not initiate the battle rolls his d6 move dice and the campaign continues until the next battle scenario is determined as above.
Note – we tend to find this is a good point to finish up the miniatures game session and the players then, in their own time, organise their forces for the upcoming battle at an agreed time between both players at a later date. This will allow some time to ponder force ‘construction’ using the option system in Honours of War at a leisurely pace before arriving for the next battle. This sequence is continued until the campaign ends.
The campaign will generally generate 6 battles (+/-) with each ‘campaign move’ to the next step requiring only a few minutes of dice rolling to progress to the next battle. Players may then take the time to prepare their forces and army lists at their leisure before their next gaming session.
It’s a very clean, simple system that certainly lacks the heaviness of a traditional campaign method but as a narrative battle generator it certainly does the job nicely.
A Youtube video of an ECW campaign is worth a watch where you can se it ported to another era.
ECW Campaign playthrough
Note – we will be documenting our campaign via post battle reports with play of these battles on Tabletop Simulator…yeah, I know, they’re not ‘real’ miniatures but my miniature lads will just have to sit this one out…sorry fellas!
Honour of War Campaign table in Tabletop Simulator. Left of table has all the pre made scenarios in the brown bags along with terrain. Upper right are the armies to use and lower right the Snakes & Ladders campaign system.
..I’ll make this a thread exploring the use of TTS and HoW for online play. We’ll look at the TTS module in a bit of detail in the next instalment.