Officers of the french army of Catalonia 1793

b-truillas
French Army of the Eastern Pyrenees

I finally had enough time to build my army for my french army of the eastern Pyrenees. Spain will be the first test for commanding officer Lecoque. Let’s hope he is up for the challenge, as officers that were unpatriotic or unsuccessful were often arrested and guillotined.

Read all the details and a short bio of the officers further down in the post. Now only performance and a bit of luck will decide their fate. We will see who rises to the highest heights of generalship and earns eternal glory and who falls to the dust failing in the mission of carrying the revolution over the border of France.

Continue reading “Officers of the french army of Catalonia 1793”

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Analysis of second test game

I just posted a rough outline of what happened in the second test game right here. All in all it was satisfactory from a system standpoint. Let’s reflect on three things that …

… worked:

  • I finished the game in 1 hour. One week of campaigning in northern France. At the end of the game/hour supply would’ve been checked, attrition and new troops calculated and media/politics effect randomised and experience allocated. After that a new game woukd’ve begun other on the same board – fe Austrian counter attack- or another board – fe adfter their success french commander s ordered to cross the rhine.
  • The bot moved well even on the attack. Generally I feel like defending is easier for the hot than attacking. Moving a decisive force to a specific point to “win” actively is harder to simulate than the reactive movement of moving forces to the defensive position in danger. Overall it kinds worked. The Austrians could’ve attacked Nancy in force, which probably would’ve been enough for an Austrian win. That they did decide to change orders for their leading column in the last moment was brilliant and rather Austrian at the same time.
  • The asynchronous and non linear passage of time for the bot produced enough operational friction for me to feel like i was in command. As a player I knew roughly how far my columns move in one phase. I am never sure whether my scouts and subordinate commanders tell me what’s happening though. A3 moved extremely fast through the middle of the map – a surprise move – a triple activation. In narrative terms the french scouting cavalry went to the inn instead of doing the job thus the commanding officer of the french only got the message of the approaching Austrian column when it was right at the door step of Nancy, leaving almost no time to react. This relativ Passage of time for different columns, combined with the fact that the limited resource is one’s ability to change orders really emphasises the huge delays in the ooda loop experienced at the very top of 18th century armies.

What didn’t work:

  • Combat takes way too much time. Multiple steps and a lot of dice rolling just isn’t for me. I want to know the outcome and that’s it – or is it? Still not sure about this. Combat in the age of Napoleon was not a linear affair. The bigger force didn’t win and inflict x amount of casualties 90% of the time …. Different battle tactics and actions could change the outcome dramatically. Now I don’t want to simulate this as my focus is operationally on the other hand I need a system that can produce a wide array of possible outcomes.
  • Morale system should be further integrated with what columns do. The threat to the Austrian supply line should’ve lowered the morale, making them switch to defensive orders. The Austrians especially were renowned for over protecting their supply lines.
  • Some parts of the rules are still too wishy washy leaving room for me to interpret them creatively. Especially the beginning and end process for the “campaign” needs to be fleshed out.

What i still didn’t do:

  • The characters still do not have names, characteristics and qualities that carry over from game to game. Before my next test game I need to design me some characters to lead the french.
  • Supply still is an afterthought, as i didn’t play long enough for it to become an issue – basically at the end of a turn a number of supply checks is to be done but i did only play one turn
  • Divisions are just numbers, they too should be infused with some character.

I am positive that my next test game will be game 1 of my campaign. The campaign will start in early 1792 and will cover the rise and fall – depending on my luck – of a young fictional general. Each play will deal with one campaign season in a distinct theatre. Depending of the success or failure of the young officer the theatres will either become bigger and more meaningful to the overall fate of france or he will be relegated to obscure and unimportant parts of Europe. Let’s wait and see. Oh and the notebook has tags now. Hurray!

Next test game: defending north/western france

In this test game I will try to defend france from my hopefully challenging austrian bot.

It is the year 1792, the french republic has declared war on Austria. For want of material and funds the young republic is on the defensive in eastern france. General Dumouirez is charged with summoning any troops he can get a hold of, for a strong allied force seems to be heading for Metz and Nancy.

The french plan is to hold Strassburg with most forces (5 divisions) and swing around the right flank, along the western side of the Rhine, if the Austrians decide to attack Metz or Nancy. General Dumouirez idea ist to cut the supply of the Austrians if they move to recklessly for the two fortresses.

Austria starts at +3 morale and subsequently all columns roll either attack or assault orders. This will be quite the onslaught, not a way of making war typical for the Austrians in this period.

Phase 1 french

Every phase starts with the french (the players) columns acting out their orders. If a column is on a move order, for example, it will move along the path indicated in its orders sheet until the qxhaustion threshold is reached.

F2 is on “scout” orders and decides to scout the northern column coming from Trier. All other french columns are on hold or reserve, thus they don’t move.

Phase 1 Austria

In the phase of the bot 5 d6 are rolled to see which columns act and how often they move. Every austrian column acts as often as its number shows up on the dice. This is because time is not a constant in this game. The different columns acting at different speeds, represents the fact that the commanding officer only know what is reported to him, thus an enemy column acting more than once per phase represents “hidden movement” or the failure of subordinates to report what’s happening.

Austria rolls no doubles in the first phase. Every column only acts once.

This also ties into the “special actions”. For every double the player gains 1 special action point which he can use in a number of ways. For isntance to change the orders of one of his columns. Thus while sudden fast movements of the enemy may unhinge the plan of the player, he also gains the means to get a new plan rolling.

As there are no doubles rolled this turn the player does not gain any special action points.

A2 crosses the river slowly moving on Metz

A3 moves quickly and suffers 1 exhaustion

A4 suffers 2 exhaustion

A5 finally only crosses the river and gains 2 exhaustion as well

Noone changes his orders

Phase 2 french

F2 moves north again

Phase 2 Austria

One special action for France: France decides to change the orders of f1 to attack Landau – Durkheim – kreuzach, which would result in all loc to the east cut.

A1 moves up to cross the Rhine at Speyer

A3 takes a double action and moves far forward

A5 continues to be extremely slow. This is a problem, i would like to test the strength of the Austrian columns but f2 is waisting its time while the austrians push through the middle:

Situation just before phase 3, with austrian supply network.

Phase 3 french

F1 moves up towards Landau. Looks like a1 and f1 will clash near Landau.

F2 scouts a5 discovering 4 divisions.

Phase 3 Austrian

Another possibility to change one order. F2 should move back. I need to find out the strength of the central austrian columns and maybe i get a chance to slow them down. I need to hold Metz and Nancy until the supply is cut.

A2 changes his order to hold

A3 moves right up to Nancy and reveals itself as being 3 divisions strong

A5 attacks and promptly ambushes f2 wiping the small scouting force off the table. If an ambush happens the enemy force can’t retreat, resulting in the loss of my small cavalry vendette.

-1 morale for the french

Phase 4 french

F2 takes Landau

Phase 4 Austrian

With a roll of 6 a1 attacks even though it’s contrary to character of the commander and force relation.

F1 employs a planned defense only getting one division unordered while a1 rolls 2 hits, has to fall back over the river disordering it’s last division

A2 still holds

A3 changes its orders to attack Strassburg. this looks almost historical: Austrians moving around aimlessly. Should the austrians reach undefended strassbourg though the loss would devastate french morale and cut of f1 from supply.

A4 moves up

A5 removes exhaustion by resting

Phase 4 french

It’s a race against time,if I cut enough supply roads before Metz or Nancy fall the austrian columns will just stop moving as they can’t rid off their exhaustion anymore. That Strassbourg is now undefended makes me quite nervous though. One daring dash forward would result in the loss of the city and would push my morale so low that there would be almost no chance of further offensive action.

F1 move up cutting even more supply roads for the Austrians. They only have one road left for their push. Meaning every column but one in the centre gains 1 exhaustion every turn.

Phase 5 Austria

One command change. Strasbourg is lost anyway if the austrians move at all. F4 shall press its luck and move on offensivly

A1 reorders one division

A3 and 4 both rest to remove exhaustion.

A5 acts twice moving southeast

Phase 5 Austria

Fight at Nancy

A4 starts an all out assault of nancy. Fortunately the Austrian troops are really bad quality and suffer heavy losses in the attack. Nancy holds

Phase 6 french

I decided to end the game here. The austrians are cut off from supply. Playing time was one hour. Game went rather well. This was a big test for the rule system as simulating an offensive bot is rather more difficult than a defensive one.

Combat in my solo Napoleonic campaign system (sncs)

Let’s call this a public notebook from now on, the general state of unfinishedness probably makes it so. I was on a small vacation in Vienna, thus i couldn’t write anything down though i was thinking about these rules for quite some time now. Some of the things are pasted from the new Rommel rules. After all why should I reinvent the wheel when someone else did the hard work already.

Rommel’s basic system of totaling the combat value of each side and applying hits simultaneously is ideal if the goal is a result focussed combat resolution engine. The outcome of this basic computation is ameliorated by the tactics employed by each side and by the heroic acts – if any – of it’s leaders. All in all i can resolve a combat in around 2 minutes while generating a narrative at the same time.

At the moment I have most problems with defining the battle stances. I want the sides to employ different “battle strategies” according to their tactical orders and the force relation. For instance an inferior force with defensive tactical orders would either defend reluctantly and subsequently withdraw or would employ a planned defense minimising casualties. An overwhelming force on the defense would employ an active defense, inflicting heavier casualties, or try to ambush the other side. Just how to call these different stances and what kinds of modifiers to employ i do not know yet. Now for the text:

Combat:

There are three “states” a column can be in in:

  1. Following operational orders if no enemy column is in any neighbouring hex
  2. Following tactical orders if a enemy column is in a neighbouring hex
  3. Fighting a combat if an enemy column is in the same hex

Combat is thus one of the big subsystems of the game. Combat occurs if any column that is in the same square as an enemy column is activated. This column has to spend it’s first action on combat. As long as the combat does not end the column has to fight on, using all of it’s actions in the process.

Combat always occurs between all columns in a hex. The leading officer is the highest quality officer of a side.

Combat has 4 phases

  1. Determine battle stance
  2. Roll for heroic action
  3. Combat resolution
  4. Check morale

Battle stance

Take the difference in strength points between the sides and add 1d6. Look up the result on the battle stance.

  1. Withdraw – this side retreats immediately. There is no combat.
  2. Planned defense – other side gets one shift down
  3. Active defense – this side gets one shift up
  4. Ambush – this side hits first
  5. Wait and see – no effect
  6. Planned attack – other side gets one shift down
  7. Active attack – other side gets one shift up
  8. All out assault – this side hits first

Example: a 8sp french force combats a 6sp British force. The french roll a 4 on a d6 +2 for the difference in sp. Thus they conduct a planned attack. The British roll a 2 and substract 2 for the negative difference in sp and subsequently withdraw before combat happens.

Heroic actions:

Each commanding officer does an heroic act of generalship if he rolls less or equal to his quality rating. If he acts heoircally add the number rolled to the total combat value of his side. If the side wins the combat the leading officer adds the heroic act to his biography and gets 1 experience.

Combat resolution:

Add all the organised strength points of a side to get the total strength point value. Each side then rolls one die to determine which combat grid he will use to resolve the combat. The grid indicates how many hits he inflicts on his opponent.Combat is normally resolved with both sides rolling and applying their grids simultaneously.
Apply shifts up and down on the grid according to the battle stance and heroic acts.

Apply hits:

Hits have to be applied to all columns evenly. This means that a column can only take a second hit if all other columns of this side already took a hit. Furthermore hits are applied to organised strength points as long as there are more organised than unorganised sp in a column. A hit on an organised sp shifts it down to unorganised. Anytime there are more unorganised sp than organised ones a unorganised sp is destroyed instead.

Check morale:

If the number of hits taken is higher than the current morale level of this side, the column(s) individually have to leave the combat toward the last hex they were in. Immediately roll for a solitary order change for every column leaving the combat.

The demeanour of the officers leading the columns can impact the application of the roll on individual columns. This may very well lead to some columns leaving the combat while others fight on. If this happens add it as a shameful occurrence to the officers biography.

Thoughts about bots.

Solo games can have completely different systems for players and the bot. In effect the bot needs to do things that are challenging to the players, that cannot be gamed and that can be interpreted as being realistic.

So while as a player I like the challenge of assigning ever too few operations to my columns, the agony whether I want to press my attack on the left flank but leave my right flank woefully unprepared or whether I want a more balanced approach, the bot does not need to care about these things at all. The bot just does things that have effect.

To put it short and simple: the bot produces results instead of simulating a mind that takes choices. If the bot is in fact not playing the game but just a way to build the game for the player most of the challenges with “making the bot play well” disappear.

Instead the problem of making the bot “feel realistic and fair” take the forefront. My experience tells me that most players have more difficulty accepting the actions of a bot if the bot does not seem to play the same game. In the coinseries, for example, bots play pretty much the same game as the player – controlled by an elaborate decision making flowchart. I tend to interpret these flowchart-bots as challenging and “fair”. There is after all no point in the flowchart which says:

3 divisions magically teleport to Milan*

But what I can do though is deconstruct the way the bot works. Analyze its flaws and strongsuits and “game the system”. The bots in the coinseries are clearly built with a lot of care and thus are not easy to game, but for me as a player the experience shifts. The goal for me as a player moves from “winning the game” to “learning how to game the bot”. Not something I want to fill my little gaming time with.

1944 race to the Rhine on the other hand works quite differently. The appearance of German troops follows a system uniquely for this specific task. This system is random and behaves somewhat erratic. I feel a lot less inclination to learn the subtleties of this bots behavior. But, and this is a big but, I tend to interpret the results as unfair, because they do not conform to the same rules that I as a player conform to, but they are the outcome of a distinct and recognisable subsystem:

What would have happened if I had drawn a different card right now. Oh my I surely am unlucky today.

The challenge for me is thus to create a bot that is interwoven so deeply into the games core systems that I as the player cannot interpret it’s actions because the

  1. underlying logic is not apparent
  2. There is in part no logic at all

… gotta go. I wonder whether this will become a blog of half finished posts 😁

*All my thoughts are still firmly set on the Italian theatre of war even though I am currently playing the defense of northern France in 1814.

First game – action at the river po

How the French came back from the brink of defeat at the hands of the sardinians

Situation: It is June 1797. The French just knocked back the sardinians (in red) towards milano and took Turin. Unfortunately the sardinians didn’t break. They set up defensive positions along the Ticino, blocking all routes to milano. Their spirits are high as the austrians are approaching to help their beleaguered ally.

Orders for the sardinians are hold. Orders for the austrians are protect milano (secondary) and protect own supply line (primary). They are Austrians after all, the safety of the armies supply always comes first.

I as the French will try to move along the south Bank of the po and take out the two Austrian supply depots (white cubes) crossing the po at Mantova. As i have 1 supply less than the enemy I lose one morale per phase (starting at ten). It’s a race against the clock.

Turn 1

Phase 1 – French

My south swing is in full motion, all corps designated for the southern attack activated and moved. The two infantry corps unfortunately picked up a lot of fatigue by crossing the rivers. I will have to rest them next turn. French lose 1 morale.

Phase 2 – Austrians

Sardinians first army activates twice. I promptly roll a zealous character as their commander. He proptly changes his orders to attack. Why should he defend milano when Turin is in the hands of the vile Frenchmen? First sardinians corps moves to Novara and stops there.

On the Austrian side 4th corps activates, promptly roles a shaky leader and changes its orders to “fall back”. It decides to use the southern road and stops at Parma before crossing the river.

Finally the Austrian 1st corps with a stubborn leader, way up in the north near Brescia, decides to stick to the plan and move on Milano.

Phase 3 + 4 – French

Motivated by the apparent lack of courage from the austrians the French role a double phase (2 sixes). Unfortunately the rest of the dice is bad and they only manage to combine their armies for the southern attack. French lose two morale.

Phase 5 – Austrian

First sardinians army continues its advance while the rest stays put. Only the sixth Austrian corps moves as well and promptly changes its order to “protect po crossings at Pavia”

Battle of Vercelli

To the dismay of the French the sardinians seem to have brought most of their army. They start the battle with a heavy artillery barrage – destroying one French infantry brigade and most of the French artillery. The following infantry attack on the town leads to heavy losses on the side of the French which stay in the battle thanks to their defensive minded general and manage to beat the sardinians back for the day. Still losses are catastrophic – the French won’t survive another day of heavy street fighting. Even more problematic: should they lose Vercelli the road towards their supply line is wide open. They lose one morale for the lost battle.

Phase 6 – French

The heavy fighting in Vercelli send shock waves through the entire French army. The French general can’t make up his mind as to a change of plan, thus everything moves on as normal. They now have very strong forces just west of Piacenza.

French morale is now 4.

Phase 7 – Austrian

Thankfully the sardinians first army decides to take a days rest after the heavy fighting. The rest of the sardinians army decides to keep on defending the Ticino. While the 4th Austrian corps falls back to Mantova.Situation in Phase 6:

The situation looks worse for the French every day. All enemy troops are entrenched north of the river po at every important bridge. The french attack on the south bank was a lot slower than the Austrian retreat, foregoing the chance of taking out part of the Austrian army. And let’s not forget, the western flank won’t stand much longer and with it the precious French supply line will be in grave danger.

Phase 8 – French

Another double phase for the French. 4 the corps hurries towards Parma.

Phase 9 – French

Now the French get lucky. They roll another phase after this one, meaning three phases in a row.

Phase 10 – French

I need to rework the morale loss mechanic. French would only have one morale left now. At the end of phase 10 two French corps are on the eastern side of Parma, while the cav screen defends Piacenza.

Phase 11 – Austrian

The sardinian army finally crushes the remaining French forces in Vercelli. Other than that the combined sardinian Austrian forces just idle and wait for the war to be won in the west.

Phase 12 – French

With a little luck the French are able to change the order of 4th and 5th corps to assault, thus they move into attack position on Mantova even though they have to force march there. Their fatigue loss is extremely high by now – remember they didn’t rest since turn one. Still no fighting this phase.

Phase 13 – Austrian

Battle of Mantova: the austrians only have one infantry one cavalry and the fortress artillery in Mantova. A glorious victory for the French. They take out the 4th Austrian corps and one of the Austrian supply sources – gaining 2 morale. The two attack corps are extremely exhausted by now and won’t do anything until rested.

First Austrian corps changes its orders to “protect supply at Verona at all cost” and force marches there, stopping on the west bank of river oglio at peschiera.

French morale is around 5.

Phase 14 – French

French corps rest.

Phase 15 – Austrian

Austrian army 4 re-enters the theatre at Botzen.

Phase 16 – French

Special action counter is up to 6. The French relocate one of their supply sources to Parma.

4th and 5th corps are still on rest orders thus they don’t advance on Verona.

Phase 17 – Austrian

First sardinian army finally moves again and enters casale, threatening the supply source at Tortona.

Second sardinian army decides it is time to get moving and changes its orders to “help the austrians”. They lose their way and march in circles picking up two fatigue points while gaining little ground. Realizing his error the stubborn commander urges them forward and in a night of marching the get close to Brescia.

Phase 18 – French

The French corps in Mantova remember their duty, take the unguarded Verona and thus win the campaign. Vive la France. Situation at the end:

Short analysis:

This was a nail biter of a game – as close as it gets. The first sardinian army charging my weak flank right away – and in force – made me fear that my plan was doomed from the start. Because i didn’t have a corps on reserve i couldn’t react. Even if i had a reserve, i am not sure whether defending the left flank would have been a good choice. The constant morale loss would have meant a slow and painful loss of the game.

The austrians falling back on Mantova at the same time looked like a masterstroke to me. Giving up the right flank while hitting hard on the left would have been my first choice of strategy as well. This artificial intelligence employed the strategy by lucky – or unlucky – dice rolls. I will have to wait and see whether the system i am using truly works. In this game it was all i could have hoped for.

I always felt on the brink of defeat – the tension, my heart pounding when i rolled the Austrian moves –  it felt like the fondest memories of my Friedrich games as a student. In the end I was lucky that the sardinians, after taking Vercelli, stopped and took their sweet time to get moving again and that the austrians had almost no troops at Mantova.

Ok baby is awake now. System analysis has to wait until next time.

Getting started: semi-narrative Napoleonic campaign

Mission statement and first infos

This will hopefully be my diary concerning the development of a solo semi-narrative campaign system set in the age of napoleon. As a father of a young toddler and having moved to the countryside for my job, I realised that I won’t have time playing  wargames anymore and there is literally noone around who would play them anyway – or know what they are. My wife sometimes plays 1775 if I am very lucky but other than that we spend most of our gaming-time playing euros.Which is a lot of fun in its own right but the itch to wargame remains.

Luckily solo wargaming is growing steadily and by now a lot of resources for solo gamers exist. Still i cannot fully see myself in any of the current offerings (this may verywell deserve another entry…).

What I am trying to achieve is fast playing (1 hour), operational (decisions should be move orders), based on Clausewitzian principles (line of communication, decisive point) and surprising (bot should be challenging by making unexpected moves).

I have a system 30% fleshed out. The first test went ok. I am leaning heavily on toofatlardies chain of command and dawn and departures, Simmons games Napoleon’s triumph and battle plans.

Let’s see whether I will keep writing things down. It would help massively to make headway with the project. Posts will probably be sporadic nonetheless as Baby, job and wife come first (not naturally in this order though). Next up I would like to post the after action report of my first test game with comments and a first draft of the rules.