05 July 2008

Wargame Campaigns. . .

Now, I was always into hard rock and heavy metal as a teenager in the early 1980s, but I also enjoyed music by these guys. Great drum and bass grooves!

Several days ago, there was some inquiry about and discussion of Tony Bath ‘s Setting Up a Wargames Campaign over at the Old School Wargaming Yahoo group. Now, the subject of wargame campaigns is an interesting one about which much has been written. Just off the top of my head, we have Henry Hyde’s recently concluded series on his Wars of the Faltenian Succession in Battlegames, which certainly offers plenty of guidelines in running a fairly stress-free campaign. Bruce Quarrie's Napoleon's Campaigns in Miniature also has lots of potentially useful information on campaigns, a point Henry mentioned in a number of his articles.

In addition, there was another book, I believe, by Charles S. Grant, which I must track down and read, on the same topic. And, of course, there is War Game Campaigns by Donald Featherstone, which I have on my shelf and enjoy periodically. Clearly, there’s a great deal to digest when it comes to developing a wargames campaign, even if we limit ourselves to just these few sources.

If you’re like me, though, the idea of an ongoing campaign is attractive, but the level of detail and effort required might seem a bit much. I mean the main point of wargaming is to get the soldiers painted and get ‘em to the table for a battle, right? Why bog yourself down unnecessarily and risk delaying table top events?

I’ve been pondering this question for a few days now, usually in the late afternoons when I retire with my Grand Duchy of Stollen notebook and a pencil to the bedroom for an afternoon nap (when we aren’t bicycling like maniacs – about 170 miles since last Sunday!). My question to you Stollen regulars is this: What is the bare minimum of detail necessary for a satisfactory (but interesting) 18th century campaign context, leading to a couple of BIG battles and a few smaller actions?

Before I fell asleep Friday afternoon, I considered this same matter and jotted a few things down in my notebook. Although I don’t want too much bookkeeping, I do like thinking about things like monarchs, generals, lovers, intrigue, scandal, currencies, and postal routes (Yes, I’m a hopeless nerd!). These are the sorts of things featured in my own Grand Duchy of Stollen project/campaign of the last 2 ½ years. I also jotted down additional campaign facets like these in the Grand Duchy of Stollen notebook before I drifted off yesterday:

* The Miniature Armies (ok, this is a given.) and Strategic Movement

* Countries/Territories/Principal Cities and Towns/Fortresses

* Rulers/Generals/Officials

* Topography/Climate

* Agriculture/Natural Resources

* Reasons for War

* Alliances

* Trade

* Expansion (Gaining/Regaining Key Provinces/Towns)

* Crusades/Colonization

*Questions of Succession

* War Budget

* Casualties/Attrition

* Loss/Replacement of Men or Equipment

* Logistics & Supply

* Magazines

* Stores

* Garrisons

* Lines of Supply/Communication

* Monetary & Postal Systems

* Agents & Espionage

Of course, all this is really rough, but it should give me enough peripheral stuff for an interesting and ongoing campaign. Is there anything else I should include in my campaign? Is there something vital that I’ve omitted? Or, is this too much detail, detracting from the table top battles? What are you opinions about wargaming campaigns and the associated details? Please, please tell me now!


Fitz-Badger said...

Several years ago GW put out a book called "The General's Compendium" for WH fantasy, but many of the ideas could be adapted to other genres/periods. It has quite a bit on campaigns. They talk about ladder campaigns, where you play a series of battles and the result of one has some effect on the next; tree campaigns, where you play a battle and the outcome determines which of 2 or more possible battles comes next; and map campaigns.
I also have a very old set of rules put out by a different fantasy minis company, that has rules for running map-based campaigns, with economics, hiring heroes, etc.
These days I am more inclined to keep things simple. For myself, I don't want much bookkeeping. So, once I get a few more units painted I plan to try simply figuring out a smaller battle to start off a war, and make it up as I go along. Sometimes the results of one battle, in the context of a little bit of "history", can point the direction for future battles (or if there could be more than one direction maybe determine probabilities and roll for it).
So, I guess the simplest "campaigning" is to make it up as you go along.
Maybe I'll try it and decide I want to add more complexity as I go along. I think that's better than to start out too complicated and never get anywhere.

Fitz-Badger said...

another way to conduct campaigns is by using a boardgame, sort of a map campaign, but if you can find a suitable boardgame with all of the movement, economy and other aspects worked out, you could just play out the battles that arise from it (or just the ones you are most interested in playing out with minis and conduct the rest with the boardgames normal rules). Maybe make your own map or just rename places on the boardgame map.

Bluebear Jeff said...


I have, over the years, tried to run various campaigns as well as participate in others.

Almost universally there was too much detail for most of the players.

Some time ago (October 26, 2006) I had a post on my Saxe-Bearstein blog about a simple campaign format. (I might re-post it because this is an interesting subject.)

Anyway, while I've not tried it yet, it is about the level of non-complexity that most gamers will actually deal with.

Most of the aspects that you mention are valid BUT are too detailed for most of us to deal with for very long (if at all).

Certainly they are great if you're running a solo campaign OR can find someone who is of the same mind . . . but that isn't easy.

Stokes, I don't want to discourage you. Plan the type of campaign that you want . . . but don't be surprised if you cannot find an opponent who wants the same level of detail.

-- Jeff

Bluebear Jeff said...


I did re-post my earlier "simple campaign". It is my current (July 6, 2008) post.

Following up a bit, you already know that I DO like personalities in a campaign . . . and I would hope to include them . . . but the simpler the overall format can be, the better the chances are of the campaign continuing past the opening phases.

This is an excellent topic and I hope that it inspires much more input from others.

-- Jeff

Ed Youngstrom said...

Hello gents,

One of the reasons I asked about Tony Bath's book is that I am considering a solo campaign.

Without going into boring details, I just don't have the time to hook up with the local gaming crowd very often. And they're not particularly keen on SYW gaming.

So I am playing around with the idea of a campaign to keep my interest up. I have Grant's book, and my Battlegames issues, and even the GW General's Companion.

The basic idea is to fashion a campaign structure for my purposes that generates the occasional interesting battle situation, and then I take my toys to the group and let them play it out (provide all the toys and the rules and offer to umpire, and they will play darn near anything!).

Besides, I like to read good wargames stuff! (See http://hessefedora.blogspot.com/2008/07/top-five-wargames-articles.html if you haven't already).

Ed v. H-f

Conrad Kinch said...

If you're actually going to go into that level of mind boggling detail, you might want to include religion and language as significant cultural factors.

Frankfurter said...

Another note:
trade, economy, etc. could effectively be considered under one abstraction ... and depots and supply lines would incorporate most logistic concerns.
In my campaigns, I also permitted folks to plunder their foes ... thus providing extra resources which could be turned into either logistical points or even into new or replacement troops ...

Ed Youngstrom said...

Another source of campaign ideas, and a map, is the GW "Mighty Empires."

The best version for campaign purposes is probably the old version, although a VERY simple one is included in the new tile set. This version has more detail.


Hey, it's all about ideas, right?

Ed v. H-F


We, that is the Ilkey Lads, like to play at least one campaign a year. Here are some thoughts and observations.

We have found that timing is everything.

The best month (northern hemisphere) to start a campaign is October; the nights are drawing in and folks have less things pressing on their free time.

Also, to keep everyone, and 'everyone' is important here, happy and interrested is to make sure that the campaign has an ending (clear cut victory conditions) achievable within two to three months of actual playing time. Here that would be about 12 table top battles. That way, those clobbered early on do not lose interrest and drop out.

Be sure that key players have an attention span great enough for the job in hand - if some seem flakey or not period enthusiasts, give a single job to two players incase one goes AWOL and call them a Republic / Democracy.

Campaign rules are not that important (to a point). It is the players you choose that make a good campaign.

Above all in campaign rules, the law of KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) must reign supreme. The last thing that most players want to do after a hard days work is count beans and do paperwork. If your game involves money give the players poker chips to the value - this saves on paperwork. If players are doing strategic things like improving fortifications mark it on the map with a counter or something.

DO NOT use written orders. Put aside an hour or two at the start of a session to do campaign moves by rotation (randomly if you like)until a battle occurs. IMHO having written orders is where most campaigns break down through player lethargy.

Just some thoughts from experience.

James Roach. (olicanalad / Pike and Plunder)

Steve said...

...what a brilliant series of comments - well done guys - there's oodles of idea's there...

A J Matthews said...

I agree, simple is best for campaigns involving other players. Speed is a factor too. Quick turnaround times on orders, reports, etc. is vital as more than one campaign died a death through players dropping out for whatever reason. The quicker the campaign moves, the less likely it is to be disrupted for this reason.

For solo play of course you can make it as complex as you like.

I've either ran or taken part in several campaigns over the years, but only one came to a conclusion, a pbm run by the Society of Ancients back in the early 80's. NOT a good track record, I'm afraid!

My last effort at running a campaign, early Imperial Romans in Germany, got a quarter of the way through a campaign year with one big battle before folding through the two players having other commitments coming up. In this case the players handled the Roman armies whilst I controlled the Germanic tribes using random event and diplomacy tables.

Dave said...

I definitely like all the ideas posted here. At the moment my interest is in the details of an individual campaign, along the lines of Grant's campaign system that he briefly talks about in his book The War Game.
For the basic frame I'm using The rules Shenandoah: A Civil War Miniatures Campaign System. I'm adding supply to it as well as character modifiers. There are lots of boardgames out there that I think will work well with this system. Currently I'm copying the map from the game Campaigns of Robert E Lee into Cyberboard. The map scale is 5 miles per hex but since this is an Imagination campaign I'm just assuming the hexes are about a third of that. It will be interesting to see how it goes.

Baz said...

I have run campaigns for many years both PBEM and table top, and even today (after 30 years of campaigns)I still have a table top game running with 6 people involved and am preparing to start a new PBEM.
To my mind the two single issues to a successful campaign are the interest level and the actual time of the year you undertake a campaign, this particularly true if playing PBEM.
If people are in school or university then their available free time is guided by exams, and study.
Summer is good but as already mentioned family commitments (holidays, gardens,etc) become major issues.

If you are fortunate enough to have enough people in your campaign and they are local, then the interest level can be self perpetuated as the banter between players often adds a new dimension. In a PBEM the interest level can really only be added to by the moderator and the effort he puts in.

Its not so much the detail involved as to what the players get back from a PBEM that matters. You want them eagerly waiting for the moderators reply and most important some sort of "chronicle" with news of the campaign and its fictitious personalities.

In the most successful campaign I was involved in was a fictitious but Napoleonic based table top campaign. It ran for (real time) 6 years and every Friday night we meet at a friends place and the Moderator issued a paper Newspaper, the articles were written by the players and the moderator himself and players become quite animated by the end of the evening, fuelled by wine and secret meetings in the hallway, kitchen etc new campaigns of diplomatic nasties and military wonders were discussed.
So the best campaign IMHO are socially based, local and table top. Failing that for PBEM.s its up to the effort of the moderator to keep the interest up, that and selective recruiting of players.

Best of Regards to you all



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