Jim Owczarski, 28 October 2020
It is almost like losing a friend.
Heck, there are some marriages that do not last two-and-a-half years. (ed note: can confirm)
I recorded the first video for the 1809 Vol de L’Aigle Kriegsspiel in October 2018. The first forum post relating to it was made in July. Since then, there have been over 300 forum posts, nearly 16,000 forum views, and many hundreds of missives sent back and forth between the participants and myself as Control.
The game featured players from all over the map brought together by an interest in the period or, if nothing else, a curiosity as to what this whole Kriegsspiel thing is about. Based on their reactions over the months players found it confusing, exciting, informative, aggravating, irritating, and rewarding — sometimes all at the same time.
And the French won.
That, however, is to jump ahead of the story. First, let me introduce the cast of characters to whom I owe a great debt. They are given by their forum names.
- Erzherzog Carl Ludwig Johann Joseph Laurentius von Österreich, Herzog von Teschen — Commander — Jason Pratt
- I Corps — Bellegarde — Pinetree
- II Corps — Kollowrath — Banzai_Cat
- III Corps — Hohenzollern — Barthheart
- IV Corps — (Orsini) Rosenberg — James Sterrett
- V Corps — Louis — Neal
- VI Corps — Hiller — Dom
- Reserve — Kienmayer — Lancer4321
- Reserve — Liechenstein — Jack Gill
For Imperial France:
- Emperor Napoleon I — Commander — Hatricus
- II Corps — Oudinot/Lannes — Duke_of_Earl
- III Corps — Davout — Marsbarr
- IV Corps — Massena — Treb
- VII Corps — Lefebvre — Jimlacey1
- VIII Corps — Vandamme — Advocator
The next article will feature awards and the balance of the videos — I have 22 — but all good exercises should come with an AAR, so here are my lessons learned:
1. I am content with the use of Tabletop Simulator to referee the game and record the videos. As will be seen as the videos progress, I changed formats a couple times. I will miss my out-sized wall map with Daleks which had a unique charm, but this approach is far better. My year’s experience with TTS has also made me realize I need keep no paper records of any units in the future. This is a joy and that excelling.
2. Vol de L’Aigle deserves a place with the 1824 Kriegsspiel as the best game of its kind. I know there are concerns with the Orders of Battle and the like, but, despite the imperfections in the translation and editing of the three volumes, it is without peer as a system. It teaches a great deal about the logistical challenges faced by commanders in this era and portrays better than any other game on the Napoleonic era why wastage was the real enemy of armies, not bullets and bayonets. I also continue to find nuance and credible outcomes in the combat system.
2.a. Having Dr. Didier Rouy, the author of VdA, available to kibitz on his rules was really cool and helpful.
3. Dr. James Sterrett convinced me years ago that tempo is everything with a Kriegsspiel. Especially played over e-mail, players must know things are moving or they will drift away. That happened in this game and it was played through, but it had undesirable effects. Some of it could not be helped — I did head over to the battlefields for a couple weeks — but there were other times when matters were left to languish and should not have been. I am glad as many stuck around as did. Those that did — well, many of them — got a very rewarding ending.
4. Dr. Sterrett also first urged me not to let corps send out cavalry scouts as they can in the rules. He suggested they would be an impediment to rapid play. He was and is correct. There are rules to limit their use in the third volume of VdA and I may adopt them, but I continue to lean towards not permitting them as plans are set in motion to take up the 1807 campaign.
On a related note, having enemy troops along your lines of communications — and when I say “along” I really mean “on” — is a bear.
5. Players will always attempt to do things you never anticipated. I recommend a background in improvisational theatre to anyone inclined to umpire one of these. Unless it was rank madness — mere madness being insufficient — I always tried to say “yes”.
6. Speaking of the battlefields, it happened again; actually several times, and it was never at the famous battlefields, but in the areas around them. More than once, my wife, son and I wandered to a place — say a Freising or a Moosberg — and said, “yep, that’s where Oudinot is stuck”, meaning, of course, in the game, not in the history of the campaign. These games tell a remarkable story and, when your head is in it, become surprisingly real.
7. My friend Doug Miller (PanzerDe) and I talked a lot about whether those sending messages should have to tell the umpire where they think the person to whom they are sending the message is and send it off that way. It would deepen the already dense fog surrounding most players. Upon reflection, it seems horrifically cruel, but I am considering it for the next game. I am definitely contemplating in-game punishments for those who don’t date-stamp their missives.
8. Never, ever, ever pre-judge your players. I will not go into the details of this, but will say I was surprised by the passion and commitment of some who I frankly thought were just going to kick the tires.
9. There is no really good way to enforce a 19th Century chain of command in a game like this. I have an article in me — that will probably never get out — about the limitations of command simulation in an egalitarian society, but it is an issue in games like this. We want to lead by consensus, and commanders in the era understood the importance of consulting with their subordinates, but that grab-’em-by-the-lapels, kick ’em up the backside, and threaten them with a court martial bit just is not there as it would have been in 1809. Then again, it is also pretty hard to simulate a treacherous Kriegsrat second-guessing your every move.
That, though, is for next time. For starters, the first video, recorded in a gentler time
(ed note: so long ago that it references an entirely different website where things started before moving here)
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