Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Mahdi Zooms in

As our Marengo campaign hasn't produced any battles yet I set up Colonial battle as further Zoom training.  Dale (in Canberra) commanded an Anglo-Egyptian force v. Mark (in Lenah Valley) as the mad Mahdi.  A few others dropped in to observe for all or part of the game. 
The Mahdis outnumber the Anglo-E's by over 2 to 1, but the latter have breach loading rifles while the Mahdists have spears, swords, bows, javelins & the odd obsolete musket.
The British have to take the Oasis or die of thirst.  Mahdi infantry block their path while Mahdi cavalry attack their right flank.  The Brits & Egyptians have deployed facing front & right as the Mahdi's men swarm forward.
The first wave of Mahdist cavalry was pretty well shattered by cannon, gatling & rifle fire plus countercharges by the Brit cavalry.  Their only success was to force one Brit cavalry unit to fall abck.
The second wave of Madist cavalry took out the cannon, but otherwise followed the fate of the first wave.  On the far flank the Madhi's infantry is learning about modern firepower.  
The Mahdist infantry on the far flank has some success against the Egyptians at the end of the line, but otherwise the Brits fended off the charges & sent the Madhi's off the find their virgins.
The Mahdist cavalry, right flank infantry & centre infantry have all broken.  Their left flank infantry has not been engaged but has to withdraw under the army break test.

The battle looked very one sided, but maybe the Mahdi just did it all wrong.  He could have split his cavalry so the Brits were attacked from both sides.  He could have waited for them to advance to expose their flanks.  He could have avoiding have a whole division not contribute.

The last shot shows our Zoom set up.  A tablet on tripod giving a fixed view from the west end. An old smartphone on a stand (just on edge of pic) giving a fixed view from east end.  Both Chris & I have a smartphone (mine on a mini-tripod in shot) to provide close ups on demand for their commanders (including shots of the dice being thrown).  The remote players can either have a gallery view of all 4 cameras, or make any one full screen.  There are dangers of feed back having multiple devices in the same room, but we only had audio on the two tabletop cameras & with social distancing keeping them on opposite sides of the table the worst we got was a bit of echo & everyone good reasonable sound.  Allied remote players can also communicate secretly either by using Zoom Chat or a separate phone link.

Marengo Campaign

We started a Marengo campaign a week ago.  There are 11 wargamers involved, 3 in Canberra, the rest around Hobart.  Battles will be fought at camp Cromwell with remote command by Zoom.

Bonaparte: Mike. Victor: Dale. Moncey: Dave. Suchet & Massina: SteveD.
Melas: Mark. Gorrup & Ott: Nick. Kaim: PeterW. Haddick & Vakassovich: SteveJ
Umpire: Jim
Plastic pushers & cameramen for Zoom battles: French: Chris. Austrians: Jim.

Historical basis:
The campaign is based on Bonaparte's 1800 invasion of Italy that lead to the battle of Marengo.  Esposito is being used as each sides' initial intel report, but the actual OOB's initial deployments & objectives of the two sides have been varied by the umpire in preparing each side's secret briefing.

Campaign system:
We are using the same system we used for our Spain 1808 campaign of 2017 & our Shenandoah 1862 campaign of 2018, but of course with a few tweaks based on that experience.  The system relies on an umpire to control hidden movement & imperfect intelligence.  It is not turn based.  The players give the umpire orders, he plots them day by day until he sees a decision point & pauses the plot while he sends an Intel report to the relevant player(s) & gets a reply.  Delays are applied for distance between events & commanders. Independent Corps Commanders make their own decisions on local details, but cannot make strategic moves without orders from the CIC.

The campaign map is one of Esposito's with the historical overlay removed using paint.net.  In the two previous campaign we used a hex grid, but I have discovered that the campaign system works fine without one.
To set up the terrain for battles we use Michelon terrain maps, Google Earth & Google Satellite & make judgement calls on what wasn't there in 1800.  This allows the player to search for terrain to suit them when seeking a place to fight.
We are using our Camp Cromwell Action rules with some mods for Zoom.  Where possible we will use a ground scale of 36" per km which makes our 6" wide 28mm infantry units 750 men.  This will work fine for battle between armies up to about 30,000 a side.  If we get a bigger battle we have two options:
1. Use 28mm figs but adjust the scales:  For instance: 50% increase where the 6" infantry unit represents 1,125 men & the ground scale is 24" per km.
2. Use 6mm figures & our Austerlitz Rules for big battles.

Progress so far:
We started the campaign on 14th May.  It is now 25 May.  There have been no battles so far, but there has been plenty of movement & actions at 3 forts on the Alpine passes & an on-going siege at Genoa. These actions have not been fought on the table.  The process is to find a similar historical situation to use as par & throw D10 for both sides to see how far they deviate from history.  Results range between two extremes: If the attacker throws 10 & the defender 1, the white flag goes up as soon as the storming party stands up.  Or if the other way around the attack fails with double the historical losses.

Blog Reports:
Security prevents me writing up-to-date progress reports on the blog, but reports will be published eventually.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Cruels Seas

Chris had 2 Fairmiles & 6 Vospers with a mission to sink  German minelayer.
Jim had a minelayer being escorted by 6 e-boots.
A one-on-one face to face game, but with 1.8m social distancing across the table.
The e-boots split & head to flanks of the oncoming line of MTBs.
The lead e-boots take a pounding from the 6pdrs on the Fairmiles & the lead boot on the right has gone down. 
 Both Fairmiles also been sunk.  But so has another e-boot & there are torpedoes in the water.
The last S-38 goes down as the minesweeper turns away from the torpedoes, but the 3 remaining S100 e-boots are closing on the remaining Vespers.
The Minesweeper succeeds in evading the torps as the e-boots mop up.

An interesting little game.  For a while it looked like the Brits were going to lose when the Brits sunk  2 e-boots for no loss.  But the minsweeper got in some good shots with their 3" guns & once they got in close the S-100's with 9 20mm barrels each were deadly.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

More Napoleonic Gaming by Zoom

As a final preparation for our upcoming Marengo campaign we fought a Zoom battle between 2 small corps typical of the campaign on dense farmland that is likely in the Po valley.
French: CIC: Dale (in Canberra).  Right flank: Steve (in Canberra).  Left flank: Dave (in Molesworth).  Plastic pusher & forward scout on table: Chris.
Austrians: CIC: Mark (in Lenah Valley).  Left flank (Steve in Pontville).  Plastic pusher & forward scout on table: Jim.
There is a fixed tripod mounted camera at each end of the table & a smart phone camera in the hand of the current plastic pusher.
The Zoom gallery view on my desktop PC with 3 table views & 5 remote players.  The remote players can select any view to be full screen.  Next week it should be better still as we intend to have another hand held smartphone working so the plastic pushers won't have to share one.
Unfortunately the picture quality on the blog is less than usual as my best cameras are in use with the Zoom system & I'm using a pre-smartphone digital camera for the still pics.
 The Austrians are on the left, French on the right.
On the east end of the line, the French are advancing against the Austrian right flank.
Both sides sent skirmishers forward on the western flank.  Artillery is exchanging fire across the vineyard
A firefight is raging on the eastern flank. 
The Grenz have been driven back. In the centre the Austrian grenadiers have advanced & driven the French skirmishers back into the orchard. s have attacked greandiers
The Austrians are getting the worst of it in the firefight on the eastern flank.
The French are now advancing on the weakened Austrian right.
On the western front the Grenz are about to break & a swarm of skirmishers is advancing on the Grenadiers. 
The Austrian left is being whittled down by a swarm of French skirmishers.  Most untis on their right are close to half strength.  Their attempt to change the game with their cavalry was beaten back. 
As the French close in on both flanks, the Austrians concede defeat & are withdrawing.

The terrain gave the French a distinct advantage tonight with their greater ability to skirmish being particularly valuable in dense terrain like this.  The remote players all reported that the Zoom system worked really well for them & gave the cameramen some good feedback.  Having two plastic pushers was lot easier than just one as in our previous game (& allowed under our local lock-down rules as the table is more than 1.5m wide).  A post-battle discussion about the tactical rules lead to the conclusion that there were pretty right & no change was needed.  

Tomorrow we will kick off a Marengo 1800 campaign.  The campaign will be run by email using the same system we used in our 1809 Spanish campaign in 2018 & our 1862 Shenandoah campaign in 2019, just with a few improvements.  I am umpiring the campaign with 4 remote players on each side plus Chris to help me with the battles to be fought by Zoom.  Maybe we will have our first battle of the campaign next Tuesday.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Remote Napoleonic Wargaming via Zoom

Chris & Mark commanded their armies remotely via Zoom while I pushed the plastic & rolled the dice for both sides, worked the cameras & umpiring here at Camp Cromwell.

Austrians: 2 brigades of infantry with 5 line, 1 grenadier & a battery each plus a light cavalry brigade & a heavy cavalry brigade each 2 units.  Objective to hold the pass.

French: 2 brigade sof infantry each 5 line, 1 legere, 1 battery plus a light cavalry brigade & a heavy cavalry brigade each of 2 units.  Objective to clear the pass.

Both sides were able to hide some of their deployment behind woods or ridges or on a high plateau.
The French infantry begin to advance. 
The French infantry are advancing in the centre.  Both their cavalry brigades have moved into view on the far flank. The Austrian heavy cavalry has appeared on their right flank.  Austrian infantry has moved forward over the crest on the left of their infantry line.
The umpire's tablet is visible on the left - being used as mobile camera & audio link.  There are also smartphones on tripods at each end of the table giving the players fixed general views.
 On the far flank the French cavalry have found the Austrian hussars on the plateau.
The French infantry are lining up to attack the Austrian left.  Their left is forming behind the river line to face the Austrian heavy cavalry.
The Austrian hussars have no chance on the far flank, but are not quite all dead yet. The first French infantry attack has been beaten off thought not without loss & the French are moving more infantry from the left to their right.
An Austrian counterattack on the left of the row of trees has made a hole in the French line, but they have reserves to plug it.  On the right of their line the French columns have been halted, but their 2nd line is deploying into line.
The French cavalry has pinned the square at the end of the Austrian line & charged the infantry in line beside it after they have been weakened by French musketry.  They rode down two units & the Austrians then failed their army break test.

Mark made the most use of the hidden deployment which allowed his cavalry to land the decisive blow after his infantry did the hard work.     

The battle was fought with our house rules Camp Cromwell Action with some modifications to make it easier to play remotely.  The main change being to use the Hail Caesar turn sequence rather than the Bolt Action style that we usually use in CCA.  While I really like the BA system for face to face battles, I think the simplicity of the IGoUGo system works better for remote players.

The Zoom system gave us some angst at the start, but like most things, the more you do it the easier it gets & the more it does for you.  We are also gradually improving our hardware, like finding an old phone that still works really well as a camera thru wi-fi, & some e-bay shopping.

Our next project is a campaign based on the Marengo campaign of 1800.  We have previously fought campaigns with the campaigning done by email with some players remote, but the battles were all fought here, so remote players had to use a local deputy as battlefield commander.  Now all the players will be able to fight their own battles by Zoom.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Zooming Modder Fokkers

Tonight we tried using Zoom to play our WWI air game Modder Fokkers with most of the players remote & me umpiring. 
Chris (here) & Mark (Lenah Valley) with 1 Nieuport 11 each.
Nick (Tolmans Hill) & Dale (Canberra) with 1 Albatros III each.
Chris could come in person as I am allowed one visitor at a time & the table provides the required 1.5m "social distance".  2 remote players were in Hobart suburbs, one in Canberra.  SteveD in Canberra & PeterC in Black Hills Zoomed in for a while to see how it worked.
The game was played with 1 plane per player.  The game sequence is:
1. Players secretly record their proposed moves (the hex grid provides precision).   The remote players have 3 camera feeds to help them.  A fixed camera at each end of the table, plus the umpire has his phone as a mobile camera & provides the players with close-ups as required.
2. Players transmit their orders to the umpire either by text using Zoom's private text chat facility, or by showing a diagram on screen.
3.  The umpire moves all the planes.
4.  The umpire assesses who can fire & calls out how many dice at what to hit.
5.  Damage is recorded on a damage log for each plane.
The Albatros' had the advantage of twin machine guns to the Nieuports' single guns, but the Nieuports are more nimble.  The British maneouved better in the first clash & inflicting a lot of damage on Nick's Albatros.  But damage then mounted on all the planes except Mark's.  He flew around the edges taking pot shots & avoiding any damage at all.  With damage mounting, Nick ran for home leaving Dale on the wrong side of the 2 Nieuports.  Dale dodged & weaved his way past them & made it the safety of the German table edge with the 2 Nieuports snapping at his heels, their single machine guns unable to land a knockout blow.  So while no planes were shot down, the skies are clear for British observers & it was British victory.

The game worked well for the remote players.  The 3 cameras gave them sufficient info to make sound decisions.  Mark, through remote, was clearly the MVP, his greater experience in the game showing thru.  The consensus was that while it's not as good as being at the wargames table for real, it's a hell of a lot better than not being there at all. 

Zoom is proving to be a good platform for what we are trying to do.  Our earlier difficulties were the result of ignorance rather the system & we are learning how to do it better every game.  It's also allowing old comrades in Canberra to be involved - it makes no difference whether the remote players are in the next suburb or half a country away (as long they have decent broadband).

Friday, April 10, 2020

Napoleonic Naval and more Video link experiments

We played Men o' War - our house rules for Napoleonic naval games:
French: Chris on table & Mark on line.  3 squadrons each one 1st rate & two 3rd rate, all regular.
British: Jim on table & Nick on line. 2 squadrons each one 2nd rate & three 3rd rates all veterans.

My plan was to do the battle with Zoom using 2 fixed big picture cameras & Chris & I each having a smartphone in hand for close ups.  With Zoom the remote players can be using a big screen PC & can choose betWeen a multiple window screen, or pick one to be full screen.  I thought this would help the remote players keep a  handle on it.  But we met a big snag.  We got audio feed back with the multiple devices in the wargames room.  There is a mute button in Zoom, but it muted all the devices in the room, or none of them.  We tried to turn off the mikes on the devices, but that didn't seem to work eithwer.  So we abandoned Zoom & used two WhatsApp links one for each side. 
The Brits are in the foreground.  The dice decreed the wind was blowing towards the windows giving the Brits the weather guage. 
Both sides manouvred to get their squadrons into a single line of battle. 
The upwind advantage helped the Brits to cross the French T.
In true age of sail style the two fleets sailed past each other in line ahead.  The lead French ship got dis-masted & has fallen out of the line.
The lead French ship has drifted thu the British line & struck her colours.
The lead British ship was also pounded so badly it had to pull out of the line, but it was able to escape downwind as the next ships in the line wrapped around the tail of French fleet. 
The end ship in French line has had to strike its colours & the next one has been sunk by the converging British fire.  Another British ship has has to pull out of the line with severe damage.
Having lost 2 ships captured, one sunk & others with severe damage, the remaining French broke off the action.  Since we last played it I came up with some ideas to fix a few remaining issues I wasn't entirely happy with in Men o' War.  They worked really well. 

We still have technical issues to iron out with the video system - mainly to do with the sound rather than the video (the camera quality is really good).  Using two WhatsApp links worked ok, but the remote players would really benefit from a bigger screen & more camera angles including a fixed point overall view.  The players on the table would like to have a big screen at one end of the table with the moziac of all the remote players heads.  These two items would make a much better connection between the players.   We need to either find a way to get Zoom to do what we want, or find another App that will.  The main problem with WhatsApp is that it doesn't provide video on a PC, so the remote players have at best a tablet sized pic.   Can anyone point us to a better App for our purposes?  Another problem is that the video sucks up the batteries - we have to remember to start with the devises fully charged.

Edit: I have found the way to disable the audio on smartphones & tablets, so maybe Zoom will work the way I want if all but one of the devices in the wargames room have their audio off.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

American Civil War & experiments with playing by video link

Tonight's battle was American Civil War using Camp Cromwell Action Rules.
Chris' Rebs v. Jim & Mark's Union.
The Tasmanian C19 lock down rules allow me to have one visitor at a time for "social support" & as my wargames table is over 1.5m wide I can host one-on-one wargames.  Tonight Mark participated by video link as we experimented with both WhatsApp on smart phones & Zoom on tablet & PC.
The objective is the village in the foreground.
The Rebs have a column on the left hand road. A cavalry brigade leads 2 infantry brigades.
The Union have a cavalry brigade on the near right & a column of 2 infantry brigades on the right hand road.
The Union plan was to grab the village with the cavalry.  After they got the 1st move & used it to rush their cavalry towards the village, the Rebs decided to try to win by breaking the Union army & started to deploy to their left.
The Union cavalry are occupying the railway station & whorehouse with their horse guns deployed between them.  Some of the Reb cavalry failed command & are being enfiladed by the Union guns.  At this time we are using WhatsApp with my smartphone on a tripod to communicate with Mark.  I have set it so Mark's feed is the small insert & the wargames scene is the full screen pic so I could see what I was showing him better.

The infantry have deployed.  One of the Reb cavalry units has been destroyed by the Union guns, another forced to retreat. 
 The Reb infantry is moving up to attack, but the Union artillery is shooting well & making them pay.
The Union are getting the best out of the firefight along the railway line.  Their dismounted cavalry have been got out of the whorehouse & station & are advancing on the Reb's right flank.  
We are now trying Zoom on my tablet to Mark's PC.
Both flanks of the Reb line are getting overlapped.
The Rebs launched a last desperate charge at the Union centre.  They broke the 2 units near the bridge, but their left has crumbled & they fail their Army Break Test.  The Union hold the village & win both ways.

The experiment of involving Mark by video link was promising.  Both WhatsApp & Zoom worked fine. The main issue is maximising the involvement of the remote players.  Next week we want to have remote players on both sides with them being the CIC's with Chris & I  being mainly cameramen & plastic pushers.  We think it will work best to have two separate links with two cameras - one for each side so they can have separate councils of war - by whispering, slipping into the other room, or maybe by showing each other notes on the video link.   It is possible to have multiple remote players on both sides, but we haven't tested using multi-person conference calls yet.  Our intention is to try 2 a side next week & work from there. 

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Wargaming in the time of plague

Because I live alone (Mitzi doesn't count in this regard), under the current regulations in Tasmania I am allowed to have one visitor in my apartment at a time as "social support" - provided we maintain 1.5m "social distance".  As the wargames table is 1.8m wide, I take this as allowing me to have one-on-one wargames here - especially with Chris who I have spent 3 weeks sharing hotel rooms, cars & planes with on our India trip & who has also come thru 14 days isolation with no sign of C19.

Its seemed appropriate that we blood the Landsknechts I painted while in isolation & fight in the 30 Years War - also a time of plague.  My Musket Action rules have now been renamed Camp Cromwell Action as they have expanded to cover the same range of periods as Hail Whoever & a more general moniker was required.
Chris's Swedish army is on the right, my Imperialists on the left. The Swedes are all veterans, the Imperial troops are all regulars.  The Imperial Pikemen & some of their cavalry are better armoured.
The Swedes are advancing their pike & shot in the centre.  The Empire is moving their dragoons & medium cavalry forward on their left.

The Imperial dragoons have dismounted & entered the small wood while their cavalry move around the flank.  Their pike & shot have advanced the meet the Swedish advance.
On the near flank the Zweihanders have advanced in front of the Imperial guns to meet advancing Swedish musketeers. In the centre musketeers are trading shots.  On the far flank both sides are still manoeuvering for position.
Suddenly all hell as broken loose right along the line.  The musketeers have stopped the Zweihanders with accurate defensive fire.  The Landsknecht pike & shot are doing well in the centre.  The Swedish heavy cavalry have attacked to try & help out their infantry, but have failed to break through.
The Imperial cavalry have out-manoeuvred the Swedes & got in a handy flank attack on the Swedish foot & the Swedish centre is getting flanked on both sides. 
The Swedish medium cavalry on the far flank have counterattacked & driven back the Imperial flanking force, but it's too little too late as the Empire is getting on top all along the rest of the line.
Imperial musketeers have stormed the Swedish battery & most of the Swedish foot is now broken.  The Swedes fail their army break test for a decisive Imperial victory.

Camp Cromwell Action started out as rules for small actions in the French & Indian Wars.  But they developed a life of their own as I put together the best bits of Bolt Action, Hail Whoever, my old Marathon to Mafeking rules that preceded them, plus a few recent brainwaves.  There are still a couple of areas where I think they could get better still, & the odd loose end still pops up occasionally as we play it, but the result is a rattling good game, I think better than Hail Whoever which has been our game of choice for some years.