Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wargaming at the Writers Conference

Figures from Chris Humphreys' collection representing the Royal Horse Guards and the Polish Lancers.

I introduced myself to Chris Humphreys a few PNWA conferences ago.  He was conducting a seminar with Deborah Schneider and made a comment about how difficult it was to write battle scenes in historical novels.  After class, I approached Chris and asked him if he was familiar with wargames, suggested he could game-out the action and then write the sequence of events.

Our conversation went something like this--

Chris:  Oh, I use to play wargames with my brother all the time.  I still have a collection of Napoleonic figures I painted when I was a teenager.  Are you a gamer?

Me:  Why, as a matter of fact....

....and it went downhill from there.  Chris has made a number of friends among the PNWA staff and has been a regular presenter ever since. 

Several months ago he e-mailed me, asking if I knew of any simple Napoleonic wargame rules he could use to introduce to his 8 year-old son to the joys of wargaming.  I suggested Musket and Saber, by Wes Rogers.  This 2-page set of rules, designed to be played at game conventions, was available on-line for free.  Unfortunately, Wes disabled his old site and the rules are no longer available on-line.  (If his rules become available again, I'll post a notice on this blog).

A few weeks before the convention started, Chris contacted me again, asking if I'd mind bringing some miniatures to the convention and play a turn or three.  Even though Chris read the rules, he wanted to get a good grasp of actually using them, before attempting to play the game with his son.  This was completely understandable, because wargaming, more often than not (at least with me), involves kinesthetic learning

As to bringing any figures:  Even though the Napoleonic Era is my favorite period in history, ironically, I don't own any miniatures.  The elegant, parade-ground uniforms have always been too difficult for me to paint.  Instead, I've relied on the counters from games like System 7 Napoleonics to wage my tabletop battles.  For our demo session, I used some counters I made from Napoleon's Battles, shrunk down to 6millimeter (mm) scale, along a green Army blanket and some fan-made terrain cards for Napoleon in Europe.  I didn't bring my entire counter collection, just enough to run a small Peninsular War battle. 

We settled on getting together during the Agents Forum, since he was free during that time and I wasn't stalking seeking any agents to represent the work I'm doing. 

I met Chris at his room and set up my "wargame-in-a-blanket" on the hotel desk.  One of the first pieces I pulled out represented Sir John Moore.  Chris and I instantly concluded our desktop demo would be a replay of the Battle of Corunna.  We couldn't remember if the opposing French general was Soult or Massena, so we settled on Massena.  (It was Soult.  So much for our encyclopedic knowledge of Napoleon's Marshals). 

The British (red and green counters), with their backs to the coast; held the woods, village  and heights.  The French (in blue), formed-up behind a small stream and were prepared to assault the British positions.  Unfortunately, the French cavalry (on the right) didn't receive orders to charge their British counterparts.

The British cavalry, on the other hand, wasted no time in waiting for orders from Sir John (Chris) and slammed into the French 4th Infantry Brigade as it crossed the stream, while still in column formation.

Predictably, a great slaughter of the French ensued...

Seeing their comrades hacked down, the French troopers spurred their mounts and counter-charged the British cavalry.  Meanwhile, the British artillery battery on the heights fired into the densely-packed column of the French 3rd Infantry Brigade, inflicting scores of casualties.

While the British cavalry was driven back, the French Infantry 3rd Brigade retreated from the shot and shell spewing from the British gun battery.  The 4th Infantry Brigade quit the field and the 1st Infantry Brigade struggled to cross the stream.  This left the 2nd Infantry Brigade unsupported as it attempted to assault the British battalion holding Corunna proper.

Unfortunately, the 2nd Infantry Brigade was shot to pieces by the combined fire of the British fusiliers and riflemen (the green counters) emerging from the woods.  Seeing his attack collapse, Massena ordered a retreat.  The Emperor would not be pleased.

So the French "...came on in the same old-style..." and were "...beaten in the same old-style."  Just before packing up the game, Chris posed with his victorious army...

Running this demo helped both of us get a better feel for the rules and Chris wrote copious amounts of notes as reminders and examples-of-play.

As I wrote this post, I began to wonder if we set a precedent at this year's conference.  Game sessions are often conducted during comic book and sci-fi/fantasy conventions.  But I've never heard of a wargame being played during a writers conference, at least here at PNWA. 
When I contacted our President, Pam Binder about this, she'd never heard of anyone doing anything of this sort in any of the past conferences.
Maybe this is the beginning of a new PNWA trend?

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