Italy Campaign 1796 – Setup

Wargamers really like the idea of playing campaigns with maps and rosters and supplies but they really dislike the idea of preparing maps, managing rosters and organizing supplies. At least that’s what it feels like. In the following post I will go through my thought processes of setting up my latest campaign. Oh boy, it was a journey.

Everything started with the idea of playing a campaign loosely based on the Scharnhorst/100 Days campaign rules from the Blücher rules. The usual suspects wanted me to get a campaign treatment: Ulm, Jena, Eylau, Friedland, Eggmühl, Wagram.

All them are quite big and seemed daunting as ever without a tried and tested campaign framework in place. I also felt my interest shifting more towards trying out new stuff. Therefore I wanted a smaller scope and looked to the beginning of the period. Napoleon racing along the Po river in Italy to chase the Austrians came to mind and I produced a simple map with Wonderdraft.

Just beginning to produce some campaign resources is a great way the get going if the task seems daunting. But looking at the map and possible starting positions of the French and Austrians I realized that this is a difficult campaign to come up with rules. A lot of map movement, strategic retreats, bridge assaults and possible boat crossings. The map above also omits way to much detail. So I went farther back. What led Napoleon to the Po river in the first place?

Montenotte, Abridged Version

Further down to the southwest of the first map was Napoleon’s starting point of his first Italy campaign. In a mere 2 and a half weeks he split the fragile allies of Sardinia and Austria by kicking the former out of the war and beating the latter back to the Po valley. As I was missing details with the first map, I took to Google Maps (in terrain mode).

A screen capture with Greenshot produced the map itself. A Google Image Search produced some flags and these where added in the Greenshot Editor together with the commander names.

The map has highway markings and probably more roads than in 1796 but it looked great and was not that much effort. The added benefit of Google Maps is that every distance can be traced with the route tool. I was content with the map but not quite there with the OOB, starting positions and rules. With live intervening I gave it a rest.

Falling Down The Rabbit Hole

When I came back I noticed two things. First, real life maps look great but are a pain to use. Tracing routes and moving forces without any formalized system (hexes, nodes, grids) is cumbersome. A lesson I learned from my Unterphalen campaign, which did use a stylized map but free movement. The second insight is again from my Unterphalen campaign. Too much complexity is the death of my campaigns. As the OOBs are historical and starting positions are all over the place there is already quite a bit of complexity involved.

To summarize, I fell down the rabbit hole of wanting more realism but getting more complexity. What do we do against that?

Jumping Down The Rabbit Hole

The new book from Henry Hyde Wargaming Campaigns together with my old Weil campaign gave me enough ideas and material to follow another approach. I’m a bit torn on the book by the way. It has it good sides, it has it bad ones from where I am standing.

Anyway, the Weil Campaign had mostly solid rules and a node based map. So I took some ideas from the book to simlify and streamline my rules. Great, now where is the map? Well, a solid 20+ hours later I produced a original, detailed node based map of northern Italy. Yes, I’m mad. No you cannot have the map file. I’m thinking of publishing options.

Here is a small snippet of the new campaign starting positions:

This is not even a sixth of the entire map and a tad blurry as I cropped it out of the original. I will be able to play the Montenotte campaign and then go further to the Po valley on the same map if Napoleon is successful.

Can We Please March Already

The map is done, the OOB and starting positions are done and the rules are done. But with ‘done’ I mean about 80% done. I don’t even know what rules to use for the battles. I toyed with the idea to choose a set depending on the size of battle, its location and my mood. That is the beauty of node based maps. I can represent a node as a huge area for Bloody Big Battles or a large area for Age of Eagles or Blücher. If small forces meet I can switch to a more tactical set and play in a small area.

Also, there is still the issue of game vs simulation. What I mean by that is the way strategic command should be portrayed. I would like to play with written orders, very limited intel and couriers. From experience I know that this is not only fiddly to manage but also quite a bit schizophrenic when playing an entire campaign solo. My current compromise is to play with orders but skip couriers. Just have a stack of orders and roll on some table each turn if the arrive, delayed, lost or captured.

As health issues and work on another secret hobby project intervened I have some time to ponder this. Tell me you are going on similar journeys when preparing campaigns, or am I the only one?

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6 thoughts on “Italy Campaign 1796 – Setup”

  1. I am working on the same project. I bought Snappy Nappy to give this campaign a try; each stand is 2,000 men and the rules are not tactical at all. Little Wars TV covered the entire Marengo campaign on their website. Its the same territory and OOBs are similar, although 4 years earlier.

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    1. I watched the Little Wars campaign as well. It was really cool and I thought about something similar a while back but it needs a lot of space. I would probably have to do it with 2×2 Napoleonics with 2’x2′ tables. I wish you luck in your endeavor.

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  2. You are not alone, my friend! This is an interesting campaign to recreate. To handle logistics, attrition, and other campaign meta-inputs, I typically choose a board wargame coverig the particular campaign. Then, much of the work is already in place. Love your maps. Had not heard of either Wonderdraft or Greenshot. I have Camapign Cartographer but I always struggle with the learning curve.

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    1. Thank you Jonathan. I can recommend Wonderdraft very much. It is easy and intuitive to use. If you want to get more detailed it takes more learning but I found it has less to do with the software and more with defining good standards for symbol sizes, fonts and density of terrain brushes. Greenshot is just the best screenshot tool I know and has the added benefit of a really intuitive editor to paint arrows and such on existing images.

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  3. I’ll say this… the selection of historical and not-so-historical maps, the drawing up of troop schedules, the awarding of generals who distinguished themselves at the end of the campaign – perhaps the most interesting thing in all this ….. Well, maybe not the most interesting, in fact, but no less interesting than the playing of the battle itself.

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  4. I’ll say this… the selection of historical and not-so-historical maps, tinkering with the plans of their toy armies, awarding the generals who most distinguished themselves by the results of the campaign is no less interesting than actually playing out the battle…

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