Don’t they remember Salamis? Don’t they remember Marathon? Aren’t those wars worth some consideration today? Couldn’t the Europeans cut us some slack for protecting them then?unnamed for Greek Air Force leader in response to the 2010 EU austerity demands, as quoted in the Wall St. Journal
Someone cried out “Fuck the government!”
His mates couldn’t define what he meant,
so no one gave him the time of day
and the scene died away.
Could it be that everybody selfishly desires
their own personal retinue?
And that causes are just manifestations
of too much time and far to little to do?
What if I got up in front of a room and announced that “killing fellow human beings is murder!” How might you respond?
If your answer is anything other than, “well, that depends,” think about what your response is and why.
Might not your reaction depend largely on what you perceive is the context of my statement? What might be that context of my statement? Depending on the venue and situation when I’ve made that pronouncement, it might be fairly obvious. In other cases, you might try to read between the lines of my statement based on what else you know about me, particularly from a political standpoint.
Am I talking about abortion? Is it an anti-war statement? Perhaps I’m trying to make a point about wrongful death accusations in cases of corporate malfeasance. Maybe it’s a statement about poverty and the moral obligations of the “haves” relative to the “have nots.” If you reacted either positively or negatively to my original statement, can you say which one of these (or some other) political context you took my statement to reference?
Let’s assume for the moment that you disagree with my underlying political point. Assume also that your reaction wasn’t an immediate counter-attack. In this case, your response might be measured and reasoned. You could attempt to disagree with such a statement on a technical level. “Yes,” you might respond, “sometimes killing is murder, but sometimes it is not.” You might dwell on a legal definition of murder, restricting it to a “first degree” or “second degree” murder as defined in law and, therefore, exempt situations such as “manslaughter” or “negligent homicide.” Perhaps you brought up the justification of self-defense. Or maybe you were thinking about a person in service to the a government in an official capacity; a soldier or a cop. A killing as a result of the following of a lawful order would generally not be described as “murder,” unless one is trying to score some political points.
Perhaps you did agree with me. Perhaps you said, “yes! It is about time that people valued every human life and didn’t excuse an avoidable death just because [fill in the blank].” If you did, that doesn’t mean that you were unaware of the exceptions that I outlined in the previous paragraph. You simply didn’t see me as making a “legal” argument. Of course I may be overstating or overgeneralizing, but sometimes we do that to make a point. We hope that the clarity of our oversimplification jars a listener into thinking about something in a new way.
On the other hand, perhaps you agree with me and thought that I was making a moral and ethical point that, while not very widely held, you happen to agree with. If we are pacifists, through religion or philosophy, we may be stating a tenet of our moral code. For some, killing is NEVER justified nor justifiable. Why? Because we believe that killing people is ALWAYS murder.
Could my statement perhaps, just perhaps, not be within a political context? Maybe not in 2019, but imagine ourselves in another time. Possible?
If so, now imagine that neither of us are pacifists, but we’re going to discuss the moral and ethical implications of this pacifist ideal. By saying “killing is murder” I really mean to say that “killing is bad.” By using the word “murder”, I’m attempting to drive home the point in a way that the word “bad” just doesn’t do it. When a killing is wrong, when it is unjustifiable, when it is the killing of an innocent with bad intentions, we find it not just bad but abhorrent. Our society will go to great lengths to hunt down and punish a “murderer.” So why do we sometimes seem to ignore our own rules? Is the loss of human life ever OK? Is it ever something that we should just ignore as inconsequential?
In other words, do you want to be put in a position, when arguing that the killing of another human being is not “murder,” that you have to justify a lack of value in that lost human life. Probably not. When you believe the killing of another human being is “justified,” helps in your acceptance of that position that the language used to describe it is different. “Murder” would be off the table.” So might even be softer terms like “kill.” If we describe something as “the use of deadly force,” we don’t even have to mention (or hardly think about) the person who was made dead. However, if the word “murder” is on the table, in defending why it is justified, you have to be that much more secure in your position, don’t you?
Suppose, once more, that after all this discussion, we decided to write a joint essay for the papers about how “Killing People is Murder.” While acknowledging the subtleties of the argument, we make the point that life has to be valued to the greatest extent possible and, only in doing so, can we make the right choices when life and death are on the line. Immediately we are now attacked. “How can you saying ‘murder’ when your freedom is paid for with the lives of soldiers and their actions in wars on your behalf? How can you live in your house or apartment, knowing its security is guaranteed by the forces of law and order that have occasionally killed a criminal in the course of stopping his crime? How can you be such hypocrites?”
But is it really hypocritical to have discussions about a topic that is neither black nor white, but various shades of gray? Can we sometimes accept a murder as necessary and justified? Might we even, occasionally, cheer on such a murder when it means a terrorist is stopped or a home invasion thwarted? Or does our mere use of the word “murder” remove our moral authority to participate in that larger discussion?
What if I got up in front of a room and announced that “taxation is theft!” How might you respond?
I don’t remember when Bohemian Rhapsody came out as a single from the A Night at the Opera album. I am too young.
I do remember when Wayne’s World came out. At that time, I was well familiar with the song. I had a copy of Live Killers and I had listened many times over. My friends and I enjoyed the pseudo-operatic harmonies and would sometimes sing along. Through the 80s, though, I saw Queen more in terms of their pop, almost Disco, hits rather than their 1970s “progressive” sound. By that time, although the Bohemian Rhapsody was a fairly successful single in its time, it wasn’t something you’d hear on the radio.
So when I saw Wayne’s World, the scene with the song struck me as bit tongue-in-cheek. The idea that these metalheads would considered Bohemian Rhapsody as a rock classic, much less a heavy metal favorite, had to be a joke. In fact, the story floating around at the time was that Bohemian Rhapsody itself was recorded as a joke and was never meant to be included on the album (called A Night at the Opera, mind you) at all, much less released as a single. While obviously in error, the rumor had some basis in truth. The recording of the song is said to have been somewhat of a silly affair. The placement into Wayne’s World (as well as Freddie Mercury’s death a few months before), propelled the song back onto the charts and placed it amongst the great, hard rock classics.
The song has been analyzed, line-by-line and word-by-word. It is true that Mercury put a lot of thought into this song. He reportedly had been working on it well before joining the band Queen. However, I see it as a mistake to take it too much more seriously that they did at that original recording session. I’ve read an analysis on how its about coming out of the closet, and it certainly has a new meaning when sung by a man doomed by the AIDS virus, but I’d say it is the beauty, abstractness, and simplicity of the song that lends itself to all manner of after-the-fact meanings.
With the release of the movie of the same name, the song is back as a record-breaking best-seller. This time, it is topping the charts for digital downloads.
The movie had me from the first teaser trailer that I saw. However, when it actually came out, I was seeing mixed messages. The one comment that probably settled it for me, though, was a response in a discussion about how some people didn’t like it. “All my musicians friends loved it,” a friend responded. I am sucker for for a certain type of musician movie and the buzz bore out my impression from the trailers; that this would be one.
Criticisms include the historical inaccuracies, either with regard to the band or to details of the life of Freddie Mercury. The film also presents a distorted view, musically, to the works of Queen and their significance to the band’s development and success. Another criticism was that the whole movie served as lead-up to a precise recreation of the band’s 1984 Live Aid concert. That’s all true and, perhaps, all beside the point.
The way I look at this film is that it is about just what the title says it is. Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s the deeper meaning of the title for the nature of the band Queen, for Freddie, and how they perceived themselves. Its about the creation of the song, the success it brought them, the use of it to open the performance of Live Aid, and the legacy that it represents to Mercury after his death. It may even be about how those lyrics, in retrospect, are saying a lot about Freddie’s life.
As if nothing really matters.
I’m a rather brilliant surgeon.
In Vietnam 1965 Combat Operations, Operation Hump takes place over two turns. Typical of the smaller operations in this scenario, once I found the enemy (predictably, I figure in retrospect, located at Hill 65) there was only one other turn of combat. The “battle” ended with the VC unit being removed from play through the TOAW event system.
Playing at this operation back-to-back with the Ia Drang valley lead-up, another strength of this scenario series is demonstrated. Any number of the battles in Vietnam are familiar to me through my reading or (as likely as not) other games, but I don’t have it integrated into a comprehensive picture. This scenario does that for me. It helps place battles in their chronological order and their proper scale (both time and distance). This allows me to get a better sense of how two different battles in different parts of the country might compare, contrast, and relate.
In the case of this operation, it puts into perspective a Squad Battles: Tour of Duty scenario that would otherwise be, pretty much, without any anchoring reference.
Tour of Duty has a fight from the greater Operation Hump battle which, at least if you go by the introduction to the scenario, is used in that game to introduce American participation in the Vietnam War. It is, date wise, the first Tour of Duty scenario between U.S. forces and the North Vietnamese Army, although only by a matter of a couple of days.
The battle, actually, could be one of many, many patrol/ambush situations throughout the Vietnam War. The player starts off with what looks like a pair of companies moving along a jungle trail. Not that they are really moving; the scenario begins with the Americans already located at the scenario objectives. I only know this is Operation Hump because of the scenario description. Neither the units or the terrain have any unique features that might otherwise place them historically.
I contrast with the Steel Panthers scenarios. Where as Steel Panthers tends to have big scenarios that try to capture as much of the interesting parts of the the battle as possible, Squad Battles tends to have very small and tight focus. Part of this may be the Steel Panthers is drawing from a user-made library and hobby scenario builders have a habit of going big when they model a favorite battle. Whatever the cause, the fact is that Squad Battles scenarios tend to be much more limited than Steel Panthers, despite the scale between the two being very similar.
This scenario is all about the enemy’s hidden movement. The uniform coverage of jungle in the battle area means that the enemy can only be spotted when they are adjacent to one of your own units. You don’t have the mobility to do much in the way of scouting, so your job is to anticipate where the enemy are going to materialize and then react or not as necessary (or possible).
While I may well have played this scenario before I had no memory of how it went. So I’m going into the setup cold and, I think, that’s how it must be. The initial contact comes (see first screenshot) down and to the left of my column (WSW, if you assume the map oriented with North being up) and, combined with the assumption that this is “forward” in terms of my column facing, I begin to try to deploy in line facing where I think the enemy is. As I move, I being to encounter more enemy all along my column, but always to the “north” of the trail. In the second screenshot, I’ve made the decision to engage the enemy forward of the objectives, assuming that I’ve come in contact with the bulk of who is out there.
The end result was a minor victory. Despite the devastation of a couple of my squads and the loss of one of my company commanders (a captain) to friendly mortar fire, my kill ratio was high enough to call this one a win. At the end, the game does a complete reveal of all hidden units. Surprisingly, the were two intact enemy companies with good morale located on the final map and, I might add, not quite where I thought the remaining enemy would be. I’ll not show a screenshot of that position because it will ruin this scenario for anyone who is intending to play it. Also, without many replays through the scenario (which I don’t intend to do), I’m not sure if the enemy positions are more-or-less determined or whether some random AI factors put them where the ended up.
Even so, this clearly highlights the two criticisms I have of Squad Battles scenarios in general. First, replayability is low because the tight scope of the scenario often allows only for a single solution. Second, the AI is weak relative to the task its required to perform, standing out in this regard even among its peers. I’ll grant that the non-cheating AI couldn’t have known I’d left all three victory point locations relatively open. Given that it had two uncommitted companies left over at the end of the game, it seems that it should have at least been making a play for those points.
The problem may be in the requirements. The HPS line of games seems to cater, first and foremost, to players playing each other rather than solo play. This requires that scenarios generally be equally winnable by both sides. Gamers in general, but particularly wargamers, also don’t like AIs that cheat – giving the non-player side an advantage by knowing things that a human playing that side couldn’t possibly know. In some ways it seems like, given the impossibility of making an effective computer opponent under these circumstances, the developers may have given up even trying.
Contrast that to the last game I played, where virtually no fancy footwork is required due to the design of the game purely as a single-player experience. But in that case, there is a distinct lack of connection to reality and no battles are “simulated.” Is there a way to have our cake and eat it to?
What is seen cannot be unseen.
A few chapters into Blood and Beauty: A Novel About the Borgias and I started to wonder why I got this novel in the first place. My main issue was how it is all written in the present tense. It is rare that I read a novel written in this style, although I gather it isn’t exactly uncommon. It seems a particularly-jarring way to write historical fiction although, again, that seems to be something that is gaining ground in recent years. I find it immensely distracting. That sense diminishes the more I acclimatize myself to the book, but it never really goes away. Whenever a character reflects on a past event (written in past tense) and then returns to the present, the shock of the present tense writing once again disorients me.
Wondering, I took a look at the Amazon reader-reviews, to see if I was going to continue to find the work difficult to read as I read more. The content of one of those reviews grabbed me. The reviewer, essentially, says that the author seems to have really wanted to write a non-fiction work but, given her reputation as a novelist, was unable to stray to far from her home ground. At the time, I hadn’t made it far enough into the book to know if that assessment is accurate. I’m still not sure, although now that I’ve read the suggestion I’m not sure that I can fairly evaluate the claim. To the extent that I try to think about it, I can only consider the terms set out by that one review.
Another reason I have difficulty following the book is that I’m trying to read it and watch Borgia at the same time. I mix plot points between the two, not only because I’m trying to follow both at the same time, but because they both seems to have used very similar, if not the same, source material. The other night I watched and then read as Cesare returned to Rome. Problem is, the two events are years apart (even in Borgia‘s compressed narrative). I was in for a shock when Juan Borgia made an appearance in the book, several episodes beyond when he was murdered in the show. Working with multiple versions of the same story is probably not the smartest way to go about this.
Which brings up another question. We are dealing with a historical subject, whatever fictional embellishments are added, the central narrative is fixed. This book was published in the midst of a minor Borgia saturation. Beyond that, we have centuries of exposition on the Borgia story. When I read this, it is within the context of already (and recently) having watched the very same scenes in The Borgias and Borgia. While some will come to Blood and Beauty fresh, I would think most would have arrived here via television, novel, film, or perhaps opera. Inevitably, this would shape how one ingests this novel, making it difficult to judge it on its own merits.
Author Sarah Dunant’s “thing” is history from a woman’s perspective. Her previous works focus on female main characters. I’ve read in reviews that this should be the focus of Borgia, although I don’t get that focus through reading the book. Dunant has also said that her goal in writing the novel was to separate the fact from the politically-induced rumor – also a noble pursuit. I suppose it is up to the reader to weigh how well her research fares against the other versions of history that are out there. It also goes some way in explaining the release of a Borgia-based novel right in the midst of a Borgia wave. Perhaps she is providing some counterpoint to what she didn’t like seeing on the TV.
With Borgia removed from streaming, I’ll have to satisfy my lust for things-Borgia with this book and its sequels. That is, as long as I am able to soldier on through this present-tense prose.
The next two Operational Art of War scenarios I’ve decided to take on move the focus both up and down a level from my previous try. Vietnam 1965 Combat Operations, Vol. 1 is a more focused take on the initial ramp up of troops. Focus, both in terms of the scale and the shorter time-frame, but also in other ways that I’ll expand upon below. Boonie Rats 1965-1972 is a higher-level look, again both in the expansion in scale and by its attempting to encompass the entire war. At least, that is, the entire war up until the historic U.S. withdrawal in 1972. The authors of both scenarios describe how they based their work on the Vietnam 1965-1975 board game, each in their own way.
Let’s start, as I did, with Vietnam 1965 Combat Operations, Vol. 1. If not evident from the title, this is an extensive, multi-part scenario development effort attempting to model the full length of the war, but doing so in bite-sized chunks. The creator has, so far, progressed only through the end of 1970, but intends to eventually continue through 1975 and the evacuation of Saigon. Volume 1 takes you from the Marine landings on March 8th through to the 31st of July.
This scenario is designed only for play as the U.S. against the forces of communism, which are designed to be handled by the programmed opponent; switching sides or playing against another human player is not supported. That right there differentiates it from many from the TOAW library, which emphasizes scenarios balanced for competitive play against other players. Even beyond that, though, this one is different than, not only the other Vietnam scenarios, but pretty much any other scenario I’ve played in TOAW.
Units are put into place or withdrawn according to their historical deployment to Vietnam. This is done to a finer level of detail than the other scenarios I’ve played so far. For example, the Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which is the organization which lands in Da Nang on March 8th is withdrawn on May 6th and reconstituted as the Marine Amphibious Force. This, in conjunction with the smaller unit scale, means a very detailed order-of-battle, yet still for the entire Vietnam theater. Furthermore, it is a historic order-of-battle that tries to be very precise.
In contrast to the Vietnam 1965-1968 scoring, this scenario uses the standard score-keeping system for TOAW to determine victory. Control of the population is simulated by scattering victory locations across the map, control of which represents enough of a presence to control those hearts and minds in the vicinity. Each on-map victory point is the equivalent of 10,000 souls distributed using the population numbers from Vietnam 1965-1975. Additional victory hexes are located in the neutral countries (Laos and Cambodia) or in North Vietnam. Capturing any of these victory locations is an instant loss for the U.S. side. In other words, they serve simply to balance out the South Vietnamese victory locations, which are open to control by either side, as well as to (somewhat) enforce the pressure to remain within the international borders of South Vietnam.
The biggest difference in scoring, though, is that your score can be augmented by successfully completing missions. Each turn specifies certain missions, usually described in a very detailed fashion. Completing those missions gains you additional victory points. The player is also free to forgo those mission points and repurpose his units towards controlling more victory locations or defeating the enemy on his own terms.
To play this scenario, I needed to copy the scenario notes to a tablet and have that next to me* as I executed each turn. For the most part, it is very instructive. With units arriving all over the map, it is otherwise very difficult to keep them in a historical context. Playing is also very painstaking. In a purpose-built game, these missions would probably be pop-ups in game with some graphical indication of where they are and where they are supposed to go. Using an offline document, I have to go through each mission’s details, finding the location of the designated unit and the mousing over hex-after-hex until the popup says I’ve found the right target location(s).
Another unique aspect in this one has to do with the “house rules” for this scenario. Most of them have to do with the air assets in the game. Because there is no way in TOAW to designate things like runway length and suitability of an airstrip for different kinds of aircraft, the designer recommends that you always keep your aircraft at the base where they are initially deployed. Furthermore, he asks that you not use the air assistant, not set any units to “interdiction” or “air superiority,” and that you set no more than 10% of your air units to “combat support.” The result of all this is that you, the player, must specifically identify where on the map you are going to use your air assets. Like much else in this scenario, it makes for much more deliberation when planning and fighting a battle.
I wasn’t quite sure how to play this. Initially, I tried to fully use my ARVN units (at least the few that were under my control) to take victory locations beyond those specified in the missions. In particularly, I was trying to “secure” the areas around Saigon and Da Nang. A little further into the game, I realized that any unit that might be needed to satisfy a mission would not, in fact, be available when I need it if I had laready set it off on a task of my own choosing. So by the end of the game I was much more focused on following the instructions as given and keeping the immediate area around my forces clear of enemies. The result was a draw, as shown above.
I think the purpose of structuring the scenario this way is first, to allow the player to see-by-doing what the historical utilization of his assets were. Then, perhaps on replay, he could see if varying that script would produce better results. This scenario, which ends before Operation Starlite, probably should not have a lot of aggressive, ahistorical attacks coming from the player. I don’t know what it might take to win this one, and I probably don’t want to be replaying it so as to find out. In that vein, though, having already worked my way through Vietnam 1965-1968, I had a certain familiarity with where some of the tough situations that I had faced in that scenario and thus a sense of the layout of the country.
Scared but Not Alone
In contrast to the above, Boonie Rats 1965-1972 owes an even greater debt to Vietnam 1965-1975. It began as another attempt to port that boardgame to the computer. The most obvious carryover is the map, which uses the same scale as the boardgame. But as the creator iterated in his development, he found areas to improve upon the source material, both in revisions to the map and, especially, in revisions to the order of battle.
The end result is a bigger-picture version of the war than the other scenarios highlighted so far. However, in stark contrast to Vietnam 1965-1975 and some of the other larger-scale TOAW adaptations, the order of battle follows exactly the historical deployment. So there is no variability to deployment based on management of morale, as in the original board game, or on high-level decisions (see Vietnam 1965-1968), or on random events a la Fire in the Lake. Each unit arrives for you when it did back then. The design notes tell of extensive work in getting that order of battle as accurate as possible and I can appreciate that.
Playing the game, it doubles down on one of the problems with Vietnam 1965-1968. I suspect the idea with month-long turns was to approximate the turn length in Vietnam 1965-1975. The problem with doing it this way is that for the board game, the time in between was abstracted. The correct interpretation is not that an “operation” took half-a-season to conduct, at least not in most cases. It may be an operation lasting only a few days. But units are only prepared to embark on one-to-two large-scale operations during a season, in between which they must rest, refit, and be reinforced. Translating that to TOAW, but adding an extra turn, may get the “rest” periods about right, but it also makes the movements that took a week or so to get in, fight, and get out, last multiple months within this scenarios structure.
Perhaps it is the attempt to model the abstracted turn length but, for whatever reason, the game is actually configured to run 1 week turns. There is a separate reckoning of the calendar reckoning that informs you that each is really one month, doing so in the “news” portion of the game. As a result, if we look at the screenshot shown above, although it says “March 29th, 1965” up in the corner, we are really looking at some time in June. It is mildly confusing and, again, I question if it really is an effective way to do what is intended.
In order to fit my experience in with the other games I’m looking at, I only played up until the beginning of November, at which point I am (historically speaking) about to hit some major U.S. operations. I’ll return to this scenario, to see how it is doing as a strategic representation, after catching up to the in-game date within other more detailed games and scenarios. In contrast to Vietnam 1965-1968, I’m not seeing units deployed ahistorically early. This scenario keeps the schedule tight. Like before, however, I do see a much more aggressive war being fought when I consider what is going on relative to the historical actions. Referring again to the above screenshot, I’m looking at June 1965 and I’ve got NVA regulars in the vicinity of Saigon. Feeling the pressure, I’ve undertaken a major operation to disperse them and this includes the participation of elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade (that forest green 4-3 counter) as well as some Australians (baby blue). While these units were, truly, in country by June, this is still months away from Operation Starlite and even longer until November’s Operation Hump (historically a use of 173rd’s forces for a major operation). While I share some of the blame, having engaged newly arrived troops so quickly, I also think I’m facing an NVA opponent that is accelerating the schedule. Unlike may other Vietnam War treatments, I can’t accelerate my deployment to match.
The scenario is not terrible, but I’m not sure its as enjoyable or instructive as the others available. I will say this. Score-wise, I seem to be doing better and with less stress. Here, the victory conditions don’t involve balancing commitment and morale and therefore don’t have the kind of sudden death conditions from Vietnam 1965-1968. Instead, and I have to speculate here, the tougher part will come at the end of the game when the player is asked to maintain control over country with the U.S. forces being reduced to zero. My decent score, I just have to add, persists despite losing an aircraft carrier.
I assume the loss of a carrier would have been a political catastrophe back in 1965. I probably shouldn’t have even risked it. The thing is, with the extra-aggressive operations on my plate, I found myself short of artillery support. To compensate, I moved a carrier group into gunnery range. I was figuring that the escorts could help me out by lending some big guns with relatively little risk. You might notice from the screenshot that I’m playing with the Version IV of TOAW. One of the changes was to try to make naval combat more realistic and part of that was allowing larger ships to take damage rather than just disappear when the get a “bad roll” during combat. So I felt even more secure with this gambit than I would have in Version III. Nevertheless, there must have been some torpedo boats lurking around because I lost a carrier and an aircraft wing while lobbing shells onto the shore.
I don’t have anything really bad to say about this scenario, at least not so far. However, I does point out why, perhaps, games focus so much on the morale and political aspects of the Vietnam War. It just seems like if, no matter what happens in battle, the U.S. forces are going to roll right in on this preordained time table and then be pulled back out on the withdrawal table, aren’t we missing one of the most important variables in this war?
*Normally, I would simply keep the manual open in another window and tab between them as necessary. However, you may recall my complaint about TOAW‘s problems when more than one program in running.
Once again, I’ve made a mistake. When looking at the battle generation capabilities of the Unity version of Field of Glory (FoG(U)), I assumed that the user-made scenarios created for the previous version of Field of Glory would only run in that older version. While strictly true, it didn’t take that much poking around to find that FoG(U) has a built-in tool that will upgrade a scenario from the old version to the new version with a rather obscure key combination. (Alt-Right + F5 if you don’t want to look it up, although you need to do so anyway to figure out the file structure).
Having made this discovery I’ve decided to test out my theory about improved AI in FoG(U) by playing the same scenario in both the old and new versions. For this exercise, I’ve chosen The Battle of Bannockburn.
For the Braveheart generation, we remember Bannockburn as the final scene of the movie. It is also the close of the book The Scottish Chiefs (although I despair ever getting through to that point in the book, as painfully slow and utterly ahistorical it is proving itself to be). Naturally, Braveheart had it all wrong. It depicts the battle as a spontaneous affair, taking place as Robert the Bruce finally gives up and agrees to swear allegiance to Edward II in exchange for support for his claim to the crown – a depiction that has no basis in reality. In fact, I have read that the Battle of Stirling, as shown in the movie (sans bridge) was more of an accurate representation of Bannockburn. While superficially the case, I think it is more an indication of the contortions through which a fan of Braveheart must go to connect the movie back to historical reality.
This is another battle that simply can’t be reproduced within the Field of Glory engine. The actual battle was fought over two days but the way the game is set out will necessarily fight it as a single day. As deployed, the battlefield mostly resembles the second day and the introductory text gives the date corresponding to the second day of battle. Of course, having just fought the Scots on the previous day, the English would not find themselves ambushed as depicted in this scenario.
Like the campaigns of Wallace, the specifics of the Battle of Bannockburn are preserved through a mix of written histories (some of which have only partially survived) and the heroic tales of Scotland’s independence. There is room for different interpretations of the orders of batttle, the tactics, and other details. I found a fairly extensive description of the battle that I am using as authoritative, mostly because it is sufficiently detailed. It also includes some excellent maps, made by one of the website’s authors.
In undertaking this exercise, I was hoping to obtain a clear victory in the old Field of Glory, one which I could attribute to the AI mistakes. That would then give me a way to compare the experience to the new Fog(U) AI. Unfortunately, that is not what happened.
I chose to play the Scottish side because, well, “Freedom!” and because I assumed, having won the actual battle, they might have an advantage in the scenario. Part of the problem is that (and you can see this in the above screenshot if you look at the minimap), the English are spread out backwards through rough terrain. This creates for the English AI a problem in that, to develop a decent attack, they must first consolidate and coordinate their forces in front of the enemy.
Against an aggressive English player, the Scots could play a defensive battle. I would think this would be a significant advantage, allowing the Scots to use both the terrain and their initial good order. Against the AI, however, the Scots need to go on the attack themselves. The first day of the real battle, the Scots aggressively attacked mounted knights with their schiltron formations, so as a representation of the whole battle, Scottish maneuvering makes sense. Day two, however, probably did follow more the Scottish defensive strategy that an English player versus Scottish AI might produce.
As the Scottish player, I was required to wheel my infantry out of the woods and form up a new battle line running parallel to the Bannock Burn. In doing so, the right side of my line got pretty badly mauled by the English knights. Towards the end of the game, when my left wing finally engaged with the rear of the English, I began to catch up in points. In the end, however, a battle based entirely on a Scottish attack is going to have a tough time resolving itself within the time allotted. My battle was a draw.
My next attempt to was to try playing the battle from the other side. As I discussed above, I anticipate the some of the difficulties in playing the English would be easier to figure out as a human player than for the AI. I also anticipate that if the battle was a draw for the AI English, it would be an absolute blowout for a human English player.
Sure enough, both of these were true. In my first four turns, I deployed the English knights facing the Scots in the woods, resulting in something that looks a lot more like the historical Battle of Bannockburn (more on this below) than the “ambush from the woods” that the scenario describes. I also realized that the English foot (see the green units at the lower left of the mini-map) take a long time to bring into play, because they are initially trapped by rough terrain. It was also a lopsided English victory.
My next attempt was to try to put together (quickly) something that I could play as the Scots, but was much closer to the historical battle. As I said above, this was a battle fought over two days. On the first day, the English began converging on the Scottish position and, assuming they had a decisive advantage, moved into battle piecemeal in an attempt to relieve a Scottish siege of Stirling Castle. Referring to the screenshot above, day one saw the Scots deployed in the woods facing to the left of the screenshot. They had prepared their position, including a series of hidden pits on the right side (in the screenshot, that is) of the Bannock Burn (the blue creek on the left side). As the armies engaged, the English were surprised by the effectiveness of the Scottish spear formations, which broke up the relief force.
At the point where the main English force was moving forward to, they believed, scatter the Scottish position, Sir Henry de Bohun road ahead of the army and challenged King Robert (the Bruce) to single combat. In something that reads more like fiction, the two fought and Robert smote Sir Henry with his axe. Cheered by their king’s victory, the Scottish spears surged forward and trapped the English, before they could form up, among the pits, rough terrain, and Bannock Burn ford. Unlikely as it seems, the Scottish foot scattered the English knights and caused extensive casualties. Both sides retired from the field for the day.
Again, a better written and almost certainly more accurate account of the battle can enjoyed here.
Realizing that the ford where they had originally crossed was well defended, the English used the night to begin crossing the Bannock Burn further downstream, away from the Scots’ defenses. While demoralized, the English still had both numbers and a professional army, and assumed that, once push came to shove, they would inevitably defeat the Scots.
As the battle began on the second morning, the English knights were arrayed against the Scots, themselves formed up in the woods. To reproduce this, I’ve edited the scenario to move the English army forward and array them in a prepared battle line. There is an issue that is apparent in the above screenshot. One of the factors behind the Scottish victory was that the English had hemmed themselves in between the creeks to either side and the bad terrain to their rear. We can see these physical limits on the Field of Glory map, but by no means are the English “crowded” into that area. Reworking this aspect of the scenario is far beyond what I’d like to do here. My edits consist only of moving around the initial placement of the existing armies – no modifying terrain or order of battle.
While I was obvious wrong about the ability to convert scenarios to the new version, FoG(U), there was another feature I had wondered about. The editor in the new program does not appear selectable, and I never knew why. I finally looked it up. The editor function in FoG(U) was not completed. As a result, creating a user-made scenario for FoG(U) requires first creating it in the original Field of Glory, and then converting it to the new system using the process I’ve now just learned. I’m generally not a big scenario maker, but it is good to know how it all works.
The result with playing the newly-edited scenario was an improvement. As with the first time through, I played as the Scots against an English AI. Overall the battle felt much better than the original version. The English engaged immediately, and the nature of the battle was similar to the historical progress. As a result, the fight did not run out of turns as it did my first time through. Instead, I lost.
A second try through backed up my experiences with the original version. In this try, I took no initiative with the Scots, only engaging when I had the advantage. Working this way, I established an early lead and was moving steadily towards victory. Once again, however, I ran out of turns before a victory could be established. What seems to be the key to this result is that the AI English are not particularly aggressive but the slightly shorter scenario (15 turns) requires that engagement begins as soon as possible. On the basis of this observation, I continued on my journey to look for difference in the AI for the two versions.
By the time I got this far, I was pretty sure what I was going to see and I was neither surprised nor disappointed. In the new AI, the English charged the Scottish lines immediately. When playing the Scots defensively, the results were pretty similar to those we saw in the old version of the program, they just happened a lot faster. The rear lines of foot did move forward more than in any of the previous games, but that did not seem to make much of a difference in the outcome.
Also of interest, the finally tally of casualties not only had a margin of several turns allowing a finish in the allotted time, but the figures are within a range that matches the historical outcome. While these casualties are perhaps on the low end for estimated losses in that battle, remember several factors. First, this is the second day of a two day battle, so (particularly the English) start out already in the red. Second, the Field of Glory battles end when one side “breaks.” This means there is little in the way of pursuit of fleeing forces, when much of the casualties of a medieval battle took place. Historically, the English were killed and captured as they attempted to retreat back across the Bannock Burn and were trapped by the Scottish infantry.
Finally, in this version, unlike any of the other attempts at this scenario, the Small Folk actually played a roll. One part of the tale of this battle is how Bruce’s camp followers, non-combatants traveling with his army, rushed forward as the English became trapped in the bad terrain while trying to recross the creek. Waving sheets and brandishing knives, the fell upon the panicked English army. At the end of this scenario, I brought the Small Folk (represented in the scenario) forward and they managed to route one battered English unit that had been reduced through combat with Scotland’s front line.
Apparently, there is some dispute about the exact location of the battle. There is a Visitor Centre, not too far from the location that we’ve mapped out in this scenario. A main feature of that attraction is a “3D Game” which allows visitors to fight the battle, and then receive a debriefing on how the battle actually played out. It appears to be quite popular, requiring tickets in advance and having already sold out for the academic year for school tours.
There is a scenario (actually two, the second supposes Stonewall Jackson to be still alive) called The Killer Angels. The scenario, however, does not take its name from the book. At least not directly. It is rather based on the board game The Killer Angels, released in 1984. I am not able to find a whole lot of information about that board game and, in fact, I’d never heard of it before finding this scenario. Comments on-line suggest that it was overly detailed and, while making for a mediocre playing experience, was actually a quite interesting rule-set to be studied, as opposed to being played.
Conversion to TOAW consisted of porting over the map and using a similar time scale and unit size. Obviously there are limitations here as it is the TOAW mechanics for (let’s say) fog of war or supply that govern the game. Whatever detailed rules were developed for the board game must defer to the system built into TOAW. In particular, on-line comments mention the use of skirmishers in the board game and how those rules give insight into the difficulties of operational maneuver in the Civil War. For the computer version, the TOAW fog-of-war variable is what governs intelligence about the enemy. The scenario designer has it set to 0% – no intelligence information about enemy movements outside of the immediate range of your own units.
With one exception.
There is a particular feature of this scenario that allows a one-time use of the Confederate spy Harrison, the Mississippi actor featured in the book The Killer Angles and the Gettysburg film. For that turn in which it is used, and that turn only, the Confederates can get a picture of the Union positions and movements.
This scenario was what I was looking for when I was reading the book The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command. The TOAW engine works well for this era and scale. The database contains appropriate armaments, assuming one trusts the game’s modelling of them. The time scale also fits. As per the TOAW system, the day-long turns can be broken down into multiple battles (and moves) per day. It seems to get the feel right for Civil War battles. That is, it is possible that a fight in the morning could open up the opportunity for exploitation and follow-up attacks later in the afternoon. However, in practice, any fight beyond the first of the day is unlikely to yield results as, even after a significant tactical victory, units were generally left exhausted and unable to continue fighting.
It all seems to be right at the level I’d want to play a Gettysburg operational scenario, as opposed to the ten day turns of the AgeOD engine. The one exception I’d make to this is for own-side command and control. In AgeOD, you give commands for the next 10 days and then rely on subordinates (i.e., AI) to execute them, or maybe not. A critical component in the Gettysburg campaign is how JEB Stuart’s cavalry became lost to Lee. With 1-day turns and direct control of each counter, it means that your army is at all times coordinated throughout the theater. Indeed, I ended up using this to my advantage by making Stuart’s cavalry a rapidly-deployable strike force, able to reverse the odds wherever most needed. I’m sure Lee would have loved that level of communication.
As I attempted to roughly implement Lee’s strategy, deviations from the historical record began to appear. Naturally they should – this is exactly what you want from a wargame (or, at least, what I would want from a wargame); the ability to explore the what-ifs of history. I try to send JEB Stuart’s cavalry around the union lines to the east, but seem to be running into resistance that, in reality, he managed to avoid. I thus wind up with Stuart fighting his way north, albeit successfully.
Likewise, a battle of which I hadn’t really been aware before reading about the campaign, Winchester, takes on new significance. In reality, Ewell and Early rapidly deployed against the defenders in Winchester and, attacking from an unexpected (impossible?) direction, prevented a major battle from ever happening there. In my case, I discovered in my route an occupied Winchester at a time when my army was well spread out both north and south of the town. I had part of my army already in Pennsylvania, attempting to scare the locals by grabbing key cities. Another corps, with supporting artillery and cavalry, was trying to grab a fortified Harper’s Ferry in a operational goal I had set for myself, the satisfaction of which was bordering on obsession.
After some initial scraps around Winchester whereby I discovered that I was facing a superior force, I dug in for defense. At the same time I redirected my nearby units towards the farmland of the valley south of the town. It appeared that the Union was doing something similar. Some meaty looking units began stacking up to my north and east. Through the fog of war, I counted at least 3 corps facing me across the battlefield but neither of us had a decisive advantage. Of course I know that, given enough time to concentrate, the Union will have the numbers. I also know that a third-or-so of my force is already in Pennsylvania, in the vicinity of Harrisburg, and can’t possibly contribute to what is shaping up to the be main battle, not near Gettysburg, but near Winchester, VA.
Just as I thought I was going to be crushed in detail, I realized that the Union had also divided their forces in reaction to my own spread-out deployment. I was able to make use of Harrison to validate my guesses about the union dispositions.
As is often the case, I think a human opponent would have seen just how close I was to being crushed and done so, whereas the programmed AI (being unable to fully grasp the situation) may have let me turn the tables on it, against the odds.
I managed to concentrate in two places. At Winchester where I achieved local superiority and then eliminated or captured much of the Army of the Potomac. Near Harrisburg, I was able to bring JEB Stuart into play to isolate portions of the Union army. A few localized victories allowed me to capture the supply depot located in Harrisburg, before beating a fighting retreat back through Carlisle.
In the end, I achieve a significant “points” victory. When the board was revealed, it seemed apparent that I didn’t have much of a chance against the fortifications around Baltimore, not to mention Washington. But perhaps, having done some serious damage to the Army of the Potomac outside Winchester, that letter prepared by the Southern government; a letter than offers peace, might be looked upon by Abraham Lincoln with favor.