TRICKS OF THE TRADE: ‘MARENGO’ & ‘WAGRAM’ PBeM PLAY AIDS

MOVEMENT & COMBAT TURN RECORD TEMPLATES FOR THE SPI GAMES, ‘MARENGO’ & ‘WAGRAM’ (1975)

There is really nothing like face-to-face competition when it comes to playing wargames. Unfortunately, most players will find — particularly, once they leave college and get on with their lives — that local opponents who share the same gaming interests can often be hard to find, and once found, hard to stay in touch with over the long haul. Circumstances change: gaming clubs break up, opponents move or even, heaven forbid, drop out of the hobby completely. Thus, one of the great benefits to traditional board wargaming conferred by the internet age — speaking as a long-time competitive player — has been the now almost universal ability of present-day players to substitute ‘Play by Electronic Mail’ (PBeM) for its tiresome precursor, traditional ‘Play by Mail’ (PBM). This has meant that most games between geographically separated opponents can now — if both players are conscientious in their move-making — be completed in a matter of months or even weeks, instead of the year or more that postal play used to require.

Happily, the ‘internet revolution’ has also led to the appearance of subscription (pay-as-you-go) wargame sites such as Hexwars, and also to the development of easy-to-use gaming software applications such as Vassal, ZunTzu, or Cyberboard which have made ‘electronic’ wargaming even faster (no set-up time) and more convenient. In fact, in the case of Vassal, players who are familiar with a game system no longer even have to have physical access to a copy of a favorite title in order to play it. Of course, reliance on software applications like Vassal or ZunTzu is not always either practical or even preferable. In many cases, players will find that platforms for their preferred games are not yet available online. Moreover, even when one of their favorite titles is available at one of these sites, players will occasionally find that existing internet gaming software — programmers being human — will have map or ‘order of battle’ mistakes that seriously detract from the actual playability of the game.

Finally, there are still a few modern ‘Luddites’ like me who just don’t much care for the ‘point and drag’ method of moving counters on a computer screen; gamers who, instead, would actually rather have the real map and counters in front of them when they play. For this type of player, using a ‘spreadsheet’ format for internet gaming is a convenient alternative. And it is also, not surprisingly, the online gaming format that I still tend to prefer.

The Excel spreadsheet files offered with this post are for the original versions of the SPI classic games, MARENGO and WAGRAM (1975). These files have been set up to permit competing players to exchange new game moves via email attachments and, at the same time, to keep an accurate and detailed, ongoing record of all of the various game operations that can potentially occur in the course of a complete fourteen turn match of either of these two games.

MARENGO Excel spreadsheet link
WAGRAM Excel spreadsheet link




Additional useful game-related Internet links:


Hexwars

Vassal

ZunTzu

Cyberboard created by Dale Larson

The Play by Email Emporium, Walt O’Hara

Boardgame Players Association World Board Gaming Championships®

Consimworld

8 comments:

  • I posted over on Consimworld a variant for Marengo.also sent it into BGG but as of this morning(3/26/11) not posted yet.

    I love the Marengo game but to be completely honest it is too Pro-French!
    Again in a game last night my French advanced and took the fight to the Austrians where they are bottled up between the Bormida and the stream in front of Marengo.

    Historically Gen. Melas surprised Napoleon and almost won the battle.The game only see's a very weak FRench turn One restriction of units with half movement rate and can't enter a ZoC-Whoppie!That goes no where close to a historical Austrian surprise attack.That and the fact the game starts out with the Austrians crammed into Alessandria and not really able to get eoungh units to make any sort of good attacks in the Marengo area till turn 3 or 4.

    My game last night I was able to get the entire Austrian Cavalry force over to the French right flank and with a few Infantry units managed to take Lodi for 1 turn and hold 1 hex of Castel GErillo at the base of the heights for a turn.
    It then went down hill from there. Oh sure the Austrians managed to take Marengo and it changed hands a couple of times but the end game FRench Counterattack destroyed the Austrians. French had only 6 sp's lost to 44 Austrian.

    My variant gives the Austrians a Surprise Pre-Game movement phase and turns 1 & 2 with doubling of their combat factors like the FRench get at games end.Also French retricted to Turn 2 for half movement and not entering a ZoC. This will at least get the Austrians out of the city and towards the French slightly faster but also so the Austrian Surprise attack hitting and keeping the French off balance starting out like the battle was in real life.

  • Greetings Kim:

    Your observations regarding 'MARENGO' are, I think, right on the mark. Speaking for myself, I have found the Austrian situation to be almost impossible when faced by an experienced and aggressive French player.

    So far as your recommended rules 'tweaks' are concerned, they look both hustorically reasonable (a big plus for me) and easy to use. Hopefully, your suggested rules changes will encourage a few 'grognards' to dig out their old copies of 'MARENGO' and give it another try.

    Of course, for my own part, when it comes to the old SPI Napoleonic folio games, I still prefer 'WAGRAM' and -- although the French have a fairly significant advantage in the early going -- the 'STRUGGLE OF NATIONS'.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • I played Jena a few days ago and it was a French blowout. I have Wagram & Battle of Nations up next.I made up some new "What If" forces for bothe sides by making a color copy of a un-punched countersheet and penning in the ID's. Basically the forces that were still at Dresden and the Bavarian's and the Austrians that were there watching them until they switched sides.

    I'm hoping my Marengo variant will give the Austrians a little boost starting out to get the French off balance.
    I seem to remember me maybe when the game was new fall back to the towns and the heights then launch the counterattack but as of late I'm much more of a aggresive defensive player that I take the fight right away to the Austrians which just plain makes them hard to get going .

    I did have a blast returning to this old game.
    Wagram is one I don't think will need any tweaking ;)

  • Greetings Again Kim:

    I agree: 'Jena-Auerstadt' is a very difficult game for the Prussians and their Russian allies to win. Although I haven't spent as much time with this title as with the others, I did find that a rapid Allied withdrawal from the death trap which is the Jena map section seemed to give the Allies their best chance of sealing off the Auestadt map and then dealing with Marshal Davout's force without interference from Napoleon. Any attempt by the out-numbered Allies to hold on in the far north of the Jena map, I usually found to be a recipe for disaster.

    So far as 'WAGRAM' is concerned, I agree completely: the game is very nicely balanced as it is; although the uncertain arrival of Archduke John's corps can swing the game a bit towards the Austrians if his force arrives early enough on the second day. Still, it is one of those games in which both sides have abundant opportunities to attack; moreover, I have usually found that, between evenly-matched opponents, it almost always goes down to the wire. In short, I consider 'WAGRAM' to be a well-balanced, very exciting "beer and pretzels" game that also has a surprising amount of replay value.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Joe

    Made up some House Rules for Wagram.

    First are for the Jim Hind Aspern/Essling scenario found in the Phoenix magazine and Web-Grognards.

    Aspern/Essling Scenario-
    #1 Austrians get 10 vp's for Gross Enzerdorf if taken during the game

    #2 Aspern & Essling are Tripled on defense.
    (This allows the French to hold the main bridgehead line slightly better).

    Wagram-
    #1 The Austrians "Cannot" exit the Western mapedge until they have been Demoralized(This was a very gamey rule that could see the Austrian player make a bolt for it off map and garner at least 49+ vp's without even fighting on that sector and historically they launched a major attack from there.This makes them have to stay until things go bad)

  • Greetings Kim:

    Your previous comments about 'JENA-AUERSTADT' and 'WAGRAM' got me thinking about these old games and, after a bit of ruminating, I finally dug out my copy of the 'NAPOLEON AT WAR' Quad and actually took another look at both of them.

    So far as 'JENA-AUERSTADT' is concerned, while the French certainly have the edge whether playing with Option "A" or "B", I have personally managed to do pretty well with the Prussians and Saxons (I don't know why I referred to them as the Russians in a previous comment) in both scenarios by exchanging one of Grawart's 6-3s for one of the Saxon 5-3s in the far south. The key to Prussian play -- in my view, anyway -- is to pull the Prussian screen back during the last night turn so that the French can, at most, attack Closwitz (6 factors, doubled) and perhaps a single 6-3 blocking the western half of southern east-west road at 1 to 1 on the first "fog" game turn; everyone else falls back to an oblique line that runs roughly from Rodigen along the ridges (where present) through Lutzeroda to a position just south of Isserstadt. By falling back just before the first "daylight" turn, the Prussians and their Saxon allies can often make it to turn six or seven without suffering any significant losses at all.

    Your suggestions regarding 'WAGRAM' are interesting. While I have seen the 'Aspern-Essling' scenario, I have never actually set it up and played it. The suggested rules change that would prohibit the Austrians from withdrawing units off the western map edge until they had become demoralized is, I think, a little severe. Certainly, the Austrians can attempt to hightail it off the map edge with the units west of the Rossbach, but to do so, I believe, leaves Archduke Charles' army perilously weak when fighting begins on the second day of the battle. In terms of my own experience, the Austrian player who opts for the "Brave Sir Robin" strategy of running away rather than fighting in the northwest, usually loses possession of Aderklaa almost immediately and then finds, as the Austrian front inevitably lengthens, that he does not have enough units (particularly artillery) to hold the heights once the French cross the stream in the northeast and begin to develop a serious attack against the Austrian left.

    In all honesty, when I am playing the French, I am more than happy to allow the Austrian player to extricate those units that, for one reason or another, I am unable to pin and destroy on the first day: it just means that Napoleon will have a lot fewer Austrians to contend with on the critical second day of the battle!

    I suppose that, if both opponents decide that the "Austrian Withdrawal Rule" gives too big an edge to the Austrian player then they could count exited units towards the Austrian "Demoralization Level" as a alternative to prohibiting such a move, altogether. But, based on my own experience with 'WAGRAM', I am not, as yet, persuaded that any fix is actually necessary.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • When discussing "easy-to-use gaming software applications", don't forget the relative newcomer, Battlegrounds Gaming Engine (aka BGE).
    http://www.battlegroundsgames.com/nutshellbge.html

  • Greetings heruca:

    Thanks for the "heads up". The site looks interesting, although I did not have the opportunity to actually dig very deeply into the BGE offerings on this first visit; perhaps later, when I have a little more time to tinker.

    Best Regards, Joe

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