Monday, August 31, 2020

A New Project That ... Isn't...

 It was whilst browsing through some old back-issues of Wargames Illustrated that I ran across Bob Cordery's article 'Balkan Wars' Matrix games (Issue 66).  They made interesting and intriguing reading, once again.  

Bob Cordery's 'First Balkan War'
 Matrix Game Map as it appeared in WI66

In a subsequent article (WI78) Bob had created a set of rules and army lists for playing out the battles that might have arisen from the overall game.  The DBx ancestry of this rule set is clear, and bears some similarity to the Horse, Foot, Guns rule set developed I think by WRG some years later.  However, I thought they might go very well with the Portable Wargame systems.

Well, this was thought-provoking beyond my powers of resistance.  There was never any prospect of my running a matrix game as such, but how could one pass by such resources and not try to make something of them, even as a solo campaign?  

This was never going to be a whole new project.  The armies I have already: my late 19th Century 'Colour' armies.  Of course, the role of Turkey/ the Ottoman Empire/ the Porte would be taken by Turcowaz/ the Settee Empire/ the Door.  That was easy.  How were the armies to be distributed?  

BULGARIA becomes Chervenia
GREECE becomes Hellenia
MONTENEGRO becomes the Black Mountains Principality
SERBIA becomes Bijela
TURKEY becomes Turcowaz

In WI78, Bob outlined army lists for the belligerents, from which I developed the armies.  Here they are:

Chervenia - Head of State, Tsar Ferdinand

I Army: 
    1 x General (Vasil Kutinchev; 'Good') = 6SP (Strength Points)
    6 x Infantry stand (2 Veteran, 4 Trained) @ 4SP = 24SP
    1 x Machinegun stand (Trained) = 2SP
    2 x Cavalry stand (1 Veteran, 1 Green/ Militia) @ 3SP = 6SP
    2 x Field Artillery (1 Veteran, 1 Trained) @ 2SP = 4SP
    1 x Medium Artillery (Trained, siege arty) = 2SP
    2 x Transport (wagons, pack) @1SP = 2SP
Totals: 15 Units (includes general, Median = 8+1 = 9); 46SP (exhaustion at 16SP lost)

II Army:
    1 x General (Nikola Ivanov, 'Average') = 6SP
    9 x Infantry stand (5 Trained; 4 Green/ Militia) @4SP = 36SP
    1 x Machinegun stand (Trained) = 2SP
    2 x Cavalry stand (1 Trained, 1 Green/ Militia/ Irregular) @3SP = 6SP
    2 x Field Artillery (2 Trained) @2SP = 4SP
    1 x Heavy Artillery (Trained) = 2SP
    2 x Transport @1SP = 2SP
Totals: 18 Units (Median = 9); 58SP (exhaustion at 20SP lost)

Chervenia II Army, the largest of the three.  Unclear as to function 
of transports, I thought to use them as limbers.  I reckon the 
guns will get limbers, and the 'transports' will be logistic elements. 

III Army:
    1 x General (Radko Dimitriev, 'Poor') = 6SP
    6 x Infantry stand (1 Veteran, 3 Trained, 2 Green/ Militia) @4SP = 24SP
    1 x Machinegun stand (Trained) = 2SP
    1 x Cavalry stand (Trained) = 3SP
    1 x Field Artillery (Trained) = 2SP
    1 x Transport (stand of 2 pack animals) = 1SP
Totals: 11 Units (Median = 6-1 = 5); 38SP (exhaustion at 13SP lost).

Hellenica - Head of State, King George I

Army of Thessaly
    1 x General (Crown Prince Constantine/ Lt-Genl Panagiotis Danglis, 'Average') = 6SP
    6 x Infantry stand (1 Veteran, 3 Trained, 2 Green/ Militia) @ 4SP = 24SP
    1 x Machinegun stand (Trained) = 2SP
    1 x Cavalry stand (Trained) = 3SP
    1 x Mountain artillery (Trained) = 2SP
    1 x Field Artillery (Trained) = 2SP
    2 x Transport @ 1SP = 2SP
Totals: 13 Units (Median 7); 41SP (exhaustion on 14SP lost)

The Hellenic Army.  The near piece is a 'mitrailleuse'.

Black Mountains Principality - Head of State, Prince Nikola I

    1 x General (? 'Average') = 6SP
    4 x Infantry stand (1 Veteran, 1 Trained, 2 Green/ Militia) @4SP = 16SP
    1 Mountain Artillery = 2SP
    1 Transport (2 pack animals) = 1SP
Totals: 7 Units (Median 4); 25SP (exhaustion on 9SP lost)

The Army of the Black Mountains Principality.  Not the most powerful
presence in the theatres of war... (H'mmm... What is that weapon
the horse holder has slung over his shoulder...?)


Bijela Kingdom - Head of State, King Peter Karadordevic

I Army:
    1 x General (Petar Bojovic, 'Good') = 6SP
    5 x Infantry stand (1 Veteran, 2 Trained, 2 Green/ Militia) @ 4SP = 20SP
    1 x Machinegun (Trained) = 2SP
    1 x Cavalry stand (Trained) = 3SP
    2 x Field artillery (2 Trained) @ 2SP = 4SP
    1 x Heavy artillery (Trained) = 2 SP
    2 x Transport @1SP = 2SP
Totals: 13 Units (Median 7+1 = 8); 39SP (exhaustion on 13SP lost)
Both Bejelan Armies, the near being the Ist.  The blue uniformed fellows are
the Militia ('Poor') units.

II Army:
    1 x General (Stepan Stepanovic, 'Poor') = 6SP
    4 x Infantry stand (3 Trained, 1 Green/ Militia) @4SP = 16SP
    1 x Mountain artillery = 2SP
    1 x Transport = 1SP
 Totals: 7 units (Median 4-1 = 3); 25SP (exhaustion on 9SP lost).
The lesser of the Bejela armies, the same size as that of the 
Black Mountains.

Turcowaz - Head of State, Sultan Mehmed V

I Army:
    1 x General (Nazim Pasha, 'Poor') = 6SP
    8 x Infantry stand (2 Veteran, 4 Trained, 2 Green) @ 4SP = 32SP
    2 x Cavalry stand (1 Trained, 1 Green/ Militia/ Irregular) @3SP = 6SP
    1 x Field artillery (Trained)  = 2SP
    1 x Medium artillery (siege, trained) = 2SP
    2 x Transport @1 = 2SP
Total: 15 Units (Median 8-1 = 7); 50SP (exhaustion on 17SP lost).

II Army
    1 x General (Ali Riza Pasha, 'Poor') = 6SP
    10 x Infantry stand (2 Veteran, 4 Trained, 4 Green/ Militia) @4SP = 40SP
    2 x Cavalry stand (1 Trained, 1 Green) @3SP = 6SP
    2 x Field artillery (Trained) @2SP = 4SP
    1 x Heavy Artillery (siege, trained) = 2SP
    2 x Transport @1SP = 2SP
Totals: 18 Units (Median 9-1 = 8); 60SP (exhaustion on 20SP lost)

The powerful II Army of Turcowaz.  As you see them,
the infantry are divided left to right as veteran, trained, and 'militia'.

III Army:
    1 x General (Abdullah Pasha, 'Average') = 6SP
    10 x Infantry stand (1 Veteran, 3 Trained, 6 Green/ Militia) @4SP = 40SP

    1 x Cavalry stand (1 Green/ Militia/ Irregular) = 3SP
    1 x Field artillery = 2SP
    1 x Medium artillery (siege, trained) = 2SP
    2 x Transport @1SP = 2SP
Totals: 16 Units (Median 8); 55SP (exhaustion on 19SP lost)

IV Army:
    1 x General (Halepli Zeki Pasha, 'Good') = 6SP
    6 x Infantry stand (1 Veteran, 5 Trained) @4SP = 24SP
    1 x Cavalry stand (Green/ Militia/ Irregular) = 3SP
    2 x Mountain artillery (2 Trained) @2SP = 4SP
    1 x Transport = 1SP
Totals: 11 Units (Median 6+1 = 7); 38SP (exhaustion on 13SP lost.

Now, having sorted the armies, and decided upon a tactical rule set, how do we run the campaign? At the moment, I'm looking simply at 'area movement' according to the original map. The spaces upon which armies may stand are the outlined regions and provinces AND the fortified cities. However, only one army may occupy a fortified city. An army in a fortified city may move out only into the provincial area within which the fortified place stands. An army wishing to enter a fortified city, may do so only from within the city's provincial region.

My reading of the history of the First Balkan War indicates that if the four nations opposing the Turkish Empire could in only very polite circles be called 'Allied'. For a start it's not clear why Montenegro was in it at all, apart from territorial ambition, as that little principality had lately enjoyed good relations with the Porte. Yet Montenegro was, by half a week, the first to declare war.

The others seemed to have made cooperative noises before declaring war against Turkey, but almost all such notions were set aside once it all began. Only Montenegro seems to have been willing to enter into 'joint ventures'. By contrast, the historical army of Stepan Stepanovic, a combined Serbian-Bulgarian formation, split into its constituent contingents (under Bulgar orders) from almost the moment the war got under way.

So I am inclined to disallow all cooperation between the 'Allied nations', even armies within nations, with the exception of Montenegro. Without that exception, I reckon the tiny Montenegrin army would be in for a toughish time of it.

The starting points have been shown on the map. The locations of the four Turcowaz armies was somewhat dictated by the opening situation of the Matrix, that left limited choice. Those of the 'Allied' armies had been left open, but I decided they would all begin in separate regions, one of the armies in 'South Chervenia' actually being located in the capital, Sofia.

I was wondering if somehow I could make some kind of use of the 'matrix card' deck. One feels something ought to be possible - and it would help the 'narrative' along, too. But so far, the flash of brilliance is eluding me that would show me how it might be done.

Appearance of the armies: I am making no pretence to be reproducing the armies and uniforms of the historical counterparts. The Bulgar Chervenian army infantry will be resplendent in very British-looking red coats, just by way of an example.

For a while I thought of using the transport elements as the limbers or pack animals for carting artillery around.  And so the pictures would seem to indicate except that there are in many armies more guns than transport elements.  I have decided that if I'm going to include gun transports they:
(a) will be additional to the logistics elements in the army lists; and therefore
(b) will be integral to the artillery elements and strength points thereof.

At the moment, the thought is that battles will be fought between individual armies, using The Portable Wargame. If two armies of the same nation enter a region occupied by a single enemy army, each will fight the defending army separately if they arrived from separate provincial areas (or cities); but may attack together if they arrived from the same provincial area. However, both armies will be subject to their own unit activation, and their own exhaustion point.

The objective is to conquer the whole Turcowaz Imperium west of Constantinople Ionople, with the Chervenians showing a considerable interest in taking that capital, as well. Each of the Allies have their territorial ambitions, perhaps more collectively than can be satisfied once the spoils are to be divided...

Another view of the Turcowaz II Army.  Just because.



  1. Great looking Campaign Archduke! I very much look forward to seeing the first action.

    1. Hi Maudlin -
      At the moment, methinks there might be something of interest happening in early on in Vardar - we'll see. This is pretty much going to be a 'suck it and see' campaign. If it works OK and shakes down well, then we can have a crack at the Second Blacklands War...

      Archduke Piccolo

  2. Ion,
    Some thoughts.
    Movement - the large national areas seem to have sub-divisions; are these practical as a "movement area"?
    Machiavelli uses provinces and cities as two distinct movement options. You can be in a province and elect to move into a city as a garrison. If occupied, the city needs besieging before an enemy may enter.
    Areas need not be the same size; to represent difficult terrain, such as mountains, make the area smaller so you move slower.

    Matrix cards.
    The original idea is that the strength of the argument determines the chance of success and it's the player interactions of making a clever argument that forms the core of the game. Very difficult without players.
    I toyed with something similar when planning a SCW campaign, using Bob's Matrix game from WI.
    My conclusion was that these arguments are designed for a matrix game and don't translate that well. I did think there was some mileage in using them for the political side.
    You may want to toy with either dishing out cards or randomly allocating arguments by dice. Each turn see if the randomly allocated arguments form any sort of coherent plan or intention and allocate a strength to it; weak, moderate, strong, with -1, -, +1 to a d6. 4,5,6 succeeds and gives a bonus ( movement, combat).
    At the very least it would provide a narrative to the campaign.

    BTW, I have reactivated my moribund blog and have even adopted your strategy of laying out the toys to "see how those ideas look" on the table. Aufklarungsabteilung on blogger.

    1. Hi Neil -
      I did wonder about the size of the areas, but figured that if they work for a matrix game they ought to be OK. Your remarks on the occupation of city and fortresses are pretty much what I had in mind. I have the Hellenic army starting out in Athens. Its first move will have to be from Athens into the 'Thessaly' region.

      I'm imagining some interesting developments in Vardar, as that region is the only place the Serbian armies can go right now.

      I'm not sure what to do about mountains. One idea - and this is where the 'matrix cards' might come in, is that if an army enters a region by crossing the mountains, if the occupier of that region is not moving, or has not yet moved, then if it has an appropriate card ('ambush', say) then it might get to fight in the mountains, and the moving army MUST defeat these defenders to effect the move. The card allocation might actually be 'per army' rather than per nation as a whole.

      Otherwise, the battle will take place in the plains beyond.

      As you say, they would probably be more an aid to the narrative than to generate activity.

      I have wondered off and on what happened to your blog...

  3. Archduke Piccolo,

    WOW! WOW! WOW!

    Over the weekend, I was actually looking at the maps I drew for these articles ... and my old mate David Crook has just written a blog post about David Manley’s book about the naval side of the Balkan Wars.

    I am going to follow this campaign with great interest!

    All the best,


    1. Hi Bob -
      What can I say? The whole concept is simply too good NOT to do something with it!

      Speaking of the naval side, I note that Greece was given a small navy - the only navy anyone possessed. I infer that the lack of a Turkish naval presence was due to Matrix Game considerations. However, it does seem yo me that a small Turkish naval presence wouldn't go amiss, as there were a number of small naval clashes between the two (a couple very like that described in 'The Portable Naval Wargame', come to think on it).

      H'mmm - might be a occasion to bring out some of these fellows...

      Archduke Piccolo

  4. This project looks fun and ambitious. If you need any human inputs as to behaviour of the belligerents, do let us know!

    1. Cheers Mad Padre!
      A 'Matrix Game', then - or possibly a 'Diplomacy'? I was wondering if maybe the matrix cards could be brought into play in some fashion to decide upon courses of action. In my mind, though, I have pretty much figured out how the WAR will begin, any difficult decisions subjected to a die roll.

      Reading the original Cordery article, he listed for the first turn the order in which matrix cards might be picked. At first I assumed this to be sight unseen, but now I'm not so sure. But I thought to take that as the order of moves - a sort of IGoUgoHegoesThenhimThenher style of thing. For the first turn, anyhow. Subsequent ones might be subject to some kind of draw.

      Monteneg-- sorry, The Black Mountain Principality goes first. What to do? Send army to North Albania (1), send army to Kossovo (2), stay where is (3). Option 1 has the hazard of a fairly large Turcowaz Army in situ. It might well be planning to leave, but it hasn't gone yet, as Turcowaz's turn hasn't come around. That might well mean a fight.

      Option 2 allows the BMP to occupy an undefended province that the BMP has coveted for years.

      Option 3 protects the BMP from invasion, but it is far from clear that Turcowaz is planning - or is even capable of carrying out - any such thing.

      I probably wouldn't bother to make the die roll on this one. If I did, I'd weight it heavily in favour of Option 2. Makes a gain, and the army is not being placed at hazard. The slight risk of invasion by the Turcowaz Ist Army can be accepted.

      H'mmm. I seem to have written an article in response to your offer, Michael. Thank you for it, and don't be so very surprised if I take you up on it now and then!

      Archduke Piccolo.

    2. Option 2 for BMP seems the best. If the Balkan powder keg is already lit, then go for it!

  5. Great post Ion, enjoyed hearing about it in person

    1. Thanks, Jacko -
      You might get to fight some of the battles. Maybe.