The virus lockdown has given me a huge amount of time to catch up on my painting but no possible opportunity to play a game…
Last Friday, four of us joined together around a virtual tabletop via Zoom. It was for a French revolution game set during the Flanders campaign of 1793.
I played Citizen General General Houchard — charged with holding the approach to Dunkerque at Ghyvelde. My orders read:
“Under no circumstances must the enemy be allowed to besiege Dunkirk. You are to march immediately to intercept their advance, bring their army to battle and defeat them. The very existence of France and our glorious revolutionary depend on you - they must not pass!”
I was also informed that Representative of the People, Louis Antoine Léon de Saint-Just would accompany me. “He will ensure that all the soldiers in your army demonstrate appropriate revolutionary zeal and deal with any weak souls.”
Viewing the battlefield from my computer gave an interesting perspective. The umpire’s mobile phones were placed by the command stands on the tabletop. At a distance I could vaguely make out the enemy and count the flags but I could not make out who was who. It was a much more realistic and challenging view of the battlefield. Unfortunately I neglected to take any screen shots at that stage in the game.
On viewing the enemy from a distance I decided to hold back my right in the safety of our camp and Ghyvelde. I would personally lead a concentrated attack on the left with cavalry and a demi-brigade of infantry, supported by three battalions of light infantry making their way in loose order through the sand dunes on the far left.
My columns crashed into the Hessian line sending them reeling back in confusion as my light infantry began to outflank the enemy left, driving the enemy jaegers before them. It was all going swimmingly well until St-Just decided that the troops holding my right were not showing enough revolutionary zeal and so led them out from their defences in a suicidal attack on the Austrians.
Spotting a gap in the middle of the enemy line I sent my cavalry forward, expecting to burst through. I should have known that men with such fine looking uniforms had royalist sympathies. Their abject performance confirmed this and they beat a hasty retreat.
To make matters worse, St Just’s ill-advised attack on our right was being chewed to bits by the Austrians. I quickly penned a dispatch to the Committee of Public Safety in Paris pointing out that, by ignoring military advice, St Just’s foolhardy behaviour was jeopardising the revolution.
There was nothing for it to press on and press hard. Joining the front ranks of my advancing columns I encouraged them to attack without pausing to give fire. Showing the spirit and élan of true revolutionaries they performed brilliantly, sending the British and Hessians reeling.
The day was won! Although the Austrians were feeling pretty pleased with themselves there was no chance that the enemy could advance on Dunkerque. Had it not been for citizen St-Just and the royalist sympathisers amongst the cavalry, we might have swept the enemy from the field.
Such traitors will no doubt soon meet Madame Guillotine.
It was a novel experience to play a game remotely like this but it worked. It worked very well indeed. In fact I would go as far as to say that in some respects it was superior to a conventional tabletop game.
As a player my view of the battlefield was restricted, giving a much more realistic command perspective. I gave my orders to the umpire (as did my opponent) and the umpire moved the troops. We players could still roll the dice for shooting and combat so it felt like we were really playing. The dynamic made us concetrate on the important command decisions much more than we would in a normal waragme.
I'm looking forward to the next remote game which is rumoured to be a tank battle in Normandy 1944.