The Virtual Corona Colonial Battle (VCCB) – Southern Sudan
As the world events gets a little crazy it still looks like our gaming community is still moving towards all kinds of gaming ideas. I remember the old mail in campaigns I used to find in some of the old Wargame Newsletters back in the 70’s and 80’s. Remote gaming, well here we are again. I have seen a lot of action with computer games and I am sure the console games are in full force. But just like many of you are, I am a traditionalist and I need to be a part of some gaming that I am commanding remotely or in person with our metal men and using our home-built terrain! So, I decided to host my first Virtual battle and it was easy to find players all around me. This is more of a play test using the Sword and The Flame rules and doing this over Email, Text and Web calling in some cases. I say a playtest because I wanted to build some processes and procedures to make this easy because I found out and already guessed that it was going to be a lot of work being the host. But it was a blast!
I have an 8’ x 5’ table in my game room. I recently purchased a wheeled, adjustable height work bench so I could keep my gaming table clear to do things like this. As you may know I build model boats for our hobby and it can take up a lot of space very quickly. So, this was east to setup for the week and half it took to play this VCCB in the Southern Sudan. And the first question is why Southern Sudan? I wanted to have at least 6 players in the battle and needed a semi fictitious time and location for a battle which I would twist into a story that wouldn’t be so far-fetched. I was trying to figure out a story and so happened to be listening to the audio book Heart of Darkness. As you know the movie Apocalypse Now, well that is where my character Kurtz came to be. I think there were a couple of you that used this story in your games. I figured where could I include as many nationalities as possible and I picked Southern Sudan. The table is a desert mat (from Cigar Box) with an Outpost in the center. The four corners you will see river, rocks, hill, and some jungle. These are where the main players will be coming out of. I number each corner and side 1 – 8 as entry points for various “factions” joining the fight.
I was going to try and explain things in detail, but it even got me a little confused and long winded. The bottom line is that Kurtz and a Frenchman were hostages and needed to be rescued. To keep the story short, the factions involved were the Dervish, they are still rebelling in the Sudan and captured our characters Kurtz, his wife, and a French Journalist who was recording all of his exploits, that included what the Belgians were doing in the Congo. So the Belgians chased him into the Sudan, The Germans in East Africa found out, the French got permission from the British to navigate their launches through Fashoda, the British who were in “control” of the area, and the Zanzibari who ended up with the hostages in the Outpost. So, they all met here coming from different directions, all for different reasons and missions. I even threw in the Azande rebels to try and save their god like leader Kurtz. There were 6 players playing their forces remotely and I was the Zanzibari Warlord defending the outpost and watching everyone around me making deals and parlays and that was just the tip of the iceberg.
The players that were involved and I need to thank them for being so patient were: Captain G, Belgian Commander (Andrew from CO), Capitaine Reiff, French Commander (Ethan from CA), Kapitan Baumal, German Commander (Jeff from FL), Captain Lucas, British Commander (Mike from FL), Osman Dougna, Dervish Commander (Doug from CO) and Budswana, Azande (Bud from CO) and, of course, I am here in Colorado. Let’s see how this is going to work.
I followed The Sword and The Flame (TSATF) procedure which consists of the phases of: Movement, Fire, Melee and Morale. For all call general information, I used Text message. For example, when each phase or when the turn was done, I would announce it via a text message to all. So here is the format example of the message to each player:
VCCB French Turn 1 Movement Phase Intel and Order(s) request
- Intel is where I would set my iPhone camera behind their units and they would only get the view in front or to the flanks. Always keeping the Fog of War alive wherever possible.
- Orders Request is where I would simply say Orders Requested.
- Note: that I was recording everything in Word Doc. The request, their replies, etc.
- When I received everyone’s orders, I would go to the table and deal out cards to every unit moving in case I had some conflicts like units charging, or units getting in the way of each other, etc.
- I roll the movement dice and move all units and then I would take pictures of what they now see and again very limited view. Some players orders are very dramatic, some very short and to the point. They always give me the formation and sometimes they would take the picture I gave them and with their commands they would draw on the picture so there was not doubt.
- I text that this phase is over and go to next step to send out next email.
- Intel - again making any notes they should know and adding pictures of any targets.
- Order(s) request. They are giving me their target at what they want to fire at.
- I deal out cards to all units firing to see the firing sequence around the table. I work one side at a time, just noting which unit would have fired first in that section them moving around the table, rolling the hit dice, pulling wound/kill cards.
- Also note in the picture I roughly painted a horizon, so I was in constant motion when taking pictures that their was a background to shoot the picture with. It just looks better, I think.
- Once all the firing is done, I would take pictures and make notes. Sometimes I would text out to all and tell them everyone hears firing coming from the north or some direction of the battlefield. Just to keep them thinking to add as much drama and doubt as I could.
- This phase is done, and I prep the next email and move on.
- This is where I would work out the charges and once that is complete, I move to next step.
- Once the melee was done, I would take pictures of the results and moved to next step.
- I would then complete the Morale step
- Then I would prep the final message after I text to all that the Turn is done.
- In this step I announce again the turn is complete.
- Included in this message I give each player an overview of the turn and if they are getting reinforcements next turn, or they see a “dust cloud” on their flank, etc.
- I end the message with standby for Turn 2 to begin. And them start all over.
This battle was schedule for 9 Turns. It took about a week and a half. The important message here is that you have players dedicated to the battle. Everyone knowing that everyone else is relying on each other to keep watching their emails and texts and respond accordingly. It actually went very smoothly.
Game Mastering a virtual battle
As well as having dedicated players as a GM you really must be on the ball. Its important to keep that Fog of War and keep everyone interested. And yes, I got messages saying can I do this or do that, where are my reinforcements, etc. I heard it all and I have been playing with all of these players for years and it was all expected and at times hilarious. Playing virtually like this (and we didn’t have any) there really isn’t time for “rules lawyers” or having “that guy” involved in the battle. So, it’s important that you have a great mix like I did so everyone has fun and it just makes everything easy. It's great when all you have to say and they are fine with it, “sorry Capitaine, you can’t have any bombs sir” (lol).
So, each faction has a mission: Belgians, they want Kurtz dead or alive, the French Journalist the same. The Belgians don’t need that Journalist ratting out on King Leopold and what they are doing in the Congo. Dervish, they don’t care about the hostages but maybe a deal can me made with the Zanzibaris who are holding the hostages in the outpost and they are always fighting the British. French want their Journalist and don’t care about anything else. The Germans want to take Kurtz back to Berlin for trial and if they can get their hands on the Journalist all the better. The Azande who come on later want Kurtz their leader back so were there to break him out. The British allowed the French to use their waterways to get here. They don’t like the Dervish and don’t like slave traders.
I allowed everyone to make agreements or parlays with each other as they saw fit. This really added to the intrigue because everyone really didn’t trust each other which was very entertaining. There was a lot of private communication going back and forth between players that I didn’t see until after the battle.
It was just a much fun for me as it was for the players. I was able to see their moves and sometimes I sent them GM suggestions or comments and gave them a chance to modify their orders because they may have missed something in an earlier message, or I left something out important that they should have known. Like when the Dervish and the Azande came on, on one turn they saw a huge dust cloud letting them know they better get ready because something is coming. It was cool because the British and French being on opposite corners could not see each other and could did not know what was happening to each other’s force until they had units that could see each other. No one ever got a Birdseye view which made this even more fun! So, the bottom line is that I would definitely do this again, I fact, I am planning the next one now. Back into the Tonkin Wars.
There are many pictures here but I had many more I could have added. The battle and politics going on behind the scene does not do these pictures justice and I also didn't want to give away all of the plot because I will run this again at my local clubs. The pictures are not in any particular order. I didn't do them turn to turn on this blog. There is so much to sort out and I am already planning the next VCCB battle. So please understand. I would like to leave you with one more section below.
So along with many pictures there was a lot of text messages and emails going back and forth making parlays and such. There were "pages" of these and I didn't want to throw it all at you here. So I have taken my favorite ones and added them here for you to get an idea on how some of this went down. Keep in mind that some of these gamers have not met face to face before, lol. I hope you enjoy them.
Without more needless words here, here are the pictures and as you may know by now, they are annotated for your enjoyment.
Some Player communication (emails/Texts) examples between each them.
One of the Warlords stepped out of the compound to speak to the Belgian Captain. The French were moving pretty close and their scout say this exchange. Again, unprovoked, the French took shots at the two and luckily only hit the Warlord. These texts were exchanged between Capt. G. (Belgian Commander) and Capt. R. (French Commander).
"...We have no quarrel with you - unless you mean harm to the French National held prisoner by these godless savages." (French)
"No quarrel?! Then I am to assume you hit your intended target? It is either that or French marksmanship has increased to a dismal 50/50." (Belgian)
(Little did the French know they killed the Slaver Lord's brother.)
As the battle is getting close to the end:
I am currently engaged with the Nasty Belgians, while simultaneously attempting to rescue French & German hostages from the Zanzabari compound, whom I was able to put eyes on last turn. No pressure, but if at all possible I would ask you to speed up your itinerary! If not, c’est la vie! But I’ll still be glad for you to assault, thereby drawing off some of their attention and thinning their ranks! GOOD LUCK & I PRAY YOU KICK SOME SLAVER DERRIÈRE!
With Utmost Respect,
Capitaine Reiff, Legion Etrangere, Champagne, Merlot, Cognac
"Hello German, I am Captain of the Belgian Askari mob...strike that, Expeditionary Force. I understand that your a looking for a man named Kurtz, is that right?"
"Guten Abend Kaptian Gurule, yes sir, I am looking for a certain Colonel Kurtz. He is apparently being held captive by the Zanzibari slavers in the compound we all currently are besieging. Can you effect his relief Sir?"
"I can. He is being delivered to me as we speak. I would be willing to turn him over to you if you would be willing to help me wit a French problem to my left flank. Are you in a position to assist in cleaning up this problem? We won't be alone in doing so."
"That is a very interesting offer..." (end transmission)
"Charge, Charge, Charge! Kill them all!" was the Azande battle cry
"Is this Osman Dougna? I am Captain of the Belgian Expeditionary Force and have a proposal for you."
"What is the offer afendi?"
"I am assisting the Zanzibari in their egree from this mess. If you have an interest in keeping them alive and honouring our agreement I would ask you to make all speed for an an attack against the French on my left flank. I can assure you we will not be alone in the assault against the French...What do you say?"
"Who is in this soup with us afendi?"
"The Germans will be attacking from the South, I from the West and you can be the spear through the French center. I've witnessed the French shoot and kill the Zanzibari warlord in cold blood. Was speaking to me under a flag of truce and French sharpshooter murdered him. I believe an eye for an eye is practiced in this part of the world? Just thought I'd mention it to steel your resolve to our agreement."
And most of these messages I could not repeat on a public forum but they were hilarious. You can see as the GM I pretty much oversaw everything except these deals between players. Made for a great game. We move on to Tonkin!