My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Fine Art of Writing Battle Reports

Disclaimer: all of the following is, of course, simply my opinion of magazines and journals and their content, and the entertainment or practical value of that content. You may not agree, and if so, sound off. That said, I also realize that my own battle reports do not always meet up the the ideals I list below.
The subject of writing battle reports (or after action reports - AARs) was raised a few months back on the Old School Wargaming forum on Yahoo and I did an entry in response, and I recently ranted a little more about it on the Solo Wargame forum, with regards to battle reports in magazines, so I thought I would elaborate a little more here.

The subject came up due to a open forum question about whether I was a subscriber to Lone Warrior magazine and if not, why not. I had subscribed to that journal (I hesitate to call it a magazine, and it is more substantial than a newsletter) for several years, but after awhile I found myself disappointed after I read each new issue. There was usually at least one interesting item, but it often seemed that there was rarely anything usable. Having read a number of back issues from MAGWEB (when it had been up and running), it seemed like the content of the journal had drifted over time.

I know this is starting to sound like a knock, but it is not intended to be. Lone Warrior actually did pretty good for basically being written by a small core of the subscribers in what is a very niche part of the wargaming hobby, which many might consider itself niche. Where this is all leading is that Lone Warrior (LW), like another wargaming journal I tried out, Classic Wargamer's Journal (CWJ) both were comprised largely of one type of article: battle (or campaign) reports. And that is where this entry's subject comes in.

First off, one wonders whether battle reports should even be fodder for a wargaming magazine or a journal. Generally, one's games are pretty personal and the ability of the author to convey the sense of "being there" is usually pretty limited. That is why, for me, a battle report that is simply a narrative has little value.

So, what constitutes a good battle report - one that would get me to read it? Consider the following elements:
  • Narrative
  • Maps
  • Scenario
  • Pictures
  • Game Mechanics
  • Analysis
Narrative

A good narrative (story) makes for interesting reading. But, unless you are looking for a little historical fiction at whatever level the author is writing at, a good story is just not enough. As I am a competitive sort I am always looking at the decisions gamers make at critical points in a game. Why did you advance into range there? What were you thinking the result would be before the move? Was your thinking correct? What should you have done or considered first? As I am also an inquisitive sort that looks at battle reports using rules I don't know, narratives typically tell me nothing about the rules themselves because a narrative itself should probably be "rules agnostic".

So, does a narrative have a place in battle reports? Yes. From the reader's perspective anything that helps you "get into the game" is positive. That said a narrative does not need to be a fictional account of the characters on the table top, it can be of the players itself. I have seen more swings in a battle from the player's morale being broken than from a mass rout by the figures on the table. Sometimes recording that actually helps the reader understand just why it all fell apart. Of course, if your opponent's read your blog, you might not want to say "It was at this point my opponent burst into tears like a little girl."

Maps

Maps are incredibly important for helping the reader understand the action, especially in a very fluid game where it is hard to keep track of who is where. For example, in Flames of War a doubling Fast or Light tank could move 32", which is pretty darn far on a standard 6' by 4' table. So a reference like "the Stuarts on the left flank doubled" on one turn might be "the Stuarts attacked on the right" the next turn after having moved 32" + 16" in the course of the two turns.

So, maps help the reader understand the lay of the land, what might be challenging in a scenario, where action occurs from turn-to-turn, and act as an aid in re-creating the action for themselves.

Scenario

To me, including the necessary information for the reader to recreate the action for themselves - publishing the necessary scenario information - is what sets Battlegames and Wargames Illustrated apart from the other magazines and journals. In Battlegames you have Charles Grant's Tabletop Teasers and in Wargames Illustrated you usually have a historical scenario for Flames of War.

Sometimes just describing the scenario, if it is a standard mission, is helpful for those reading the report but who do not play the rules you used, as they can get a better sense as to why the players might have made specific decisions during game play.

Pictures

Pictures have always been an interesting topic for me, as I am never sure exactly what I should be taking a picture of. I used to take pictures of just the whole board, so the reader can get an idea of the entire battle. But then I got suggestions to add "action" pictures that focused in on a specific part of the battle, so the figures could be seen better. I admit that with some of my earlier battle reports, you couldn't really tell what happened from turn-to-turn unless you were flipping back and forth between the pictures. (That lead me to once try a stop-motion picture sequence to show off a battle.)

One thing I do not like is using stock photographs of battles, but not of the one you are describing.  Either show an overview of the battle or show a specific combat up close. Beyond that, I am not really sure what works.

Game Mechanic

A friend of mine used to say about the rules Column, Line, and Square, "Don't look at the mechanics of the rules, look at the end results." I like it when a battle report points out how the effects of a game mechanic elegantly reflects (our perception of) how it is "really supposed to be". Also, a discussion of tweaking the mechanics is always thought-provoking and interesting, even if I don't agree with the change. For those that don't know the rules and are curious about how the play, mechanics discussions usually help. That said, referring to the mechanics over and over in battle report after battle report can get tedious, for both the reader and the author. Maybe it is best to write a one-time review of the rules you use and provide a link in your battle reports. Food for thought...

Analysis

Being an analytical sort of guy it naturally comes out in my writing. I also like it in the battle reports that I read. A lot of it is "what if?" but the main thing is that it leads to discussion. One of my most popular battle reports (by page view count and comment count) was K√∂nigstiger versus Strelkovy. This generated a lot of comment on this blog and on the forums where I posted the link. A lot of it centered around the flaws in my analysis  but it was still good discussion!

Summary

So, there you have it. My favorite elements to a good battle report. You can be the judge on my ability to meet that bar. I know that I often do not include all of these elements, which makes me question why bother doing it if I am not going to do it right.

While writing this blog entry I decided to look back and see how some of my battle reports did, in terms of page views and comments. Here is a list, as of 20 November, 2011.

Battle ReportCommentsViews
DBAWI Game2112
DBAWI Game #214
Two More DBAWI Games048
DBA Game: Early Libyans versus Early Bedouins058
Another DB-AWI Game014
First HOTR Game04
DB-AWI Version 2 - Battle Report079
DBA Solo Hoplite Campaign - Game 10219
DBA Solo Hoplite Campaign - Game 2047
DBA Hoplite Campaign - Spring 479 B.C. - Spartan Move0186
Stop-Motion DBA Battle142
DBA Hoplite Campaign - Spring 479 B.C. - Thessalian Move140
American War of Independence Wargaming0243
DBA Solo Game - Baltic Greeks vs. Skythians4674
Solo Memoir '44 Game - Pacific Theater #49 - Wake Island0273
Oinking Good Fun025
DBA Battle Report using Battle Chronicler0102
NUTS! Battle Report0758
Flying Lead Game at MAG-Con II2436
Mixing Flying Lead and NUTS!079
Flying Lead - Western Union047
Command and Colors: Napoleonics - Vimiero5192
Playtest - Easting the White Dog144
Playtest - New AWI Rules2183
AWI Playtest using Ganesha Games' Sixty-One Sixty-Five (Part 1)0351
AWI Playtest using "Sixty-One Sixty-Five" (Part 2)0107
TWTUD Playtest038
TWTUD Playtest Part 2233
TWTUD Playtest Part 3035
The Battle of Trautenau11123
Task Force A List in Flames of War0112
Interesting FOW Game (1)033
Interesting FOW Game (2)019
Interesting FOW Game (3)029
Interesting FOW Game (Summary)030
Battle of Burtki (Korsun Pocket Campaign)230
German Maneuvers: A Blue-on-Blue Game of FOW066
Königstiger versus Strelkovy6537
Infantry Aces Cassino Game 01274
Infantry Aces Cassino Game 02047
Infantry Aces Cassino Game 03049
BattleLore on the Tabletop (Part 1)6222
BattleLore on the Tabletop (Part 2)092
Here Comes the Red Dragon061
Here Comes the Red Dragon (Part 2)242
Skirmish in the Spanish Countryside0312
1 This was a guest blogger report and not one done by me.

As I review the list above, something becomes quite obvious: pageview count is directly related not to the quality of the battle report, but to how widely you publicize the battle report in other forums.

Well, now you have the list. You can judge for yourself how many times I myself didn't meet my own exacting standards!

3 comments:

  1. Dale,

    An interesting view of battle reports - your view of what makes a good report matches what I look for as well, which may not be what anyone else wants to see. In the past, almost all my battle reports have been detailed replays of a ruleset so readers can see how the rules mechanisms work. I have moved from overview photographs to highlight the action. I should sometimes do more marking up of the pictures with arrows and labels to show what is happening, but am lazy. But, now I am starting to replay the same rules again and am grappling with how to make the content useful, rather than just a post with pictures and a "look what I played". While the later can interesting, even if just for eye candy, they are not what I'm looking to achieve with my battle reports.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I agree wholeheartedly with your remarks. This aplies to any kind of gamng report (I am not a solo gamer myself - being part of a very active club).
    One thing struck me was the maps! What program do you use to generat them?

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have used Battle Chronicler for maps, but most are computer drawn using a drawing program (I use the old Macromedia Fireworks).

    ReplyDelete

Blog and Forum Pages

Popular Posts

Followers

About Me

My photo
Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").