Wednesday, February 10, 2016

First Thoughts On Playing "Scharnhorst: Campaigning With Blucher" Solo

 I have been a big fan of Sam Mustafa’s Blucher since it came out last year.   I know there are more complex Napoleonics rules out there, but for where I am right now they work for me.
One part of Blucher I haven’t yet explored is the Scharhorst campaign system.   Here’s what I’ve managed to figure out so far.  

If they are not playing an historical campaign, players draw up armies using the Blucher points system and then choose one of the maps provided on Sam’s Honour website, such as this one of a fictive bit of Southern Germany (the other maps as I recall them are Northern Germany, Poland/Russia, Italy, and the Penninsula).  Players then secretly determine how many of their cavalry units they will allocate to scouting, giving them an intelligence score.  The player with the higher score gets to choose the map edge they will enter on.

After dividing their purchased armies into groups called Columns, players then take turns pay movement points to maneuvre their columns on the map, seeking Victory Points for capturing villages, towns and cities.   Some of these can be captured during any of the five days of the campaign, and others are controlled when a battle is decided on the tabletop.

Scharnhorst is not so much a game as a battle generator for the tabletop. Under certain conditions, a player can declare a battle when he has a column in contact with an opposing column. The area of the battle is a 2 X 3 block of six squares. If columns have the movement to reach one of those squares, they are part of the battle. If they have the movement to reach a square adjacent to the battle, they may enter as reinforcements.

 So for example, in this instance, Blue Column B has declared the battle and the area runs from Blue Col A to red Col 4 and the three squares below them, of which Blue Col B is in the middle.  Red Col 2 and Blue Col C may possibly enter as reinforcements, but the other two blue columns can’t reach the battle in time.

The only problem with all this is that Scharnhorst it isn’t great for solo play, since I know exactly which units are allotted to which columns.  Playing solo,  am pretty much guaranteed a big, relatively even battle, since I can move as many units as possible into the melee using my omniscient vantage point.

 I crave the idea of grand operational level Napoleonic actions, with corps blundering into the enemy, or probing to discover him, then couriers riding frantically to reach supporting corps, orders hastily drawn up, and troops set in motion for the great collision of arms.  How can I capture that by myself?

It occurred to me that I could start by writing orders for one side, let’s say for Blue.  These orders would specify the entrance square, the route of march, and the objectives for each Column.  The orders might also specify the posture of a column, ranging from act cautiously to act boldly and seek an engagement.

I would them write a set of programmed orders for Red.  Perhaps I write three sets of orders:  1) Mass 3 of 4 columns on left side of map and advance towards opposite left edge.  2) Mass 3 of 4 columns on right side of map and advance towards opposite right edge.   3) Divide force evenly into 4 columns, no more than three squares apart, and advance on the centre. Then I mightroll to see which of these three orders Red adopts.  

As columns came into contact with one another, I could use the Scouting the Enemy rule on p. 144 of the Blucher rulebook to determine if one side or another learns how many units are in an enemy column.  Perhaps a scouting table could specify various levels of knowledge to be determined by die roll with various modifiers, depending on the number of cavalry units present in each column, type of terrain, etc.  Once in contact with an enemy column that is successfully scouted, I could send couriers to neighbouring friendly columns, dicing randomly for their speed, safe arrival, and accuracy of their information.   A further roll might determine if the commander of the supporting column is willing to abandon his initial orders to march in support and thus arrive at the battle.  

It’s late and I am getting tired, but I think I have something to think about and experiment with.
If you have any experience on playing Scharnhorst solo in a satisfying way, please say something about it in the comments.

Maybe another approach would be to recruit some players, run the Scarnhorst game double blind using this blog, and once the battle is figured out, move it to the tabletop?  Hmmmm.

Blessings to your die rolls!


  1. I have been thinking about something similar, with crowd-sourcing movement for my solo campaign. Could be as simple as putting up a few different move options on the blog and first one to make a choice gets to decide for the unit that turn.
    More involved would be a light-version of your ACW campaign where people take different roles, give orders and you play out the resulting battles.

  2. I have often considered using Zucker's series of Napoleonic operational boardgames as a campaign engine for generating tabletop battles within the context of the campaign setting. Struggle of Nations would be my top choice in that regard. Treating the campaign as a PBeM with remote players taking the roles of the major commanders with yourself resolving any on-board clashes would provide a number of interesting gaming scenarios to fight out on the miniatures' table.

    1. I used Zucker's boardgame to do solo campaigns when I was playtesting Blucher. It generated a number of interesting battles. You had uneven battles, battles in poor weather, and battles where one side just wanted to hold out a day for reinforcements to arrive.

      But Zucker's rules are WAY over the top for this sort of thing, so I only roughly used the rules and map to move forces around.

      The biggest upside for solo play in the Zucker system is that you roll for some forces to see if they move and how far. That really helps inject uncertainty into the campaign.

      If I was to do Scharnhorst solo I would draw up plans for both sides, then dice each turn to see a force moves or can override orders to react to enemy.

  3. Mike, I think if you can organise a PBEM diplomacy game I don't think organising this is beyond you. There's nothing quite like the human element to make things truly random.

  4. Big thumbs up for Scharnhorst and Blucher too. In our 3 run outs, the mini-campaign has produced some interesting battles. In one, my 3 Spanish corps caught a single French corps. I had him on the ropes and then ALL of his reinforcements arrived at once, turning the tide. In another, the shoe was on the other foot. I fought a delaying action but my reinforcements didn't quite make it on the table in time. Let us know how it goes!


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