Saturday, 27 March 2021

Decade of Battle Reporting - 2021/03/27



Greetings!

Much to my own surprise, I have just recently realized that on 22nd March 2011 I posted my very first battle report. Back then I did not even think about what kind of journey I was embarking on. As you can easily imagine, quite a lot happened in the last decade. I would like to take the opportunity and recall some of the most interesting moments of that journey. I hope you will find it an interesting read!

Inspiration

Even before I started playing any table top games, I got interested in military history. If I recall correctly, one of the first books I read some time in high school, was Alexander of Macedon by Peter Green. It was in this book that I noticed how important is to have a map of the possible battle formations of opposing armies to help with the narrative. 

The Battle of Gaugamela - source, Alexander of Macedon, Peter Green.

That visual aspect of the story was always a crucial part for me and many books I read after had some great maps as well. One of the best are, in my opinion, the maps in The Atlas of Ancient Battles by Johannes Kromayer and Georg Veith.

The Battle of Cannae - source, The Atlas of Ancient Battles, J. Kromayer and G. Veith

It was then just a matter of time when I discovered wargames. At the beginning these were board games with a hexagonal maps and square counters representing the regiments to re-create historical battles. 

Vienna 1683 by Polish company Dragon

It was quite fascinating to try and re-fight such battles. It made historical events much more interesting and often led to some intriguing, alternative outcomes. 

These were ready to play, out of the box games so there was no modelling/painting aspect that would add a different dimension to the experience. However, the story telling aspect was always present, as playing the game stirred imagination and very often the question "what if?" was asked.

Then, at some stage my brother and I discovered Warhammer Fantasy Battle 4th edition and that was the beginning of a completely new era. I was immediately drawn to the histories in the army books and the most fascinating was the one that was already in the High Elves army book. I have never seen a battle report presented in such way before.



The colourful maps, photographs of the painted miniatures and the narrative as the battle evolved were amazing. I am sure I am not the only one whose favourite part of any monthly White Dwarf magazine was a battle report. The stories were simply amazing. The prologue and epilogue to each one, where players talked about their plans and then about the game itself, only added to the story. It was as if you had first source records from the generals of opposing armies recalling the events during the battle. As if you had the records of what Hannibal Barca and Scipio Africanus thought in the aftermath of the battle of Zama in 202 BCE! 

I was truly impressed and inspired but it would have been many years after that when I had means to start writing my own battle reports. 

Let's thus start with what is needed to write a battle report, then I will tell you a bit why I write some (although you may have a good idea about it already!), a bit about things that I added along the way and finally, I will have a look back at the decade of the battle reports writing.


What do you need to write a battle report?

If you think that in order to write a battle report you need to have some kind of software to allow you to create maps like the ones above - you would be correct. However, a few things had to happen before that.

It is quite fascinating to look back and reflect on how it was in the 90's (that's when I discovered Warhammer Fantasy Battles) when we lived in a different, non-digital world. The books and magazines (such as White Dwarf) where were the hobby was shared. It took some time when the first platforms such as message boards and forums appeared. For me, it was probably the forum run by the Warhammer Players Society when I started reading posts written by other hobbyists and enthusiasts. And it was the first platform where I saw people writing about their games and battles. Obviously, the first records were text only and I did not even think about doing something similar myself.

However, the more forums started to appear and there were more opportunities to share the hobby online. It was thus just a matter of fact when people started posting the photos from their games. Again, a bit of reflection here. There were no smartphones back then and digital cameras were not yet that common. So taking photos from your games was not so straightforward as it is today. But it was a massive change and huge improvement when somebody was able to post a photo or two for their battle reports. It added another dimension, even if the report itself was not that detailed.

So slowly but surely we were getting to the point were the tools for writing your own battle reports were there to use. I got myself a compact digital camera (first to take photos of miniatures I painted), I learned how to use forums to post the photos and compose the topics and I just needed the tool to create all these cool maps to have all the components to write a battle report!

I don't remember how did that happen that I discovered Battle Chronicler. But it was the biggest game changer for me. Suddenly, I had a ready to use, very easy to learn software to write exactly the kind of battle reports I read elsewhere and on top of that was for free! You can still download it and use it if you like!

Battle Chronicler - Link

Battle Chronicler - view on the example of a map from my recent battle report.

Now I was ready! But before I tell you a bit more on how I prepare the maps and battle reports, I would like to talk about why I do it at all!


Why do I write battle reports?

There are, in fact, a few reasons why I write battle reports and all of them are equally important for me. 

I always liked the story telling aspect of the battle reports so writing about my games gives me the opportunity to present them in such fashion. Hence, I prefer a narrative style, that may not have all the details but, I hope, adds a new dimension to the game. For example, rather than writing about particular lucky (or unlucky) dice roll, I try to frame it as a heroic action of a particular regiment involved. In this way I don't have to worry if I don't recall everything that happened during the game (very convenient when writing some time after the battle took place or after a tournament). And I think it is more interesting and entertaining to read as story rather than a dry record of what happened in the game in the chronological order.

At the time I started writing battle reports, I did not have that many opportunities to play games as I have now. It meant that I was not able to test ideas as often as I would like to. And, of course, I wanted to get better with my chosen army. So the next best thing I could come up with was to try and analyse my own games, think what I could have done differently. Writing a battle report turned out to be a great way to do so. Usually, when I create the maps for the game, I am already thinking about particular situation. And I was always able to find out something that was new, something I did not notice during the game etc. I must say that "playing" the game again in my mind, when I am writing the battle report, is quite entertaining on its own. I like that unexpected aspect of the hobby!

Eventually I had more and more opportunities to play games, I participated in the tournaments on regular basis. The online platforms added even more options for playing games as well. As a result, I met more and more fantastic players, be it in person or online. And I realized, that writing a battle report from our game can be a great way of saying "thank you!" to my opponent. 

Thus, as you can see, the motivation is quite simple and straightforward but it was enough for me to keep going for 10 years! 


How do I write battle reports?

Warhammer Fantasy Battle

When I started writing battle reports, I played almost exclusively Warhammer Fantasy Battle and the way I did it was initially with that system in mind. However, this proved to be very versatile and flexible way, that needed only a few changes to be used with other games.

CanCon 2012, High Elves vs High Elves commanded by Michael Clarke - one of the first games I wrote battle report on.

The map created for the battle report from this game.


Hence, I am going to describe main components of the battle report and how I create them here. While I will add more specific elements for other systems later.

The first step to writing battle report is to make sure that I take enough photos from the game itself. They add a lot to the battle report (especially when you have time to zoom in and take some photos of the units up close) but allow me to track and re-create the flow of the battle. I found out that for the purpose of the battle report, it is sufficient to take a snapshot of the situation on the table after each turn. I called it "Photo-shooting phase" and it quickly became my habit. It does not take long, it does not distract me from the game but is crucial to recall enough from the game to create a story. 

The photos also helped me many times to be able to re-create my opponent's army list and prepare a map with terrain pieces with acceptable accuracy. Creating units and terrain in Battle Chronicler is the next step in the battle report writing.

Step 1 - Build the regiments for each army

Step 2 - Setting up the terrain

I went for very simple way of distinguishing units by picking the same colour scheme for all regiments from the same army and simply using letters to label them. For example, PG for Palace Guard. This is probably the quickest way. 

As you can see, Battle Chronicler has quite a number of built in terrain features and I always found them sufficient for the purpose of creating the maps. They may not always reflect the exact shape of the terrain pieces on the table but I found them good enough. If you are interested (especially if you have full set up at home), there is a way to import the photos of your own terrain pieces as well. 

Once the armies are created and terrain is set, I proceed to making maps for deployment and each turn. There are a lot of "special effects" features that are ready to use so it was just a matter of what and how to use. For the games of Warhammer, I tried to indicate how much damage the unit sustains with the number of blast markers (for ranged attacks) and little skulls (for damage in close combat). I found it visually helpful and appropriate as it indicated if the regiment is, for example, under heavy fire or is it just taking a few hits. 

If you would like to learn more about how to use the Battle Chronicler, I highly recommend this blog:

St Andrews wargaming - How to use Battle Chronicler

It has a great amount of detail and plenty of screenshots to illustrate the process, step by step.

Once the maps are ready, I also makes sure I resize the photos to the uniform dimensions (if possible) and I am ready to write!

If you read my battle reports, you probably noticed a certain pattern already. I always start with my opponent's introduction and the army that player used in our game. I try to present the particular force I was to play against from the point of view of my own army. Sometimes I focused on a bit of a discussion on each unit type, sometimes it is a bit more holistic description. I like this introduction as it helps me to put my own thoughts in writing and explain to the reader how I perceived particular force. After all, the same army will pose a different challenge to another player with a different army than mine.

I try to provide some terrain details and I used to include the paragraph or two about the shape of the battlefield as well. It was to help me reflect on the battle from the point of view of advantages and disadvantages particular terrain presented. It was often in conjunction with the description of the deployment of both armies and what I attempted to achieve at this stage. 

Only then I moved to the battle itself. I usually added a map I created for each turn and an end of turn photo. Occasionally, if the close up photos was good, I would add one more for particular turn. But I wanted to limit the numbers of photos per turn to 2 or 3. 

In terms of the description of the turn, I prefer to focus on a few highlights rather than try to provide a description of everything that happened. I found out that it is not necessary for a story to have all the details. Hence, a paragraph or two is all that is needed for each turn.

I always add some sort of summary or after-battle discussion. I really liked that element of battle reports from White Dwarf magazine, where both players talked about what worked and what didn't. I thus try to add a few reflections on how did the plan work, the things I consider as mistakes or simply try to consider other options that I may have missed during the game.

I have been using this structure since the beginning in a more-or-less similar way. At the beginning, I posted the reports on various forums (mainly ulthuan.net and warhammer.org.uk). It was quite interesting because other players often added comments. I really enjoyed that part as well, it was great to exchange ideas and discuss the armies, the battle and many aspects of the hobby as a result.

It was also during that time when I met a lot of my future opponents!


Universal Battle

It was probably a coincidence that more or less at the same time I discovered Universal Battle, an online platform to play the games. It was a perfect timing, however, because I didn't know that many local players yet and I used to play mainly at various events.

Universal Battle game - High Elves vs Empire commanded by my brother (January 2014). Great way to play games when players are in two different corners of the world!

Universal Battle opened the opportunity to play against players I had no chance to meet in person. I started using the platform to play against by brother and it was already amazing to do so when we were physically in two corners of the world, far away from each other. It quickly expanded and I had a great pleasure and opportunity to meet and play against people from all over the world.

I must say, that I have never considered Universal Battle as a substitute for games with real models. What it did was to actually motivate me to paint more models and play more battles in real life as well.

Universal Battle 2 - the most recent game against, Elves vs Abyssal Dwarfs commanded by Michael Douglas.

 

I highly recommend that you check this platform:

Universal Battle 2 - Link 

In terms of battle reports the only thing I needed to adjust was how to take snapshots after each turn. It was actually much easier and faster than in the real life. Of course, I did not have nice photos (although I was taking quite a number of the blurry too!) and I simply decided to go with maps from Battle Chronicler in such instances. One advantage Universal Battle had, however, was that I could always track down all the details needed, down to each dice roll. I didn't need it for the story but sometimes it was good to be able to check and reframe particularly lucky dice roll into some heroic action!


Kings of War

I switched to playing Kings of War some time in 2015 and while majority of things I learned and used for battle reports writing did not need to change, there was one element I needed to update. In Kings of War you don't take models off when the regiment sustains damage. You use an appropriate damage marker instead. 

On one hand, it made the battle reports writing much easier (no need to worry about removing the models!) but Battle Chronicler did not have built in damage markers. As it often happens, a temporary solution became a permanent one. I simply added the damage markers in Paint, the basic picture editor on your computer.

An example of damage markers placed near the units.

I still hope to create and import damage markers to Battle Chronicler! 

Unfortunately, tracking the damage in the game with real models is not feasible, so in the battle reports from such games, I need to do them without that additional feature. 


CanCon 2020 - Elves vs Orcs commanded by Matthew. One of the last games in Kings of War I played with real models!

In addition, I also came up with an idea of combining all the maps into a gif file as a summary of the battle. It is very easy to create. All you need to do is to upload the files at gifmaker.me free website. 

An example of a gif file used as a battle summary.

It seemed to be an addition that the readers like, great!


Mortem et Gloriam

The ability to create gif files came in very handy when I added Mortem et Gloriam system to the wargames I play. I usually tried to focus on one game at the time but I really got into MeG. It is a completely different philosophy for the game dynamics, I use models at different scale (15mm) and it is a system for historical battles. It looks like I returned to my original inspiration and can now play with the models for historical armies and write battle reports about such games!

Mortem et Gloriam does not follow the "I go - you go" mechanics. Instead, the player moves one unit at the time (or group of units) and then the opponent moves one unit and back to the first player and so on. I needed to re-think entire process of telling the story in such dynamics.

First, I needed to make sure I have photos of each move. Initially I thought it would be a bad idea but since it is usually one unit that is moved, a close up snapshot is easy to take. As a bonus, I have the nice photo of a unit of group of units to add to the battle report. 

Seleucid Phalanx vs Roman Legion

Based on that I then meticulously create number of maps which I combine in a gif file for a full turn. In this way I can show the sequence of actions in the correct order. And bring to life the way the battle developed. 

An example of a single turn sequence of actions from MeG game.

In terms of the narrative, I follow more-or-less the same process and try to tell the story, focusing on the key moments. It seems to be the right balance and combination of maps, photos and narrative complement each other very well.


A Decade of Battle Reporting

I posted my very first battle report on the forums ulthuan.net and warhammer.org.uk. I did not thing about writing my blog back then. Forums seemed to be the main discussion platforms. I also needed to upload the photos and maps to photobucket website to use them on the forum. If you are interested, you can still read it here:

First battle report - Link

In a way, it was like a blog because I decided to post my reports in a single topic on each forum. So one could easily find the battle reports I wrote earlier and you could also see how the army developed in time. 

A very important aspect of posting reports on the forums was that other members often commented on them. I must admit that this was fantastic! You could always count on people looking at the same battle from different angles, spotting different elements etc. Sometimes there were moments where opinions clashed but I think it had always a positive effect. You always learned something, that was the main goal.

This definitely helped me in finding my preferred style of play, MSU - Multiple Small Units and I quickly dedicated my reports to promoting it as well. For some reason I felt it is going to work for me and I really liked the idea of playing the army in a bit different way. Variety is a spice of life, after all!

Initially, I posted on two forums. Ulthuan.net was a natural choice for High Elf players while warhammer.org.uk was a general discussion group for all. Then I started discovering the ones dedicated to specific factions. I thought it could be a good idea to post battle reports there as well, when the army from that faction list was played by my opponent. It was quite interesting to observe a bit different dynamics on each of these forums. Thanks to that I met even more players and I had a great pleasure playing against some of them too! 

At some point I learned about the blogs. I thought it is a good idea because I wanted to keep all aspects of my hobby in one place. I may mainly write battle reports but I also love painting the models and I thought that a blog would motivate me to share this aspect as well. 

Another element was to keep the archive of the battle reports in one place. It came handy after a few years when the forums started losing the popularity and many of them simply disappeared. Hence, some time in 2014, I decided to start my own blog. I still posted the same battle reports on the forums but the blog was slowly becoming my main platform to share the content. I spent some time migrating the reports from forums I wrote earlier and then continued with the new blog posts on more-or less regular basis.

Until late 2015 I posted battle reports from my games in Warhammer Fantasy Battle. Then I switched to Kings of War but I still posted about single game. I explained above a bit about the way I needed to adapt my battle reporting style. 

The bigger change was that although I still tried to post on forums, I noticed that, in general, people moved to facebook and twitter. And this is what I did as well, simply in order to reach out to the potential readers. Interestingly, while it looked like more people may be reading the reports, there were fewer comments on the games, especially in comparison to the discussions on the forums. 

For years I resisted a temptation to invest time and effort into more than one system at the time. It has worked quite well for me since I started playing table top games. It allowed me to continue painting the models from the collection at a relatively steady pace and I could better focus on one game. However, in 2018 I decided to try Mortem et Gloriam and I decided to try and play two, distinctively different war games. 

While it meant that now I had to split hobby time between two games, both add quite unique aspects to the hobby and provide a bit different experiences. I really like it even if it means that I am able to play fewer games and write fewer battle reports for each if I focused on a single system only. And I must say that with a lot of new releases, it is still very difficult to resist the temptation and start playing other games!

All together, over the period of 10 years I wrote close to 400 battle reports. Sometimes I played against the same opponents so even if you cut this number by half, it is 200 different players! For me, this is awesome and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the players I had a pleasure to play against at any point! You are all part of this journey! 

I also wanted to thank all the readers of the battle reports. Without your encouraging comments, I would probably not go for that long, so many thanks to all of you who keep reading the reports!

I would definitely want to continue with battle reports writing. I have some ideas I hope I will have the opportunity to try out in the future. The constant challenge, however, is finding enough time to do so. I do hope that despite the limited amount of time, I will be able to keep posting the reports on regular basis. Is it going to be another decade? Let's see!

18 comments:

  1. A good read. I'm trying to find an interesting format for battle reports and your blog is helpful.
    In particular I like that you show the flow of the battle with clear diagrams. The pre-battle army lists and post-match analysis are informative.
    I once tried Battle Chronicler an decided it was.. fidgety. Not for me. But software is not only a tool, it's also a feeling, like a car: do you like the looks, the touch and feel?
    A couple of months ago I bought photo comic software to make battle reports that are shallow with text, rich with pictures AND give a the reader some idea about the development of the tabletop battle. Instead of Battle Chronicler, I use Paint3D and arrows that I place over tabletop pictures. Your blog inspires me to improve the concept, and add pre-match/post-match information.
    My own blog about battle reporting: https://amsterdamwar.game.blog/2021/01/09/wargame-battle-reporting-for-dummies-do-it-like-batman/

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    1. Thank you! I am glad you like it!

      Yes, Battle Chronicler is good but I can see how it may not be the tool that everyone would like. Which is great because there should be a variety of styles and ways of sharing stories about your games.

      I thought about using photo comic software as well, simply to add something new to the format I am using. At this stage it is on my list to try :)

      Thanks for the link to your blog, I will definitely check it!

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  2. Awesome post. I started writing my own blog after years reading yours. You've been an inspiration for me. Keep on It!

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    1. Thanks a lot! I am really happy to hear that! I would love to check your blog so please, share the link :)

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    2. https://elcronistadistante.blogspot.com/?m=1

      It's in spanish, tough.

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    3. Great! Thanks a lot! I will definitely check your blog and battles. I am sure with great maps and some Google Translate, I will get enough details :)

      Keep up the good work!

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  3. I’ve always enjoyed reading your reports and your thoughts on MSU. I never realised how you did the gifs! I’ll be stealing that for my reports now ­čśü

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    1. Thank you and no problem at all! I am glad I could share something others can do as well. Have fun!

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  4. Thank you for sharing your games! Reading your Kings of War reports have been a way to hobby when games are not an option or a happy break from a hard day many times.

    I also poured over battle maps in historical books and that bug definitely turned into wargaming for me too.

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    1. Hi Erasmus,

      Thanks a lot! I really appreciate your kind words and knowing that other players find it entertaining (especially after hard days) is a huge motivation for me to keep going!

      Hopefully, I will be able to create reports regularly, if not as often as I would like to.

      And yes, checking those maps is never ending joy for sure! That's why, whenever I consider buying a book, it has to have good maps! :)

      Cheers!

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  5. Hi Swordmaster!
    Congratulations on reaching 10 years! I hope this simply marks the first decade of many :)
    I think I must have read every single one of your WHFB and KoW reports over the years. Seeing one pop up in my feed reader is really always a highlight of the day.

    Thank you so much for sharing your enthusiasm and keep up the good work!

    Best,
    Arctopithecus

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    1. Hi Arctopithecus!

      Thank you! I hope so too! :)

      And special thanks for your kind words! It's really great to know that my reports are entertaining and that I have such a dedicated reader! I will do my best to continue reporting as regularly as possible.

      Thanks a lot again!

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  6. Congratulations, 10 years is a fair achievement (as is 400 reports!). Interesting point about reduced engagement as you moved away from forums to social media. I wonder if it means it's different people reading the reports, or if you just lose that sort of "relationship" you probably built with regular discussions with the same people on the forums.

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    1. Thank you! I am very happy with such achievement and I definitely did not expect I would go that far!

      I don't know for sure as I don't quite know how to verify it. However, I think the following factors contribute.

      When I moved to Kings of War, some people who used to read and comment on the battle reports on forums, chose other games. Among them those who engaged in discussions on regular basis.

      Having said that, quite a number of those from WHFB times play Kings of War at the moment too.

      I also noticed a different dynamics on the social media. People don't seem to spend that much time on longer posts, definitely not on battle reports. I do get more reads, however.

      Perhaps it is also about the popularity. The video reports seem to be more popular I think. I don't quite know if they get more discussions, however.

      What do you think and what are your observations?

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    2. I do think more people are looking for video battle reports. I've been asked to start doing some on a semi-regular basis. I've never really been inclined to watching video reports, but the internet as a whole seems to prefer them.

      I always focused more on the blog and less on the forums, so probably never really had the same to-and-fro discussion with some people that you did.

      The community having fragmented across so many different game systems and editions is definitely a factor, too. Makes it really hard to know where the audience may have gone.

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    3. I still think that there is a room for written battle reports, especially that majority seems to be video ones. I just wonder how I can make them better and spice them up with something. In particular , when I play on Universal Battle and when I don't have photos of the real models on the real table.

      And yes, I do wonder what else can I do to reach out to people. Posting links on facebook and twitter works but I am sure there is always more to do!

      Any suggestions or things you have tried in the meantime? :)

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  7. I don't play Kings of War but I still enjoy reading your battle reports; I think that says it all really. Keep up the good work and many congratulations on your ten year milestone mate!

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    1. Thanks a lot Ed! It does say a lot and I really appreciate that you do!

      The plan is to continue, hopefully on a regular basis (depends on the number of games I would be able to play).

      It feels great to achieve such a milestone and I hope to come up with some good ideas in the future to make the reports even more entertaining!

      Cheers!

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