How to Run A Supercampaign - Part I

How much you get into character is up to you...
You may remember the two supercampaigns we've run in the last year - American Civil War and English Civil War.  Prompted by a recent comment on one of those, I'm going to do a series of guides on exactly what a supercampaign is, and how to run one:
How are they different from normal campaigns?

First off, a recap on what a supercampaign is.  It's essentially a fancy map campaign, where players make their moves in secret.  A gamesmaster administers random events and feeds confusing information and intelligence reports to players, who then sift through them and create a real plan of action.

It consists of two parts - the campaign map, where generals move round their armies; and the tabletop, where battles are fought between armies which meet each other.  Anyone who's played the Total War series of PC games will be very familiar with that.

What are the pros and cons of Supercampaigns?

Supercampaigns are successful because they are tense and immersive, and that is largely down to the secrecy aspect.  Players must try and second-guess their opponents, perhaps dreaming up cunning and inventive schemes to gain the upper hand.  This makes for fantastic reminisces once the campaign is over too!  In our ACW campaign, I hatched a plot to commandeer a small flotilla of civilian boats to transport my army down the Tennessee River and attack Chattanooga from behind.  Though I was ultimately unsuccessful, my opponent Ollie and I still laugh about the moment he realised what my plan was.

They have their downsides of course - mainly that they require an extra level of commitment from all parties, particularly the gamesmaster.  The detailed guide will come in Part II for what players need to put in, but to sum it up quickly the main thing is time.  The GM will have many, many hours of sifting through information, concocting reports and drawing maps as he has to maintain complete omniscience of everything that goes on.

A campaign game in full swing!
Selecting a period and a games system

Your imagination is, of course, the limit when choosing a time period.  However, simplicity is the key here so I would recommend (at least for a first campaign) sticking to pre-1900 warfare.  The chess-like movement of infantry, cavalry and artillery is still challenging and interesting, but much easier than factoring in air power and long-range artillery!

For our tabletop games, we use a modification of the Give Them The Bayonet rules - originally for ACW, we 'tweak' the rolls and add a few special rules to make ECW and Napoleonic rules as well.  In 2mm, all line warfare from about 1600 to 1900 can be covered with a few minor adjustments.

What do I need to do?

If you are a GM, there are a few things you need:

  • A working knowledge of tactics of the period.  For those pressed for time, a thorough read of an Osprey book will acquaint you with the salient points, but I recommend a more detailed study if it interests you anyway, since as GM you will have to adjudicate on an unlimited number of unforeseeable disputes.  I also try to read a few memoirs and accounts of life on campaign.  Of course, many people will already have an interest in the period you want to game so this step will be a lot quicker.
  • A map.  You'll need several detailed and printed maps.  For our ACW game, Kieran (former graphic designer) drew a painstakingly researched map of 1862 Tennessee which the generals used.  Being rather more pressed for time (lazy) I bought and scanned a map of Nancy and its environs for our ongoing Franco Prussian War supercampaign.
An original map Kieran used for his research
  • Terrain.  You'll need a substantial and adaptable terrain collection - the armies may meet anywhere on the map, and you'll have to recreate a few miles (in 2mm) around the point of conflict.  So make sure you have roads, rivers, hills and forests in abundance!
  • Players.  Find at least two people who will be prepared to invest a lot of time in the game.  Knowledge of the period is less important for them (although it will help!), and part of the fun of playing a supercampaign is learning a little bit of history on the way.  I'll look in more detail at the nuts and bolts of how much time is needed, but as a general guide perhaps half an hour, two or three times a week to review orders and discuss questions with the GM (which we do by email), and perhaps one gaming session a week.
And that should see you ready to begin a supercampaign of your own!  Next week, I'll start diving into the specifics of just how to bring all this raw material to life.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Dear Colonel,
    As the recent commentator who requested the additional information, thanks indeed for commencing this informative series. It sounds like the most difficult part for two would-be ECW adversaries is to find a sufficiently interested and motivated GM. If I might be so cheeky, it might therefore be a very useful additional to this series to add some thoughts by Keiran as well.

    Thanks again for the post and I shall look forward to the next instalment in due course.

    1. A superb post senor Scipio, as always. I'd be more than happy to share any thoughts Paul, but in all fairness I think these posts will more than cover anything I'd have to say. But if you have any specific questions at all I'd be more than happy to throw my opinions your way,sir.

      As for the map, if a real map has been available at a cost lower than a small family car I would have bought one too, I'm not a complete sadist. Will get some luxurious prints of those done soon for framing purposes.

    2. Ed IS a thorough bugger, that's true. :)

    3. Thanks chaps - yes the GM is probably the most demanding and rewarding role, and so to that end the next post will mainly focus on them. However, as KB alluded to we'll also be sharing some 'automation' ideas for two- and even one-player games.

  2. Good to read your thoughts on this.

    Like Paul above, it seems for me (as well), getting a 3rd person who would be interested in putting as much effort into a project like this is the issue. Any thoughts to perhaps giving us your ideas for when a "GM" is not available?

    1. Without wanting to spoil any future posts too much, I'm working on a Excel app that acts as a sort of AI, and I might look at doing a virtual GM version for 2 players.Although it can never give the same level of immersiveness it could go some way to keeping each players moves a secret and giving them relevant responses, intelligence etc.

    2. O cool! Looking forward to seeing what that's all about then mate!

  3. "Like".

    The short cut is of course to just make it all up....

    1. That's a very good point there - I of course neglected to mention that this is all geared to historical and alternate-history gaming, but sci-fi or anything else could work just as well.

    2. I think thats the only way it could be done without putting some rather stringent rules on the players to force them into historical situations. Thats possible of course, but it happens the Generals' choices significantly.

      You could have pseudo-historical events intruding though, which might give a lot of period flavour. How the players react to it is then up to them.


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