Monday, 26 October 2020

Soldier King Campaign : hostilities commence

I have been taking tentative steps with a Seven Years War campaign, using the fictional setting of my old 'Soldier King' boardgame. I thought about perhaps drawing a map of a real Central European theatre of war,  but 'time and space, dear boy'.. To get a campaign going and see if the idea works, why not use the game's ready-made map?     The game assumes four belligerent states, but I only need two, so I have only used the eastern half of the map, depicting the little-known Prussian Provinces of East and West Argozia,  and the equally obscure Austrian regions of North and South Arcadia.


Next,  some forces: the game suggests starting with twelve units per nation,  made up of eight 'veteran' and four 'guard'.  That seemed about right, given that my table setup  will probably allow perhaps six or eight units for a battlefield force.  I thought I'd try to vary the makeup of the armies, so started with a 'base' of two-thirds Infantry to one-third cavalry, and rolled a couple of dice to randomise a bit.  As a result, I finished up with the following: 

Prussians :  Guards - one Infantry, three Heavy Cavalry    

                    Veterans - six Infantry,  two Light Cavalry 

Austrians :  Guards - two Infantry,  two Heavy Cavalry

                    Veterans - five Infantry,  three Light Cavalry 

Thus the two sides each  fielded  seven infantry and five cavalry units,  but with different mixes of guards and veterans , and heavy and light cavalry. That seemed quite pleasing - I didn't want identical armies. The Prussian Heavy Cavalry looks powerful, but the Austrians are strong in Light horse, which seems appropriate, lots of Hussars perhaps?

Final preparatory step was the initial billeting of troops : the game system specifies that each player turn is made up of up two to six  of  'marches', so why not start with six 'Divisions' each of two units?  These were stationed three to a province, using the main 'recruiting cities' and fortresses.  Thus the first turn or two will likely involve both sides gathering their divisions into field armies.  The picture at the top shows the intial deployments - Prussian units are blue,  and Austrians gold. Both sides concentrated their Guards formations in the North-Eastern corner of the map, where their provinces directly bordered each other.   At which point, news reaches the respective provincial military governors from far-off capitals -  'war is declared!' and both sides begin to mobilise their forces. Let hostilities commence...

I decided to dice for  first move  each turn  - on Turn 1 ( Spring , and let's call it 1756 ) , the Prussians won the initiative, but then rolled a '1' for the number of 'marches'. Under the game rules, a player always gets two marches, so that was the Prussian allowance. They concentrated two 'Divisions' ( 4 units ) at the Fortress of Rahden , near the hostile border and advanced  their Light Cavalry into neutral Banst, aiming to threaten the Austrian left flank.  A slow start, obviously some issues with getting orders out..   I decided that the protagonists could move into neutral provinces, allowing for a wider field of operations and more strategic manoeuvre, and I will try to use the boardgame's system of  'recruiting cities' - capturing neutral provinces and cities allowing increased recruiting resources.  The imaginary populations of these imaginary provinces are no doubt told that this is  'for your own protection, we have to move to keep out that other beastly lot'..  

The Austrians in contrast, were all action and rolled a '5' , thus could carry out 5 marches. They concentrated  6 units in their Northern city of Piesport , close to the border, and began moving  4 units up from the south  in support, finally sending two Light Cavalry units westward into neutral  Lower Waldow, capturing the recruiting city of Selters  and covering their left. 

Then Turn 2 - Summer - the Austrians' rapid start continued,  winning the initiative dice roll and moving first - they again rolled  5 marches.  Their light cavalry spread out over  Lower Waldow, occupying both its significant cities and effectively capturing the province - meaning more recruits later. Also on their Western flank, four units used two marches advancing into Upper Waldow, occupying the city of Stauffen.   Last but by no means least , the northern force of six units went on the offensive, advancing to attack the four Prussian units at the fortress  city of Rahden before the Prussians could reinforce. They have a superior force for now, though the Prussians have more troops quite nearby, and Austrian supports are quite a long way away - striking now may be their best chance.  So we have a battle!  

Austrian attack!  But Prussians have support nearby


 The opposing forces in  boardgame terms are as follows: 

 Austrians:     2 Guard Heavy Cavalry,  2 Guard Infantry,  2 Veteran Infantry

Prussians:      1 Guard Heavy Cavalry1 Guard Infantry,   2 Veteran Infantry

And here's an ( entirely gratuitous )  picture of the clashing forces

First battle: opposing forces

 So, now I just have to translate those onto the  tabletop, using the figures I have, and devise a suitable attack and defence type scenario,taking into account the 'fortification' of the city on the map, which should lend some protection to the outumbered Prussians.  I'm sure Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame rules will be able to accomodate all this, albeit perhaps with a little judicious tinkering.

Finally for this time, a not entirely unrelated aside. Since we are talking about an old boardgame, here's another one -  a lucky find in Sudbury Oxfam shop the other week.  I must have spent a very large amount of my free time when aged about 12, on this long-lost game, and have often wondered if I might turn up a copy, so I was very pleased to acquire this for the princely sum of £2.99! 


Positively Proustian

In very good condition, complete and maybe not used much. For  any 'Campaign' nerds out there,  it's a 1976 edition, I think I had a slightly  earlier  one, perhaps 1974. I remember that one had a potted history of the many Coalitions against Napoleon, which captured my imagination somewhat, and I also remember that in my childhood solo games one power invariably seemed to sweep across Europe defeating all others.  That power was - Spain.  I'll have to give it another go sometime.. 

So there we are,  look out for the next exciting episode featuring the opening battle of the campaign. Meanwhile keep safe and well, everyone. 

**POSTSCRIPT **  Many thanks to everyone, this blog's 'Total Pageviews' count has reached 10,000. I'm rather amazed, and honoured. by the response of readers ( and even followers, wow! ) over this past 9 months. Also many thanks for  the  supportive, entertaining and instructive  comments from many of you ( though I was sadly unable to take advantage of the offer of 'Best Silage Machines Price! Silage machines for sale in Pakistan' ) ,  I  think that's a big hint that I must be doing something right.  The blog has also been a great motivator for actually getting some games on the table and even a few figures painted  - quite apart from the fun of writing. I hope to continue in the same vein in the coming months - I hope you continue to enjoy it .

Monday, 12 October 2020

A Possible Campaign 'Engine' ?

I've enjoyed playing some loosely-linked scenarios with my modest  Seven Years War forces, but I'd like to find a way to run a 'proper' campaign, albeit as simply as possible.  I've been looking at the possibilities offered by a vintage board game : Frank Chadwick's 'Soldier King', which dates back to 1982.  I thought to look at it because of its setting in a fictional version of the relevant period, and its simplicity.

This is 'a game for two to four players covering the war of succession in a leaderless empire. Each player controls one army and must struggle.. to capture a majority of the Imperial electoral cities, thus assuring his election as Emperor. Movement of armies is from point to point along roads and waterways, thus emphasising the key role played by lines of communications in the 1700s, the age of soldier kings.' 

The armies consist of units of Infantry, Heavy Cavalry and Light Cavalry, and units may be have status of Levies, Veterans or Guards.   There are rules for resolving battles , but of course if using the game to drive a campaign then the whole idea is for the battles to  be played out on the tabletop.  

The 'Estavian Empire': note roads, highways and rivers

..and in a little more detail

The game map depicts a fictional continent , the 'Estavian Empire',  but I don't propose to actually use it! What looks interesting  is the very simple rules for movement,  supply,  recruitment and promotion of units.  I'm thinking I could probably come up with a map showing a real ( or perhaps  imagined ) region of 18th Century Germany, where Austrian and Prussian forces might contend for control. I wonder if  the fine maps from Christopher Duffy's book on Marshal von Browne might give some inspiration here. Bohemia or Silesia, perhaps?

I like the game's very simple point-to-point movement system and the importance  of river transport  (perhaps often forgotten) as well as roads.  I was recently interested by comments on campaign movement in Mr. Nundanket's excellent blog, which to my mind explains why such movement in this period seems likely to be mostly 'point to point', i.e one town to another  - essentially the roads may be poor, but if you stick to them, you know where you will arrive next, and that's the most important thing!  

I also think that the game's  counter mix could be quite useful in generating armies - in the board game the units seemingly represent 10,000-20,000 troops each, each player starting with 12 units ( perhaps an unfeasibly  large force!),   but for a more limited theatre of operations,  a unit could equally represent a battalion for  Bob Cordery's 'Portable Wargame' rules, for example. There are no artillery units, but those could be factored into the battlefield armies in a pre-defined ratio.

Unit types: L to R Infantry, Heavy and  Light Cavalry

I have owned this game for a long time, indeed I think I probably bought it when it first came out thirty-eight years ago  ( blimey! ), and I think a few games of it were played at the time with my then regular gaming buddies during my university holidays.   I'm afraid it's not been played in many a long year, so it will  be nice if I can  make some use of it, even after all this time!

Not good news on the pandemic front here in the UK, so it looks like even more time at home as autumn and winter progress - our hobbies may help save our sanity.  Keep well, everyone.


Monday, 5 October 2020

Fnurban #5 : Serendipity on a Rainy Day

Last week we enjoyed our first proper holiday of this topsy-turvy year. We were in the Peak District,  at a small cottage on a farm, in a tiny village on top of a hill - so  no problem maintaining social distancing, at least. 

Mostly the weather was good, but there was one disctinctly wet day. We elected to look at Cromford and  Arkwright's cotton mill - a World Heritage Site. That was interesting, but the rain defeated us eventually.  Fortunately we had already planned to look in at nearby Scarthin Books, described in our guide book as a 'world of books, curios and comfy armchairs'.

A warm welcome on a wet Wednesday

Well, it lived up to the description - a great example of what a good bookshop can be. Three floors, crammed with bookcases, including on the stairs; there's a cafe in there too, hidden behind a curved bookcase ( one shelf of which I noticed holds the 'English County Regiments' series ) which swings open and closed, like something out of a storybook itself. 

I can't vouch for the tea/coffee as I was spending too much time looking through the books, especially (of course) the military history section.  I came up with quite the little hoard, as you can see:   


Best of all for this blogger 'The Army of Frederick the Great' by Christopher Duffy - 1974 hardback edition ( bookshop's pencil note inside "not common - a bit stained" which might describe many things).  Having just been reading Duffy's book on von Browne, this is just what I wanted next -  it's as if this was just  waiting for me, and it will immediately go to the head of the reading pile! That made the whole day worthwhile on its own.

Not only, but also : 

'Military History for the Staff College Entrance Examination' by Major E.W. Sheppard - 'revised in accordance with Staff College Regulations 1937' .  It's a set of 'crammer notes' for student officers, with chapters on major campaigns from Napoleon in Italy 1796 to The Third Afghan War, 1919, and each with a fold-out sketch map. I think this is going to be very interesting - another pencilled note says 'from the collection of MJ Peter Cavendish'  - I suppose that 'MJ' is 'Major', so it looks like he passed!

[ update: the original owner would appear quite likely to be the late  Brigadier-General Peter Cavendish, who lived nearby and passed away in 2011. Being only a few miles from the Chatsworth estate, the surname Cavendish also indicates a certain social status, I suspect. I hope the book doesn't mind being now in the possession of  'salt of the earth' - my only military ancestor rose to the dizzy heights of Lance-Corporal ]   

'The Gun'  by C.S. Forester. As mentioned in an earlier post, I am working my way through Forester's war stories, and this one, it turns out, has relevance. The eponymous Gun is abandoned by Spanish troops of Blake's army retreating from the disaster at Espinosa. Having recently taken the part of 'Blakey'  under the auspices of M.S. Foy ( here ) , during which the Spanish artillery performed rather poorly, I feel a sort of  connection. I hope The Gun redeems itself here.  

'Ripeness is All'  by  Eric Linklater. Having started with the excellent 'Private Angelo' I have been picking up anything I see by Linklater, and quite a few have military themes. This is from 1935 and starts promisingly : 'Sergeant Pilcher was not one of those bull-mouthed swarthy red soldiers. common enough twenty years ago, who larded instruction with oaths and kept conversation bouyant on their flotsam of Hindustani and a flood of beer"..  Eric having served in the army of 'twenty years ago' i.e. 1914-1918, I think he speaks from experience here. Having said that, the first modern on-line review I looked at "found it tedious, slow-moving and far from fun".  I don't think our Eric would be seen as  very 'Woke', though the Sergeant is clearly no  'Gammon'.   We shall see..

Shire Books 'Discovering Model Soldiers' by Arthur Taylor , 1970. What can I say? It cost the princely sum of  40p, a bargain for a nice little piece of nostalgia.  One section is headed '20mm - The Wargamers Size' : so that's you 28mm people told, from the old school. 

All in all a thoroughly worthwhile visit - if you're ever in the area and like a good bookshop, I'd recommend Scarthin Books. Now I just need to magic up the time actually read all these, and the rest of my worryingly large books backlog. As ever,  'time and space, time and space'...

Keep well, everyone.