Sunday, November 1, 2015

Fleurus Two Times

I find the Pike and Shot period of warfare fascinating. Like the Napoleonic era and the American Civil War, it was a period of rapid evolution of warfare coupled with a time of dramatic political and social change. There's a lot to learn and understand about the wars of this period, and I keep getting drawn back to it.

Protestant and Imperial positions at the start of Fleurus, Pike & Shot Campaigns

I've been exploring the period lately via both tactical and operational scale games. Fortunately there are both good computer and board games covering this period now. This weekend I'm refighting the Battle of Fleurus from August 1622 in Slitherine's Pike & Shot Campaigns with frequent gaming opponent and all around good guy (and period scholar) Jim Owczarski.

Protestant center. There's not much information on Mansfeld's deployment or tactics during this battle. The scenario designer here has gone with a mix of tercios and smaller Dutch-style units for the Protestant foot.
At the same time I'm playing the battle in Pike & Shot Campaigns I'm giving it a try in GMT's Saints in Armorthe latest game in the Musket & Pike series. I'm just getting acquainted with this system but so far am really impressed with it. More so than Pike & Shot the Musket & Pike system is very focused on the thorny issues of command and control experienced by armies of the period.

A view of the Protestant left and Imperial right. The Ferme Chassart is a walled farm that provides a firm anchor for the Imperial line and an obstacle for the Protestant horse. The Imperial center is made up of Spanish, Italian, and German tercios.
One of the great oddities of Pike & Shot to me is the lack of leaders. I'm sure that the developers left them out to make the game more accessible to non-grognards. Leadership is so critical in this period that their absence just seems weird when playing the game. Things like rallying units have been made entirely abstract. It does, however, make for a fast playing game and oddly enough, the results of the battles seem to work out pretty well, despite these abstractions. Overall, it's a good game that makes tactical combat of the period accessible.

Protestant & Imperial positions at the start of GMT's version of the battle. Certainly the terrain in both games looks similar, as does the general deployment.
The Musket & Pike system is just the opposite: it's all about the leaders and their ability to influence the battle. Which turns out to be not nearly as much as you'd like. In this system your army is divided into wings, each with a Wing Commander. A wing can be under any of four different orders: Charge, Make Ready, Receive Charge, and Rally. Each order has restrictions on what the units subject to that order can and can't do.

Protestant center. Compare to the screenshot from Pike & Shot above. In this game the Protestant force is making use of smaller Dutch-style units. There's an option to replace all of these guys with just three double-sized counters if you want Mansfeld to deploy using the larger German-style infantry formations.
 Changing from one order to another is not automatic, and depending on what orders the wing is currently under, changing to certain types of orders can be very difficult. Trying to get a cavalry wing to go directly from Charge to Receive Charge, for example, has a ten percent chance of success. A good leader can double that to 20%. Only units under Charge orders can move adjacent to enemy units to conduct combat. Just about every action can in turn trigger reactions from the other side, leading to situations where a move can fire off a chain of events completely out of player control. The system isn't that hard once you get your head around it, but it is probably not for a beginner.

And the Imperial center. For the most part, the Imperial infantry are deployed in larger formations than the Protestant infantry.
I'm already a couple of turns in to my game with Jim, and so I have some catching up to do with the Saints in Armor game. More tomorrow and through the week as the games get going.