Saturday, May 20, 2017

Under the Lily Banners

Mercy's Bavarians surprise Turenne's French at Mergentheim
I have been interested in the wars of Marshal Turenne and the French armies from the end of the Thirty Years War to the Nine Years War. This is an overlooked period in gaming but an interesting one as it comes during the conclusion of the Pike & Shot Era. There are significant changes in tactics and advancements in weaponry during this period that make the various armies very different. These are the early wars of Louis XIV and were marked by the overwhelming presences of two French generals, Turenne and Condé.

The initial Bavarian charge routs the French cavalry
I don't know if it was motivation from my interest in the period, the scenario itself, or just that after getting back into board wargaming for a few years after a nearly 25 year absence that I'm finding it easier to read and understand rules. But this past week GMT's Musket & Pike series rules really finally clicked for me. I'd tried this series a few times before but just couldn't really get into it. I really wanted to like it, though, and this time it all just seemed very easy!

Bavarian infantry advance on the French center while their cavalry on the wings rallies.
And honestly, what a great series this is! I'm enjoying playing this so much that this series may well have become my new favorite. The rules reflect the period better than anything else I've ever played without being cumbersome and difficult. While they seem complex at first, once you understand the sequence and the heart of the system (orders and activations) play really flows,

The vicious infantry fight to dislodge the French from the woods
I'm particularly enamored at how the combination of casualties, formation hits, and morale hits can cause a charge to bog down and fall apart, or see a defensive line dissolve into a flood of routing units fleeing for safety. The cycle of advance, charge, and then rally feels just right.

Late in the day, the French are still on the field despite being driven back and taking serious losses
Leaders are critical. A good leader can press a charge home or turn a rout into a rally. A bad leader is ineffectual but still very necessary, as units can do very little if out of command. Combat is fast and deadly serious - a single round of fire and close combat can wreck a formation completely.

This is an age when cavalry was still very much the decisive arm. Cavalry is deadly on these battlefields, sweeping infantry away easily with charges from the flank or rear. At the same time a cavalry wing is quickly blown from a single charge, and will take several turns usually to fully recover morale, reform itself, and reload pistols. Even more disconcerting, cavalry will often pursue defeated units off the board, not to return during the game. They can even take the wing commander with them, depriving you of a critical leader at just the wrong time.

I've managed to acquire the entire series of these games now and I'm glad I did. Once the series rules are learned, these games provide over 30 battles from the Thirty Years War and the English Civil War. These games are a real treat if you're a fan of the period, offering a very compelling tactical treatment of pike and shot warfare. The rules seem complicated at first but are well worth sticking with - playing a few turns will really help clarify things. Vassal modules are available for all of the games as well, making online play easy.

Unfortunately the games themselves are very nearly all out of print, and certain games in particular can be expensive to acquire secondhand. If you, like me, simply have to have the entire series I recommend keeping a watch not only on good after market sellers like Enterprise Games, but also in places like the Wargamer's Marketplace Facebook group, where I found several of the games at more reasonable prices.