Saturday, August 25, 2018

Wars of Succession: The Best Marlborough Simulator Around

Eugene in Mantua at the end of 1701. He's already beat the pants off the French in two battles and taken Modena

I think Wars of Succession may be the best game AGEOD has ever produced, despite having some "fit and finish" issues. Granted, I'm biased toward the period, but this game takes the best of the new features introduced in Wars of Napoleon, discards what didn't work, and marries it to what did work in games like Thirty Years War  and Rise of Prussia.

Right now, I'd have to say that Wars of Succession is the best operational/strategic treatment of the War of Spanish Succession/Great Northern War currently available - computer or board game. In fact, it would be very difficult to make a board game that is a comprehensive as this while still being playable. WOS tracks units down to the company. It handles supply and attrition at a very granular level. It does things that are best done by a computer in terms of tracking, but does them transparently enough that the game feels like playing a block game.

I've been playing a lot of it lately, and I'm really impressed. In the screenshot above you can see the state of things in northern Italy at the end of 1701. There's a lot going on there that isn't obvious at first glance.

I'm playing the Grand Alliance, and Prince Eugene is my primary commander in this theater. In fact, at this point most of the other Grand Alliance commanders outside of Italy aren't capable of doing anything, since they've not been activated yet. This is particularly true of the Reichsarmee and allied German forces along the Rhine, who are staring across the river at French forces in places like Landau and Strausberg. Marlborough and the Dutch have just entered the war and become active - but it's December, and the weather in the Low Countries is such that moving them out of winter quarters is a bad idea.

Which is one of the first important things about WOS - the seasonal, cyclical nature of campaigning is very much evident. The game accomplished this not through a rule forcing armies into winter quarters like I've seen in some board games - you're absolutely free to move and attack during the winter - but rather by making doing so often ruinously expensive. In WOS troops consume a lot of supply when they're in the field, and the consume more during harsh winter weather. Supply is reduced in regions impacted by winter weather, and reduced if your troops are in a region fully or even partially under the military control of an enemy. Armies that run out of supply start to lose troops quickly, and they do so faster in the winter. The result is that an army maneuvering or fighting during the winter can melt away to nothing very quickly if you haven't provided them with a lot of supply wagons and you can't ensure a steady flow of new supply. Add to that a propensity for disease events to ravage troops conducting siege operations and, well, it can get ugly, fast.

Even armies that aren't engaged in operations during the winter can suffer. For example, Eugene's Austria army there in Mantua is a pretty large concentration of troops. Large enough, in fact, that the area they're in can't produce enough supply for them and the city garrison during the winter. I've alleviated some of that by splitting off a chunk of troops under Commercy and parked them in Modena, both to guard my flank but also to disperse the army a bit. Earlier I'd done the same with a few more regiments and some cavalry to guard Trento, where my line of communication back to Wein passes. After I took this screenshot I split off more troops and sent them to build a redoubt and winter in Cremona, both to observe the French in Lodi and Milano but also to disperse the army and ease the supply situation. Finally, you can see some supply wagons that I've pulled out of Eugene's main army. These are being sent up to Trento to gather supply and bring it back to the main army in Mantua in preparation for a Spring offensive against the French.

Once the campaigning season arrives there is a lot more to consider. I'll need to make sure that any army I'm using for operations is well supplied, not just with it's organic supply but with enough additional supply wagons to sustain it during the course of operations. This is an era dominated not by pitched battles (though those do happen) but rather by sieges, and if I want the sieges to progress quickly during my limited campaigning time I'll need to be sure that my army has either a siege train complete with siege mortars, or a leader with siege/engineering skills, and/or sappers. I'll need to be sure that I have enough leaders in the army to generate the required amount of command, or my army will be less efficient in movement and combat.

Of course, that siege train is going to slow me down. It's better if I can march the army to blockade the fortress I want to take without it, and then use boats on a navigable river to move my siege train and probably some supply wagons. Meanwhile, I'll want to send out light troops to perform reconnaissance, dragoons to raid, and perhaps even a substantial covering force to an adjacent region to cover the besieging force. I'll want to offer the Honors of War to a besieged garrison to tempt them to surrender without a costly assault. If there are significant enemy forces in the area, I may want to create a circumvallation around the besieging army to provide better defense.

While I'm doing all of that in Italy, I'll need to be watching developments along the Rhine, in the Low Countries, and in Spain. My fleets will be commerce raiding, patrolling for pirates and enemy fleets, blockading enemy ports and moving troops. I may want to conduct offensive operations in another theater and will have to do all of the same planning and setting up of logistics I've done in this theater.

And I'd better have done the planning and selected my objectives carefully for this campaign season. Armies that move and fight take losses. I will only have so many replacements and so many war supplies to rebuild my battalions and regiments and fleets. If I launch too many simultaneous operations even a successful year can leave my armies too battered and short-handed to be effective next year. It's far too easy to overreach and end up on the defensive for several years as you rebuild your armies.

Nor are the French sitting idle during all of this. I can expect maneuvering and attacks in any theater. Peasants may revolt in some of my provinces, requiring me to allocate troops to quell the rebellion. As the Grand Alliance player, I may have to contend with all of Hungary rising and what amounts to a civil war in the Holy Roman Empire. The French will have a significant uprising to contend with as well.

It really is a masterpiece.

Yes, there are some issues. There are some events and other status messages that are missing the appropriate descriptive text. The manual is a quick and incomplete revision of the manual from Wars of Napoleon and does a poor job explaining any number of important mechanics, like how to blockade a port and what the effects of doing so will be. The replacement system, which can be automated but you'll almost certainly want to put on manual, is a bit of a Black Art until you figure it out. Supply can be the same. None of these things were enough to make me stop playing at any point, though they were the cause of some game restarts as I made mistakes and wrecked my position until I learned how they worked.

WOS improves on games like Rise of Prussia with better Regional Decisions, better army management, better (and more) leaders, a better combat system, improved sieges, and just a bushel basket of more period chrome and detail. It strips away things like the diplomacy and tech tree and supply system that made Wars of Napoleon  an unwieldy mess. In the end Wars of Succession does what I want: it provides me with an enjoyable sandbox to play through and understand what happened during the two wars covered by the game. Very highly recommended.