Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Beneath the Lily Banners: Ottomans vs Swedes

Whilst researching for my M.A., I wrote a significant paper on John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. Previously, I had heard of the famed general, but had not spent a lot of time or effort on getting to know his campaigns, battles, and personal life. However, throughout the course of my research, including reading many of his letters (those in French and English, but not yet the ones in Dutch), I came to like the man and appreciate his military accomplishments.

Of course, being a wargamer, I also decided to collect an army of the period and then later decided to run a miniature campaign (which has yet to start, but the starting is imminent!) after putting on a game of the above pictured rules for my local club. I've umpired several games, for various members, but we never played with the optional rules nor any of the armies outside Marlborough's historical friends and foes.

However, as we begin the ramp up towards the campaign start, two players have elected to base their imagi-nations on the Ottomans (Ron) and the Swedes (Evan). Having never used their special rules, we decided to give them a go, a week ago Tuesday.

Read on...

The rules are fairly straightforward and if you have not had the opportunity to play, that is really unfortunate. I like how these work and they do not easily enable players who are min/max types.
I was the umpire, ably assisted by Brent who wants to learn the rules better for the campaign. Ron fielded his Ottoman-ish army, and Evan borrowed some Austrians from Ron as proxies for his Swede-ish troops. I use the "-ish" because the imagi-nation armies are made up of Western European peoples, but the players are allowed to choose a single nation whose military organization, structures, and tactics serve as a foundation for their own. The players must write their own histories on how this came about, and to what extent their nations have adopted these foreign traditions, but this is all meant to create atmosphere and interest for the campaign.
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The umpire is at the top of the picture (looks like he needs to lose a few pounds), with Evan on the right and Ron the left. Brent is behind the camera. 

The Swedes had two brigades of infantry, each of four battalions of foot; a single brigade of horse, of three squadrons; one light gun. The infantry battalions were, Guard x2, Elite x4, and Drilled x2. The horse were Guard, and Elite x2. I gave the Swedes a morale advantage as he was outnumbered and the two player's armies were based on the campaign organization established in the rules. With the Ottomans having a heavy gun, Raw or even mainly Drilled troops for the Swedes would have made for a short game.
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 Don't blame me for the blurry pic, it's all Brent's fault!

The Ottomans had a positional gun, a light gun, two brigades of infantry and three brigades of horse. Half of the infantry was tribal and Raw, the other half was regulars with a Guard, Elite, and two drilled. The cavalry had a single brigade of Guards in two squadrons, and two brigades of single stand irregulars who were each Raw. In the campaign, I am allowing Ron to "buy" his new squadrons of horse as irregular cavalry at half the cost that everyone else is paying for their regulars. Thus, we wanted to see how that would work out on the tabletop.
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I tried to warn Ron about this stacked deployment, but he chose to go with it. If he was happy with the result, I don't know, but he got to choose this set up. Of course, it does look like a dangerous horde...

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A few turns into the game. The best Swedish troops are advancing on the Ottomans, while the less experienced infantry is defending a stone wall. The Swedish cavalry has been ordered to shift from the left flank to the right. The first brigade of Ottoman irregular cavalry is opposite the leading Swedes and already pouring in harassing fire. This was actually more telling than I anticipated.
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The Swedes have now lost a stand of Guard quality Foot, with the Ottomans losing a stand of Raw irregular cavalry. An expensive trade off! The Ottoman's positional gun is on a low hill to the left, out of frame, and it is firing as quickly as the gunners can load. It does dish out about 8 figures of damage, five on one battalion and three on another, as the Swedes advance, but is forced to shift fire to the cavalry, where it only manages to kill another figure before they, too, gain the cover of the trees. Notice the Ottoman regular cavalry advancing on the far right.
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Ron tried to be sneaky, but Evan noticed in enough time to form two battalions facing his left flank. Had he not done this in time, Ron's cavalry would have rolled up the second Swedish brigade of Foot. The Swedish cavalry at the top of the frame is under fire by the Ottoman positional gun.
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Evan is subtly ensuring that he gets his mug in the shot.

The light horse has been driven off, but the Swedish infantry in the center has taken more casualties than it has caused. Cavalry can be very difficult to get rid of without killing off the stand. The Ottoman Foot ignore the fleeing cavalry and press on to attack. Note: that light gun in center left of frame does very little during the game. Ron would have been better served to have it just in front of his positional gun, getting in long range shots, and also making an assault on the guns more problematic.

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Now we get down to it. A melee ensues in the center of the field. I must admit that I did make an error here, in that I added additional bonuses for reinforcing units, but really, it had little bearing on the eventual outcome as the Ottoman unit was Raw and the Swedish were Guard.
 photo IMG_20140401_200502307_zps678b912b.jpg Another melee, and Ottoman leaders join the fray. This melee lasted six bounds as each primary opponent was Guard quality and after two tied rounds, the Ottomans lost four in a row, causing the survivors to rout. The Swedish leaders escaped unscathed, but two Ottoman leaders were wounded, with the lucky result adding +1 to their morale and the leader surviving. Note: Ron's imagi-nation is a theocracy and he wanted to include a fanatic bodyguard unit of a single stand. I allowed this and gave that stand a chance to void a leader casualty result for the CinC (4-6 on a d6). It failed once and succeeded once, the success causing it to be removed.
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The aftermath of the melee in the center. The Ottomans involved in the melee have routed, but all other Ottoman Foot pass their morale tests. Lucky break for Ron! Unfortunately, we did not get a better shot of the action on the Ottoman right, where their regular cavalry ended up charging and defeating Drilled Swedish Foot.

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One unit of the Ottoman cavalry was shot down, with the survivors driven off, but the other squadron was able to beat and drive back the one battalion of Foot. The subsequent pursuit saw the Ottoman cavalry smash into the flank of a second battalion of Foot, also of Drilled morale quality.

It was Ron's bad luck that we ran out of time, as I would have loved to see what his regular cavalry would have accomplished. By the same token, the Swedes were advancing, steadily, in the center, and may have routed the rest of the Ottoman Foot in another turn or two.

Initial placement of troops has a very real impact on the game, especially concerning the artillery. Evan's single gun got off one shot (a miss) the entire battle. Ron's stacked deployment cost him time and options, whereas Evan's smaller force seemed to be well suited for the space he had available to him.

One thing, I might change the tactical rules slightly, in that the long melee delayed the game considerably, partly as we had two new players and partly as I had not umpired either army before and was therefore unfamiliar with all of their abilities and bonuses. Yet, six (may have been seven) bounds of melee was really too much and I would have liked to see more action than that. I will talk to my players and see what they think about setting an arbitrary limit of say 4 bounds per turn (with the results carrying over to the next turn, of course) or perhaps rolling a d4+2 to give a variable melee length during a turn.

In the end, each of the players and also Brent as an umpire in training, had a good time and we learned a lot about how these new armies would fight in the campaign. I certainly don't want to fight either army without some amount of special preparation, namely buying more artillery!

A final note: I must mention that Ron was especially generous in that he gifted me the vast majority of the Austrian troops we used as Swedish proxies. I did not expect it and his kindness allows me to further test some rules on my own, as my army is not yet ready for the table.


  1. Great looking game Justin! Did you use the command initiative as in the rules, where you can only move a % of your army per turn?

    1. Yes, we did. As we were testing the campaign mechanisms, too, I had both players roll for the skill rating of their commanders and they were both inspired. The resulting initiative rolls (or orders rolls) were fairly equal, with both sides moving 50% to 100% of their forces most of the game. The campaign has each player roll 1d4+1d6 for each of the stats for their characters (generals) and one result of this process gives us the quality of the commander at the tactical level.