Emulating Marlborough

Introduction: If you are anything like me, you get inspired by reading some of the histories. Following the campaigns of some of the great military leaders of history makes me wonder if I could have been able to emulate them in some way.

One of the great leaders was the Duke of Marlborough. I’ve often wondered if he was really influenced by the Netherlands deputies. Some people maintain that saying that he had to follow their veto was merely an excuse for opportunities he let slip away, or even opportunities that never existed; he was blaming others for the slow progress of the campaigns.

Setup: Something else I’ve always wondered about, relating to gaming and not to history. There are a number of naval games where there is a strategic element and a tactical element. You organize and move fleets around on a strategic board, then when there is a battle you fight it on a tactical board or even on the floor/table. Two of the classics that immediately come to mind are Avalon Hill’s Midway and Jutland.

Could this have been done with land warfare as well? I know there are some examples, such as The Sport of Kings. However, can one take a game intended to be a purely strategic game and turn it into a framework for tactical battles?

My eye fell upon the classic Frederick the Great (Okay, okay, I grew up with the AH classics. I’ve got lots of more modern games but I never play them.) This covers the Seven Years War in a strategic sense. The playing pieces are leaders and “strength counters.” These last are basically counters that indicate size of the army. No distinction is made between cavalry, infantry and artillery.

Hmm. Seven Years War = War of the Spanish Succession. Not a good match, you say. Well, there was a variant for Frederick the Great that takes it back to the Silesian Wars that proceeded the SYW, but that’s not far enough, is it? Let’s dig further. There was also a complete game variant on it called Marlborough the Great. It used most of the rules but the map and counters were completely different. The map is of the low countries only. I’m sure I can use that.

Bouffler's Moves.jpg

A picture of the upper right corner of the Marlborough the Great map. Most of the pieces shown on here are garrison units. However follow the red arrows and you will see Boufflers confronting Marlborough just before the Battle of Venlo.

Now there are going to be some people who might complain, as I intend to use Seven Years’ War armies to fight the War of the Spanish Succession. The units won’t look proper without the long coats and big flappy cuffs, you say. I say I’ve been building up this SYW army and I’d like to use it; however I am most attracted right now to seeing what can be done regarding the campaigns of Marlborough. Let me have a little leaway. Besides, the figures I have are 15mm. From a distance, you can’t tell the difference.

This does have some disadvantages for me. In particular I’m going to lose the use of some of my Allied units. The Nr. 8 von Seydlitz Hussars that I have just yesterday incorporated as a finished lot into my Prussian army will have to sit this one out, as will my beautiful Prussian Feldjaegers zu Fuss (Who have yet to see action.)

To repeat, we have a situation where we have leader counters and strength counters. So we want to go from strength counters to tactical units. What if we just arbitrarily declare that each strength counter is equal to 100 points? Then  we can use the old Donald Featherstone yardstick of 1 infantryman is 1 point, a cavalryman is 2 and an artillery battery is 10 points. I’m going to have to do it that way as the various units I have are of different sizes.

Going from the strategic map to the tabletop will be easy, then. Going from the tabletop back to the map will be a slightly different matter. I want the casualties taken on the field to be reflected in the strategic armies. Thus I’m going to indicate that units that survive the battles intact will represent their full points when the game ends, but units that become demoralized because of the battle are only going to represent half their points value.

Rules: The reason I am going in this direction is a reflection of the rules I am using: Honours of War. In these rules – similar to other rules these days, it seems – there is no keeping count of actual figures lost. Units remain the same size throughout a battle. What you do keep track of is the unit’s morale state. Thus if a unit has accumulated a total of 5 hits in the course of the battle, their morale is wrecked; or they are “Done for,” in the terms of the rules. They must leave the table and not return … at least for that battle.

I am using Honours of War because it produces a quick resolution to large battles. Especially as I am trying to do a campaign by myself, this might become important. Amongst other things, I find that I can’t spend more than an hour at a time at the wargames table, so things might become protracted.

To avoid those senior “Now, where was I?” moments, I am going to write orders for both sides before a turn and thus movement will be simultaneous.

Battlefield scenery will be randomly generated, with a slight bias toward any army that has already been on the spot and may have had the chance to pick a good defensive position. It is assumed that if one side is actually well dug-in at a location, battle will be avoided. Unless of course the attacking force has a large size advantage and the commander decides to try and use it.

I shall be playing the part of Marlborough (Delusions of Grandeur?) The part of the opposing commander(s) will be played by a six-sided die. Strategic and grand tactical decisions will be broken up into three to six categories, graded by stupidest (lowest) to most brilliant (highest,) and a d6 will be rolled. Its result will be modified by the ability (or lack thereof) of the commander.

One completely incidental note: All background mood music will be period music: Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and their contemporaries.

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