Sunday, 1 February 2015

Twilight Of The Sun-King

Many years ago - 1993 to be exact - Stephen Simpson published a set of simple 18th Century rules in 'Wargames Illustrated'. I remember reading them at the time and filing them away as 'interesting', but because my gaming activities didn't touch the 18th Century I forgot about them.

The other day I came across a reference to them, as well as a modified version by Steven Thomas called 'Twilight of the Sun-King', which were specifically aimed at early 18th Century warfare, including the Great Northern War. His set were originally published on his blog, and date back to 2001, but Andrew Colby reworked them and a commercial version was published by the Pike and Shot Society.

Anyway, you can read the original rules HERE. I love the core concept of the game, which is that there's effectively no firing or melee; you move your units into a position where it's assumed to be taking place, then the other side takes morale tests to see if there's any effect from it. It seems an odd way to run a game, but reports I read suggested that it worked. So I thought I'd give them a try.

Now, I could, and have, ordered a set from the P&S Society, but they'll take a while to arrive. So I took the original 2001 set, applied a few ideas from Steven's blog (HERE), and then added one change of my own - I switched everything to a D10.

Obviously I was going to use my GNW Risk figures, but I decided not to muddy the waters with any GNW specifics; I decided to play with no generals and no variation in troop quality. I did decide that infantry would take no penalty if in melee with cavalry, to reflect the pikes, but decided that since they were all equipped with pikes the relative effect of their firing would be the same.

How did the D10 work? Well, for morale I just made a 6+ a pass, and applied modifiers as normal. It's not quite the same as the 2D6 or 2DAV proposed in the actual rules, but I didn't think it would be too radical a change, and the extra granularity allows for tweaks and changes further down the line. As for activation I made a 4+ a pass, with the usual -1 modifiers for having failed a morale test at the start of the bound.

For a game I went to that old standby, Charles S. Grant's 'Scenarios For Wargames', and went for Scenario 15 (Reinforcements In Defence). I used a 3' x 2' table, with units consisting of three 1" bases and 1cm = 100p. The Swedes were defending a couple of hills on a road with a vastly inferior force, but had reinforcements coming up from the town. The aim is for them to get to the hills in time to halt the Russian attack.

Here's the table. The Swedes were defending and had two infantry, and artillery and a cavalry unit on the hill. Coming from the town at the top left would be another artillery unit, four more infantry and two cavalry. I specified the order in which these would appear in advance, and the scenario required them to spend one turn moving along the road.

The Russians facing them had eight units of infantry, four of cavalry and two guns.

In terms of scale, I think each infantry unit represents a brigade of about 2,000 men, each cavalry unit a brigade of 1,000 men and each artillery piece some 8-10 guns. So the Swedes had some about 12,000 infantry, 3,000 cavalry and 20 guns, against a Russian force of 16,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry and 20 guns.

The Russians formed up in three lines, with their cavalry in columns on the right flank. The aim was a straight massed assault on the hills, whilst the cavalry worked around the flank of the Swedish position and delayed the arrival of the reinforcements.

The Swedes formed on the hill. In 'Twilight of the Sun-King' having units in rear support is important; the Swedes didn't have that luxury.

As the Russians plodded forward, the Swedish reinforcements left the town.

The Russian advance. The pieces of cardboard with each gun represent the limbers. I tried to find some top-down images on Junior General, but had no luck.

The Russian cavalry moved rapidly past the Swedish position.

The Swedish artillery opens fire.

However the Russian cavalry needed to work around the woods, and turning, even in column, requires an action check to succeed. The Russians failed, but you'll note that the Swedes have been luckier with their action checks and have redeployed their cavalry. It was now poised on the Russians' flank

The infantry lines were now in effective musketry range, and firing broke out along the line. The smoke has no game effect, but looks nice.

A view from behind the Russian lines.

The Swedish cavalry charges, straight into the flank of a Russian column.

But what of the Swedish reinforcements? Well, the Russians weren't the only ones failing action checks. The reinforcing cavalry had moved out of the town first, and was attempting to form up to attack the Russian cavalry. Bu they failed to clear the road that the Swedish infantry needed use to reach the hills, forcing them to take the long way around, cross-country.

The Russian cavalry column failed to turn to face, and was cut down and routed.

Meanwhile the infantry battle was hotting up; both sides had failed morale checks and taken hits. But the Swedes were holding out well.

A good job, as their reinforcements had completely lost the plot and milled about in confusion outside the town, unsure of which way to go. A Russian cavalry brigade had worked its way through and was threatening their flanks.

Meanwhile the Russian cavalry on the Swedish left had got themselves organised, and attacked.

At the same time, the reinforcing Swedish cavalry brigades were charged as well.

On the Swedish left their cavalry saw off the Russian attack, routing another unit.

In the main part of the battle, the Swedish artillery had been lost, but the infantry was still passing morale tests and fighting on. A few units, both Russian and Swede, were close to breaking.

An overview of the battle. The Swedish reinforcements were coming up slowly, and the cavalry had managed to turn to face the flank attack and were putting up a spectacular fight.

On the Swedish left the cavalry's luck finally ran out.

However on the Swedish right their infantry was still fighting, having passed multiple morale checks and despite being under attack from two opposing infantry brigades and an artillery battery.

However the left flank infantry broke, allowing the Russians to take that hill.

Back at the town the attacking Russian cavalry fled, leaving the Swedes free to advance.

The Swedes grimly stood their ground ...

... helped by morale rolls like this.

Another overview of the battle. The Swedish reinforcements were being fed into the battle wherever needed - some attacked the left flank hill, whilst others moved to support the right. You'll notice that the Russian infantry line has thinned out a bit as well; the dogged Swedish defence had inflicted casualties as well as resisted them.

The Swedish cavalry attacked on the far left.

The initial defenders of the hills finally broke as the reinforcements moved into position. Despite their tardiness they had arrived just in time.

The final Russian cavalry unit routed.

The Swedes pressed forward aggressively.

Establishing a solid line on the right flank hill they poured fire into the attacking Russians. One of the Russian batteries broke, and the Russian army failed its morale check and called off the attack.

I wondered about my choice of scenario for this game; the initial Swedish forces are horribly outnumbered, but the opening turns suggested that the reinforcements would reach them just as they started to waver. However appalling action checks made it unlikely that they would be relieved in time, and I'd anticipated the game boiling down to the outnumbered Swedish reinforcements attacking a Russian defensive line on the hills. This was prevented by the ridiculously lucky morale rolls the hill defenders kept making, which held off the Russian attacks for far longer than they should have done, and caused a major loss of Russian morale. When the reinforcements finally made it, the impetus had gone out of the Russian attack. Losses on both sides were heavy though; the Swedes were only one unit away from having to test army morale when the Russians broke, so a Russian victory was still more than possible at the end.

I really enjoyed playing this game, with the limited movement making even the simplest plan a pain in the arse to implement and the quirky combat system delivering just what I'd expect from a battle of this era. I shall look forward to getting a 'proper' copy of the rules (something I could have now if the P&S Society did PDFs of course).


  1. Great looking game - figures and terrain lovely. And very nice to hear how you took an old set of rules, modified them to your liking. It's all what the hobby is about.

  2. It is the near-run things like this that are the most fun war games. Great report!

  3. The two copies that showed up in my FLGS had the pages in all the wrong order. Hope they fixed that. Yeah, PDFs would be nice.

    1. I think that the current version fixes that :)

  4. Replies
    1. I did. I've ordered a copy of 1.1 from the UK already :)


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