Saturday, 17 May 2014
The Last Argument Of Kings
Ah yes. It was nearly three years ago that I wrote a 'jaundiced and curmudgeonly' post regarding this supplement to the Blackpowder rules. It was the first such supplement to come out and I did not welcome it, arguing in particular that the useful material (excluding the pretty pictures and fluff) should have been in the original rules. I also said I wasn't going to buy it.
Well, here I am in 2014, and the book has recently been bought and digested. Mostly, I wanted it because I am desperately consuming anything I can get hold of on the Seven Years War, what with Honours of War coming out next year (fingers crossed). So it seemed appropriate to post a modest review here. My blog statistics clearly show that my old posts on Blackpowder continue to be regularly visited, so some of you out there may find my comments of interest. And the question I posed in my 2011 post ('won't such a book be a great introduction to the period for newcomers?') could do with an answer. And I'm afraid the answer is, 'not really'.
The good points first. I congratulate the author on including sections on the Great Northern War and the wars against the Ottoman Empire, particularly the latter which is a much neglected subject. Mr Brown has also taken the trouble to broaden the value of the work by having a section on 'War in the Colonies' (basically the French-Indian Wars, but supposedly covering 1700-1775) and a further section on 'Raids and Invasions', which gives ideas for amphibious scenarios. Furthermore, the section on the 'Wars of the English Succession' has a campaign for the 1745 rebellion featured. These are all good attempts at adding value and making the book worthwhile.
The first reason for my reservations is that I found some of the historical information misleading, and occasionally just plain wrong. Naturally, for me such reservations centre around the period I know most about (the SYW), but finding questionable statements in these sections reduces my trust in the information presented for other periods with which I am less familiar. I think the main problem is that too little attention is paid to the changes that took place as the century progressed, particularly in the army lists. To summarise the technical points I noticed:
Artillery. Positional artillery is unfairly described as incapable of movement on the battlefield in the introductory section (p.11), and this conclusion is cemented by the unhistorical special rule that foot artillery, once deployed, must remain in place for the rest of the game (p.19). Not even fair in the early part of the century, this is plain daft for the SYW. A comment in the description of the Russian army that 'during the SYW, Russian artillery was widely regarded as the best trained and equipped in Europe' I also found questionable. I think it was the Austrian artillery that took that accolade.
Cavalry. All the army lists (except the Jacobite one) cover the period 1700-1775. The weakness is that change over this period in the various armies is often poorly catered for - generally, one list fits all. This is an all round failing, but was particularly evident to me in the bland description of the Prussian cavalry, which was actually very different in 1740 to what it was in 1756. The author also gets the merits of the Austrian and Prussian cavalry the wrong way round for the SYW, in my opinion, particularly concerning the hussars. It was the Prussians who generally had the advantage.
Infantry. A strange omission in the Prussian army lists are the famous Prussian grenadiers. There's the Garde, and the line infantry, but nothing in between.
Tactics. The panel describing Frederick's 'oblique order' will probably leave the newcomer to the period as confused as when he started.
More general failings included the section on 'putting on a large scale game', which is rather poor. There are slightly weird paragraphs on providing refreshments and background music, and interesting advice to hire a big hall because wargamers tend to be fat. But no suggestion at all as to how large battles might be scaled down to make them possible for wargamers who aren't part of a large club or group and who don't have access to very large tables.
Especially disappointing were the maps for the 7 featured battles. The book's production values are, of course, high, and there are a large number of large and colourful pictures of wargames figures. But when it comes to the maps, these are small, dull in colour and uninspiring. The maps show neither the historical deployments, nor suggested ones for wargaming. A great missed opportunity, which prompted a feeling in me that style (eye candy) was preferred over substance (detailed and good-looking historical maps). Osprey could certainly teach Warlord Games a thing or two in this department.
As a final dig, I found it insensitive and crass to head up a side panel on scalping with the feeble title 'Keep Your Hair On!'. The panel itself was mostly sensible enough, but this barbaric practice doesn't really lend itself to silly jokes.
To be fair, much in the introductory section ('Warfare In The Age Of Reason') is useful and paints a good picture of the period. The special rules suggested for the period mostly make sense and are worth having, with the notable exception of the artillery rule already mentioned. But as a supplement, this book should have concentrated more on historical detail (especially change over time) and less on big glossy pictures. Such an approach would have given true value for money. From my own perspective, this supplement certainly taught me nothing about wargaming the Seven Years War. This was one of those rare occasions when the question 'could you have done any better?' would have been answered with 'yes, probably'.
I still reckon Blackpowder are the best commercial rules around for horse and musket games. They combine a generally good period feel with features making for an entertaining game. Unfortunately the original rules and this supplement also embody the worst of the contemporary commercial preference for a flashy product above solid information.
And that's all I have to say about that. As always, contrary views by owners of LAOK are positively encouraged. Perhaps gamers with knowledge of other 18th century wars apart from the SYW can weigh in. Comments please.