Sunday, 29 May 2016

Star Wars Armada: The Empire Strikes Back

I managed to squeeze in another game of Star Wars Armada last night. This time we had more ships, and now I was the "old hand" showing my friend how the game works. The game was a straightforward "free for all" between the two fleets. The Rebel fleet, consisting of two Nebulon B frigates, a Corelian cruiser and four squadrons of X-wings, had been collecting supplies at a remote star system when it ran into an Imperial force of two Star Destroyers, 6 squadrons of Tie Figthers and two squadrons of Tie Bombers.

The Rebels started the battle by advancing rapidly and confidently. The Corelian corvette in the centre sped towards the hulking Star Destroyers at maximum speed. The Nebulon B frigate on its left advanced more slowly while the one on its right fanned to the right, starting a wide flanking manoeuvre. The Star Destroyers advanced slowly while the swarms of Tie Fighters hovered nearby, ready to speed towards the enemy.

The Rebel's were soon to realize the folly of their battle plan, as the corvette came within range of both of the Star Destroyers short-range turbolasers. The devastating volleys raked the small ship, which rapidly lost its shields and started taking critical hits. The captain of the corvette panicked and veered to the right. This her second mistake, as the manoeuvre kept the small ship exposed to the withering fire for what seemed an eternity. Smelling blood, the two squadrons of Tie Bombers raced forward to finish their prey. A few proton torpedoes was all it took, and the rebel ship was no more.

The other flights of Tie Fighters also sped forward to engage the X-Wings. The Nebulon B frigates opened fire against the Star Destroyers and dropped some of their shields. However, the fire was too sporadic to have much of an effect.

The Star Destroyers now turned their attention against the frigate that had advanced more slowly on the Rebel left. Once again, the concentrated Imperial fire was devastating. The Rebel ship passed between the two hulking behemoths, which pounded it from either side. The frigate floated on a little further, when it was suddenly wracked with internal explosions from its overheating reactors. Not many of the crew made it to their escape pods.

The Star Destroyers started to turn about cumbersomely, as the remaining Rebel frigate came about on their rear. The manoeuvre brought the lumbering ships dangerously close and a crash seemed imminent. Claxons begun blaring and junior crew on the command deck exchanged nervous glances. Soon the danger passed though, and the Star Destroyers were re-aligned to take on the remaining Rebel ship. However, the Rebels had had enough of a beating for one day. With laser blasts whizzing by, the Rebel captain engaged his hyper drive. The battle was over.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Hôtel des Invalides: Relief map museum

So, I was in Paris last week. It was supposed to be a romantic trip with the missus (10 years anniversary of our engagement in Paris) but somehow I managed to escape for a few hours to the Hôtel des Invalides military museum. Incidentally, it was 10 years to the day that I visited this the last time. Coincidence? I think not.

Anyway, one of the highlights was the very special relief map collection of scale models that is housed in the attic. The models were built from 1668 onwards to help plan the defence of France's new borders under Louis XIV. The models were an excellent tool for developing the fortifications as well as for training soldiers to be stationed there and training the theory of siege craft to these same soldiers.

The models are "exact" replicas. Most are at 1:600 scale and, displaying the surrounding countryside, are quite huge (5 x 5 metres for example). I would just love to play a wargame or receive proper siege training on one of these tables.




Château Trompette (Bordeaux)

Fort de la Rade (Ile d'Aix)

Fort de la Rade today

The full gallery, depicting maybe 30 models of 100 preserved

Tools and materials used to make the models

The museum also had an excellent series of models to display the process of a besieging army making its approach, bombardment and final approach against a "trace italienne" type modern fortress. This awesome series of models depicted hundreds of approximately 6mm (1:300) miniatures in the process of besieging or defending a fortress.

Stage 1: The army establishes its camp and builds fortified lines of circumvallation and contravallation 2.400 metres from the fortress (outside artillery range). These defensive works are established to guard against assaults from within the fortress or from a relieving army.

Stage 2: The besiegers make zig-zagging approach trenches against he points of bastions (to minimize the effect of defensive artillery). At 600 metres these trenches are joined with a trench called the first parallel (parallel to the the fortress wall). Siege artillery is brought forward.

Stage 3: The approach continues as before with zig-zagging approach trenches. The work is carried out only during night time as the defender's artillery is already quite effective at this range. 350 metres from the walls a second parallel is created and the siege artillery is brought to this level. Additional "demi-parallels" are created to bring more guns to bear at the breaching point(s) from various angles.

Stage 4: The approach continues up to the glacis, just 40 metres from the fortress. Assault positions are prepared and other preparations are made for the forthcoming attack by grenadiers against the breach.

Stage 5: Grenadiers capture the demi-lune (outerwork) by storm and heavy guns are brought forward. A heavy bombardment pins down the defenders and makes a breach on the inner works (that has thus far been sheltered from bombardment by the demi-lune). The besiegers start to prepare an assault ramp against the breach, which both facilitates the assault and shelters from fire from the flanks.

Stage 6: The defenders usually surrender at this point, but if they don't the point of assault undergoes a thorough bombardment. If the besiegers still don't surrender after this has been effected, the besiegers will assault the fortress, with little quarter given.

For some reference and perspective, here's some pictures and a report from last year's visit to Rocroi: a model example of one of these modern artillery fortifications.

One of Rocroi's bastions as viewed from the demi-lune (imagine assaulting that!)

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

1631: Empire in Flames

My precious

Hot off the press, I hold in my hands my first commercially published wargame, 1631: Empire in Flames. The game is a culmination of two years' work and is published and distributed by French gaming magazine VaeVictis, who are also responsible for the superb graphics.

The game is a two-player operational level wargame set during the Thirty Years War. 1631 was one of the pivotal years of that long and gruesome war, during which the Swedes under Gustav Adolf overwhelmeed the Imperial armies sent against them and managed to gain control of most of northern Germany. The campaign was dominated by the drama of the siege and subsequent sack of Magdeburg and culminated in the battle of Breitenfeld, which ended in a resounding Swedish victory.

The game comes with issue 127 of VaeVictis



The Imperial defenders are caught off-guard in 1631 both militarily and politically. Imperial forces are in a sorry state, dispersed and weakened, which makes it difficult for them to counter the Swedes' initial advance. Massive reinforcements are on the way though, and skillful Fabian tactics followed by a counter-attack should halt the Swedish invasion before it snowballs out of control.

The Swedes' main objective is to gain an alliance with the powerful electorates of Brandenburg and Saxony - protestant powers that are initially neutral in the struggle but which might eventually join the Lion of the North, at least if he shows himself capable. Ultimately, the Swedes are seeking to penetrate deep south into the Imperial heartlands, which is represented in the game by awarding victory points for Swedish units that move into various strategic areas (Silesia and Franconia being the most important targets).

Jacques Callot - The Enlistment of Troops (1633)

Basic mechanics

Each game turn represents a month in real time, during which the players take alternate actions to move individual armies, regroup or pursue diplomatic negotiations. One player has the initiative, which gives a massive advantage as that player can conduct one more action and (in all likelihood) conduct two consecutive manoeuvres. The game takes about three hours to play and is of "medium complexity".


Following historical precedent, the game revolves around control of cities and resources. Rivers play a major role as they can only be crossed via friendly cities and the defender can easily repel any attempted crossings with inferior forces. On the other hand, moving an army along the length of a river is much easier, which enables an army to move and attack further if moving along rivers.

The combat mechanics are simple, yet capture the nature of various tactical situations and emphasize the different roles of infantry, cavalry and artillery. The defender is at an advantage, as defenders gain bonuses in combat and are able to avoid battle by evading or bring up reinforcements with an intercept move. The attacker will also be slowed down with the necessity of capturing the enemy's strongholds.

I wanted to represent the "high stakes" nature of battles and explain the sudden collapse of armies in certain situations with the victory conditions of combats. Units that are "spent" (have suffered losses, have not been supplied properly, etc.) fight almost as well as fresh units but lack their staying power. Battlefield victory is more about staying power than damage inflicted, which is why it is a liability to fight with an army comprising mostly of spent units. Such an army will also be more likely to rout, turning an otherwise minor defeat into a catastrophic affair.

Attrition - theme of the game

During the Thirty Years' War, most of the belligerents were fighting a war they could not possibly afford and, even if they could, poor logistics would ruin their plans more often than the enemy. In 1631: Empire in Flames both sides are struggling with the problem of how to supply their forces. The commanders must balance between concentrating their forces to overwhelm the enemy, and spreading them out to facilitate logistics. Armies can't remain in the same place too long lest they run out of supplies. On the other hand, defeat is not final as losses can be slowly replenished by recruiting more mercenaries.

It's not a happy war (Jacques Callot - The Hanging (1633))

Why did I make this game?

This game started off as a university project, which then took on a life of its own. Making this game was a fun way to combine my hobby with my academic work of research in the field of early modern military history. I chose to concentrate on the operational level for several reasons. Firstly, this is the level at which early modern generals normally operated and at which campaigns (and often wars themselves) were won or lost. I find this topic immensely interesting and fun to play, reserving the tactical level gaming to be done with miniatures and a different mindset.

My biggest challenge with making this game was to find a balance between complexity and playability (including ease of learning the rules and speed of play). I had to leave out a number of elements, such as, such as the possibility to recruit enemies captured in the field or further rules for lines of communication. A more complex representation of the nuances of the "neutral" state of Brandenburg and Saxony during the 1631 campaign had to be left out as well. However, in many ways "less is more" holds true and rigorous play testing plus the view of "new people" helped me focus on the most important aspects and get the balance right. I am quite pleased with the end result, which is the type of game I like to play.

How do I buy the game?

The game can be purchased via VaeVictis at

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Battlefield tourism: Copenhagen

A day in Copenhagen, what better way to spend it than visiting military sites and museums? 

Some time ago I was off doing archival research in Lund and, due to poor planning I had an extra day in Copenhagen. I decided to spend it by walking inspecting the old ramparts of the city, where the Swedish under Karl X Gustav made a failed assault in February 1659. The fortifications at Christianshavn (the outpost at "12 o'clock" in the map below) were still in pretty good condition and I had a look at them from both the ground and by climbing a church tower to survey them from up high (as one does). The 1659 attack aimed at this section was mainly just a diversion, but with the area of the main attacks mostly built up nowadays, this was the best I could aim for.

View towards Christianshavn from a bell tower

1659 defences. The Swedes' main attack was aimed at the bay to the north-east of the city (1.30 o'clock).

A cool playground on the ramparts, which have been turned into a recreational area. I would have loved to play here with my kids!

Southern edge of the Christianshavn defences.

I continued my visit by going to the royal armoury. I was mostly interested in the 17th century stuff and, although most of this section was closed, I was happy to see some of the more rare stuff they had around.

First the "playground cannon" and now this! The Danes have very warlike playgrounds for their kids.

Captured artillery outside the royal arsenal

The Danes seem optimistic about capturing more guns in the future!

Main hall of the armoury

Medieval bombards cast in segments and joined together with hoops.

27 pdr demi-cannon given by Christian IV as a gift to the duke of Oldenburg.

The masterfully cast barrel shows the family tree of the Oldenburgs, including blazons and all!

An exceptionally long culverin called "Strong Samson" (16th - 17th century)

16th cenutry back loading piece (3/4 pound) with a gunshield

Petards (for breaching gates)
50 pound (!) mortars from the 17th century

Portable light mortar (17th century)

Ammo rack for a ship

17th century artillery

Housing to keep match dry (and possibly burning during bad weather)

1933 tank by Vickers

19th century portable bunker

WW2 German Goliath demolition carrier


Finally, I visited the National Museum of Denmark. The museum had a lot of really nice stuff about sacrifices and tombs found from the pre-historic period, but I was a bit disappointed at how small the Viking section was.

Meteoric iron from Greenland that has been used to make tools

A lot of runic stones were on display
Grave offerings c. 900 BC

Shields carried by seaborne raiders c. 350 BC and offered as sacrifice by the victors by sinking them into a bog

Viking gold necklace. Very practical people those Vikings, as the wrought gold could be easily transported and cut off when needed to make payments.

Replica of a Viking chieftain's chest

Axe from a Viking chief's grave

Practical Vikings: a mould for making both Thor's hammer and crucifix pendants at the same time

Full armour manufactured in 1545 in Innsbruck

High-quality hunting guns 16th and 17th centuries


Danish cavalry armour from the  early 17th century

Cuirassiers armour from the end of the 16th century

17th century caltrops

Steel storming ladder (which folds!) and a partizan

Details of the hinges of the storming ladder

Details of the partizan

Swedish assault on Copenhagen 1659

15th century pavise