Sunday, 24 May 2020

A tiny test of Twilight: Fraustadt 1706

The ’Twilight of the Sun King’ rules were first brought to my attention by a review on the marvellous 'Un Marius Sinon Rien' blog. Reading a further review on wargamer.com website convinced me to purchase them. They arrived in April and I was immediately keen to give them a go. I threw some Great Northern War Saxons into the ever-expanding group of figures that I am painting. Having brought these, a few Russians and some additional Swedes to the stage of ‘good enough’ (base-coat completed, awaiting black-wash, addition of basing mix and then final highlights/details), my impatience could wait no longer; it was time for a test game.

Set-up for this first test game, the Battle of Fraustadt 1706 at brigade scale (a scenario provided in the rules). This also gave me a chance to have a go with my new latex rivers and roads. The scale meant that 15 mm and N-gauge railway buildings were most appropriate.


Twilight of the Sun King, revised edition 2019

The Rules

The authors of Twilight of the Sun King are members of the Pike and Shot Society, so it is little wonder that the rules have a strong historical focus. That said, they are not complex; I consider them to be the definition of elegant simplicity. The rule book is 22 pages long, with a further three devoted to the introductory scenario and a one-page 'advert.' for the Pike and Shot Society. The rules could easily have been written on around four pages, I'd estimate. The longer presentation is due to them having been printed in a large font, with clear, large diagrams and the odd reproduction of a painting from the period—all most pleasing aspects. The booklet is a simple, A4 production printed in black and white (apart from the cover) and is not especially cheap (£12 plus postage). It does not, though, suffer from the problem of gloss over substance that besets so many of those expensive, hard cover sets of rules that seem to be churned out all to regularly.

I was drawn to purchase the rules because they featured a truly novel system which sounded like it could work well (and was certainly worth a go to find out). They take the familiar 'I go you go' approach, but the similarity with other set of rules stops there. The turn sequence for each side comprises but three phases: opponent's bombardment, test morale of own troops (for effects of bombardment, firing, mêlée), move own troops. In each turn the attacker moves first followed by the defender.

All movement and ranges are calculated in base widths, so the rules are completely scalable. Units can always move straight ahead, so there is none of this business of troops sitting around waiting for someone to tell them how to march. More 'elaborate' manoeuvres (including charging, formation changes, crossing terrain, entering difficult going, undertaking more than one move) require a successful 'action test'. This is simply a roll of a D6 with anything but a 1 or 2 being a success. There is a negative one modifier to the die roll for the action test if the unit failed a morale test in the current turn (and/or is charging a platoon firing unit—for the Great Northern War this is limited to "probably Russians from 1710").

There is no firing. WHAT?!!! If you have read reviews of the rules you'll already know this 'shocking fact'. Actually, it is not really correct. There is plenty of firing (as you'll see in the photos below), but it is not conducted in the familiar manner where a roll is made against factors and ranges to determine the casualties on the enemy unit(s) (or other mechanic being used). Rather, in Twilight of the Sun King being fired upon, involved in mêlée or infantry with cavalry in close proximity (1/2 base width) are causes to test morale and any artillery fire, small arms fire, mêlée, terrain/defences, supports/flanking (as appropriate) are modifiers to the test.

Failing a morale test (modified score of two average dice below eight) results in a morale failure (four or below is a rout). Generally infantry will break on their third failed test, cavalry and artillery on their second. A unit classified as 'large' and/or 'determined' gets an extra morale failure before breaking, while one classed as 'wavering' gets one fewer (units classed as 'small' and those classed as 'raw' receive a negative one modifier in the test). There is no way to 'rally' troops or otherwise recover morale, but a commander may have an impact.

The presence and proximity of commanders is important in Twilight of the Sun King to bolster morale (i.e. re-take a morale test if 'attached' to the unit—within a base width) and to encourage the troops to undertake some of those more elaborate manoeuvres mentioned above (i.e. re-roll an action test). In the former case a commander is a commander (provided that he may command the unit, is close enough and is not 'attached' elsewhere), while his quality is important for the latter (and for a brigade or army test if required).



I was pleased that the introductory scenario provided in the rules is for the Battle of Fraustadt, 2nd February 1706 (by the Julian calendar—one day later by the Swedish calendar of the time and eleven days later by the modern Gregorian calendar) as the Great Northern War is one of the two conflicts in the eighteenth century that interest me greatly—along with the French and Indian War, not being particularly 'fussed' with the rest (apologies to the devotees out there). The scenario in the rules allows for the game to be played at either the brigade or regimental scale. I decided to test the rules initially at the brigade scale, moving to a larger game if I liked them sufficiently. I used the scenario largely as provided, but adjusted the order of battle, chiefly using the Great Northern War Compendium, to one that I considered more historically accurate.


Volume one of the Great Northern War Compendium includes a chapter by Oskar Sjöstrom and Stephen Kling about the Battle of Fraustadt. I used this source, principally, to adjust the order of battle for the game.

Playing the game solo meant that I carried out turns as and when it suited, playing two turns over two nights last week and then finishing the game on the Friday. This was really helpful as it allowed me to proceed slowly and to double-check the rules between mini-sessions. 

The Game
 
This has been a wordy post so far, by my standards, so let's proceed to the pictorial description of the game.
 
Table set-up, showing the map from the rules. The area is tiny, being 10 base widths x 15 base widths or 500 mm x 750 mm for my figures.

The Russo-Saxon army had been lured by Rehnkshold from its strong defensive position on the heights near Schlawa when the latter had moved his Swedish army away from their positions in a seeming headlong retreat. Schulenburg, commanding the Russo-Saxons, advanced, then hastily formed a new, improvised and 'messed-up' defensive position north-east of Fraustadt when Rehnkshold turned to give battle.

View from the Saxon side of the table. Note the far inferior Swedish force, odds roughly 2:1 in the Saxon favour.

A map from Sjöstrom and Kling's chapter in the Great Northern War Compendium. I began the game by copying these moves (as far as possible, allowing for the scale).

As per history, the Saxon guns opened fire on the advancing Swedes (bombardment range in the rules).
"From right to left, one cannon after another spewed its deadly content onto the field... however, aside from the battery at the right end of the line that managed to slow down a couple of Swedish battalions, the salvoes had had more or less no effect at all" (Sjöstrom and Kling 2016). We were going fairly well to script, the Södermanlands regiment at the right of the line failing the morale test (indicated by the black piece of straw).

Rehnkshold encouraged his centre forward towards the Saxon positon (successful action test for a second move).

The Saxon cannons fired "... a third at short range and canister" (Sjöstrom and Kling 2016).
Another morale failure for the Södermanlands.

GåPå! The Swedish infantry charged the fortifications.

On the Swedish left, the Livdragonregementet moved to confront the Saxon cavalry.
 
On the Swedish left, in a break from history, the Saxon garde du corps and Goltz Dragoon Regiment attempted to advance through the marsh, only making it half-way (failed action test to exit). At this point, I realised that I had mucked up my left and right and so put two Saxon cavalry units on their right, instead of three, the reverse on their left. Ah well, that's what test games are for!

The Saxon infantry opened fire on the attacking Swedes. (Note dear reader, that is more of that firing that does not exist in the rules!).

This time the Västmanland regemente (Södermanlands in support) failed a morale test (above), but the Närke-Värmlands regemente, an élite unit with the Pommerska dragoons in support, passed (below).

Breaking with history, the Saxon infantry behind the chevaux de frise, represented by the zig-zag fences here, continued to hold. The foot guards (right of photo) passed their morale test, forcing the Västmanland regemente to withdraw 1/4 base-width. The Drost regiment failed a morale, but were still able to hold on and continue the mêlée with the Närke-Värmlands.

Cavalry mêlées on the Swedish right (above) and left (below) flanks.
Having pushed the Västmanland regemente back, the Saxons fired off another round of volley and artillery (intense enough to make the camera shake).

On the Swedish right, the élite Livdragonregementet had beaten back the Beust cuirassiers, who retreated behind their supports (Dünewald dragoon regiment) who then charged the Swedes.

Not so good on the Swedish left, the Skanska Standsdragon regemente losing the mêlée (failed morale test) and, having no supports, retreated their full measure, caring not about the marsh. Keeping up the pressure, the Goltz dragoon regiment followed-up (below).

In the centre the Swedish infantry tried again and were blunted once more.

More Saxon fire, a second morale loss for the Västmanland regemente (below).

Hope again for the elusive breakthrough, as the Närke-Värmlands continue in mêlée.

It was not Hummerhjelm's day. Two failed action tests made the Skanska Standsdragon the Skanska stranded-dragoon.

Not missing the opportunity of a charge in the rear, the Goltz dragoon regiment finished them off.

As with the historical action, the von Krassow's brigade (represented here by the
Livdragonregementet) were getting the better of their more numerous Saxon opponents, aided by the fact that the Saxon's poor deployment had them attacking piece-meal.

Having forced the Närke-Värmlands regemente back, Schulenburg ordered an exchange of the lines, replacing the Drost regiment with the Koningin. I really enjoyed mixing up the paint to make those Isabella facings and base colour for the flag of the Koningin.

For the Queen! The Koningin immediately out-did their line comrades, Närke-Värmlands failing a morale test (now represented by the little red 'pimple—utilising some silly little plastic covers from some pens that I bought, making more attractive markers).

Having 'sat on his bum' for eight turns, and with the Västmanland broken, Rehnskold was finally spurred into action, sending cavalry left and right. Too little too late?

Perhaps not, von Krassow's Livdragonregementet broke the Beust cuirassiers (above), von Dunewald sending in the Wrangel dragoons supported by his own unit (below).

Now getting desperate and unlikely for the Swedes in the centre: a volley against the
Närke-Värmlands and artillery fire on the Södermanlands (which did not agree with them, as you'll see later).

The Pommerska charged the exposed left of the Russian line,...

... breaking the raw unit, while the Livdragonregementet continued on their winning way.

That flank looks attractive!

Left exposed by the breaking of the Södermanlands, Schulenburg liked the look of the Närke-Värmlands' flank, sending out the Saxon foot guard.


The Wrangel dragoon having retreated from the mêlée, von Dünewald's dragoons again charged the Livdragonregemente.

Flank fire on the Pommerska and a loss of morale.

A second morale loss to the Närke-Värmlands, now unsupported.

In charged the Pommerska...
... a morale loss to the Patkul Infantry Regiment, but they held.

 
von Dünewald's boys fought bravely, but incurred a morale loss.

The Norra Skanska tried a desperate, headlong charge against the Saxon guard, with predictable results, the Pommerska dragoons were broken by the Patkul Infantry Regiment and even the Närke-Värmlands had given up the fight.

This forced an army morale test, which Rehnskold easily passed!

von Dünewald's boys had fought bravely, but finally broke. I just realised that I forgot to do the brigade morale test, but it was of no consequence as, with only two cavalry regiments left, it was all over for the Swedes!



 
So, after nine turns I lost. As a fairly unimaginative Rehnskold I had failed to replicate the  dramatic Swedish victory that was his finest hour. Alternatively, as a more aggressive Schulenburg I achieved a better outcome. Still, since I lean strongly towards the Swedes, I have to say that I beat myself.

The result was not really the point of this though, for it was about the rules and they came out of this game with a win. On reading, I thought that I’d like them. I was not sure after the early turns. I re-read key sections, found things that I had not done quite correctly and, as I began to get the mechanics clear in my head and perform the tests correctly, I found myself liking them more and more. The rules are straightforward, as I said in my description above, but the completely novel approach meant that they took a bit of getting one’s head around.

As the 'mist' cleared I could consider the rules' mechanics. There are several aspects that I like, firing is central, units can always move, but it takes more to perform more 'elaborate' movement, supports, protected flanks and generally good positioning of your forces are paramount. Troop quality has an effect, but not an extreme one (either positively or negatively). Similarly, commanders are well represented in the rules, but not out of proportion.

Having enjoyed this playtest of Twilight of the Sun King, I'm keen to complete the additional troops necessary to play the game at regimental scale. I’ll then compare the rules with GåPå (that I have tried once and liked) and also the Polemos Great Northern War rules (by Nick Dorrell one of the authors of Twilight of the Sun King—one can see that he has included a lot of ideas from them into Twilight of the Sun King). I often find 'sticking points' with rules the more that I use them. Time will tell whether this is the case with Twilight of the Sun King. They passed their first test with a credit and I'll see how they go with further testing.

One of my long-term aims is to paint sufficient figures for the Great Northern so as to field Swedish, Saxon, Polish-Lithuanian, early Russian and Ottoman armies (these latter will also be fit for Napoleonics), as well as some later Russian and Danish troops. The eventual 'grand plan' is to work through the battles of the Great Northern War from go to whoa. This playtest has added fuel to that fire.



Rules

Twilight of the Sun King by Steven Thomas, Andrew Coleby and Nicholas Dorrell, revised edition 2019 (https://www.wfgamers.org.uk/resources/C18/Twilight/ToSK).

Scales: 1:200–300 for brigade-scale games, 1:100–150 for regimental-scale games. Units of two bases each (one for artillery). All movement and ranges calculated in base widths. Ground scale 1:5 000 for brigade-scale and 1:2 500 for regimental scale at recommended base width. I used 1:6 000 for my game (base width 50 mm).


Figures

All figures in the game were 1/72 scale.

Swedish
Infantry: Mars 'Swedish Infantry'
Cavalry: Zvezda 'Swedish Dragoons of Charles XII' and Strelets 'Reitars of Charles XII'

Saxon
Infantry: Mars 'Saxon Infantry'
Cavalry: Strelets 'Russian Dragoons of Peter I' Artillery: Zvezda 'Swedish Artillery of Charles XII'

Russian
Infantry: Strelets 'Russian Dragoons of Peter I' and 'Swedish Infantry of Charles XII', Zvezda 'Russian Strelets Infantry' and Strelets various bonus Streletsi figures.
Some of these Russians were part of a huge haul from John of the Wargame Hermit blog that I got back in June 2018 (thanks John, if you are reading). I'm adding further streletsi as early Russians (for Narva, River Düna).


References

Sjöstrom O (2008) Fraustadt 1706 - Ett fält färgat rött. Map of the battle (sourced from https://www.tacitus.nu/gnw/battles/Fraustadt/)

Sjöstrom O and Kling SL (2016) Warsaw, Fraustadt and the Grand Plan to Crush Charles XII. In Kling (Jr.) SL (Ed.) Great Northern War Compendium Volume 1. The Historical Game Company. pp. 197–210.


Thomas S, Coleby A and Dorrell N (2019) The Battle of Fraustadt - 1706, Introductory Scenario. In Twilight of the Sun King. The Pike and Shot Society Essex England.

Wye Forest Gamers (n.d.) The Battle of Fraustadt, 13th Feb 1706. https://www.wfgamers.org.uk/great-northern-war/gnw-battle-of-fraustadt


14 comments:

  1. Excellent review and play through, James! Thes3 rules, indeed, look very interesting. Thanks for your comprehensive look into TotSK.

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    1. Thank you Jonathan, it ended up being a looooong post!

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  2. Very thorough AAR and very useful referencing.

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    1. Thanks, always happy if a post is interesting or useful to others.

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  3. A good looking (but teeny weeny!) table and a nice look at these rules for an era not gamed very often. Thanks, James!

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    1. Teeny weeny is right Peter! I couldn't believe how small it looked when I laid out the terrain and it took a while getting used to playing on a 'postage stamp', but was all forgotten once getting into it (in fact great fun to be able to take in the entire 'table' at a single view.
      The scalable nature is a real attraction to these rules. I may use larger units and so have double or 1.5 times the base width. We'll see how the regimental version plays first.
      It's such a fascinating period. The personage of Charles XII was what initially drew me in years ago (thanks to 'The Lion of the North' by E.M. Almedingen). There are so many interesting personalities and *amazing* events. Those 'dastardly Danes' make a come back from the dead too! :)
      Getting hold of Höglund, Sallnäs and Bespalow's uniform books and more recently the Great Northern War Compendium has been a real boon, providing information 'to hand' (not to mention the marvellous Tacitus.nu website).

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  4. Looks extremely interesting. Great that you are painting up the armies. It's my favourite period, I shall really look forward to trying out these rules and also Polemnos and GåPå, and comparing GNW battles with those of the War of Spanish Succession. My dream has for a long time been to stage an alternative history where the two wars unite, the Franco-Russian alliance before its time. Not just my dream either, I see https://historum.com/threads/karl-xii-and-the-duke-of-marlborough-john-churchill-vs-peter-the-great.126281/

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    1. With so much interesting history and so many challenging battles I don't feel the need to make stuff up. I know that you like your alternative or imagi-history though.

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  5. Now look what you've been and gone and done - you've only made me order up the rule book and the WSS Scenario book! Interesting and enjoyable post - nicely done - thanks!

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  6. Very comprehensive overview of this rule set James...it's always interesting to find rules with a new twist to them, I will be interested to see how you feel after a few more games.

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    1. Thank you Keith. You are dead right, these have made it through the first three stages of testing rules (first reading, second reading and first play-test) and achieved a smiley face at each of them. They now have the more difficult stages to negotiate (second play-test and subsequent use)!

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  7. Thank you James for this game,
    It's nice to see such a tiny game with your scale and BO adaptation on such an intersting area (Great Northern War). It can convict people to try new areas and gave them a "chance" as we say in France. As you said, the rules need to be played 3 or 4 times because the "all in one test" (fire, contact...) and the game sequence are new and if you do it wrong it's a bit confusing. I like the links, figures and references you add (and your nice words about the Marius blog).

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    1. Thanks for your kind words and encouragement. If I can do reviews and playtests that are half as good as yours I'll be happy!

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