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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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).
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.
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).
... breaking the raw unit, while the Livdragonregementet continued on their winning way.
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.
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.
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.
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).
All figures in the game were 1/72 scale.
Infantry: Mars 'Swedish Infantry'
Cavalry: Zvezda 'Swedish Dragoons of Charles XII' and Strelets 'Reitars of Charles XII'
Infantry: Mars 'Saxon Infantry'
Cavalry: Strelets 'Russian Dragoons of Peter I' Artillery: Zvezda 'Swedish Artillery of Charles XII'
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).
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