The challenge in creating Volume II of Horse & Musket lay with picking a time frame. The War of the Spanish Succession set the overall parameters of musket combat, which did not greatly change until the American and particularly the French Revolution. Yet, there is a difference between the wars that were fought from 1721 to 1748 on the one hand, and the apocalyptic Seven Years’ War on the other. The difference was less in tactics and more in the armies.

The main armies of Europe in the period were France, Britain, Prussia, and Austria. Each had very different experiences in the War of the Austrian Succession as compared to the Seven Years’ War. The Austrian and British armies suffered from a lack of funding and tactical innovation during the period. As such both armies did very poorly in this period and instituted reforms after 1748, with the Austrians undergoing a truly radical make-over. The French army entered the period with sterile tactical ideas, and after the war tried some reforms. The main issue was the French army’s decline in leadership and artillery after 1749. As for Prussia, the army that Frederick II led in the 1740s was peerless. The army he led in the Seven Years’ War was less so, in part because he began to rely on the bayonet and the relentless fighting led to a decline in efficiency throughout the Seven Years‘ War. 

Given the above it seemed best to not simulate the Seven Years’ War in Volume II. There would simply be too many rules exceptions to show how the armies had changed in quality. It was easier to separate the conflicts. There were other changes in technology too. Artillery became much more lethal after 1749. In addition, musket exchanges became longer and more erratic, unlike the disciplined exchanges of the earlier period. 

Keeping the period from 1721-49 allowed me to examine some lesser known battles and commanders, at least from the classic western military history perspective. My greatest pleasure in designing the game came from depicting the battles of late Safavid Persia.

Nader Shah defeats Ashraf.

Nader Shah defeats Ashraf

The empire was on the decline and all but knocked out first by the invasion of the Afghans and then the usurper Nader Shah, one of the most brilliant and brutal commanders of the era. The battles I featured in this set (Gulnabad, Mehmandost, Samarra, Karnal) only scratched the surface. Nader fought in many more engagements. The battles also highlighted why Europe was ascendant and the Middle East was not. As of 2017, western exceptionalism is taking many (and dare I say mostly unfair) scholarly knocks. Geography and even "stealing" from other nations are seen as the true cause of the west's dramatic rise. Yet, it should be noted nothing in Europe matched the brutality of Middle East politics at this time. Not only Nader, but also Mahmūd Hotak, Ashraf Hotak, Tahmasp II, Abbas III, and Husayn were all rulers who died not in bed but from assassins. The price of defeat was often death. One of the greatest blows Persia suffered was the unending paranoia of its rulers, which created madness and led to reprisals, including Mahmūd Hotak murdering thousands of scholars. Such an action would have hardly occurred in the contemporary struggle between European monarchs.

Searching for Jacobites after Culloden.

 "After Culloden - Rebel Hunting", John Seymour Lucas, oil on canvas, 1884

None of which is to say Europe was not a brutal place. Rebellions were still put down with the sword and the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 shows Britain as its most cruel. Thousands of half-starved clansmen, guilty of no more than following their chiefs and communities, were executed, tortured, and enslaved. Yet, the most over the top examples of brutality could be found on the American frontier. Here the natives often did not recognize the rules that governed prisoners of war. The Europeans, seeing the natives as savages, were often merciless. The Chickasaw Wars were among the worst of the era, and were a heavy blow to French colonial expansion. Yet, at this stage the avarice of Europeans is often overstated by people who feel guilty about the past. Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, the often-time governor of Louisiana, was popular and deferential towards his Choctaw allies but his 1739 campaign against the Chickasaw was so severe the tribe never quite recovered. People, as ever, defy our easy categories of good and evil. 

Freddy Two-Sticks.

Besides the above, the game is mostly a simulation of the battles of the War of the Austrian Succession, a dramatic conflict of wild swings in fortune that's been overshadowed by the bigger and more decisive Seven Years’ War. The War of the Austrian Succession saw the rise of the Prussian king Frederick II, better known as “the Great.” I rarely use his most famous nickname in my writing. He was a fascinating man, but I feel his accomplishments do not measure up to Cyrus in state building, nor Alexander in military scope. Like Alexander, he inherited a first-class army. Indeed, he made few changes in his lifetime and by the end of his reign the army was in decline. He was a bold tactician, but not without error, sometimes too given to frontal attacks as at Soor. On more than one occasion he lost his head in battle, most famously at Mollwitz. He consistently underestimated the Austrians in his later campaigns. His bold but shameless land grab in the War of the Austrian Succession worked. In the Seven Years’ War his bold gambit backfired and he was saved by luck as much as skill. Still, he was among the top generals of the era and deserves his high ranking. My only contention is that it is important to keep in mind his shortcomings. 

Maurice de Saxe.

I continue to be impressed with Maurice de Saxe, the top French commander of the era. It is true he never won a battle on par with Hohenfriedberg, but he ably led a much inferior army and was undermined by many in the court of Louis XV. He was himself smart and generous. His lechery has made him a subject of humor, envy, and scorn, particularly from the acidic pen of Thomas Carlyle. Yet, he was an innovator in warfare, in ways more profound than Frederick II. His ideas on war included promotion based upon merit, the return to the bayonet (but in a way far shrewder than Frederick), and the rapid capture of fortresses. The result is that his Flanders campaigns of 1745-47 overran a region that was a tougher nut to crack for earlier generals. His campaigns, more than most, presaged the faster pace of musket combat under Napoleon. 

Volume II may seem obscure in content, but it represents the height of a kind of rational European warfare on the precipice of more mass conflicts. Players have the chance to fight battles commanded by some of the era's greatest captains: Nader, Frederick II, and Maurice. The battles are no less dramatic than others, from the Irish brigade charging at Fontenoy to the final doomed Highland charge at Culloden. 

Carlyle may have been wrong about Maurice, but his writings on him have a wit that I find enjoyable, although not convincing. I leave you with part of Carlyle’s take-down of Maurice and his cutting thoughts on the army of Louis XV. 

“Of Saxe's Generalship, which is now a thing fallen pretty much into oblivion, I have no authority to speak. He had much wild natural ingenuity in him; cunning rapid whirls of contrivance; and gained Three Battles and very many Sieges, amid the loudest clapping of hands that could well be. He had perfect intrepidity; not to be flurried by any amount of peril or confusion; looked on that English Column, advancing at Fontenoy with its FUE INFERNAL, steadily through his perspective; chewing his leaden bullet: 'Going to beat me, then? Well--!' Nobody needed to be braver. He had great good-nature too, though of hot temper and so full of multifarious veracities; a substratum of inarticulate good sense withal, and much magnanimity run wild, or run to seed. A big-limbed, swashing, perpendicular kind of fellow; haughty of face, but jolly too; with a big, not ugly strut;--captivating to the French Nation, and fit God of War (fitter than 'Dalhousie,' I am sure!) for that susceptive People. Understood their Army also, what it was then and there; and how, by theatricals and otherwise, to get a great deal of fire out of it. Great deal of fire;--whether by gradual conflagration or not, on the road to ruin or not; how, he did not care. In respect of military 'fame' so called, he had the great advantage of fighting always against bad Generals, sometimes against the very worst. To his fame an advantage; to himself and his real worth, far the reverse. Had he fallen in with a Friedrich, even with a Browne or a Traun, there might have been different news got. Friedrich (who was never stingy in such matters, except to his own Generals, where it might do hurt) is profuse in his eulogies, in his admirations of Saxe; amiable to see, and not insincere; but which, perhaps, practically do not mean very much. 

It is certain the French Army reaped no profit from its experience of Marechal de Saxe, and the high theatricalities, ornamental blackguardisms, and ridicule of death and life. In the long-run a graver face would have been of better augury. King Friedrich's soldiers, one observes, on the eve of battle, settle their bits of worldly business; and wind up, many of them, with a hoarse whisper of prayer. Oliver Cromwell's soldiers did so, Gustaf Adolf's; in fact, I think all good soldiers: Roucoux with a Prince Karl, Lauffeld with a Duke of Cumberland; you gain your Roucoux, your Lauffeld, Human Stupidity permitting: but one day you fall in with Human Intelligence, in an extremely grave form;--and your 'ELAN,' elastic outburst, the quickest in Nature, what becomes of it? Wait but another decade; we shall see what an Army this has grown. Cupidity, dishonesty, floundering stupidity, indiscipline, mistrust; and an elastic outspurt (ELAN) turned often enough into the form of SAUVE-QUI-PEUT!” - Thomas Carlyle as Smelfungus


French plan of the 1734 Siege of Philippsburg.

Voltaire (François Marie Arouet), 1734, translated by William F. Fleming

WITHOUT a bed we now sleep sound
And take our meals upon the ground;
And though the blazing atmosphere
Must dreadful to the eye appear,
The air though roaring cannons rend
While warriors with fierce rage contend,
The thoughtless French drink, laugh, and sing,
And with their mirth the heavens ring;
The walls of Philippsburg shall burn,
And all her towers to ashes turn
By fifty thousand Alexanders,
Who all deserve to be commanders,
Though they receive the paltry pay
Of only four poor sous a day.
Lavish of life, with high delight
I see them rushing to the fight;
They all appear both gay and jolly,
Quite covered o'er with fame and folly.
The Phantom, which we Glory name,
Spurs them to the pursuit of fame;
With threat'ning eye, and front all o'er
Bedusted, marching still before,
She holds a trumpet in her hand
To sound to arms, and cheer the band,
And loudly sings, with voice sonorous,
Catches, which they repeat in chorus.
Oh! people brilliant, gay, and vain,
Who drag with patience glory's chain,
'Tis great, an honorable grave
To seek, Eugene and death to brave.
But what will be your mighty prize?
What from your prowess will arise?
Regret your blood, in vain you spilt it;
At Paris cuckolded, or jilted.

1 comment

  • I’m looking forward to Volume I, which I recently ordered from Hollandspiele, but this article has whet my appetite for Volume II. I’ve been exploring some of the wars of this period through strategic games, so it will be interesting to look at them at the tactical level too.

    Scott Moore

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