Scenarios are good and well, but one has to decide what rules to include and what kind of units to simulate. I wanted to avoid a boilerplate feeling where each nation plays the same relatively. After all, this period saw French tactical dominance whittled away by Dutch and British tactical innovations in both volley fire and thinner formations. Sweden, after a brief period of stunning military success, saw a stunning decline in power and military expertise, eclipsed by the rising states of Russia and Prussia. Bayonet charges were rare but coming into prominence. Artillery was mostly heavy and hard to move but still important to battlefield success. Skirmishers and light cavalry were mostly rarities.
For combat I decided on a few things. Gilbert Collins insisted that a ten sided die for combat would allow for greater variation in results and I agreed, which was important considering the wide array of units: Line Infantry, Elite Infantry, Highlanders, Militia, Irregulars, Light Infantry, Natives, Dragoons, Cavalry, Hussars, Artillery, Siege Artillery, and Leaders. There are differences in each in terms of combat, movement, and stacking. A good player knows what unit to use when and where. I wanted players to consider their units and what they could achieve to create realistic possibilities in the game.
For unit control command action points were chosen. They are my preferred way of simulating the limits of command without the straightjacket of Richard Borg’s Command and Colors series. While I enjoy Memoir ’44, I find the rest of his designs lacking and overly gamey. His Ancient game in particular did not simulate ancient combat well at all, and scale was often way off. To correct scale issues, I created a combat chart for small battles, medium battles, and the monsters of the era. This choice has been the most satisfying of all.
A rule sure to cause controversy is No Take Backs. My brother Daniel, who playtests nearly everything I design, does not like this rule, and I admit it can take away a bit of the fun. The point was to simulate missteps by commanders in moving units forward. I am certain Robert E. Lee would have wanted plenty of take backs at Gettysburg.
The idea of the Army Commander was to showcase the importance of such leaders beyond simply having higher ratings. Commanders who are better can save action points for future use. A late addition, but one of my favorites, was Seize the Initiative, which showcases a better commander taking advantage of a situation.
"Sack of a Town", Sebastiaen Vrancx, oil on panel, 1600s. Currently in the Gothenburg Museum of Art in Sweden. Note the use of muskets and pikes in close quarters battle.
In some ways this era brings about its own challenges, since you have to consider the rarity of bayonet charges, immobile artillery, matchlock muskets, and pikes being present in every army until 1700, and even then still in use in Sweden, Spain, and Portugal. There are rules for each, and as the scenarios go from Vienna towards Glen Shiel players can see how flintlocks and bayonets changed tactics.
The optional rules came as the base design grew too bloated. I kept the base game mechanics as a kind of enhanced Hold the Line. However, for the true aficionado, I included another set of rules that increase realism. It is my preferred way to play the game but I freely admit for some, including my game group, it is a bit too much. So rather than ditch those rules we presented them as options for the hardliners, grognards, and nut jobs like myself.
Of those rules I highly recommend the formation rules. They add a whole other dynamic to the game and increase player choices, tactical variety, and realism. I also recommend highly the new rules for combat at Range 1. It highlights the tactical quandary of whether to fire first or second, a point sometimes mocked in a colorful recounting of Fontenoy. The decision though is tense. I made the rule optional mostly to avoid weighing down the base game and because the rule seems counter-intuitive to those uninitiated in the era. But believe me it is a great rule. That being said not every optional rule is recommended, but are included because I have used them or seen others use them in Hold the Line. It is up to the players to decide which ones are worth it. You could use them all (although a few directly contradict each other on purpose), but be prepared for a longer game experience.
Is gone to war in Flanders,
His fame is like Alexander's,
But when will he ever come home?
Mironton, mironton, mirontaine.
Perhaps at Trinity Feast, or
Perhaps he may come at Easter,
Egad! he had better make haste or
We fear he may never come home.
For Trinity Feast is over,
And has brought no news from Dover,
And Easter is pass'd moreover,
And Malbrook still delays.
Milady in her watch-tower
Spends many a pensive hour,
Not knowing why or how her
Dear lord from England stays.
While sitting quite forlorn in
That tower, she spies returning
A page clad in deep mourning,
With fainting steps and slow.
"O page, prithee come faster!
What news do you bring of your master?
I fear there is some disaster,
Your looks are so full of woe."
"The news I bring fair lady,"
With sorrowful accent said he,
"Is one you are not ready
So soon, alas! to hear.
"But since to speak I'm hurried,"
Added this page, quite flurried,
"Malbrook is dead and buried!"
And here he shed a tear.
"He's dead! He's dead as a herring!
For I beheld his berring,
And four officers transferring
His corpse away from the field.
"One officer carried his sabre,
And he carried it not without labour,
Much envying his next neighbour,
Who only bore a shield.
"The third was helmet bearer -
That helmet which in its wearer
Fill'd all who saw it with terror,
And cover'd a hero's brains.
"Now, having got so far, I
Find that – by the Lord Harry!-
The fourth is left nothing to carry.-
So there the thing remains."
Mironton, mironton, mirontaine.