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NOTES ON TABLE BATTLES no. 1-8 by Tom Russell

Mary Russell

Table Battles doesn't focus on the tactics and technology specific to a given era or conflict in the way that, for example, Shields & Swords is built for European warfare of the middle ages. Instead, the system focuses on broader concepts that are applicable to a wide variety of conflicts throughout human history. The base game was meant to demonstrate this versatility by collecting unrelated battles from across four centuries; the plan is for expansions to have a narrower focus, centered on a particular conflict or theme.

1. White Mountain (1620, Bohemian Revolt/Thirty Years War)

You probably know by now that Table Battles got its start with last year's freebie holiday game, Christmas at White Mountain. So it made sense to use that battle here in a way that would make it accessible to more gamers. It was almost a straight port, trading the formation boxes for formation cards. The only substantial difference, and it was slight, was the adoption of the morale cube mechanism I created for the other battles.

2. Marston Moor (1644, English Civil War)

"The Battle of Marston Moor", John Barker

I'm fascinated by the English Civil War, and so I knew I'd be using one of its battles. After flipping through some of the famous battles, I decided to go with Marston Moor, mostly because there were lots of horsies. Cromwell's superiority as a cavalry commander is represented in two ways. First, he's able to put literally any type of dice on his card. Secondly, unlike the other cavalry units present, he's not subject to the pursuit rules. This makes him a very powerful tool, and very tricky for the Royalists to take out of commission. The cavalry and artillery on both sides makes screening attacks relatively easy, and the infantry on both sides place dice one at a time, which makes it difficult to attack decisively without giving the enemy a chance to set up a defense.

3. Plains of Abraham (1759, Seven Years War)

This one was done as something of a dare; I asked some folks online to name me a boring, static battle that one couldn't possibly make an exciting game out of, and of those, this one suggested by Robert Peter Bottos (of Bottos Con fame) tickled my fancy. I banged it out over the course of a weekend. In many ways it is the exact opposite of Marston Moor, in that it's a very small battle fought on wide-open terrain. At first glance, it also appears somewhat symmetrical. Each side has a leader (Montcalm or Wolfe) who allows their army (comprised of a single color) to place dice on two cards instead of only one. Each side can only screen one attack, total, during the entirety of the scenario, and once they do, their leader is removed and the bonus is lost. Both sides are able to Counterattack. There the similarities end, however. The British Player will have a much easier time finding dice he can use than his French opponent. However, the onus is also on the Brits to replicate something like the historical result: to win, he must wipe out all three French Formations without losing a single Formation of his own.

4. Bosworth (1485, War of the Roses)

"Battle of Bosworth Field", Philip James de Loutherbourg. This engraving based on the 1804 portrait was published in Lieut Col Williams' "England's Battles by Sea and Land" (1857).

Like number three, this is a small, weird battle, with some notable symmetries (and asymmetries) on both sides. Each side has only three Formations, only two of which are available at the start of the game. The third Formation for each side can only come in when its commander is able to get five dice on his card - all fives for Richard III, and a full house for the future Henry VII. Richard's extra formation will help him screen attacks and bring additional attack power to bear, but will Rout automatically as soon as Henry VII gets the help of the Stanleys. The Stanleys are able to Absorb hits, which is crucial in preventing the two attack formations from being Routed. Five dice is a major commitment for either side. Richard III can pull off the win without bringing on his third card (though if you get some good rolls, go for it!), while Henry more-or-less absolutely needs the Stanleys to see the thing through the end.

5. Malplaquet (1709, War of the Spanish Succession)

One of my favorite battles in Sean Chick's Horse & Musket, and also one of my favorite battles in Table Battles. It's a fairly large battle with a nice mix of reactions (screens, counterattacks, and absorptions) and a Grand Alliance cavalry unit that threatens the French loss-absorbing reserves. While Villars is in play, he gives the blue Wing the ability to place dice on a second card - which means he's potentially placing dice on three cards per turn.

6. Ivry (1590, French Wars of Religion)

"Henry IV at the Battle of Ivry", Peter Paul Rubens

Most of the action in this one is in the center; once either side has dealt with their opposite number on the left or the right, they don't have much to do. The trick of course is to take out your opposite number, and not to let them prosper. The Catholic League employs some Mercenaries, who are very difficult to motivate: they need to roll a triple, three identical dice, and for that, all they do is one hit. So why are they worth the trouble? For one thing, they can force Henri IV to waste his dice by screening the attack. If they Rout, they cause a double loss to morale, and once that happens, the way is clear for the Royalists to attack Mayenne, who is also worth double for morale. Of course, if you force the Royalists to simultaneously lose their Formations when the Mercenaries Rout through well-timed Counterattacks, it's going to mitigate the morale liability.

7. The Dunes (1658, Franco-Spanish War of 1635-59)

The biggest battle in the game, with a tough mix of Screens, Counterattacks, Absorption, and Formations held in Reserve. English naval support prevents the Spanish from using a Counterattack on their right flank. This naval support can be mitigated if it's forced to screen, but a second Special Formation (Cannon) can also be used to screen, keeping the naval support in place. Both sides have some elite units with Counterattack Reactions that additionally reduce the number of casualties suffered, which keeps them in action longer. Some playtest games went a little bit longer on this one, as both players have to manage vulnerabilities across several disparate formations.

8. Brooklyn Heights (1776, American War of Independence)

"The Delaware Regiment at the Battle of Long Island", Domenick D'Andrea. The Battle of Long Island is also known as the Battle of Brooklyn and the Battle of Brooklyn Heights.

We finish off the base set with a small but tough scenario from the American Revolution. Each side only has a single morale cube; once a Formation is Routed, that's the whole ball game. The ability of each side to React to the other is also fairly limited this time around. Taken together, all this means that once one side or the other manages to "break" the pattern of action-reaction deadlock, the game is going to turn very swiftly into his favor. This makes it a quickie, but not necessarily a good introductory scenario.

Speaking of introductions - you could do a lot worse than playing the scenarios in order, as they generally get bigger, trickier, more complex, and more delicate as you move on down the line.

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