I'm working on this year's Table Battles expansion, The Grand Alliance, which covers battles drawn from the Nine Years War and the War of the Spanish Succession. Among them is the Battle of Fleurus. This is the 1690 Battle of Fleurus, naturally, not the 1622 or 1794 or 1815 - though that does remind me that tucked back in the old noggin is the idea to do a Table Battles expansion called "Battles of X", where every scenario is a different battle from a different time period, but all of them have the same name. Anyway.
The cool thing about the 1690 Battle of Fleurus is that it's a rare example of a largely successful double envelopment. With a great deal of preparation and secrecy, Luxembourg split his army into two - one half appeared on Waldeck's left flank, and one half on the right. Very quickly they put the left to rout, but the Spanish cavalry protecting the right proved to be more stubborn. Still, the infantry in the center found itself in a desperate spot, fighting off attacks from two directions, and Waldeck only narrowly avoided complete destruction by withdrawing his army to Nivelles, a retreat which was covered by the arrival of fresh troops.
Of course, just because it happened that way doesn't mean it had to. Double envelopments are rare, and attempting them at all is risky. If the timing is off, the enemy can throw all of its strength first in one direction and then the other, overwhelming the smaller forces at their flanks and defeating them in detail. If the seventy-year-old Waldeck had been more on the ball, or if the Dutch horse protecting his left flank had been as tenacious as the Spanish horse on his right, Fleurus might be remembered as Luxembourg's folly rather than as one of his crowning achievements.
And so, this is a scenario for which I envisioned three outcomes. One, Luxembourg could complete the destruction of the enemy. Two, Waldeck could retreat with sufficient strength, and having inflicted sufficient casualties on the French, for the thing to be arguably called a draw. (The historical result exists somewhere in-between these two.) Three, Waldeck could pull off an upset by knocking out one of the flanks. Figuring out how to allow for all three of these results would dictate the general arc of the scenario.
The first and third cases - French or Alliance victory - were handled via the morale cube split. French get one cube, the Grand Alliance gets three. By knocking out the cavalry and infantry on Waldeck's left, the French would have claimed two of those three cubes - so managing to knock out one more formation would ensure the complete destruction of Waldeck's army. Beginning with a single cube themselves makes them vulnerable - a reflection of the risks inherent in attempting an envelopment - and I knew I would be doubling down on this by making the French formations count double for morale loss.
The second case was a little trickier. In the previous expansion (English Civil War) I introduced something called a Tactical Victory, in which eliminated enemy unit sticks go into a pile, and when that pile gets big enough, you eke out a sort of marginal, arguable victory. I reasoned that if at a certain point Waldeck starts the retreat to Nivelles, friendly sticks could be added to that same pile at the rate of one per turn. If the total number of sticks in that pile hit a certain threshold, it would be a draw in game terms - the French have won the battle, but the Grand Alliance could lick its wounds and fight another day.
While the enemy sticks would be added to the pile all along, they would only "count" if Waldeck withdraws, and once that retreat begins, the Grand Alliance player cannot win the game - the best they can hope for is a draw. Additionally, the switch to retreat mode greatly curtails your army's ability to harm the French, and makes them especially vulnerable to French attacks. This means that it becomes the sort of one-off strategic timing decision I often use in my work (cf. The Grunwald Swords, or the Pharsalus scenario in Table Battles). Do it too early? You won't have claimed enough enemy sticks, and the French will win the game long before you've retreated enough of your own sticks to secure a draw. Wait too long? You might not have enough sticks left to make a draw possible - the French might even be able to knock out your last morale cube.
Once I had figured out the essential tension that would give the thing its shape and flavor, it was time to actually drill down into the particulars. The first challenge was finding a way to communicate the feeling of a double envelopment in a game that has no map and allows only a single attack per turn. There are a couple of tricks I tend to use to simulate an outmaneuvered force in Table Battles.
First is to allow an outflanking force to attack with impunity - either their attacks cannot be reacted to, or they cannot be attacked themselves. Generally, I don't do both of these, because that makes the scenario less interactive. Since Luxembourg rolled up the Dutch horse almost immediately, I decided that his formation's attacks could not be screened. The Dutch horse would be able to attack Luxembourg, but could only do one hit per action - it's at most a token resistance.
This wouldn't be appropriate over on the other flank, where the Spanish horse proved more than a match for French cavalry under Gournay. In fact, Gournay himself was killed and his cavalry was on the ropes, allowing for the capture of some French artillery pieces. Around this time, however, Luxembourg had put the enemy's left flank to rout (horse and foot alike), and so was free to divert some of his own horse to that part of the battle. Hold onto this bit, because we'll come back to it.
So I couldn't really use that trick on that side, which doesn't help sell the "double" part of "double envelopment". But like I said, there's another trick I use to simulate a force that's been outmaneuvered, and that's to make all the units part of a single wing. The French left is blue, the French right is dark blue, but the Grand Alliance's fighting forces are red. That means that while the French player will be placing dice on two formations each turn - one for each wing - the Grand Alliance player will only be able to place dice on one.
Well, sort of. Because the problem with a scenario where one side is limited to a single wing and the other side has two is that the first side doesn't really have many choices to make. There are few things as deliciously agonizing in a game of Table Battles than to roll two sixes and have to decide if you want to split it between a formation on each wing, or put them all in one basket, and if so, which one? When I have had a "single wing" scenario in the past - and that's rare - usually there's a card that also allows them to place dice on two cards per turn, at least while that card (usually a leader) remains in play. That wouldn't really communicate outflanking.
If I was going to use this technique, I knew that I would need at least one pink card. Further, I knew that that pink card would need to accept doubles, to make it more likely that the Grand Alliance player could place dice there each turn. I would need a reason for them to place doubles there, and also a reason for them to not place doubles there - there needed to be a trade-off. And of course in the back of my mind, I also knew that I needed some way for the Grand Alliance player to shift gears from trying to win the game to trying to escape with a draw.
All this came together in Waldeck's card.
Let's talk about the Command action first. When Waldeck has two pairs on his card - placed, naturally, on two separate turns - he "activates" another card, "Retreat to Nivelles". This card is in the vein of the Fog card in the Inkerman scenario: it starts with three cubes on it, and every time you activate it, a cube gets removed. Removal of the third cube will shift the Grand Alliance into retreat mode. Of course, this is a significant investment of dice - you only have six in your pool, remember - and every time you use this Command action, you are sacrificing momentum and tempo (since there will be no enemy reaction triggered).
What gives the card its spice however is its voluntary Absorb reaction. Because Waldeck suffers one less hit per die, and because dice are added to his card in increments of two, usually this reaction won't result in any losses for the Grand Alliance. To actually inflict a single hit on the Waldeck formation, the French will need to attack with at least three dice (if Waldeck has two) or five (!) (if Waldeck has four). Granted, with only two sticks and a double morale star, Waldeck can't be used recklessly.
Whether or not it's worth it to take a hit to the Waldeck formation will also depend on what's going on with the other formations. This expansion, and this scenario, introduces a new concept to Table Battles, called a link. An icon indicates a "link" between two or more formations, and signifies that if a target has a linked formation in play, it suffers one less hit when attacked.
So long as the Dutch Left is in play, the Dutch Right suffers one less hit, and vice-versa. Once one of these is knocked out, however - for example, swept from the field by Luxembourg's cavalry, exposing the other unit's flank - they take hits normally. This gives the French player added incentive to really hammer at the enemy's vulnerable left flank.
It also informs a timing decision on the French side of things. Remember when I told you to hold onto that bit about Luxembourg reinforcing Gournay? If the French player chooses to "retire" Luxembourg's horse, a couple of neat things happen. One is that an additional infantry formation comes out of reserve to attack the Dutch. The other is that all of the sticks Luxembourg has remaining are added to the Gournay cavalry formation. The longer Luxembourg's horse stays in play, the more damage it can do to the Dutch Left Foot, but the dicier Gournay's position becomes. Do it too early of course and the Dutch infantry will prove very stubborn, and their linked status will stay in play longer. This also gives the Dutch Horse incentive to get in a couple of cheap hits before they're unceremoniously driven from the field - they're not going to come even close to routing Luxembourg's horse, but it'll leave them with fewer sticks to reinforce Gournay with.
Designing a scenario for Table Battles is often like designing a full game, but in miniature: it's a little ecosystem of interactions and tensions, where every little thing touches or reinforces every other little thing. That might be a reason why, nearly forty scenarios in, I'm still having the time of my life - there's so much more to it than coming up with an orbat and a terrain key, yet I can still design a scenario in the space of an afternoon or weekend after completing my research.
Speaking of: I benefited greatly from the assistance of Doug Miller, the developer of our Horse & Musket series. Doug kindly let me pick his brain, and borrow from his library of academic and specialist military history books. I didn't need an especially detailed order of battle - this is Table Battles, after all - but I definitely needed more detail than my friend Doctor Google was willing to provide. My thanks to Doug for his generosity, patience, and expertise.