Queens' Gambit: Italy 1742-48

Volume IV in the Lace Wars series

Queens' Gambit (QG) is the fourth volume of Red Sash Games Lace Wars series. Like its predecessors, Sport of Kings, Cockpit of Europe and Charlie's Year, it examines the War of the Austrian Succession at an ''operational'' level. Italy is the stage this time. Physically isolated from the titanic struggles in Germany and the Low Countries, Italy was anything but a backwater: successes and failures here had an important impact on the war as a whole. The war for Italy opened at the beginning of 1742. The Spanish Crown, after lengthy preparations, successfully invaded Italy by sea, bent on acquiring a duchy for the Queen's son, Don Felipe, and on reclaiming Spanish dominance in the region. Distracted by events elsewhere, the Habsburgs and their British allies were unable to prevent this move, but soon rebounded, drawing as a reluctant partner the pre-eminent local power, Piedmont-Sardinia, and its Frederician-like ruler, Charles Emmanuel of the House of Savoy.

What followed was six years of seesawing fortune for both sides. Queen Elisabeth of Spain was fixated on her son's duchy, Queen Maria Theresa of the House of Habsburg on conquering the Kingdom of Naples. Woe to any general who stressed military realities over their Most Royal Majesties' whims. At the same time, France and Piedmont-Sardinia, whom some believed should be natural allies, were forced by circumstances into opposite camps.

In the end, Elisabeth Farnese would get her way, but at the peace table, and thanks to French prowess in Flanders, not to Spanish arms. France would gain nothing but debt and Spanish mistrust. The British would feel they had preserved the balance of power (Huzzah!). The Habsburgs would lose some territory yet retain their dominant position in Northern Italy for another generation. And Piedmont, mirroring Frederick's Prussia, would gain a solid base from which her kings would later emerge to rule all Italy.

Once again, you are the King's (um... Queen's) Captain-General. The forces available to you are relatively small, and it will not be easy to achieve your objectives. The united powers of Bourbon France and Bourbon Spain face off against the reluctantly allied forces of Austria and Piedmont-Sardinia. Austria owns most of the north - which used to be Spanish land - but has a pitifully small army to defend it. Piedmont owns the west, has a decent army, and a strong position. However, she cannot let either the Bourbons or the Habsburgs drive their opponent from the peninsula entirely. Only by playing one off against the other can she hope to survive.

Spain has a southern base in the Kingdom of Naples, but the Spanish Queen's other son, Don Carlos of Naples, is not keen on war. France has declared she has no territorial ambitions, yet she will ultimately field a third of her army in this theatre. Independent states, like Modena and Genoa, can field armies of their own, and will need to be conciliated. Without their aid, the only way to take on Piedmont is through the Alpes Maritimes. You have your choice of six passes, all heavily fortified, and in places so narrow that 50 men can hold off an entire army indefinitely. At the battle of Assietta in 1747, the French suffered 4,500 casualties, and the Allies 200... Coming from the south should be easier, but there are still the Apennines - the rich campaigning grounds of the Po basin are surrounded on three sides by mountains, and on the fourth by the sea. Rivers intersect the fertile valley at decidedly awkward places - and, like Flanders, northern Italy is studded with fortified cities.

To make matters worse, as the Bourbon commander, Madrid is sending you a stream of orders that take no account of the realities of the situation. And the Queen of Spain has no tolerance for sluggards, incompetents, or questions. It's no good turning to King Louis of France: embarrassed by his lack of support early in the war, he has ordered you to obey Madrid's instructions even if it means the destruction of their army and yours!

The Allies also have their problems. Maria Theresa, Queen of Hungary, is just as pig-headed as the Queen of Spain, and twice as parsimonious. Serving her, you will have no money, no men, a populace that hates you, and orders to march the length of the peninsula and occupy Naples. The fact that this will mean violating the Pope's territory does not seem to register with Vienna. Charles Emmanuel, ruler of Piedmont, has promised 10,000 men, but where are they? No time to wait for them now. If you don't get your army underway, your next posting will be on the Turkish frontier...

The Game

QG can accommodate up to four players, though it is easily played with two, and can even be played solitaire. The four sides are Bourbon France, Bourbon Spain, the Habsburg Empire, and Savoy (Piedmont-Sardinia). Also available are the forces of Genoa, Modena, Venice, Naples, and some pesky Royal Marines. Other territories, like the Papal States, wield influence rather than the sword.

The Bourbons begins on the offensive, but all sides have goals that can only be accomplished through aggression; Austria and Spain are hampered by mandated offensives that force them (briefly but repeatedly) to pursue objectives that are usually unattainable, as they simultaneously try to arrive at some solid gains. France and Savoy are what used to be termed Auxiliary Powers.

The players have a degree of flexibility in what they do with their forces, but they are constrained by the Campaign Plan or plans that they choose. These are fixed for the scenario or campaigning season and dictate what objectives (usually fortresses) must be taken. A successfully completed plan will garner Prestige for a player. At the end of the game, the player with the highest prestige wins. In addition, bonuses can be won for victory in battle, and these may be used to buy rewards that improve a player's chances, or be used as influence.

[In this era, decisive victory was beyond the grasp of most nations' war effort, despite their grandiose plans. It is thus more realistic to expect the players, as theatre commanders, to use the war to further their own ambitions. The campaign game ends when the German theatre becomes Inactive, but as this event is beyond the players' control, player victory is based on personal performance instead.]

Map scale is 8.5 miles per hex. Most units are brigades. Units are rated for Strength (in battalions), Effectiveness (a combination of morale and training), and Movement.

Turns are equivalent to three weeks - 16 turns per year. Each turn is broken down into several phases - supply, operations, admin, etc. There are scenarios for each year of active operations - nine in all - and a Campaign Game.

A few key concepts include Initiative and Operational Preparedness, Campaign Plans, Prestige, and Auxiliaries. This game introduces the Third Edition to the rules, which cleans up a number of issues brought out by playtesting, and incorporates certain game-specific rules that have become common to the series.

The heart of the game is the Operations Phase, where the players move their formations, lay siege to fortresses and engage in battle. The player with the initiative can dictate the pace of the game, but since initiative is based on operational preparedness, it can pass to another side, perhaps at an inconvenient time.

Auxiliary counters represent support troops and irregulars who had a major impact on operations, but cannot be adequately represented as traditional game units. Instead, a player might have a pontooneer auxiliary that he can play onto a stack to help it cross a major river, or a converged grenadier auxiliary that provides a morale bonus in combat.
[Playing cards could have been used instead of counters, but there are production issues involved, and besides, some of the auxiliaries' functions are hard to indicate with cards. In essence, however, auxiliaries are that kind of game asset, not "pawns" like the combat units.]

Leaders have an important role to play, as befitting an era where personal command was critical. They are rated for skill or effectiveness, personality, and influence (i.e. the chance they have of retaining command despite their incompetence).

The supply system incorporates lines of communication, the strategic placement of depots, foraging, and attrition. River and canal movement has been taken into account and will prove as critical to success as the use of rail lines in games that cover more modern periods.

The combat system has a tactical feel - while not a full sub-system with battlefield maps, it addresses the key issues of frontage, reserves, and supports, as well as firepower and morale. Winning a battle will bring you the acclaim of your noble peers, but may not gain you any strategic advantage; losing a battle can be catastrophic.


1) Six 12x18 inch full colour maps representing Italy and French Provence, from the Alps to the Bay of Naples, and from Toulon to Venice. They were derived from a mix of modern cartography and period maps dating from 1715 to 1750. As mentioned above, the terrain is thickly studded with fortresses, surrounded by mountains, and cut by a multitude of waterways.
[NB sample map image is low-res].

2) 1200 counters representing the forces of France, Prussia, Austria, Bavaria, Saxony, Britain, Hanover, Hesse, Holland, and the Holy Roman Empire. RSG is a DTP company, so by default, the counters come printed on label paper, which you must affix to cardboard and then cut out. However, we do carry a limited stock of die cut counters. (You can compare the prices on our Order page; games with die cut counters also come boxed, and we also sell the counters as separate sets).
[NB sample counter images are low-res].

Picture of Queens' Gambit Components

3) A set of charts and tables on 8.5x11 inch cardstock, plus several 11x17 inch display cards.

4) A series rulebook - 3rd Edition - called the King's Regulations and Orders (KR&Os), a game-exclusive rulebook, scenario & OOB information, and an historical commentary.

Read about the companion Sea Lords game: Mistral.