Sport of Kings: Germany 1740-45

Volume III in the Lace Wars series

Sport of Kings (SOK) is the third of a set of four games covering the War of the Austrian Succession. From 1741 to 1748 this relatively unknown conflict raged on the continent of Europe. The primary land actions took place in three theatres: the Low Countries, Germany, and Italy. Each game covers one of these theatres. SOK covers the German theatres of Silesia, Moravia, Bohemia, Bavaria, and the Rhineland, beginning with the outbreak of war in 1740 and running until 1745, when Prussia withdrew from the conflict and the emphasis shifted to other theatres.

The rising state of Prussia, under her soon to be famous king, Frederick the Great, sought to obtain a place in the sun at the expense of her southern rival, the Habsburg Empire. In uneasy league with Prussia was France, with no territorial ambitions, but with the complementary desires of keeping the Habsburgs humble and establishing a strong political buffer zone in central Germany.

Roped into this three-way split were most of the powers of Europe, big and small. France fought as the auxiliary of the Bavarian Elector, Charles Albert, bidding to replace the Imperial Habsburg dynasty with his own Wittelsbach. Britain backed the Austrian Habsburgs, following her traditional balance-of-power mantra - but her king, George of Hanover, favoured the Bavarians. Saxony, caught in the middle, ran from side to side, always managing to back the wrong horse. Hanover and the United Provinces after much arm-twisting, supported Britain. Lesser participants included the states of Pfalz (a Wittlesbach realm), Denmark, Hesse, and many of the 300+ states of the Holy Roman Empire. Spain and Russia, although not present, influenced decision-making with their actions elsewhere.

After five years of war, much of central Europe was laid waste. An Austria that had been in rapid decline, emerged stronger than ever under her dynamic Queen, Maria Theresa - despite repeated hammer-blows from Prussia and the Franco-Bavarians. Prussia did well, acquiring the lucrative province of Silesia, but she was forced to take a break and would not reappear on the scene until the Seven Years War. France and her Bavarian ally were utterly routed, putting paid to the dreams of a Wittelsbach Empire and French domination of Germany. But while Bavaria was put under the Habsburg yoke, France was ramping up for a new struggle against a new imperial power - Britain.

The effect of this war would be, as Voltaire quipped, the transfer of a single province - Silesia. But it also cost Europe some 500,000 dead; and it solved nothing, merely fuelling resentments that would burst forth in the titanic Seven Years War. Nevertheless, there is great scope for you as the King's Captain General. Germany has always been a place for military reputations to be made or broken. As Prussia's outstanding commander, you must engage in lightening campaigns against a colossal foe, using the threat of a two-front war to force Austria to negotiate instead of counterattacking. As France's greatest living marshal, you must help the Bavarian Elector to the throne of the Empire, then keep him there. The Prussians may help, but then again, they may not - Frederick is ever an untrustworthy ally. As Maria Theresa's bulwark, you must defend the vast Habsburg realms from attack on two sides - while your resources are siphoned off to deal with threats in Flanders, Italy, and on the Turkish frontier. Britain will help, but don't trust their politicians and generals, just take the gold they offer so freely.

The Game

SOK is a two or three-player operational study. One player is the French, one is the Allies, and a third may play the Prussians (under French control in a two-player game). The Allied army includes contingents from Britain, Hanover, Holland, Austria, Hesse, and Denmark. Saxony is a potential ally, but could join the Franco-Prussians instead. Under French command are Bavarian and Pfalz troops. The forces of the Empire are available to the side that can demonstrate the greater strength.

The game system is essentially the same as COE. A number of important changes have been made to deal with the fact that there are three sides. Map scale is still 8.5 miles per hex. The counters are brigades. Units are rated for Strength (in battalions), Effectiveness (a combination of morale and training), and Movement. Turns are equivalent to months. Each turn is broken down into several phases - supply, operations, admin, etc. There are scenarios for the 1st and 2nd Silesian Wars, the Austro-Bavarian War, and the Dettingen campaign, plus a huge Campaign Game covering the entire period.

A few key concepts include Operations Points, Campaign Plans, Prestige, and Auxiliaries. Operations Points are accumulated during periods of inactivity, in order to be spent during the course of active campaigning. If a player is unable or unwilling to spend OPs, his forces suffer attrition instead. The further forces are from their base of operations, the more severe the penalties will be. Whoever has the most OPs also has the initiative.

The heart of the game is the Operations Phase, where the players alternate moving their formations, laying siege to fortresses and engaging in battle with the enemy field forces. 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 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.]

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).

In addition to the concepts above, the supply system has been streamlined while keeping to the basic elements of foraging in tandem with the use of pre-positioned depots. River and canal movement has been taken into account and will prove as critical to success as the use of rail lines in more modern games.

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.

Components

1) Ten 12x18 inch full colour maps representing all of Central Europe, from Metz to Cracow and from Berlin to Vienna. They were derived from a mix of modern cartography and period maps dating from 1715 to 1750. While the maps are hex-based, players will find themselves keeping to the historical invasion routes most of the time - but they have the option to try alternates.
[NB sample map image is low-res].

2) About 1600 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].

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

4) A series rulebook - 2nd Edition - called the King's Regulations and Orders (KR&Os), a game-exclusive rulebook, scenario & OOB information, and an historical commentary.