Army of Flanders (AOF) is the thirteenth volume in Red Sash Games’ Lace Wars series. This game is the third in a set of four dealing with the War of the Grand Alliance (1688-1697). This war, sometimes called the War of the League of Augsburg or the Nine Years War, was the second of the three great wars of Louis XIV. As a young man he waged the Dutch War to expand France’s borders. That was a war of aggression. As an old man he fought the War of the Spanish Succession to put his grandson on the throne of Spain. Despite the King’s ultimate aim, that was a defensive war. The War of the Grand Alliance was Louis’ war of middle age – a war of grinding attrition involving nearly a million men. Ironically, King Louis did not want to fight in Flanders. This was supposed to be a short war, in which his main rival, Spain, would lose Luxembourg, and France would also acquire Cologne as a puppet state, with a view to gradually isolating the Spanish Netherlands, and the Dutch. Things did not go as planned. For nine years the armies of France and the Grand Alliance, led by William of Orange, the Dutch ‘commander-in-chief’ and King of England, crossed and recrossed the lands of Flanders and Brabant, until the territory now called Belgium was utterly devastated. Until 1694 the French armies were led by the Duke of Luxembourg. Despite his title he was a French nobleman, close to the throne. He was also the premier general of his age, ranking with Turenne and the Great Condé; no general of the Alliance could match him. But, the Alliance had money, and that meant staying power. Huge armies were raised and deployed on both sides – not just ‘huge’ by the standards of ‘ye olden days’, but on occasion topping 150,000 men apiece. With such large armies sewn onto a pre-modern logistics system, much damage was done, but no ‘lightning-war’ triumph was possible. Ultimately, King Louis recognised he could not win. Fortunately, his diplomatic service was as outstanding as his military machine, so he was not forced to lose, either. Both he and his enemies went through financial disasters that threatened to wreck all their schemes – only pride kept them fighting – but the French recovered first, and a final, relatively minor, offensive in the last year of the war allowed Louis to claim a win ‘on points’. The real reason the war ended lay in Italy, where Duke Victor of Savoy, with French prodding, switched sides (in 1696), leading to a scramble for peace.
In Army of Flanders, you will have a chance to change history – and even if you cannot, perhaps you can win enough glory to write your name in the history books. Flanders is the source of Gloire, and the graveyard of reputations. As the French, will you pursue an offensive or a defensive strategy? The French Army is state-of-the-art. You have more artillery, the latest equipment (bayonets instead of pikes), and acess to an administrative machine capable of supporting nearly 500,000 men. But you are under the eye of Versailles, only a couple of day’s ride from the front. You are merely an extension of the King’s will. If his reputation needs patching up, expect to be ordered to lay siege to some massive fortress. At least you will have the resources. But, if the King decides to pursue diplomacy, you will have to secure and ‘rationalise’ the frontier. If you fail, you will lose the respect of the Sun King and the Court ladies. IF you disobey… it does not bear thinking about. As the Allied commander you lead a motley collection of troops: Dutch, British, Spanish, German, Huguenot, and even the not inconsiderable army of Liège. The Germans want to pursue a Rhine strategy. The Spanish want to hunker down and let the Dutch do all the fighting. The British Isles are still being subjugated by the Prince of Orange, though much of the populace supports him. In the early years it will be enough to hold the line. Later, hopefully, the enemy will run out of steam and you can pay him back in his own coin!
Like the other games in the series, Army of Flanders focuses on the operational art rather than tactics or grand strategy. You are the theatre commander, subject to dicates from on high and only partially able to guide the action. Your main goal is to acquire Prestige. Your playing pieces represent battalions and regiments, which you must deploy wisely, deciding how strong to make your garrisons, and how many units to group into mobile formations for attack or defence. These formations are commanded by Leaders, rated for their skill and their temperament (and their political pull), and assisted by Auxiliaries. These last are specialists such as grenadiers and pioneers. Once you are organised, be sure you pick the right time to fight. You have a large army, but it is not infinite! The combat system has a tactical feel, addressing the key issues of frontage, reserves, and supports, as well as firepower and morale. Sieges depend on good planning. Screen your besieging army with another to keep the enemy at bay and make sure you have lots of siege guns and sappers.
Supply is critical. You can live of the land, but it is safer to build a string of depôts. Operational tempo is driven by the accumulation of ‘operations points’, which must be expended in order to act aggressively. A player may have the Initiative for a while and dicate the pace of the game, but eventually, he will run out of steam and have to pause to accumulate more points. Special rules in Army of Flanders deal with the imposition of strategy from above, the discord of allies, the War of the Two Kings in Ireland, and the campaigning along the Moselle Valley, which was the highway to the Rhine, just off the map. The game ends when peace breaks out – something you have little control over – so be sure to acquire Prestige as fast as you can!
1) Four map sections representing the lands of Flanders, Brabant, and Luxembourg, from the Channel coast to the Meuse River.
2) 1800 die cut counters representing the forces of the French and the Grand Alliance. Scale is Battalion - that is, the playing pieces represent battalions and regiments.
3) Rules, charts, tables, and display cards.
4) An historical commentary.
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