Army of the Rhine is the fourteenth volume in Red Sash Games’ Lace Wars series. This game is the last 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. There was not even supposed to be a war, only a demonstration of France’s power. France was engaged in a long process of securing her eastern and northeastern frontiers. Louis felt his prestige was on the line when some of his German neighbours – specifically the Elector Palatine and the good burghers of Cologne – refused to give him what he wanted. A strong message needed to be sent. Also, by taking military action the French would put heart into the Turks, who were fighting a losing battle against the forces of the Holy League; keeping the Ottoman Empire in the game would ensure the Holy Roman Emperor could not support the minor powers who were the real object of King Louis’ wrath. But, things did not go as planned. The French tried the ‘shock and awe’ approach and only succeeded in making the Germans angry. The Rhine front was vital for several reasons. The valuable territories of Alsace and Lorraine were recent French acquisitions which the Empire wanted back. Also, the Moselle River gave access to the French heartland and needed to be secured. On the other hand, the German lands along the Rhine were some of the wealthiest in the Empire and greatly at risk from French incursions. And yet, no major battle was fought on this frontier in all the ten years of war, and after 1689 no major sieges were conducted, either. But the theatre remains an interesting one because it showcases the routine of war in the closing decades of the 17th Century. The generals who commanded here were skilled veterans who either got their start under Turenne and the Great Condé, or fighting the Turks under the banner of the Empire. They knew their business. In consequence, neither side could gain enough of an advantage to risk the chaos of a big battle. This was a war of manoeuvre and attrition. The French made it their aim to subsist at German expense whenever possible. To protect their own lands from the same treatment, they laid waste vast tracts of land along the German side of the Rhine, forcing their enemies to base themselves far from the river. Both sides also made extensive use of the spade, constructing fortified lines tens of kilometres long, in a foreshadowing of the trenches of the Great War.
In Army of the Rhine, 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. The Rhine Valley is far from the eyes of both Sun King and Emperor, but you will be pitted against a worthy opponent – Frank versus Teuton, yet again. As the French, will you pursue an offensive or a defensive strategy? Although Versailles is far away, you bear a heavy burden of responsibility. The Sun King will not be pleased to hear that Alsace has been pillaged, or that the Württembergers have failed to pay the Contributions he demanded last year. Will you then risk battle? You may also be forced to play nursemaid to the Dauphin, the King’s eldest son. He is a good man, and brave, but not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. If his reputation needs patching up, expect to be ordered to lay siege to some massive fortress. On the other hand, if Versailles decides to pursue diplomacy, you will have to secure and ‘rationalise’ the frontier. If you fail in your task you will lose the respect of the Sun King and the Court ladies, and what is worse, the Parisians will mock you mercilessly. IF you disobey… it does not bear thinking about. As the Allied commander you lead a motley collection of troops. They are nearly all German, but that means very little. In the Empire, a prince only contributes greatly to the Cause if he expects to be greatly rewarded; otherwise, he will contribute as little as he thinks he can get away with. And, because the princes have the option to aid either Emperor Leopold or King William of England, they can play the one off against the other without being accused of letting the side down. Vienna may tell you to expect 30,000 men from Brandenburg, only to learn their Elector has chosen to fight in Brabant this year, because King William paid him in advance. And as for expecting help from the Emperor himself, forget it. French passivity in the face of your outstanding defence of the frontier last year has given him the excuse to siphon away yet more resources to his neverending Hungarian war.
1) Five map sections representing the lands along the Rhine from Switzerland to Guelderland.
2) 1680 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.