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Subject: Sum of its Parts: Okay, I admit I was wrong rss

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James Fung
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('Sum of its Parts,' formally 'As I See It,' are game reviews that spotlight game mechanics and how they work for or against the design. They are written from the perspective of a gamer short on time and attention span, who would rather spend that time and mental energy having fun and making key decisions rather than bean counting or fiddliness. Therefore the review spotlights innovative, clean, and elegant mechanics. I play both eurogames and wargames, but since eurogames tend to be well reviewed in BGG already, I'll be mostly be reviewing wargames.)

Introduction

As an engineer, I pride myself in my analytical abilities, i.e. breaking things down into its component subsystems, understanding how they work and interact, to better understand the whole. This also applies to games and game mechanics, which is why I'm always going on about how mechanics are king (and components are just icing on the cake). Thus, I have a (inflated) belief that I know how a game will play after reading the rules, maybe after a short session.

But in the case of Friedrich, I was wrong. Dead wrong. So if you're like me, get off your high horse and play the game before you pronounce final judgement. Despite the playing cards and square sector grid labeled with suits, this is a wargame. A light wargame, to be sure, but I've been drifting in that direction for some time.

Oh, right, I should actually talk about the game. Friedrich is a strategic-level game of the Seven Years War in Europe, pitting Prussia and Hannover (and English subsidies) against Russia, Sweden, Austria, and France. Fellow Americans know this as what started the French and Indian War. Other countries know this as the war that established Britain as the premiere colonial power and Prussia the rising continental power, to the detriment of the traditional powers France and Austria.

To be honest, I don't know much about the Seven Years War, so I can't really judge the historical accuracy, which is a danger when reviewing a wargame. As the survey of military history course I took in university covered ancient warfare to the American Civil War, the Seven Years War was only part of one lecture. What I gleaned from the course was that, surrounded by enemies on all sides, Prussia used internal lines to concentrate on individual enemies to keep them off balance.

Gameplay

(courtesy of Rednax)

Tactical cards: Before going into the sequence of play like I usually do, I need to explain the Tactical Cards (TCs). The game comes with 4 decks of cards with 2 through 13 in the four traditional bridge suits. There are also 2 jokers called Reserve cards which can be played as any number, 1 through 10, in any suit.

Okay? Okay. That's all you need to know for now.

Turn sequence: The game fields up to 4 players controlling 7 different nations:

Frederick: Prussia, Hannover
Elisabeth: Russia, Sweden
Maria Theresa: Austria, Imperial Army
Pompadour: France

If either Elisabeth or Pompadour's countries are knocked out of the war by the Clock of Fate (which sounds like something out of a horror zombie game, but I digress; more on this later), they take over the tiny Imperial Army (whoop-de-friggin'-do), but at least they're still in the game.

Pieces

(courtesy of Kevin Moody)

Generals: Each nation has a number of generals, ranging from Prussia's 8 to Sweden and the Imperial Army's 1. These are their basic units of maneuver. In fact, they are their only units. Each general has from 1 to 8 armies, the exact number of which is unknown until revealed.

Supply depots: Each nation also has 1 to 2 supply depots. These keep generals in supply in enemy territory but also can be your vulnerability.

Sequence of Play

Each country, in the order above, performs the following 5 phases:

1) Draw: The active country draws a number of tactical cards, ranging from Prussia's 7 to Sweden and the Imperial Army's 1 (guess who's the whipping boy in this game ). For the major powers, this number can decrease over the course of the game as their war fortunes suffer.

2) Movement: Armies can move up to 3 spaces, supply depots can move 2. If movement is entirely on the main road, pieces can move one further space. Up to 3 general may stack. Really simple movement rules with no terrain effects on movement besides the main road.

During this phase, players can also recruit armies (this is also hidden information) and rebuild lost generals and supply depots. However, rebuilt pieces cannot move during this phase. Each army and supply depot requires 6 points of TC, and you don't get change.

3) Combat: Generals adjacent to enemy generals must attack, and each battle is resolved by a miniature card game (please suspend your disbelief): Each stack sits in a sector of a particular suit, and it's possible for the attacker and defender to be in different suits. Both sides may only play cards of their suit during the battle.

In a nutshell, the each side has strength equal to their number of armies plus value of TC played. The player currently at strength disadvange has option of playing a card or accepting their fate. If they play a card and are still losing, they can go again.

Once the battle has stopped, the defeated general loses a number of armies and retreats a number of spaces equal to the difference in strength. If the defeated general can't retreat the full distance (say, they're surrounded), the general is removed entirely.

I have much much more to say about the combat system later.

4) Retroactive conquest: Generals conquer objective cities by moving on/through/away from them. Objectives are defended by a protecting general within 3 spaces. Retroactive conquest allows players to flag an objective during the Movement phase if the protecting general is chased away during that Combat phase.

5) Check supply: If an active general is not in his home territory or within 6 spaces of a supply depot, he is flipped to his unsupplied side. If he is not back in supply by the end of his next turn, he and all his armies are eliminated.

Victory

When any country has secured all of its primary and secondary objectives, that country's player wins. So although Elisabeth, Maria Theresa, and Pompadour are all fighting Frederick, only one of them can win. Once countries start dropping out due to the Clock of Fate, some countries don't need their secondary objectives to win.

zombie Clock of Fate zombie: Starting on turn 6, at the end of the turn, one of 18 Clock of Fate cards are drawn. 12 of these have only minor effects; 6 of these have game changing effects ranging from a permanent decrease in TC draws to forcing major powers out of the war (again, please suspend your disbelief). If the Frederick player manages to prevent any other player from winning before Russia, Sweden, and France drop out (4 fate cards total), he then wins.

Offensive option: In the advanced game, Prussia has the option of winning by taking objectives in Austrian Bohemia, presumably knocking her out of the war. However, going this route has its risks and may backfire. I haven't played with this variant, so I can't say much else beyond Prussia is on a timetable and Austria has eased victory conditions.

Ooh! Shiny!

This is where I usually talk about chrome. However, looking back, my Gameplay section is much, much shorter than usual. The thing is, mechanically, the game is quite simple (that doesn't mean strategy is simple), and there isn't much chrome either.

Okay, here's one: each of the 12 minor Clock of Fate cards have small events that affect the next turn. Examples of these events:

* A nation or general gains or loses an army
* A general receives a movement bonus or penalty
* Some restriction is placed on attacks or TC usage

In general, these events are pretty minor, and I don't think anyone really plans ahead for them. But they are big enough to add an interesting wrinkle to the game. Maybe Richelieu moving 1 less space will entice Prussia to move so that he cannot evade combat next turn?

I would say the person who initiates combat has a slight edge in the game: not does he choose which suit to attack with (though, of course, the defender has already chosen what suit to defend in), but he has one more turn's worth of cards than if the defender attacked instead. Actually, I'm not sure if that's chrome, I just wanted to comment on that.

Sum of its Parts

Trivial? After reading the rules for the first time, my gut instinct was to do a little mathematical analysis. If every point you play means one less army loss for you or one more for your opponent, an army which will take 6 points of TC to place, why would you hold back? Why would you ever use a Reserve for less than the full 10? Slam down it down, crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women. If you don't, you're the one who's going to get it.

But after playing the game, I've realized this can be playing into your opponent's hand (literally). Think about it this way: if everyone played with open hands, it would be clear who can muster the most strength (this is oddly deterministic for a wargame). Thus, one player should be thinking about how to minimize their loss and fight another day. Pick up your hands again, and now neither player knows whether they should press the attack or disengage. Like Napoleon sending in the Guard, pinning your hopes on your last big card with little or nothing to back it up can sow the seeds of your own destruction. Thus, while abstracted, card play mimics battlefield decisions of whether to continue risky combat or withdraw to fight another day. Remember that this game is strategic in scope; abstracting tactical combat below that scope is an acceptable design decision.

This is, by the way, why the designer and everyone else calls Reserves golden. They are your get out of jail free card, allowing you escape from the Battle That Went Wrong with minimal casualties. Losing an entire stack can be pretty devastating. Not only is replacing the armies costly, but the map is fairly sparse (not much slack for defense in depth here), so the wide front the army was covering is now a gapping hole in your lines. And since movement is only 3-4 spaces per turn, it may be a while before you can plug the hole.

Abstraction: Another problem that wargamers may have with the TC are what are the suits supposed to represent? I mean, somehow sectors hundreds of miles apart are intimately related so the Austrians bleeding spades from me around Breslau makes Gottingen untenable. This is a little harder to explain, so let me dust off my soap box...

Among wargamers, there is a school who believe Clausewitzian friction of war should be reflected in wargames, more than just the uncertainty offered by rolling on a combat results table. Maybe it's the Ambush! combat card in Wilderness War. Maybe it's a weapon malfunction or thrown tread in Advanced Squad Leader. Maybe it's the blocks of unknown strength and type in Napoleon's Triumph.

In short, there are things outside a commander's knowledge or control. In a game like Friedrich, this could be terrain, weather, manpower, supply, fatigue, discipline, disease, surprise, intelligence from scouts, the general's indigestion, etc. The designer, Richard Sivél, smartly leaves these up to the players' imaginations. This is not a detailed simulation; this is very much a design for effect game.

So what effect is weakening Gottingen by using spades around Breslau supposed to represent? In my mind, each army under a general represents a trained officer cadre while TC reflects the manpower, supply, training, etc., as well as all the intangibles above. Spending TC in one battle consumes resources that now cannot go elsewhere. This adds another historical consideration for the battle mini-cardgame: conservation of force, so you have enough when you really need to go all-out.

Your mileage for this justification may vary. For instance you may ask why generals in one particular suit are affected while others are not. I could spout something about war not being as clean and simple as that, but after some point you either buy the level of abstraction is justified under design for effect principles or you don't. Since this review is my opinion, I'll continue on with it.

So the question should not be what do the TC simulate but what effects do the TC mechanism engender. To my mind, at least two things: First, there is bluffing. How many histories have you read where a commander was duped into a situation where he was at a disadvantage? And, proportionally, how often does that happen in wargames? The thing is wargames have inherited from their ancestors a bias of perfect over hidden information, with all the numbers right there on the chit for both players to see. But by using cards or hidden army strength or double-blind refereed format, players can fake out their opponent (as opposed to their opponent making a mistake because of some overlooked detail).

And the penalty for getting caught in Friedrich (say picking the wrong battle, withdrawing when you should have counterattacked, or opening yourself to lose big when you can have gotten away lighter) is not something to take lightly: if the Imperial Army loses its 6 armies, it would takes about 5 turns worth of TC to rebuild, and then it wouldn't have anything to fight with.

(courtesy of Aldaron)

Location, location, location: The other effect it creates is that your hand is another piece of what I will call the positional puzzle. Say you're trying to choose the optimal position for a general. There are a number of factors you should consider (as I am not a master in the game, I do not claim this is an exhaustive list):

1) Objectives: This ties the generals to the historical realities of the map.
2) Opposition: The general's position relative to enemy forces. In particular, pieces that can attack him, pieces he can attack, and how this prevents/allows generals to seize Objectives.
3) Supply: Is the supply situation such that the general is able hold this location or launch offensive operations as needed? If supported by a supply depot, is the depot vulnerable thereby making the general's position vulnerable?
4) Retreat: If forced to retreat, does the general have a retreat route and is that position tenable?
5) Suits: Depending on his hand, each location has a suitability for offense and defense.

To elaborate on point 5, the ideal defensive position is sitting in a sector you have plenty of TC in and the Opposition can only attack you in one suit: either not on the border, or on the border but all the attacker options are the same suit. Even better if they are depleted in that suit. On the offense, a cross-border attack can be advantageous because, if you force a retreat, you threaten to attack again in a fresh suit. Thus a general can be in a good defensive position, have good offensive prospects along one axis, poor prospects along another, or any combination thereof. And don't forget that a general, while just one piece, has considerable influence as he can 'defend' a region by threatening to attack enemies that come within striking distance.

Without this 5th element, I can imagine the game becoming pretty static. Players will look at the map, maybe make small adjustments due to opposing pieces, and sit. The TC injects fluidity into the system by making players richer and poorer in certain suits, battles will cause fluctuations, and don't forget hidden information prevents players from knowing whether or not that defensive position is really secure or not. Even winning a battle makes the victor vulnerable (his men are tired and bloody, after all).

(courtesy of Lawrence Hung)

Thus the game is about position and bluff and ultimately Maneuver. Yes, that buzzword among wargamers. You can play the numbers game, but then you're just relying on the luck of the draw. The player who leverages position and maneuver has a force multiplier. And that is why, my friends, Friedrich is a wargame. Q.E.D.

The position puzzle is not an easy one. I've spent hours staring at what has to be the most complex point-2-point map ever made. The extra space of movement offered by main roads may not seem like much, but it's one more wrinkle in the puzzle of where to move generals so they have the maximum effect.

zombie Clock of Fate zombie : This is last complaint I wish to address. Russia, with its 4 TC draws, can be taken out of the game by a single card. Two cards can break France. Two cards will also cripple the Prussian war machine from 7 to 4 TC per turn. Thus the deck can be stacked strongly in favor of Prussia or the allies, and it's completely outside the players' control, and this randomness can (and has) annoyed wargamers and eurogamers alike. But, as mentioned in the design notes, the death of the Russian Tsarina was a sudden, unexpected, miraculous event (at least from the Prussian perspective). The Clock of Fate simulates these sudden, surprising events.

Russia should get crackin'. (No pressure!)

The bad: Thus far in the review, I've been defending the design decisions. What do I have to say against the game? Well, mainly it lacks a certain atmosphere. Maybe it's because I'm not familiar with the era. Maybe it's the lack of chrome; all the generals are (almost) exactly the same, so they lack personality. Oh, there's action and narrative and tension and excitement, but it lacks that paper time-machine feeling.

As far historicality goes, Prussia needs to choose its battles carefully and has the benefit of internal lines. Though at 3 spaces per turn, travelling between fronts feels excrusiatingly slow. No wonder why Germans built a superbly efficient rail system and then developed warplans around knocking out France and then crushing Russia, but that's another war...

Decisions, Decisions

As stated, I feel most of the decisions players make come down to position and maneuver:

* Where do you position your generals so they are most effective to achieve your objectives?
* Do you attack the enemy or sit and make him decide whether to battle or not?
* In battle, do you play to minimize losses, conserve TC for another battle, or crush the enemy?
* If you wish to rebuild armies, which general should receive them and what suit(s) do you use to pay for them?

Conclusion

Friedrich manages to create a game of strategic and (abstract) tactical considerations using only 35 pieces (24 generals, 11 supply depots) and playing cards. Playing cards! The elegance of the game mechanics and innovation of the design are phenomenal. And, as the header blurb states, that's what this series of reviews is about. My hat is off to you, Richard Sivél, for you are a craftsman.

However, for me, the game lacks that certain immersive quality. It may be my inability to get into the topic, but the abstractedness might also contribute. Thus the game's simplicity, which I laud it for, may be inseparable from what mars it in my eyes. Thus (for now) I give it:

d10-8 Very good game. I like to play. I'll probably suggest it and will never turn down a game.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Very well done. I think that the reason you don't find the game immersive is your lack of interest in the era. A good book on the subject might well change that.
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Mark Luta
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Indeed, I agree fully with the previous post by Mr. Fagin. Reading upon who Empress Maria Theresa, King Frederick II and Empress Elizabeth of Russia really were, what they were about, will tend to show how the feel of this game captures exactly what the rulers of this era wanted out of the wars. Maria Theresa became in many ways the first modern ruler, often placing the welfare of her subjects above her own desires to keep and expand her inheritance. Even while at war with Austria and the Empire, much of Prussia was actually a part of the Holy Roman Empire. The commanders of the day were so hamstrung by the constraints of both politics and the realities of the limited resources of the day, yet unlike Napoleonic armies of half a century later, which foraged and despoiled the land, these armies brought their own supplies, generally paid for quarters and supplies obtained locally, and truly made efforts to mitigate the effects of the war upon the local civilian populace (other than, of course, when they fought a battle in a village, the village usually burnt down, owing to the nature of the firearms of the day!).

These Seven Years War was really the first world war, and very modern in scope--no wars of conquest, very limited objectives, just a desire to use military victories at the diplomatic table to exact concessions from adversaries. And the feel of the game seems to capture the campaigns of limited war beautifully.
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James Fung
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Sphere wrote:
Very well done. I think that the reason you don't find the game immersive is your lack of interest in the era. A good book on the subject might well change that.

Thank you for the compliment. Can you suggest a book? My reading list usually seems grow rather than shrink, but there's always room for one more.
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Mark Luta
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There are many, many books out there about Frederick the Great, and a fair number about Maria Theresa. One in particular I would suggest is 'Maria Theresa' by Edward Crankshaw, who is probably the preeminent Hapsburg historian. The first half of her reign was so shaped by the Wars of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War, and the aspects of a female head of the Hapsburgs and her decisions taken to protect and try to reclaim her inheritance are key to understanding the motivations of Austria in this war. The whole political situation of the timeperiod was an extremely difficult one. She was also a driving force which much improved the Austrian Army between 1748 and 1756, including starting the first formalized Military Academy to train her Officers in 1752 and modernizing the taxation system, changing the Army organiztaion from a system of feudal levies to a standing national army, paid for by taxes from the nobles in place of providing levies (except in the case of the Hungarians, the reasons for which are made clear in the book). These improvements were so stark that Frederick himself exclaimed at the Battle of Lobositz, the first battle of the Seven Years War in 1756, "These are not the same old Austrians!"

Also very interesting and useful to understanding warfare in this era are the design notes from the various Clash of Arms games of battles of the Seven Years War (titles include Lobositz, Leuthen, Zorndorf), and even the GMT Prussia's Glory/Prussia's Glory II contain some decent notes about the four battles included in each.

For the Prussian perspective, a good book you can read over a period of time, as it is heavy going, is 'Frederick the Great on the Art of War' which was originally published in the 1960s. This is a translation (from German and French) and compilation of many of Frederick's writings on how war should be conducted, from parts of the famed 'Instructions to Generals' to some contemporary works he had translated and wrote the introduction for, to more general commentary, much of which was intended to instruct his successors on how to be King and command the Army--a key foundation of the Prussian state, as in the 18th Century they had the twelfth largest population (after the siezure of Silesia) but the fourth largest army in Europe. Interesting details on such factors as how important it was to take measures to avoid desrtions (given the Prussian Army was largely pressed into service in the same manner of the British Royal Navy of the era, and had not even the help of the revolutionary fervor which Napoleon's conscripts later posessed, most soldiers probably would consider desertion now and again). For example, the entire battalion was mustered all at once, and marched out immediately. Night marches and pursuits were normally avoided. On the other hand, his armies (as with those of his enemies) were much better cared for than Napoleon's would be, they were always provided tents for camp when local quarters could not be arranged, and rarely would march beyond the range of their supply magazines.
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James Fung
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markluta wrote:
'Frederick the Great on the Art of War'

That seems closer to what I'm looking for. To get into the mindset of a strategic/operational game on the Seven Years War, a book on the what's and why's would be ideal.
 
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Charles Vasey
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fusag wrote:
markluta wrote:
'Frederick the Great on the Art of War'

That seems closer to what I'm looking for. To get into the mindset of a strategic/operational game on the Seven Years War, a book on the what's and why's would be ideal.


Try The Seven Years War in Europe: 1756-1763 (Modern Wars In Perspective) by Franz A.J. Szabo
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Tom Hancock
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Great review, thanks for writing it. I recently played friedrich, and I enjoy the game. My gripes about it were the same things you mentioned, but I would play the game again in a heartbeat. The abstraction with the card suits is kinda obnoxious, but it isn't enough to make me dislike this great game. Its got a LOT going for it....

The only thing I would disagree with in your review is your attempt to defend the abstract nature of the card play (and the related grid on the map)as some sort of representation of the unknown in combat, or the fog of war, or resources that now cannot be sent to another front, whatever.

The fact that the grid is 100% predictable kills this argument. Its not the unknown in combat! If the french player sees the russian and the austrian both attack prussia in spade territory, and lots of cards were spent, the french can jump on prussia in spade territory too, with knowledge thats his best shot. He can't see all the troops pouring towards the east and attack in hearts territory... he will get crushed.

Its actually the opposite of fog of war, as you know what suits prussia has been drained in and you know what suits he hasn't been. Still, some level of abstraction is necessary, and I like where Friedrich draws the line between realism and gamability... I just think you can't defend it.

I like friedrich and the abstraction doesn't bother me too much. I also thought your review was very well written, exactly the type of review we need more of on BGG!
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Tom Grant
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fusag wrote:
Sphere wrote:
Very well done. I think that the reason you don't find the game immersive is your lack of interest in the era. A good book on the subject might well change that.

Thank you for the compliment. Can you suggest a book? My reading list usually seems grow rather than shrink, but there's always room for one more.


Showalter, The Wars of Frederick the Great
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James Fung
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Charles Vasey wrote:
Try The Seven Years War in Europe: 1756-1763 (Modern Wars In Perspective) by Franz A.J. Szabo

Kingdaddy wrote:
Showalter, The Wars of Frederick the Great

Thanks. Not much info about them on Amazon, but I'll take a look.

hancock.tom wrote:
I also thought your review was very well written, exactly the type of review we need more of on BGG!

Thank you. I have to say that the review is in part due to the game. When I sat down to play, I was amazed how such simple mechanics could create such gameplay. So I dug and dug until I arrive at what you see before you.

As you note in my defending the abstract TCs, maybe I dug a little too far. But that's the story I tell myself when I'm playing.
 
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Mark Luta
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hancock.tom wrote:


The only thing I would disagree with in your review is your attempt to defend the abstract nature of the card play (and the related grid on the map)as some sort of representation of the unknown in combat, or the fog of war, or resources that now cannot be sent to another front, whatever.

The fact that the grid is 100% predictable kills this argument. Its not the unknown in combat! If the french player sees the russian and the austrian both attack prussia in spade territory, and lots of cards were spent, the french can jump on prussia in spade territory too, with knowledge thats his best shot. He can't see all the troops pouring towards the east and attack in hearts territory... he will get crushed.

Its actually the opposite of fog of war, as you know what suits prussia has been drained in and you know what suits he hasn't been. Still, some level of abstraction is necessary, and I like where Friedrich draws the line between realism and gamability... I just think you can't defend it.


Actually, I see this as perfectly defensible, and still a great application of fog of war. Fog of war should not be a complete lack of information, no army operates in a complete fog, and messengers travel much faster than armies, even in an era preceding the telegraph. Remember, the implied role here is not the commander at the front, but rather a Ruler back at Court (though these are one and the same for Friedrich) who is trying to coordinate overall strategy and diplomatic efforts on several fronts!

If the bulk Prussian Army is in Silesia, to use your example, it cannot also be in southern Hannover. So, for the French to know Prussia would not be strong there (in Spades) is perfectly legitimate--since someone of the Allies has to attack to obtain this information!

It is most definitely a 'for effect' rule, but I think it actually abstracts relative strengths better than a block game does. How often in land combat is an entire regiment/brigade/division wiped out? Yet in an area movement block game, that is essentially what is simulated by losing a step (or, perhaps two regiments take 50% casualties, also unlikely) whenever a '6' is thrown. What happens in a campaign is men fall at battles, of course, but also an army attrits away through desertion, stragglers, accidents, disease, infection of wounds, detachments left behind on the route of march to defend key points. Heavy enemy activity accellerates this process, while little probing by the enemy allows the commander to take action to mitigate these losses. And so a lull allows strength to be rebuilt.

After all, it is not just the strength of an army in terms of numbers of men, guns, horses, and so on that matters. Rather, it is the relative strength of arms which can be brought to bear at the correct moment for favourable battle, which is what any wargame needs to measure.
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James Fung
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I managed to find Szabo and Showalter in the university library. In the end, I decided to read Szabo because his writing was more accessible. He is... not Frederick's greatest fan.

Unfortunately, reading about the period makes me wish for even more chrome in Friedrich. Makes me want to play Clash of Monarchs.
 
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