Friday, November 6, 2020

Master builder

The lie, or at least tongue-in-cheek nature of the title of this post will be immediately evident from the images at right and below. A good model-builder I am not, but I have been enjoying myself this week building some plastic model kits, recalling why I made so many of these as a kid/youth.

Having completed the base coat and black wash of the additional German infantry in gasmasks and French artillery crews with their 72 mm cannon (shown at the end of this post), I decided to put together some large guns that I can start to paint as I apply the final touch-up to the aforementioned figures. I decided to make a couple of aircraft at the same time. I had put together an Airfix Mk 1 tank last year, which was the first model kit that I had built in years.

First in line was a German 21 cm mörser 10 from Strelets. I have heard that these are tricky things to put together, so I gathered as much information as I could before beginning—the instructional image from the box and additional information on their website—and took my time putting it together, assessing where the pieces should go before applying any glue.

Box artwork and assembly instructions.

Additional instructions provided on the Strelets website.

Despite what seem to be detailed technical drawings, albeit it without step-wise instructions, there were two pieces that I either could not work out where to put or that were not shown in the diagrams, viz. the adjustment wheel to the left of the breech and the one that goes on the front of the undercarriage. Fortunately there are clear photos of extant examples of these artillery pieces on the internet. Those of the gun that is outside the Victoria Barracks in Melbourne were most suitable (and perhaps are what the model was based on in the first place?).

One of three excellent photos of a 21 cm mörser outside the Victoria Barracks in Melbourne—I must go and see it when I am next over there (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

My finished article. I'm happy with it. A coat of paint will hide many sins!

I put together an Airfix Fokker Eindecker at the same time as I was building this howitzer. This was completely the opposite experience, with step by step instructions and clear diagrams. That said, strangely I made fewer mistakes with the howitzer. I suspect that this was due to the fact that I had to concentrate, deduct and interpret where the various parts fitted together.
Airfix Fokker E. III Eindecker. The black colour on the wing is from me using up some left over paint from undercoating the pilots and gunner of this and the Roland C-11 below.

Next, I decided to construct a French 155 mm cannon GPF (Grande Puissance Filloux), also produced by Strelets. This had the same type of instructions, but was a far simpler model to make. Once again, two adjusting wheels were not shown on the diagram, but a quick internet search yielded a photo from the Imperial War Museum that showed where to place them. I did need to add some putty to provide a base to which to attach them.

Box artwork and instructions for Strelets 155 mm Cannon GPF Mod 1917.

The finished product (construction, that is).

An Airfix Roland C-11 was the plane that I made while constructing the 155 mm cannon. Another kit that was easy and fun to assemble.

Completed Roland C-11 ready to paint.

75 mm cannon and crew (left front) and German infantry in gasmasks (left rear) awaiting basing and final touch-up, along with French and German infantry that are ready to varnish.

I'll put some paint on the completed guns and aircraft, along with the gun crews, when I am applying the finishing touches to the above infantry and 75 mm cannon.


Thursday, October 29, 2020

Book and Troop Review: Les Fantassins de la Grande Guerre and First World War German Infantry

I was looking for a single volume that would cover the uniforms of the First World War, following my decision to have a go at wargaming the period. Unlike my beloved Napoleonic period, I did not feel the need nor desire to purchase several books on the topic. Nevertheless, I wanted more than one can get from internet sources. I looked at some of the books readily available in English, but could not find anything beyond those from Osprey. I have never been particularly enamoured with Osprey’s offerings and did not want to purchase three or four books and then only have information about the Germans and French, so I looked further.

Along came Éditions Heimdal to the rescue. I found Guillemet’s book on their website in March and it looked to be exactly what I was after, so I ordered it immediately. I was not disappointed in the least.

Published in 2018, its 256, A4 pages are packed with full colour photographs of uniforms, uniform items, equipment and weapons. These are enhanced by contemporary photographs of troops in the field and the studio. Together they provide a photographic description of the uniforms from 1914–1918, presenting all of the items that I could want and highlighting changes over the course of those four tumultuous years of war. The text and captions, describe details of what is shown in the photographs.

The items presented in the book come principally from the Musée royal de l’armée et de l’histoire militaire de Bruxelles. They have been photographed with excellent lighting and compositions so that details, colours and event texture can be clearly discerned.

Example of pages featuring items of equipment and a contemporary photograph (studio in this case).

Example of a double-page spread showing a mannequin in uniform and different styles of greatcoat.

Table of contents: all nations are included.

In line with my desire, infantry uniforms for all of the belligerents are presented; France, Germany, Serbia, Russia, Belgium, Britain (and Dominion), Austria-Hungary, Japan, Italy, Portugal, Bulgaria, Rumania, Czechoslovakia, Poland, United States and Turkey. More pages are devoted to the key, European powers than to the ‘lesser’ ones. However, there is great efficiency in the images and text so that the main details and changes in uniform of troops of a nation like Portugal are covered adequately (for me) in two pages. The colonial forces of the main powers are also included.

A nation like Portugal is covered in sufficient detail
in just two pages

As you will have gathered from the title, the text is in French. It is clear and straightforward enough that I am able to comprehend it easily with my intermediate knowledge of the language. However, if you do not read French, the images are sufficiently self-explanatory, and numerous, as to be comprehensible in their own right.

This is a fabulous book for anyone interested in uniforms and equipment of the First World War. If, like me, you are looking for the one book, this is it.

Ten Napoleons

Troops: First World War German infantry

German Army basically ready to go

My approach of having large numbers of figures, across a few periods, on the go at once means that I may swap and change what I am painting on any one night. It also means that my focus is quite, ‘fluid’. The past couple of weeks have been a case in point. I had intended to focus principally on the first couple of units for my 17th–19th century Ottomans but, while I have made some progress with them, I have ended up making most progress with First World War Germans!

The Deli cavalry, showing brown applied which lead to a painting First World War infantry!

I began painting the Deli cavalry for the Ottoman army, as planned, starting with browns for the animal skins that they wore. Then, since I was painting brown, I looked for other troops to use up the paint that I had ‘decanted’. First World War Germans with all that brown kit were an obvious choice!

The Germans I am painting are aimed for mid-late war and are a mix of Caesar WWI German Army, Emhar German WWI Infantry with Tank Crew and German WWI Artillery and Strelets German Stormtroops and German Infantry in Gasmasks. The Caesar and Emhar figures are sculpted somewhat ‘finer’ than the Strelets. I’m happy with all of these figures, but particularly like the ‘chunky’ style of these earlier Strelets’ offerings.

From left: Strelets, Emhar, Caesar and Strelets figures. These mix well, I reckon.
A Strelets flame thrower between two Emhar figures.

Strelets produced British, French, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and German Infantry in gas masks as part of their range of figures for the First World War. The Germans are now out of production, so I did not think that I’d be able to get any. Fortunately, a tip on the Strelets forum lead me to Fausto Mancin at the Lucky Toy Soldier and I was able to obtain a set from him. I like them so much that I may even get another box.

Strelets German Infantry in gas masks, almost completed,
Hart wie Kruppstahl
The Emhar WWI German Artillery includes two 77 mm Krupps field guns and four MG 08 machine guns. Interestingly, there is a surviving Krupps field gun beside the cenotaph in town that was captured near Villers-Bretonneaux in August 1918. It's nice to be able to compare the model with the real thing. The machine guns in the kit come with only a single crew man, so I did some simple conversion work with some of the artillery loaders to turn them to feeding machine gun ammunition.

77 mm Krupps field gun beside cenotaph in York, WA

The adjacent cenotaph and detail (below).

Second model 77 mm Krupp field gun, staff and one of the MG 08 machine guns with added crew. The kneeling officer in the machine gun crew is a conversion with legs remove and replaced with those from a kneeling Airfix French cuirassier.

With these Germans nearly completed, and just a few more French that I want to also finish off, I am now really close to having a go at a first game of World War I wargaming. I may get to start this weekend and/or week nights next week.

References and links

Guillemet, C (2018) Les Fantassins de la Grande Guerre. Éditions Heimdal, St Martin-des-Entrées, Bayeux, France. 256 pp.

Caesar Miniatures website

Emhar range on Plastic Soldier Review

Strelets’ World War I sets

Monday, October 19, 2020

Book Review: The Armies of the Ottoman Empire 1645–1718 by Bruno Mugnai

With its 369-page paperback format weighing in at 800 g (~1.8 lb) (thanks to the use of heavy, quality stock), Bruno Mugnai’s book is a dense and mighty tome, physically and this translates directly to the subject matter. The quality and detail begins with the preface pages—which feature a detailed, six-page chronology, introduction from Barry Hilton along with the author’s prefaces to the original and revised editions and a note on the Ottoman currency—and continues through the book’s six chapters (incorporating 16 pages of beautiful, full-colour plates), to the 30 pages of tabular data and orders of battle and, finally, to the notes on the colour plates, glossary and bibliography. All told, this book is a treasure-trove of detailed content delivered in a clear and beautiful presentation.

I’m not the first to wax lyrical about this book. Having purchased it, I read the rave reviews of Colin Ashton, ‘BalkanDave’ and Barry Hilton. It is always pleasing to be encouraged about the quality having made a purchase! Now, having read it, I agree wholeheartedly with them all and echo Barry Hilton, who wrote the foreword and concludes; “Enjoy this masterful work. It sets the benchmark for others to follow.”

The first four chapters (The Sublime Porte, The ‘Ottoman Commonwealth’ and the Sultan’s Allies, Ottoman Armies, Allies and Tributaries) comprising half of the book, serve as a detailed introduction to the Ottoman Empire, its armies and allies. ‘The Sublime Porte’ describes the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century, the structure of the state, government and military, land tenure and administrative areas. The second chapter follows with an introduction to each of the peoples or states that were satellites or allies of the Ottoman Empire (Tartars, Transylvania, Wallachia, Moldavia, North African Regencies, Georgia, Cossacks, Persians and Swedes), with a brief history of each, their association with the Ottomans and conflicts, both with and on behalf of the Porte. The chapter on the ‘Ottoman Armies’ covers the size and structure of the army and, for each troop type, details its formation, structure, size and involvement in peace and war. This is followed by ‘Allies and Tributaries’, which covers similar content for the Tartars, Transylvanians, Wallachians and Moldavians.

The final two chapters (‘The Ottoman Art of War’ and ‘Dress, Equipment and Ensigns’) comprise the second half of the book’s text. Here Bruno Mugnai draws upon the great detail of the preceding chapters, including units, command structure and army make-up to discuss in detail how the army gathered and fought and, finally, how the various troop types were dressed and equipped.

Mugnai begins his discussion of the Ottoman Art of War, appropriately, with logistics, demonstrating how the Ottoman Empire was well set-up to provide all the necessarily matériel for war (reminding me of a key strategy in Civilization!). He then describes how the army gathered for war, its command structure, overall strategy and some detailed examples of campaigns and battles—using the Austro-Ottoman war of 1663–64, a detailed account of the campaign and siege of Vienna in 1683 (and it’s consequences), plus the Russo-Ottoman War of 1710–11 and Austro-Turkish War of 1716–1718. The chapter on uniforms and equipment provides details for each troop type in both the imperial (kapikulu) and provincial (serhaddkulu) forces including, most usefully, a detailed section on flags and pennants.

Every page of this book is dense with content. For example, the section of the first chapter dealing with command of the army is interspersed with mini-biographies of several of the Grand Viziers during the period covered by the book. Not only are these informative and interesting in their own right, but they serve to illustrate and expand on the general information about the process of appointing commanders in the army, its pros, cons and impacts. While packed full of detail no prior knowledge is assumed; introductory information is provided, terms and titles are defined. By not assuming knowledge, readers are not ‘lost’, but the level of detail and specific information, from the very beginning, adds insights and particulars which make the book extremely edifying.

The text of each chapter is well-supported by maps, diagrams, drawings and reproductions of prints. In addition to the 16 pages of superb colour plates (an example of which is on the cover),124 pages of the book contain some kind of black & white illustration (map, diagram, drawing or reproduced print), many of them as full pages. A bit of a bonus is that one of Bruno Mugnai’s drawings that appears in black & white on p 261 is reproduced in colour on back cover of the book.

The book contains several clear maps
Black and white photographs of uniform items from various museums and collections are accompanied by detailed descriptions, including colours.
'A Janissary Assault', an example of the author's drawings (including troops, uniforms and representations such as this).
Several prints of period paintings also adorn the book.

The book’s appendices are an absolute treasure trove. Here you’ll find a list of Grand Viziers 1645–1718, tables of army expenditure, numbers of troops by type and region, orders of battle for Ottoman troops in the campaigns between 1663 and 1718, specifications of cannon, howitzers and mortars captured after Peterwardein in 1716, a description of the procession of the Ottoman army in Constantinople in 1682 and tables of the major sieges and field engagements involving the Ottoman army (listing place, date, name of the war/conflict, Ottoman strength, enemy strength, casualties for each side and result). Finally we have the notes on the colour plates the glossary and bibliography. The only thing missing is an index (which is a shame).

This English edition is an “expanded and revised” version of the original work, which was published in 1998 in Italian. I have read a review of Mugnai’s book about the Cretan War bemoaning the number of poor translations that greatly affected the comprehension of that book. This is not a problem here. The text is written in clear, quite formal, English. There are occasional incidences of expressions that are not common English, for example “The most large contingents came from the…” instead of ‘largest’, but these are very few in number and none of them affect comprehension of the text.

There are, however, a few errors, such as missing words smattered through the book. These number in but a handful and are chiefly things such as conjunctions and articles, so do not impact on the reader’s understanding, but they are annoying and a little disappointing. The worst error in my version of the book is that most of a sentence is missing at the beginning of the last paragraph on p. 271. It thus begins. “ancient origin.” then proceeds to the next, complete sentence. Fortunately, there is enough of the paragraph to make it intelligible. Without these few mistakes I would have given this book a perfect score of ten Napoleons!

Many books about armies and uniforms leave you asking, what about x troop type, or what was the organisation of y unit? Not so with this tome. You’ll not find here the phrase “there is insufficient space to cover this”, as appears too often and annoyingly in other books about armies and uniforms. The majority and certainly the key information about organisation, structure, strength, operations, tactics, campaigns and uniforms are all covered.

Reference and Information

Mugnai, B (2020) Wars And Soldiers In The Early Reign Of Louis XIV. Volume 3 The Armies of the Ottoman Empire 1645-1718. Century of the Soldier 1618-1721 No. 55. Helion & Company, Solihull, England. 369 pp.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Chipping away

'Things Ottoman' are leading my hobby interests in periods 'other than Napoleonic'.

Following on from reading Alan Palmer's book on the decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire, I recently obtained a copy of Bruno Mugnai's marvellous The Armies of the Ottoman Empire 1645–1718. I'll review this book in full in a future post, but for now, suffice to say that it is  excellent and if you have any interest in this period, buy it!

First figures for my Ottoman army in the pipeline: Deli cavalry from Orion

More in the pipeline: sipahi ulùfely (Orion) in foreground with Beck infantry regiment (Mars) and Sobieski's Poles (also Mars) behind them.

This book is perfect for my expanding interest in the Ottoman Empire, which has gone backwards from initially considering a Napoleonic Ottoman army, to including their part in the Great Northern War (Russo-Ottoman War of 1710–11), then back further to the Great Turkish War (1683–1699). This has expanded further to include the Austro-Turkish War (1663–1664), Polish-Tartar War (1666–1671), Polish-Ottoman War (1672–1676), Austro-Turkish War (1716–1718) and out to the Russo-Turkish War (1787–1792) & Austro-Turkish War (1788–1791)—which meld well with early Napoleonic. An Ottoman army of the 17th and early 18th centuries is a 'good value' proposition, requiring but a few different units for the Napoleonic Mamluk/Ottoman version!

I am also getting close to having a go at 'something First World War', after taking the initial plunge into the period late last year.

Some of the First World War figures that are nearly completed.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Book Review: The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire

Alan Palmer’s book was a natural first choice for me in my quest to gain greater knowledge of and understanding about the Ottoman Empire—driven by my general interest in history and specific wargaming interests in the Great Turkish War/Great Northern War, the French Revolutionary/Napoleonic Wars (especially) and also the First World War. I read Alan Palmer’s book “Napoleon in Russia” in my youth and it remains, to my mind, a fine account of that momentous campaign. I thus consider him to be an excellent writer of history and a ‘trusted source’. His book about the final days of the Ottoman Empire, all 87 294-odd of them, did not disappoint.

Palmer begins the book with a prologue, which opens with the capture of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453. In this section he briefly describes the origins and formation of the Ottoman Empire, the system of government and administration and character of some of the sultans from the period around the apogee of the empire. The book proper begins with the second Siege of Vienna (July–September 1683) and the momentous Battle of Kahlenburg, which Palmer uses as his beginning of the decline of the Ottoman Empire. He describes the campaign and siege in some detail, with regards the main protagonists, the key battles and events, but, unfortunately, there is little specific information regarding the military aspects or forces involved.

The Battle of Kahlenburg and relief of Vienna was not decisive. That war, which has become known as the War of the Holy League or Great Turkish War, lasted for another 16 years with numerous battles and skirmishes, including several Ottoman victories, until its conclusion with the Treaty of Karlowitz on 26th January 1699. Following this, “the decline of the Ottoman Empire was neither rapid nor continuous. … against all expectancy, the Ottoman Empire outlived imperial Spain, republican Genoa and republican Venice, the elective monarchy of Poland, British colonial America, the vestigial Holy Roman Empire, Bourbon and Napoleonic France, and the temporal power of the Papacy; it even survived by a few years the Hapsburg and Romanov empires, so long its apparent residuary legatees, and the Hohenzollern empire which had aspired to overtake France as its chief creditor” (p. 32). His description and discussion of this long, slow decline—that was far from linear—fills the remaining 237 pages of the book.

The bulk of the book covers the period from 1700 to 1922, focussing on events, actions and personalities, both Ottoman and foreign, during the reign of a sultan (or sultans in the case of those with a brief tenure). The topic of each of these 14 chapters, in briefest summary, are the tulip era of Ahmed III; early attempts at ‘westernisation’ under Abdulhamid I; the mix of reform and conservatism, enlightenment and despotism of Mahmud II (with an additional chapter explaining the governance and role Egypt); the early losses during Abdulmecid’s reign leading Czar Nicholas to label the empire the ‘sick man’; the empire  ‘fighting back’, exemplified by Abdulmecid’s moves to create a Parisian-style capital and construction of the Dolmabahçe Palace; the ascent of Abdulmecid’s son Abdulhamid II (“Abdul the damned”), whose long reign in which he sought to rule absolutely covers four chapters; the rise of the Young Turks and coup of 1908, leading to Abdulhamid II’s acceptance of constitutional monarchy, then forced exile; the increasing German influence and eventual alliance with Germany in 1914 (which Palmer demonstrates was not as clear-cut nor certain at the beginning of the First World War as it can appear in retrospect); finally the immediate post-war period, partition plans of the Entente powers, rise of Mustapha Kemal Pasha establishment of the capital at Ankara and declaration of the Turkish state.

Black and white plates of photos and images feature some of the sultans, locations and buildings featured in the text.

These chapters are complemented by a list of grand viziers since the Ottoman capture of Constantinople, a list of alternative names for places described in the text, a detailed glossary, notes from the chapters and selected bibliography.

The book is an excellent entrée into the latter half of this fascinating empire with its origins amongst the steppe peoples of central Asia and li
nks to the Mongol and Byzantine (Roman) empires. I was interested to note key, perhaps stereotypical, aspects of these two former world powers that seem to have been at the core of the Ottoman Empire. These included the palace intrigues, the power of the army particularly the imperial bodyguard (Janissaries), the integration and acceptance of different peoples and religions (provided that they remained compliant) and ruthlessness towards them (and others) if they did not or it was politically expedient to do so. However, unlike either the Roman or Mongol empire the Ottoman Empire was resistant to change and not a great adopter of technology or traditions of conquered peoples.

Palmer describes attempts by several sultans to ‘modernise’ or ‘westernise’ the Empire, only to fail due to the reactions of vested interests and inherent conservatism. A measure of success came with Mahmud II in 1839 who was wily and astute enough to stack key offices with officials of a like-mind prior to acting (an approach that is in use, or at least attempted, by leaders today). Palmer concludes that a driver in going to war in 1854 was the need by Mahmud II’s successor, Abdulmecid to wage “a victorious military campaign (that) would finally silence the critics of westernization” (p. 122).

There are numerous interesting ‘asides’ throughout the text. I learned of the 1873 stock market crash, which began in Vienna and created what was referred to as the Great Depression up until the 1930s. Mother Theresa’s origins, the daughter of an Albanian and a Serb born in Macedonia, hence “…an Ottoman subject by birth…” (p. 198). How, during negotiation of the peace treaty of San Stefano in March 1878, which ended the Russian-Turkish war of 1877, Otto von Bismarck had commented that he did not wish to see the whole continent plunged into war because of friction between Vienna and St Petersburg (p. 155)—prescient indeed.

It was interesting to me too how early in time tensions developed between the British and Russian empires as they jostled for position and influence in ‘the east’ (which I related back to my recent reading of “Setting the East Ablaze” by Peter H
opkirk). The agreements of these two powers helped to create the partition of Cyprus, which exists today. Of course, the partition of the middle east between the victors following World War I is another foreign intervention that has had long-lasting impacts.

So, why did the Ottoman Empire fall?

Naturally there is not a simple answer to this and I do not wish to give away Alan Palmer’s discussion throughout the book and particularly in his concluding chapter. Suffice to say that he points to the position of the empire, the effects of being at the intersection of geography, ethnicity and religions and attempts to balance these forces, as major factors in its demise.

The Ottoman Empire lasted for six centuries, in round figures. Palmer’s narrative presents a marvellous juxtaposition of the ‘final’ 239 years of its existence. Conservatism mixed with a certain dynamism, inclusion mixed with subjugation and attempting to deal with the ‘great powers’ for its own perceived benefit while each of them was working squarely on their own interests and against their rival(s). This large and diverse empire, militaristic at heart, situated at the crossroads of continents and cultures was at the heart of most European intrigues and conflicts of the 17th to 20th centuries.


Palmer, A (1992) The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire. John Murray, London. 306 pp.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Redux: A tiny test of Twilight: Fraustadt 1706

This is a re-posting of a post about my first solo game that was posted originally on our Avon Napoleonic Fellowship blog.

The ’Twilight of the Sun King’ rules were first brought to my attention by a review on the marvellous 'Un Marius Sinon Rien' blog. Reading a further review on website convinced me to purchase them. They arrived in April and I was immediately keen to give them a go. I threw some Great Northern War Saxons into the ever-expanding group of figures that I am painting. Having brought these, a few Russians and some additional Swedes to the stage of ‘good enough’ (base-coat completed, awaiting black-wash, addition of basing mix and then final highlights/details), my impatience could wait no longer; it was time for a test game.

Set-up for this first test game, the Battle of Fraustadt 1706 at brigade scale (a scenario provided in the rules). This also gave me a chance to have a go with my new latex rivers and roads. The scale meant that 15 mm and N-gauge railway buildings were most appropriate.

Twilight of the Sun King, revised edition 2019

The Rules

The authors of Twilight of the Sun King are members of the Pike and Shot Society, so it is little wonder that the rules have a strong historical focus. That said, they are not complex; I consider them to be the definition of elegant simplicity. The rule book is 22 pages long, with a further three devoted to the introductory scenario and a one-page 'advert.' for the Pike and Shot Society. The rules could easily have been written on around four pages, I'd estimate. The longer presentation is due to them having been printed in a large font, with clear, large diagrams and the odd reproduction of a painting from the period—all most pleasing aspects. The booklet is a simple, A4 production printed in black and white (apart from the cover) and is not especially cheap (£12 plus postage). It does not, though, suffer from the problem of gloss over substance that besets so many of those expensive, hard cover sets of rules that seem to be churned out all to regularly.

I was drawn to purchase the rules because they featured a truly novel system which sounded like it could work well (and was certainly worth a go to find out). They take the familiar 'I go you go' approach, but the similarity with other set of rules stops there. The turn sequence for each side comprises but three phases: opponent's bombardment, test morale of own troops (for effects of bombardment, firing, mêlée), move own troops. In each turn the attacker moves first followed by the defender.

All movement and ranges are calculated in base widths, so the rules are completely scalable. Units can always move straight ahead, so there is none of this business of troops sitting around waiting for someone to tell them how to march. More 'elaborate' manoeuvres (including charging, formation changes, crossing terrain, entering difficult going, undertaking more than one move) require a successful 'action test'. This is simply a roll of a D6 with anything but a 1 or 2 being a success. There is a negative one modifier to the die roll for the action test if the unit failed a morale test in the current turn (and/or is charging a platoon firing unit—for the Great Northern War this is limited to "probably Russians from 1710").

There is no firing. WHAT?!!! If you have read reviews of the rules you'll already know this 'shocking fact'. Actually, it is not really correct. There is plenty of firing (as you'll see in the photos below), but it is not conducted in the familiar manner where a roll is made against factors and ranges to determine the casualties on the enemy unit(s) (or other mechanic being used). Rather, in Twilight of the Sun King being fired upon, involved in mêlée or infantry with cavalry in close proximity (1/2 base width) are causes to test morale and any artillery fire, small arms fire, mêlée, terrain/defences, supports/flanking (as appropriate) are modifiers to the test.

Failing a morale test (modified score of two average dice below eight) results in a morale failure (four or below is a rout). Generally infantry will break on their third failed test, cavalry and artillery on their second. A unit classified as 'large' and/or 'determined' gets an extra morale failure before breaking, while one classed as 'wavering' gets one fewer (units classed as 'small' and those classed as 'raw' receive a negative one modifier in the test). There is no way to 'rally' troops or otherwise recover morale, but a commander may have an impact.

The presence and proximity of commanders is important in Twilight of the Sun King to bolster morale (i.e. re-take a morale test if 'attached' to the unit—within a base width) and to encourage the troops to undertake some of those more elaborate manoeuvres mentioned above (i.e. re-roll an action test). In the former case a commander is a commander (provided that he may command the unit, is close enough and is not 'attached' elsewhere), while his quality is important for the latter (and for a brigade or army test if required).

I was pleased that the introductory scenario provided in the rules is for the Battle of Fraustadt, 2nd February 1706 (by the Julian calendar—one day later by the Swedish calendar of the time and eleven days later by the modern Gregorian calendar) as the Great Northern War is one of the two conflicts in the eighteenth century that interest me greatly—along with the French and Indian War, not being particularly 'fussed' with the rest (apologies to the devotees out there). The scenario in the rules allows for the game to be played at either the brigade or regimental scale. I decided to test the rules initially at the brigade scale, moving to a larger game if I liked them sufficiently. I used the scenario largely as provided, but adjusted the order of battle, chiefly using the Great Northern War Compendium, to one that I considered more historically accurate.

Volume one of the Great Northern War Compendium includes a chapter by Oskar Sjöstrom and Stephen Kling about the Battle of Fraustadt. I used this source, principally, to adjust the order of battle for the game.

Playing the game solo meant that I carried out turns as and when it suited, playing two turns over two nights last week and then finishing the game on the Friday. This was really helpful as it allowed me to proceed slowly and to double-check the rules between mini-sessions. 

The Game
This has been a wordy post so far, by my standards, so let's proceed to the pictorial description of the game.
Table set-up, showing the map from the rules. The area is tiny, being 10 base widths x 15 base widths or 500 mm x 750 mm for my figures.

The Russo-Saxon army had been lured by Rehnkshold from its strong defensive position on the heights near Schlawa when the latter had moved his Swedish army away from their positions in a seeming headlong retreat. Schulenburg, commanding the Russo-Saxons, advanced, then hastily formed a new, improvised and 'messed-up' defensive position north-east of Fraustadt when Rehnkshold turned to give battle.

View from the Saxon side of the table. Note the far inferior Swedish force, odds roughly 2:1 in the Saxon favour.

A map from Sjöstrom and Kling's chapter in the Great Northern War Compendium. I began the game by copying these moves (as far as possible, allowing for the scale).

As per history, the Saxon guns opened fire on the advancing Swedes (bombardment range in the rules).
"From right to left, one cannon after another spewed its deadly content onto the field... however, aside from the battery at the right end of the line that managed to slow down a couple of Swedish battalions, the salvoes had had more or less no effect at all" (Sjöstrom and Kling 2016). We were going fairly well to script, the Södermanlands regiment at the right of the line failing the morale test (indicated by the black piece of straw).

Rehnkshold encouraged his centre forward towards the Saxon positon (successful action test for a second move).

The Saxon cannons fired "... a third at short range and canister" (Sjöstrom and Kling 2016).
Another morale failure for the Södermanlands.

GåPå! The Swedish infantry charged the fortifications.

On the Swedish left, the Livdragonregementet moved to confront the Saxon cavalry.
On the Swedish left, in a break from history, the Saxon garde du corps and Goltz Dragoon Regiment attempted to advance through the marsh, only making it half-way (failed action test to exit). At this point, I realised that I had mucked up my left and right and so put two Saxon cavalry units on their right, instead of three, the reverse on their left. Ah well, that's what test games are for!

The Saxon infantry opened fire on the attacking Swedes. (Note dear reader, that is more of that firing that does not exist in the rules!).

This time the Västmanland regemente (Södermanlands in support) failed a morale test (above), but the Närke-Värmlands regemente, an élite unit with the Pommerska dragoons in support, passed (below).

Breaking with history, the Saxon infantry behind the chevaux de frise, represented by the zig-zag fences here, continued to hold. The foot guards (right of photo) passed their morale test, forcing the Västmanland regemente to withdraw 1/4 base-width. The Drost regiment failed a morale, but were still able to hold on and continue the mêlée with the Närke-Värmlands.

Cavalry mêlées on the Swedish right (above) and left (below) flanks.
Having pushed the Västmanland regemente back, the Saxons fired off another round of volley and artillery (intense enough to make the camera shake).

On the Swedish right, the élite Livdragonregementet had beaten back the Beust cuirassiers, who retreated behind their supports (Dünewald dragoon regiment) who then charged the Swedes.

Not so good on the Swedish left, the Skanska Standsdragon regemente losing the mêlée (failed morale test) and, having no supports, retreated their full measure, caring not about the marsh. Keeping up the pressure, the Goltz dragoon regiment followed-up (below).

In the centre the Swedish infantry tried again and were blunted once more.

More Saxon fire, a second morale loss for the Västmanland regemente (below).

Hope again for the elusive breakthrough, as the Närke-Värmlands continue in mêlée.

It was not Hummerhjelm's day. Two failed action tests made the Skanska Standsdragon the Skanska stranded-dragoon.

Not missing the opportunity of a charge in the rear, the Goltz dragoon regiment finished them off.

As with the historical action, the von Krassow's brigade (represented here by the
Livdragonregementet) were getting the better of their more numerous Saxon opponents, aided by the fact that the Saxon's poor deployment had them attacking piece-meal.

Having forced the Närke-Värmlands regemente back, Schulenburg ordered an exchange of the lines, replacing the Drost regiment with the Koningin. I really enjoyed mixing up the paint to make those Isabella facings and base colour for the flag of the Koningin.

For the Queen! The Koningin immediately out-did their line comrades, Närke-Värmlands failing a morale test (now represented by the little red 'pimple—utilising some silly little plastic covers from some pens that I bought, making more attractive markers).

Having 'sat on his bum' for eight turns, and with the Västmanland broken, Rehnskold was finally spurred into action, sending cavalry left and right. Too little too late?

Perhaps not, von Krassow's Livdragonregementet broke the Beust cuirassiers (above), von Dunewald sending in the Wrangel dragoons supported by his own unit (below).

Now getting desperate and unlikely for the Swedes in the centre: a volley against the
Närke-Värmlands and artillery fire on the Södermanlands (which did not agree with them, as you'll see later).

The Pommerska charged the exposed left of the Russian line,...

... breaking the raw unit, while the Livdragonregementet continued on their winning way.

That flank looks attractive!

Left exposed by the breaking of the Södermanlands, Schulenburg liked the look of the Närke-Värmlands' flank, sending out the Saxon foot guard.

The Wrangel dragoon having retreated from the mêlée, von Dünewald's dragoons again charged the Livdragonregemente.

Flank fire on the Pommerska and a loss of morale.

A second morale loss to the Närke-Värmlands, now unsupported.

In charged the Pommerska...
... a morale loss to the Patkul Infantry Regiment, but they held.

von Dünewald's boys fought bravely, but incurred a morale loss.

The Norra Skanska tried a desperate, headlong charge against the Saxon guard, with predictable results, the Pommerska dragoons were broken by the Patkul Infantry Regiment and even the Närke-Värmlands had given up the fight.

This forced an army morale test, which Rehnskold easily passed!

von Dünewald's boys had fought bravely, but finally broke. I just realised that I forgot to do the brigade morale test, but it was of no consequence as, with only two cavalry regiments left, it was all over for the Swedes!

So, after nine turns I lost. As a fairly unimaginative Rehnskold I had failed to replicate the  dramatic Swedish victory that was his finest hour. Alternatively, as a more aggressive Schulenburg I achieved a better outcome. Still, since I lean strongly towards the Swedes, I have to say that I beat myself.

The result was not really the point of this though, for it was about the rules and they came out of this game with a win. On reading, I thought that I’d like them. I was not sure after the early turns. I re-read key sections, found things that I had not done quite correctly and, as I began to get the mechanics clear in my head and perform the tests correctly, I found myself liking them more and more. The rules are straightforward, as I said in my description above, but the completely novel approach meant that they took a bit of getting one’s head around.

As the 'mist' cleared I could consider the rules' mechanics. There are several aspects that I like, firing is central, units can always move, but it takes more to perform more 'elaborate' movement, supports, protected flanks and generally good positioning of your forces are paramount. Troop quality has an effect, but not an extreme one (either positively or negatively). Similarly, commanders are well represented in the rules, but not out of proportion.

Having enjoyed this playtest of Twilight of the Sun King, I'm keen to complete the additional troops necessary to play the game at regimental scale. I’ll then compare the rules with GåPå (that I have tried once and liked) and also the Polemos Great Northern War rules (by Nick Dorrell one of the authors of Twilight of the Sun King—one can see that he has included a lot of ideas from them into Twilight of the Sun King). I often find 'sticking points' with rules the more that I use them. Time will tell whether this is the case with Twilight of the Sun King. They passed their first test with a credit and I'll see how they go with further testing.

One of my long-term aims is to paint sufficient figures for the Great Northern so as to field Swedish, Saxon, Polish-Lithuanian, early Russian and Ottoman armies (these latter will also be fit for Napoleonics), as well as some later Russian and Danish troops. The eventual 'grand plan' is to work through the battles of the Great Northern War from go to whoa. This playtest has added fuel to that fire.


Twilight of the Sun King by Steven Thomas, Andrew Coleby and Nicholas Dorrell, revised edition 2019 (

Scales: 1:200–300 for brigade-scale games, 1:100–150 for regimental-scale games. Units of two bases each (one for artillery). All movement and ranges calculated in base widths. Ground scale 1:5 000 for brigade-scale and 1:2 500 for regimental scale at recommended base width. I used 1:6 000 for my game (base width 50 mm).


All figures in the game were 1/72 scale.

Infantry: Mars 'Swedish Infantry'
Cavalry: Zvezda 'Swedish Dragoons of Charles XII' and Strelets 'Reitars of Charles XII'

Infantry: Mars 'Saxon Infantry'
Cavalry: Strelets 'Russian Dragoons of Peter I' Artillery: Zvezda 'Swedish Artillery of Charles XII'

Infantry: Strelets 'Russian Dragoons of Peter I' and 'Swedish Infantry of Charles XII', Zvezda 'Russian Strelets Infantry' and Strelets various bonus Streletsi figures.
Some of these Russians were part of a huge haul from John of the Wargame Hermit blog that I got back in June 2018 (thanks John, if you are reading). I'm adding further streletsi as early Russians (for Narva, River Düna).


Sjöstrom O (2008) Fraustadt 1706 - Ett fält färgat rött. Map of the battle (sourced from

Sjöstrom O and Kling SL (2016) Warsaw, Fraustadt and the Grand Plan to Crush Charles XII. In Kling (Jr.) SL (Ed.) Great Northern War Compendium Volume 1. The Historical Game Company. pp. 197–210.

Thomas S, Coleby A and Dorrell N (2019) The Battle of Fraustadt - 1706, Introductory Scenario. In Twilight of the Sun King. The Pike and Shot Society Essex England.

Wye Forest Gamers (n.d.) The Battle of Fraustadt, 13th Feb 1706.