Review: Twilight of the Sun King (Second Edition)05 Oct 2016 1
Review: Twilight of the Sun King (Second Edition)
TWIGLET is a pet name for a set of miniature rules called Twilight of the Sun King, covering the War of the Spanish Succession, the Great Norther War as well as other various and sundry conflicts during the time of Louis XIV. This fascinating little repast was first designed by Steven Thomas in 1995 and then revised along with Andrew Coleby in 2005, later republished by Britain’s Pike & Shot Society (PSS) in 2008. Given the original rules only encompassed four pages, the nickname sorta makes sense. Twiglets, so I’m told, are a tasty little snack very popular in the UK, the things most folks munch on at afternoon tea, vice Her Majesty’s scones and crumpets. [They taste like marmite breadsticks -ED]
It’s a small but highly flavor filled serving, and in many ways this also describes the game in 1995. The Pike & Shot Society has now released a second edition, just off to the printers as I type. Nick Dorrell is the revising author this time around, ably assisted by Iain Stanford for graphics and order of battle support for both the base rules set, and also the simultaneously published scenario book covering battles in Western Europe.
I’ve got an advanced copy because – disclosure time here, folks – I’m an officer of the PSS serving as Webmaster and I also did the covers for the two pubs. Yet I have my own competing set of rules, and I mention this because in the tabletop gaming world, the community of designers considers themselves colleagues, not competitors. Outside the Osprey’s and Flames of Wars of the world, nobody is doing this to put food on the table so we tend to support each other an awful lot. Hell, I even own and manage the Yahoo Group for a competing set of rules, and no one thinks that strange in the least.
But back to the game: When I got a hold of my advance copy, the big question on my mind was did this new version retain the simple elegance that made the original so popular? This elegance was predicated on a design theory that made unit and command morale the primary focus of combat. Thus the game has no traditional fire phase or melee phase. Seriously, none, zip, nada, nyet, nein and zilch. It’s one of the most innovative concepts I’ve seen in wargame design ever and I am happy to say it is back and better than ever.
First, the game does not simulate actual historical brigades, battalions or regiments, but groupings thereof. Each tabletop unit is either one artillery stand representing 16 guns, or two stands of infantry or two stands of cavalry, representing 2000 foot or 1000 horse respectively. The bases are a universal 60 mm wide and this corresponds to about 300 meters frontage in the large scale version of the game (a small scale version is included for smaller engagements). There is a provision to define some units as large, 2400 foot for example, or small (1600 foot), but regardless, the unit is represented by two 60 mm wide stands.
The Sequence of Play is as follows:
- Bombardment Phase – artillery stands execute long range fire, though there is no actual table to adjudicate this fire and assign casualties.
- Morale Phase – the heart and soul of the game and its most unique, revolutionary component.
- Movement Phase – units move or perform other Actions as desired.
The Bombardment phase merely marks units within the field of fire of cannon so that they may take an appropriate Die Roll Modifier (DRM) during the Morale Phase or when performing an Action during the Movement Phase. If two artillery stands bombard an enemy unit, that will cause a morale DRM, but if only one stand bombards then the DRM will apply in the Movement Phase. Seriously, that’s the entire phase.
The Morale Phase is where everything happens and each turn all units have to take a morale test adjudicated by a modified die roll if under fire, in contact, etc. These DRMs actually take the place of a formal fire phase or a formal melee phase. For example if a unit is within short range of an enemy artillery unit, there is a -1 to its die roll. No, firing did not actually occur as a game process, but the fact that the unit was within range assumes it was under fire and thus the DRM applies. Likewise, if a unit is in contact with the enemy, it is assumed a melee occurs and DRMs such as -1 for being classified Raw, or Small or a +1 for facing inferior firepower foot or -2 for the enemy in contact with the unit’s flank are applied. Again, there are no small arms or melee procedures, the two are integrated into the morale system as DRMs. Brilliant! One die roll has adjudicated not less than three traditional game processes.
In general, after an infantry unit fails morale three times, it routs and is removed from the table. Cavalry and artillery are a bit more brittle and fail after two times. This can be modified in a couple of ways, of course, such as if the unit is defined as Large or Determined, then it gets an extra chance to fail morale. There is also a simple process to test the morale of major commands when half its units are lost, or the entire army should half its major commands absent themselves towards the nearest brewery. In this case a general’s competency rating will become either a positive or negative DRM.
Movement is simple as well, though expressed in terms of unit stand widths as opposed to inches or millimeters, I assume to drop the need for rulers. Infantry can move three stand widths in a turn if covering open ground, or 1 ½ stand widths if moving across rough terrain. Given the suggested stand width of 60 mm, this would mean infantry moves 180 mm per turn on clear terrain and so on.
Movement directly ahead assuming no contact with the enemy is automatic. However, if other Actions are desired, then a modified die roll is required. Such Actions include charging into contact with the enemy, Light Horse evading a charge, artillerists returning to their abandoned guns, moving thru rough terrain and so on. A die roll of 3 – 6 on a six sided die (a 6 only if artillery) is needed to successfully complete an Action, with a – 1 to the die if the unit has failed a morale check. Also, remember the Bombardment Phase noted above? Yep, here is where it comes into play, and not within a separate fire process.
One thing I did find peculiar is the absence of a set of unit data charts. By this I mean an Army List of sorts that specifies the types of units a nation’s army might include, as well as quality or unique characteristics such units might possess. I found this odd because, except for the Bombardment phase, modifications to this edition of the rules is really limited to a little bit of extra chrome gently inserted here and there. For example, infantry is now categorized by weapons type: matchlock, flintlock, pikes and so on. There is even a rating for the Ga Pa (literally, “lay on” but probably meaning something more colorful like “skewer the swine!”) tactics of Swedish infantry. Cavalry now includes such things as Galloping Horse or Eastern Horse – it is nice to see East European types now included – while unit size now comes into play. Given all of these will translate into likely DRMs on the all-powerful morale table; I found their absence a little odd.
Alleviating this, however, is a sample scenario covering the battle of 1706 battle of Fraustadt during the Great Northern War. Likewise, the scenario book includes 10 battles to replay, four from the War of the Grand Alliance (1688 – 1697) and six from the War of the Spanish Succession (1701 – 1714). It will not take long for even novices to recognize that the French Gendarmerie is and always Elite. But then again, maybe not. The scenario book also includes a nifty little table to allow for variable quality as regards the units in play. The French Infantry Regiment Navarre, which captured six – count ‘em, six – British Foot Guard standards at Malplaquet, and the rest of les Vieux Corps is usually designated Elite (+). However, maybe for today’s engagement, the lads are still recovering from the drunken party the night before or someone simply forgot to distribute the daily ration of Wheaties for breakfast. Very few military units ever had perfect performance in war, and this little sidebar reminds us of that fact.
Now from a personal perspective I have to say the game is simply not my proverbial cup of (Earl Grey normally) tea, but it still gets my heartfelt and sincere recommendation. Let me pontificate just a bit and remind the reader to be VERY cautious any time he sees a reviewer write that something is “bad” or “doesn’t work.” What that usually means is it doesn’t work FOR HIM! It’s a personal preference issue and not a game flaw though he might describe it as such. The fact that he might have not designed a game process that way does not mean it doesn’t work or that it is inferior, period. It often means that he likes red automobiles and the salesman is showing him something in misty blue, and not a whit more.
My personal preference is for formal, separate fire and melee phases, deploying actual historical brigades faithfully researched down to the gaiter button level, and just a bit more detail overall. TWIGLET doesn’t do that, but boy, it does a lot, and Nick Dorrell’s new extra’s even more so.. The idea of integrating fire and combat into the Morale Phase as a single process is innovation personified. The game is simple, easy to play, has kept the elegance for which it is famous and from what I see, looks great on the tabletop. By its reductionism or abstraction, it also forces the player to be a wing or army commander and do wing or army commander things rather than when to order the reloading of firelocks. Its scale is such that really large battles such as Malplaquet (95,000 French tangling with 105,000 Allies) become easily doable, even in Europe where table space and time are often at a premium. And given the overall historical results the game conveys, along with a price of only 6.5 GBP for PSS members or 10 GBP for the public, what more could one ask?
Well, how about a computer based campaign system that allows players to control nations and their armies, marching all across Europe and back again. Then when battle is joined, the PC is flipped off and a TWIGLET table is set up for battle. A few hours later the results are inputted into the software and the computer campaign continues. No more having to face Marlborough with His Twitness Villeroi, but with Marshal Claude Hector duc de Villars right from the start. And if this illustrious French Marshal wants to immediately march on Vienna, one can now shove Bavaria’s Elector Max to the side, down that last cup of brandy, and move out smartly.
Gosh, I wonder what a good name might be for such a PC game? Hmm, now let me think.
At the time of publication, TWIGLET 2nd ed. has yet to be released and we have no information on when it will be published.