Today I’ll take a look at Twilight of Divine Right, a rules set aiming to cover European conflicts from 1618 to 1660.
Just as a quick background info – I got into historical wargaming in 2012, having gone the Thirty Years War as my period of choice, simply because I’ve been fascinated with the conflict for many years. It’s this insane mix of enlightenment and utter barbarism, a war that starts out as a supposed war of religion, which, as they always do, turns out to be about entirely mundane motifs, a war dragged out and pushed on by ‘war entrepreneurs’, it shows the devastation stemming from raising whole armies of mercenaries and from when war becomes the status quo, and, much further than that, weirdly an entity in itself. Warhammer 40,000 could only dream of being as grimdark as that period, which ultimately reshuffled the balance of power in Europe and led to one of the most important peace treaties in modern history.
Then there’s the whole thing about revolutionary developments in military and warfare, starting out with basically fully armoured cuirassiers and leaving us with …well, much, much less armour. The development of firearms used en masse in armies and all of that.
Also: impressive hats, impressive beards, impressive pants, and a whole lot of colourful and villainous characters.
Anyway, a few weeks ago I received the Twilight of Divine Right rules, published by the Pike and Shot Society. The following game was played solo, as I usually do with test games. In between I have to look things up, which usually takes ages and I wouldn’t want to put another person through that.
These are a derivate of the Twilight of the Sun King rules, released a few years ago, and aim to cover a timespan of 1618 to 1660. There aren’t that many rules sets being released for the TYW, and if anybody knows about how to put the period on the table it should be the P&S Society, right? So I went for it, along with the scenario book for the Thirty Years War. There’s also a scenario book for the ECW. More books are in the works.
The rulebook is soft-cover, 36 pages, all printed on nice, A4 sized paper (well, the sheets are actually A3 sized, folded and stapled. 😛 ).
The rules are presented in a very direct and ‘purist’ way, which is something I can appreciate by now. This publications is just the rules. There is a very interesting Design Philosophy page in front of the book though.
The basic unit of measuring is the Base Width (BW). Each unit in line is calculated to be 2BW in width, in column it’s 1 BW wide. 1BW is approximately 150m. One such infantry unit represents a regiment of 1,000 – 2,000 men, cavalry represents 500 – 800 cavalrymen. The rules calculate with 6cm per BW, I play 5cm per BW, because that happens to fit the 10cm width of my infantry units. My cavalry is 8cm wide, but whatever.
When ever I see a rules set for the early 17th century I tend to look at how unit types are differentiated between. I think that TWIDLET (as it’s affectionally been named) goes a very sensible way here, separating infantry into
- Early Tercios
- Swedish Brigade (as its own, more complicated entity)
Add to this 4 different pike-to-musket ratios, three levels of troop quality, standard/large/small unit sizes and special rules for specific equipment and tactics.
Cavalry is classed as
- Dutch School
- Swedish School
- Dragoons (not really cavalry of course, and the rules do reflect that)
Again, with different levels of troop quality and unit size and special rules (commanded shot, poor horses, …).
There are two introductory scenarios in the book (see below), some optional rules for using an even larger scale and other bits like slightly randomized troop quality. There are no army lists, but there are rules for quickly generating plausible ECW armies listed by year. Otherwise you’ll have to depend on scenario books or historical orders of battle.
After having read through the rules a few times I thought it was time for a test game, using the first introductory scenario from the rulebook.
Battle of Fleurus, 1622
Since the impending defeat of Friedrich V. of the Palatinate against the troops of the Emperor and the catholic league was forseeable Ernst von Mansfeld and his mercenary army were out of a job. No worries though, because they pretty much instantly got picked up by the Dutch who had money, but also a leviathan of an enemy named Spain in the 80 years war.
So Mansfeld and his trusty sidekick Christian von Braunschweig, along with a few thousand other dudes set off to the Netherlands. From Sedan 25,000 of them marched through Spanish Flanders to relief the siege of Bergen-op-Zoom. On their way they got attacked and harassed by peasants, especially so the infantry. On the day of the battle the army had shrunk from 25,00 to roughly 14,000. Morale was low, and while the men were trained according to the revolutionary writings of Maurice of Orange-Nassau, but they were inexperienced.
Spanish commander Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba was sent to stop the protestant army with a significantly smaller army of 8,000 to 8,500. Cordoba got in the way of Mansfeld, and he had to make ready for battle. So it came to the battle of Fleurus.
The protestant army under Mansfeld and Christian von Braunschweig has a numerical advantage, but is largely untested and has to fight uphill. The Spanish army (the soldiers themselves of course in large partswere Gemans, Burgundians, Italians, etc.) under Cordoba are in a better position and consist of experienced troops. As long as the Spanish don’t lose the game it’s a victory for them.
1x Musketeers (in defensive positions in the church yard)
5x Infantry Regiments
Below you can see the deployment of the forces. The rulebook suggests a table size of 4’x4′ at a base width of 60mm. I played on a table sized roughly 3.5’x5′, at a base width of 50mm. That’s easier to calculate and it happens to fit the frontage of my infantry units. Distances in Twilight of Divine Right, sensibly, are measured in base widths (BW), with unit frontages being 2 BW in line and 1BW in column.
Way up North on the Spanish lines you can see the churchyard being defended by the musketeers regiment to anchor the flank. I placed the artillery on each side right at the centre and in the front.
The game starts with the defending player’s artillery phase. As you can see they start by bombarding the cuirassiers on the Protestant right wing to hinder their advance. Cuirassiers are more sluggish to act than lighter cavalry, so it makes sense to make it even harder for them. This is followed by a full move of the attacker, then it’s the defender’s move and so on. So basically an I-go-U-go system.
A player’s turn is basically activating units (or groups thereof) to move. A unit (or group) may move straight ahead once per turn for free, any more complex or additional maneuvers or moves have to be rolled for. In theory a unit or group of units may act as often as they like, until they fail an action test to carry out a maneuver/move. This information is important, and for the life of me I couldn’t find it in the rulebook. Luckily the author was around on Facebook and clarified that for me.
The actual game rules are a mere 15 pages, which is great. In some placed I would have liked to see some additional clarifying words here and there, but maybe I’m just a bit daft, which is a possibility.
Anyway, on paper the potential infinite number of moves is a bit surprising, but in practice it works really well. Especially so since larger or less flexible formations such as Tercios or large cavalry formations get a malus on these rolls. On top of that units which make more than one move per turn can not cause enemy units to take morale tests, meaning they may not fight in mêlée or fire.
After the initial bombardment the Protestant army gets to move, starting with the right wing. The cuirassiers, hindered by the bombardment, fall back a little.
At the centre Mansfeld himself oversees the cannons being limbered up to get them closer to the enemy. His infantry regiments advance.
An overview of the first turn:
In the bottom of the photo you can see half of the Protestant cavalry wing having taken off halfway down the flank. That’s part of the scenario. Since morale is so down among the Protestant right wing I had to roll on the first turn to see how many regiments just mutiny and go home or elsewhere. Exactly three out of the six regiments decided to do so.
This doesn’t majorly impress the rest of the wing, and they storm up the slope towards the Spanish cannons.
Instead of standing, loading canister, or stuff like that the cannoneers run away and seek shelter among the ranks of the pikemen who are waiting right behind them for this very purpose. Just one of the rules in Twilight of Divine Right which I really like and which fits the period.
Slightly bamboozled, the cavalry stop and look down the Tercio’s musket.
To their right their comrade regiment is met by the Spanish left cavalry wing. A firefight emerges.
An overview of the centre and the left Spanish flank. Here the musketeers already opened fire at the cavalry who tried to charge the artillery:
At this point I should write a few words about combat in Twilight of Divine Right. As soon as units get into close combat (ie base contact) or into range to fire their muskets/pistols/etc. (and haven’t moved more than once this turn) firing/combat happens automatically. There are no to-hit rolls, to-wound rolls and all of that. Combat/Fire is depicted by the currently passive unit having to roll a morale check. This roll is modified by various factors (like a bonus for fighting downhill, if the unit has flank- or especially rear support, and so on. Factors like firepower, pikemen-to-musketeers-ratios and so on come into play). Depending on the kind of unit they are, a regiment can take a certain number of failed morale checks before they rout. And if you roll really, really badly a fully fresh unit may just dissolve at the first enemy contact.
At the other end of the Mansfeldian lines the left cavalry wing maneuvers around the church. Obviously they try to move around the flank and into the back of the Spanish units.
Spanish cavalry (Cuirassiers and a small regiment of Harquebusiers) turn face to prevent them from doing so.
As the two cavalry wings rush forward, the Protestant centre follows up at their own pace.
Unfortunately the right half of the centre seems to have chosen a really slow pace for that. 😛
With time they’re picking speed though and all signs point to a big old brawl as first Protestant regiments start marching up the hill.
Here we see two Protestant regiments (tightly packed behind one another, for that sweet rear support bonus) meeting a small Spanish Tercio.
To their left two more of Mansfeld’s regiments move up to the church to throw out these pesky musketeers.
Further left a cavalry battle emerges, after Spanish cuirassiers got to block the cavalry’s path right in the last second.
Will they hold though?
Right in the centre of the battlefield Mansfeld and his guns have arrived and limbered off. They open fire at the Elite Tercio to soften them up and/or to lure them out.
Then things start to happen at the right flank of Mansfeld’s army: The cavalry is tired of getting shot up and charge the Harquebusiers, who clearly are not into being charged and flee. The remaining cuirassiers beat the cavalry, who themselves rout after having taken a lot of damage in the foregone firefight. The victorious Spanish cuirassiers realize that their wing lost half of their units (ie the one regiment of Harquebusiers) and take that for an excuse to rout off the table as well. The left Spanish wing …left.
Meanwhile the other cavarly unit (the ones who tried to charge the artillery earlier) finally manage to get out of range of the musketeers on the hill. This of course makes the artillerists scurry out of the sheltering tercio. They man the guns and fire at the now clearly unhappy cavalrymen, who rout off the table. The Protestant right wing is down to a unit of Cuirassiers, but they refuse to run away, because they got a plan. The leftmost tercio is without flank support now, so the Cuirassiers move down their flank in a neat curve and up the Tercio’s flank.
Thus they make use of the third thing which may force morale checks – apart from enemy fire of close combat, infantry with unsecured flanks and enemy cavalry nearby have to roll for morale as well. Because that’s a very unnerving situation. So the cuirassiers only have to stand around, be scary, and fire a shot of pistol here and there, and the Tercio has to roll morale checks. The only thing the Tercio can do is ponderously turn to face the cuirassiers.
..which is what the Tercio does. This alone is enough for the cuirassiers to lose their nerve (their wing’s been reduced to just them after all and they have to roll for routing as a result of that fact each turn) and they remove themselves.
Here’s an overview of this late phase of the game:
In the left you can see the cavalry regiments still going at it. Both sides have taken damage, but it’s still unclear how this will end. In fact, this can be said for all the combat going on at this point, and which has been for a few turns now.
Art the church the small cuirassier regiment FINALLY got into gear to support their infantry comrades agains those pesky musketeers in the churchyard, who started breaking bricks out of the churchyard wall and throwing them downhill, along with some plant pots and gardening utensils! They prove to be a lot harder than expected (the musketeers as well as the gardening utensils).
The combat at the centre is also still going on. Both generals get into the fray to keep the lines intact. The large Protestant regiment (the yellow one) gets tired of this situation. They leave their position behind the cannons to support their comrades in the pivotal combat at the centre. The guns have been roaring wihout pause, but the cannonballs just bounced off the Elite status of the Tercio. Those guys now see a chance for a bit of payback, move up and open fire at the yellow regiment.
And then, as quickly as things got resolved at the other flank, the cavalry battle behind the church ends. The frontmost cavalry unit routs, the Spanish cuirassiers hot on their heels, they smash into the second cavalry regiment and get battered. The now victorious second cavalry regiment charges forth into the small unit of Harquebusiers who still seem resolute not to give up their bottleneck position. The cavalry routs and they take the wing’s last cavalry regiment with them! There goes the Protestant left cavalry wing.
The Harquebusiers are so impressed with their ability to not die that they decide to pursue the routing cavalry off the table and into the sunset. So much for the Spanish right wing.
Both sides being reduced to their centre, they basically start both rolling for who breaks first and keep stabbing and slashing at each other while doing so. In this case it’s the Protestant army who fail their roll first, so it’s a slight, close, microscopic…
Victory for the Spanish
Yowie Wowie. Carnage, destruction, death, insanity. Befitting the period. Historically the battle ended with the Spanish, under big losses, managing to repel Mansfeld’s army. He ordered to retreat (also under great losses), Cordoba’s army was too exhausted to pursue. Mansfeld took another road, got to Bergen-op-Zoom, lifted the siege. So basically a strategic defeat for the Spanish. Still, the battle of Fleurus was celebrated as a great victory (see the title of the painting right at the top).
Looking at the game’s result… not far from what happened historically at all!
Twilight of Divine Right plays MUCH faster and more fluent than I had expected. After a first few bumps to overcome I got into the rules. Despite the fact that I missed/misread one or two things on this first game. Again the cool thing about these rules is that they take so many characteristics of warfare of the 1st half of the 17th century (as far as I know) into account. It all makes sense, once you find it in the rules. Certain things could be a bit clearer I think, but all in all everything’s there and applying a dose of common sense usually helps a lot.
Currently it’s probably my rules set of choice for Thirty Years War battles. I’ll make sure to give Baroque another go, but currently I think Twilight of Divine Right does everything I’d expect a rules set to do. I’ll have to check how playing with others works, what the guys think of the rules, and if we run into any more situations which aren’t quite covered, but i think it’ll run smoothly now.
I hope that you enjoyed this little battle report and look into these rules!