In Deo Veritas: Battle of Herbsthausen, 1645

Time to do a little Thirty Years War game again, right? Yes, always. Especially now, that all those battles of the time are having their 400th anniversary there’s plenty of opportunity to do so. Problem is that over the past few years I mainly looked into the Palatinate Phase of the war and I played the most important battles of 1622 already, some of them multiple times!

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Thirty Years War things and a cheeky duck.

So instead I went to the opposite end of the time line and today we’ll look into a rather decisive affair carried out in 1645: The battle of Herbsthausen, or the battle of Mergentheim. One of the latter military engagements of this whole dreadful war and it featured a whole new cast of protagonists than we’re used to.

The battle of Herbsthausen took place on 2nd May 1645, the respective commanders were French marshall general Turenne and Bavarian marshall von Mercy.

 

Prelude

In 1635 France, another great Catholic power in Europe, enters the Thirty Years War proper. Any pretense of this being a struggle between religions is dropped. France funded the enemies of Habsburg Spain and Austria throughout the 1620s and 30s and even entered hostilities openly during struggles in Switzerland and Northern Italy. After a disastrous defeat for the Swedes at Nördlingen in 1634 and Saxony (formerly a powerful and stalwart ally of the Swedes in Germany) making peace with the Emperor cardinal Richelieu, informal head of state, feared a strenghened Austria-Spain. In the spring of 1635 France declared war on Spain, followed by a declaration of war on the Holy Roman Empire in September.

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Despite keenly keeping up with the latest developments in terms of warfare, decades of internal turmoil left the French army weakened. This led to Spanish and Bavarian forces almost reaching Paris in 1636. Richelieu narrowly avoided that (and Parisiens tearing him apart after claiming he had weakened the city walls for material to build his palace) by organizing large popular army and the help of (formerly) Swedish mercenary general Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar.

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For some background on Bernhard, have a look at the introduction of my Battle of Wittenweiher battle report.

Hiring his services for a hefty fee and promises of lands in Alsace down the line gave the French army some time to get into fighting shape. There still was a severe lack of experienced commanders and troops, but the numbers alone were cause for concern in Vienna. Not the least because Spain was under direct threat now, which would stop manpower and funds coming in, and the emperor was chronically short on money.

This led to the longest and most horrendous phase of the war, the French-Swedish War. The two powers had a simple plan: have Swedish troops operate in the North of the German states, where they could be supplied by ships coming in from Sweden, and down into Bohemia. French-Weimarian troops would take over the fighting in Southern Germany and along the river Rhine.

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Sebastiaan Vrancx – De plundering van Wommelgem, (photo by Paul Hermans)

And that’s how things proceeded for the next 13 years. Each side was certain that there wouldn’t be a decisive battle any more, there was no more talk of religious freedoms, Saints in Armour, no more Lions of Midnight, just a power struggle for hegemony in Europe. Armies got smaller and more mobile to wreak havoc across ever larger swathes of land, following the doctrine of the time to live off the land they occupy.

 

The Battle

In early 1645 Turenne led his army of French and Weimarian troops across the Rhine and into Baden-Württemberg. The local Imperial-Bavarian forces, under Franz von Mercy, steadily drew the enemy further into their territory which led to supply problems for Turenne’s force. Mercy was not ready to face them in battle though since the Swedes rampaged through Bohemia at the time and Mercy had most of his cavarly ordered to join Imperial forces over there. Despite severe losses in Bohemia Mercy’s cavalry commander, Johann von Werth, returned just as the French-Weimarian force found themselves in a position which forced them to spread out to gather supplies from villages far off Turenne’s headquarters. Mercy had rumours spread about him dispersing his own army to guard fortresses along the Danube.

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French cavalryman and pikeman as well as a musketeer of the guard of cardinal Mazarin (Almena Editoral. Guerreros y Batallas. La Batalla de Tuttlingen 1643. Alberto Raul Esteban Ribas.)

In fact the Imperial-Bavarian troops made ready for battle and in the early hours of 2nd May 1645 caught Turenne’s position by surprise. None of the French-Weimarian artillery were present at that point, neither were parts of their cavalry. Almost all of the available cavalry was concentrated by Turenne on the left, south of Herbsthausen, while the infantry under Reinhold von Rosen deployed in a blocking position on the right, along the woodline on a hill which would discourage cavalry to attack them.

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A French diagram of the battle

Historically Mercy’s army attacked after some artillery barrages against the largely untested infantry along the woodline (Turenne’s army had taken horrible losses in a prior battle, which just got  replaced). Despite a successful counter-attack by Turenne’s cavalry the infantry wing faltered after just discharging one volley, Turenne’s cavalry got surrounded and the French-Weimarian units and guns hasting towards the battlefield were destroyed by Imperial-Bavarian forces who broke through.

After just over an hour the battle was over and ended in disaster for the French. The army was shattered, Turenne barely managed to flee to Hesse-Cassel, but lost all his infantry, most of his cavalry, 9 guns and what little supply they had with them. A great victory for the Imperial-Bavarian forces, which once again they did not manage to fully exploit. Turenne and Mercy would meet again for one more bout at the Second Battle of Nördlingen, where Franz von Mercy was killed.

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Herbsthausen today (Copyright: Bad-Mergentheim. Quelle: Landesarchiv-BW)

 

The Scenario

The scenario is available for free on the Helion Wargames website. I used it pretty much as is just to get a game on the table again.

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The French army deploys acrosss A and B, the Imperialist army deploys across X, Y and Z in two lines. The objective for either side is to break the will of the opposing army. Alternatively the Imperialist army has to get five or more brigades across the Northern table edge. The game lasts for 12 turns. If by then the French army still is in fighting shape and the Imperialists moved fewer than three brigades off the table it’s a major victory for the French.

The scenario suggests a table size of 4′ by 4′. I use a width of just over 5′ due to my brigades being up to a third wider than In Deo Veritas suggests and a table depth of almost 5′, so i deployed the Imperialist troops a bit further to the front than the diagram suggests. It’s all guesswork anyway.

The Forces

French-Weimarian Army

The French army brought roughly 3,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry to the battle.

Army Commander: Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, vicomte de Turenne

 

Left Wing: Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, vicomte de Turenne

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Turenne was, along with Condé, the most significant French military leader of his time. Lauded by contemporaries and successors (Napoleon ordered his officers to “read and re-read” Turenne’s writings and called him the most important modern military commander) as a military genius and early proponent for Manöverstrategie with a keen eye for supplies and logistics. Born and raised a Calvinist he only converted to Catholicism in the 1660s after Louis XIV.’s explicit wish. His legacy was so highly regarded that even during the French revolution his grave was barely touched.

In this scenario he’s the commander of the left wing of the French army, with 5 cavalry brigades under his command.

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Right Wing: Reinhold von Rosen

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Reinhold von Rosen, of Baltic German descent and life-long Lutheran, was with the Swedish court since his youth. He had his own cavalry command at the battle of Lützen, later he made a career in Bernhard von Sachsen-Weimar’s army. After Bernhard’s death he was one of four commanders of the Weimarian army who led the army into French service.

In this game he’s the commander of the right wing of the French army, with four infantry brigades and one cavalry brigade under his command.

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Imperialist-Bavarian Army:

The Imperialist-Bavarian army brought roughly 5,500 infantry, 4,500 cavalry and 9 guns to the battle.

Army commander: Franz von Mercy

 

Left Cavalry Wing: Johann von Werth

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Johann von Werth’s wide populartiy was earned as much for his feats as a cavalry commander as for his career. Born as the eldest of 8 to a farmer and his wife, the family had to move move into a small hut after the passing of his father and Johann worked as a labourer at neighboring farms. He joined the Spanish army in 1610 and participated in many noteworthy battles of the Thirty Years War, starting with the battle of White Mountain as a cuirassier, from 1631 he served under Tilly in the Bavarian army and got his first regimental command in 1632.

After his cavalry played a pivotal role in the great victory at Nördlingen in 1634 he was made lieutenant field marshal by the Duke of Bavaria and the emperor made him Freiherr, along with handing several estates over to Werth.

In 1636 his cavalry came as close as viewing distance to Paris, which led to a panic within the city, but the attack was thwarted.

in 1638 Werth was taken prisoner and Richelieu demanded him to be handed over to the French, where Werth spent four rather comfortable years. Upon his return, Werth toured some larger German where he was welcomed as a hero. He entered Bavarian service, made general shortly thereafter and Franz von Mercy found a congenial partner in Werth.

In this scenario he’s the commander of the left cavalry wing of the Imperialist-Bavarian army, with four cavalry brigades  under his command.

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Centre: Franz von Mercy

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One of the most capable military leaders of the latter Thirty Years War. He kept French armies out of Southern Germany time and time again. 1643 he was appointed field marshal of Bavaria and commander in chief of the Bavarian army. Multiple times he managed to catch his opponents flat-footed with surprise attacks.

In this scenario he’s the commander of the infantry centre of the Imperialist-Bavarian army, with four infantry brigades and two gun batteries under his command.

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He’s backed up by…

Centre, 2nd Line: Johann von Reuschenberg

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Knight of the Teutonic Order, and Mercy’s second in command. He was against the attack at Herbsthausen, indstead he suggested waiting for further reinforcements. Other than Werth, he had a reputation of arrogance, which made him less popular with the troops. Nonetheless, Reuschenberg was a capable, reliable and experienced commander.

In this scenario he’s the commander of the infantry reserve of the Imperialist-Bavarian army, with four infantry brigades, one cavalry brigade and one gun battery under his command.

 

Right Cavalry Wing: Christoph Heinrich Gayling von Altheim

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A long-time officer under Werth’s command. Him and his regiment were pretty much through all the ups and downs. Mutinies, accusations of unsanctioned plundering and extortion of civilians (Werth himself wrote a tearful letter to the respective count to let him know about the pitiful state of the shoes of Gayling’s regiments who had done so much for the empire to justify the extortion), involvement in witch trials (which had gotten pretty rare at that point) and so on.

All that aside though, he seems to have been one of Werth’s most trusted cavalry commanders.

In this scenario he’s the commander of the right cavalry wing of the Imperialist-Bavarian army, with three cavalry brigades and a company of dragoons under his command.

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In the scenario PDF Col. Hans Jakob Kolb is listed as leading the right cavalry wing, but I’m fairly certain that there’s a little misunderstanding there. Kolb played an important role on that flank, but based on what I read he was the commander of the cavalry brigade (Kolb Arquebusiers) in Ruischenberg’s wing.

 

The Rules

For this game I use the In Deo Veritas rules, written by Phillip Garton, published by Helion Wargames. You can find my review and other game reports using those rules here.

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I used the rules pretty much as written and as stated in the scenario PDF. I just used a few little house rules:

.) Victorious cavalry always have to test for Impetuous Pursuit when ever they rout an enemy or destroy a unit. (Heard about that in a youtube video, thought it was a good idea)
.) Command ranges are increased to 8″. (According to the larger unit footprints I use)
.) Field Artillery ranges are increased to 24″. (Just so they can fire from the start of the battle rather than having to move into range)
.) In terms of General Will the French count as having 11-15 brigades in their army. (The 5-10 brigades bracket seemed too punishing)

 

 

The Game

 

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As you can see the Imperial-Bavarian army is drawn up in a pretty traditional manner, with two lines of infantry at the centre and cavalry pretty much equally positioned to both flanks. The French-Weimarian army on the other hand is organized in just two wings/commands, with nearly all the cavalry on their left. Turenne trusted Rosen’t infantry to hold their flank while he planned to roll up the Imperial-Bavarian right with his cavalry and then go on to batter the flank of the enemy infantry.

On the fly I bumped up artillery ranges a bit, so the imperial artillery was able to open fire at Rosen’s infantry right away.

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As usual, that’s pretty impressive and all, but doesn’t do much actual damage.

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After two such salvos the Imperial-Bavarian infantry’s got enough and they start advancing. The second line much more enthusiastically so than Mercy’s first line, so immediately a little traffic jam emerges in the centre.

Meanwhile Werth’s Imperial-Bavarian cavalry on the left move down the flank in a little curve, cautious as not to get tangled up in the enemy infantry.

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On the imperial right though Christoph Heinrich Gayling – fearing a counter-charge by that ambitious Turenne, gets right into it.

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Things are kicking off. During set-up I elected to place that little detachment of dragoons amidst the battle line, with a cavalry regiment at the very flank, because I worried that a French brigade may break through. As it turns out, having a detachment of mounted dragoons in your battle line causes more headaches than anything, because I built a weak link right in the middle of my chain.

Either way, the dragoons keep their distance and fire at the enemy cavalry (uphill, but better than nothing) as cavalry goes straight in. As you can see, that crafty Imperialist Sporck cavalry slip right past the enemy lines.

The initial charge uphill sends Weimarian cavalry brigade Öhm packing right away. In return one of the Imperial-Bavarian brigades is pushed back and Weimarian Baden cavarly follow up immediately to finish the job.

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Here’s an overview as things start to happen at that point:

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a.) Werth’s cavalry circled around Rosen’s infantry and engage Weimarian cavalry. Half the wing stands back as a reserve in case the infantry start pivoting around and try something. b.) The Imperial infantry centre manage to coordinate themselves and Mercy leads his men forward. Reuschenberg hang back for a bit to see how the big cavalry kerfuffle (c.) ) turns out. d.) Mercy’s infantry got forward so swiftly that they can actually help out a bit.

A closer-up look at d.) shows how Mercy’s infantry pins down some Weimarian cavalry Turenne just called in to help out on their right flank.

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A most welcome event for the belaguered Imperial-Bavarian cavalry over there.

Meanwhile on the other flank Werth’s cavalry (Lapierre) gets the edge over Rosen’s cavalry brigade, who are pushed back. Werth sends in more cavalry immediately to exploit the gap.

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Things seem to look up for the Imperialist side. Even the artillery fire starts to show some effect as French infantrymen of Oysonville brigade take are getting disordered.

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At this point it is pretty clear though that the battle will be won or lost at Turenne’s / Gayling’s flank. Weimarian Baden cavalry follow up on the retreating Imperialist cavalry. They turn tail and flee the scene.

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Keen on breaking through, the Baden cavalry dash on. Just before the feat is done here comes Col. Hans Jakob Kolb and his two cavalry squadrons! This is why Reuschenberg and his whole second line hung back. Wouldn’t want any enemy cavalry one’s back.

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The impetuous pursuit disordered the Weimarian Baden cavalry a bit, Kolb’s cavalry gets the upper hand and shoos the enemy back to their lines. This is what actually happened historically. More or less. We do know that after the battle Kolb was awarded by Maximilian I. of Bavaria: “1 golden chain (worth 500 Thalers), 1 golden medallion with angels’ heads and 1,500 Thalers in ducats”. So there were very direct incentives for being at the right place in the right time.

This doesn’t mean that things at that flank are all rosey for the Imperial-Bavarian side though, as the poor dragoons find themselves righgt in the middle of everyone’s attention. Used by a shield by their own, dishevelled comrades, and as a prime target by enemy cavalry.

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There go the dragoons. The battle rages on at Turenne’s flank, the odds are still pretty even.

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Gayling’s wing is starting to get fatigued, meaning they aren’t allowed to use the ‘Attack’ order until they rally, which isn’t all too probable, given all the action.

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On the up side, two of Mercy’s infantry manage to rout one of Turenne’s cavalry with some more musket salvos. They’re firing up-hill, but the volume of fire is sufficient to send the cavalry packing.

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Gayling’s cavalry wing is exhausted. Their next order must be “Withdraw”. Luckily for them Turenne’s wing is also showing signs of fatigue, which means they are under “Hold” orders for the next turn. Somehow this doesn’t stop the carnage though.

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Over at Werth’s flank though things are looking up as Rosen’s cavalry is routed.

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Lapierre’s cavalry storm after them and past Herbsthausen.

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This puts Rosen’s wing in a bad predicament. Their sole cavalry cover is gone. Werth’s cavaly start circling the infantry brigades, causing some disorder with point-blank pistol fire. So much so that the whole wing is starting to fatigue.

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At this point in time what happened historically was that Werth sent most of his cavalry wing over to their right to help out Gayling against Turenne’s troops. Which would be a good idea indeed, but this presumes that Rosen’t infantry is basically running away right now. Which isn’t the case in my game here. Instead, Werth’s cavalry is a bit entangled with two enemy infantry brigades.

Here’s another overview:

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You can see that at the centre a pretty impressive firefight between Mercy’s and Rosen’s infantry has broken out. Again, pretty much at equal terms. Reuschenberg’s second infantry line are getting into position to support them, but for now there’s still remains of that Weimarian Baden cavalry to deal with. The ones who tried to break through Imperial lines and were just stopped by Kolb’s cavalry.

The two cavalry wings are entirely evenly matched and just dismantle each other one by one, Turenne is slowly getting the upper hand though. Then that scrappy Col. Kolb turns up to rout the Baden cavalry!

That hill to the south of Herbsthausen is strewn with bodies of horses and men, dead or dying. Turenne and Gayling get one last look at each other as Gayling has to withdraw. His wing is folding, while Turenne’s equally battered wing is merely exhausted. But that’s just a tiny little detail. Both lost all their brigades but one.

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At the Imperial-Bavarian left wing Werth, supported by a brigade of Reuschenberg’s infantry, orders an all-out attack. Weimarian infantry of Schmidtberg’s brigade, disrupted as they are, are attacked by Bavarian cavalry while Hattstein’s infantry brigade is caught in a horrifying crossfire between two cavalry brigades and Reuschenberg infantry.

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Hattschein’s men hold, but retire back up the hill to get into a more favourable position. The men of regiment Schmidtberg aren’t as stalwart, rout and look to flee into Herbsthausen. Bavarian cavalry brigade Fleckenstein catch up on them and ride them down.

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At the centre infantry keep firing at each other, but neither side dare the risky push-of-the-pike.

In the end both French-Weimarian wings are exhausted. Imperial-Bavarian right wing is bascially destroyed and retreat, but the will of the French-Weimarian army is broken, dissolve and flee. With Werth’s cavalry wing in pretty good shape it becomes a massacre. The rest of Turenne’s wing is cut down, but the man himself is able to flee. His second in command, Reinhold von Rosen, is less fortunate though and is captured.

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It’s a Major Victory for the Imperial-Bavarian army!

Debriefing

Okay, this is a tough game for the French-Weimarian side. Even though I have to say that the Imperial cavalry especially had some very lucky dice rolls, and ultimately, these battles very, very often are decided on the cavalry flanks.

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Source: Wikipedia. You can get a much larger-size variant of this picture over there.

What tickled me was how some of the historical events which took place during the battle were reflected in the game. Kolb thwarting the French cavalry breakthrough, Turenne’s wing hitting Gayling’s wing hard, so they need additional support, Rosen getting taken prisoner, all of that.

 

In Deo Veritas works as well as ever. As I said in my review, and probably the following game reports as well – don’t be discouraged by these rules superficially looking like they don’t allow for period flavour just because they don’t go into details and terms. All it takes is adding or substracting a little modifier and you get there.

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The house rules worked well, I think. There are some optional rules for this scenario you may want to consider as well:

.) Rosen’s infantry could be classified as Raw as opposed to Trained. Alternatively, roll a D6 for each of Rosen’s infantry. On a 1-3 they are Raw instead of Trained.
.) Rosen’s infantry sitting at the edge of the woods could have their Infantry With Pike bonus vs. cavalry doubled.
.) Rosen’s infantry could get -1 Saving Die vs. artillery fire. The position in the forest was clever for discouraging cavalry, but falling branches, splintering wood and so on made artillery fire more effective.
.) Werth’s cavalry wing: Roll for each cavalry unit in this wing. On a 4+ they count as Veterans. Because many of them were.
.) The French could have a detachment of infantry sitting in Herbsthausen.
.) You could have some more French cavalry show up at the Northern table edge as the game progresses. They were on their way South towards Herbsthausen from Mergentheim, but didn’t arrive in time to participate in the battle. If the Imperial-Bavarian player takes longer, you could have two cavalry brigades with Attack orders pop up in march column along the road. Maybe roll for them to arrive fom turn #7 or something.
.) You could make Turenne a Hero.

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There was no memorial to the Battle of Herbsthausen, up to 2021, when this display board thing was put up. (© Stadt Bad Mergentheim)

This scenario works well as a solo/cooperative game actually. Maybe that’s preferrable to one of the players sitting there for a good chunk of the game, waiting for the other(s) to move up their overwhelming number of figures. You don’t need much of an AI for this scenario I think. The main thing being that Turenne’s counter-attack (or the lack thereof) could be ruled somehow. If there is favourable situation like Geyling’s wing having advanced into charge range for Turenne, but not too well supported by Reuschenberg’s or Mercy’s troops you could roll for Turenne maybe trying to grab the initiative.

Oh, and do use the Random Events table for solo/coop games, as per the Solo Play Guide for In Deo Veritas.

 

Right, I hope that you enjoyed this game report; if you have any questions or ideas, put them in the comments section below or contact @StoriesTabletop on Twitter!

4 thoughts on “In Deo Veritas: Battle of Herbsthausen, 1645

  1. Fantastic game report. Great feel for the flow of the action. Sounds like you had a good time playing the scenario.

    It’s interesting to see that the battlefield still looks much like the historical map.

    1. Oh, thanks very much for dropping by and leaving a comment!

      Yes, it’s really interesting, isn’t it. I wasn’t sure if the wood actually still was to the North and was too lazy to look it up, so I didn’t point it out in the text, but it really struck me how similar the area looks to this day. Which of course is not common with landscapes over the course of 400 years!

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