Setting the Scene for Under the Southern Cross

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I. Introduction

The Flying Colors series of tactical naval games, designed by Mike Nagel, has proven to be not only popular, but very flexible in simulating a variety of naval actions from the age of sail. Followers of the series have seen fleet actions in the Atlantic and Mediterranean between the great European fleets of Great Britain, France and Spain, fought battles off the coast of India, in the Great Lakes of North America, and even in the Baltic and Black Seas.  Volume IV: Under the Southern Cross (USC) promises an entirely new set of challenges as the scene of action shifts to the rocky Pacific coast and the expansive river systems of South America.

Silver Bayonet: The Game as History

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SilverBayonet25-ban1(RBM)Here’s a look at the scenarios in Silver Bayonet, and some of the history behind them.

There are two kinds of scenarios in the game: Standard and Campaign. The Standard scenarios are smaller and, for the most part, cover some portion of the action which occurred during the campaign. The Campaign scenarios are larger and more involved, although they are also divided into two categories. There are three smaller campaign scenarios, each of which deals with a particular brigade’s operations during the campaign, and there are two Grand Campaign scenarios covering the entire campaign.

Lion of Judah Historical Background (Part 1)

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Two Empires: Italy and Ethiopia

Italy came relatively late to the colonial race. After completing her unification process in 1870, the new country soon demonstrated an imperialistic drive that led her to stake a claim to Tunis. France moved first, however, and annexed the former Ottoman province much to the chagrin of the Italians, who joined the Triple Alliance along with Germany and Austria-Hungary. In 1869, the inauguration of the Suez Canal allowed the Italians to set up posts in Eritrea, on the Red Sea coast, followed soon by the establishment of a protectorate on the coast of Somaliland. With Italian outposts in Eritrea and Somalia, the next natural step seemed to be to unify both territories and create a colonial Empire, a mandatory requirement for late 19th century Great Power status. This led the Italians to clash with the legendary kingdom of Ethiopia (known as Abyssinia in Europe), another Empire that had been expanding during the last quarter of the 19th century.


The Seven Years War: Frederick’s Gamble – “The First World War”, 1756-1762 – Part 1

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Readers interested in learning more detail about the play of 7YW:FG should read the our earlier article, The 7 Years War: Frederick’s Gamble – Playtest Report.


Designer Greg Ticer’s hand-drawn 7YW:FG playtest map.

Theaters of Operation and General Introductory Overview

The fighting depicted in The Seven Years War: Frederick’s Gamble game (7YW: FG) can in historical terms be divided into distinct theaters of operation. The naval conflict, abstracted in the game, was chiefly between the British and the French, as were the conflicts in India, North America, the Caribbean and elsewhere which, when including the broader European stage, result in many deeming this conflict “The First World War”. 

Fredericks Gamble NA Theatre copyMINI-MAP NORTH AMERICA: On the North American frontier, the British suffered early defeats because their army was not effectively trained nor equipped for wilderness fighting. By 1758 these deficits had been remedied and the tide turned in favor of the British. During 1759, known to history as the “Anno Mirabilis” (Year of Miracles), the British launched a three-pronged offensive against the last French controlled territory and, by end of that year, achieved their aim of destroying France’s North American colonial presence.  In 7YW:FG  terms, that colonial theater of operations would be considered “Dominated” and the British enabled to annually transfer troops, e.g. strength points (SP’s), out of North America.

Lion of Judah Units, Part 3: The Imperial Guards

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Soldiers of the Negus

The Ethiopian army that defended their country against the Italian invasion was more akin to medieval bands of warriors than a modern army under a unified command. The armies were nominally commanded by the Emperor, or King of Kings (Negus Negusti) Haile Selassie, but in reality each warlord, or Ras, did as they pleased. These Ras commanded their forces as they saw fit and only nominally followed the orders of the Emperor, who had a very limited ability to coordinate the operations of the different tribal levies. In fact two of them, Ras Kassa and Ras Mulugheta, were rivals that operated entirely on their own.

BLOODY THURSDAY: The Battle of Gravelotte-St. Privat 1870

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“It is difficult to think of a great passage of arms in which one critical day of battle was so strangely – and so soon – underscored by another” – David Ascoli, author of A Day of Battle

On the evening of Tuesday, August 16th 1870, the battlefield of Mars-la-Tour looked much like countless other battlefields of history. The devastation spread from the Yron River valley in the west almost to Gravelotte on the eastern end of the field. Physical destruction and human sorrow was prevalent and overwhelming throughout the length and breadth of this deadly ground. After the exceptionally brutal “day of battle”, about 33,000 casualties had been inflicted on the two armies – roughly equally split – and both forces were spent. Superficially, the battle was a draw when scoring by a measure of raw casualties or relative field position of the combatants. But in actuality, this was an astounding Prussian victory and a near-miraculous outcome considering the odds against them at the start of the day. The Prussian 2nd Army of Prince Frederick Charles had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and Marshal Bazaine’s French Army of the Rhine had no one to blame but themselves.


German period map showing troops positions of all three battles around Metz – August 14th (Borny-Colombey), August 16th (Mars-la-Tour) and August 18th (Gravelotte-St.Privat)

Lion of Judah Units, Part 2

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lojp2_1   Italian Guerrillas: the Guillet Detachment (1942-1943 What-if Scenario)

   The History

From the Allied liberation of Ethiopia in 1941 until late 1943, the Italians mobilized guerrillas to fight in the former Africa Orientale    Italiana. They were organized into mobile guerrilla ‘bandes’ or detachments and were armed with Italian and captured British       weapons. Often they received the support of local tribesmen who were traditionally hostile to the Ethiopian Empire, such as Eritreans, Somalis, and Galla tribes from southern Ethiopia.

Lion of Judah Units, Part 1

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This article is the first of a series of short articles that take you inside various military units in Javier Romero’s Lion of Judah, just recently added to our P500 list. Enjoy! – Gene


LoJ pic for InsideGMTGideon Force (1940-1941 Scenario)

The History

Gideon Force was a small native African force led by Major Orde Wingate (1903-1944), who would later gain recognition as commander of the Chindits in the Burma campaign. Wingate arrived in Khartoum, Sudan, in November 1940 to raise a guerrilla force that would harass the Italians. Wingate proposed to create a guerrilla in the Italian rearguard, stating that a“… thousand resolute and well-armed men can paralyse 10,000”.


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At Any Cost P500 Page

The tragedy is that, obsessed with avoiding defeat, he was blind to a beckoning victory.” – David Ascoli, author of A Day of Battle, referring to French Marshal Francois Bazaine


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The Battle of Mars-la-Tour was fought on August 16th, 1870 and is considered to be one of the more remarkable battles of military history. Not only were the circumstances under which it was fought most singular, but its impact on the future of Europe was monumental. The importance of the engagement on that “day of battle” alone makes it ripe for study in the wargaming community, having had such a significant impact on the rise of the German Empire and the fall of Napoleon III’s Second French Empire. Yet, the very uniqueness and oddity of that “murderous day” make it almost impossible to simulate accurately on the game board. Such was the challenge that Fred Manzo and I decided to take on with the design of the Mars-La-Tour scenario for At Any Cost: Metz 1870. So how does At Any Cost attempt to accurately simulate such an odd and convoluted battle? Well, let me tell you ……

The French army in the summer of 1870 was already in full retreat after its first series of engagements. A significant portion of the French Army of the Rhine was defeated at the Battle of Spicheren by parts of the Prussian First and Second Armies and being pursued, albeit loosely, to the fortress town of Metz. Without the possibility of any support, the French army huddled around the fort as it decided its next course of action. Emperor Napoleon III, pressured to return to Paris in order to deal with various defeatist political issues, turned over command of the Army of the Rhine to Marshal Achilles Bazaine. Not his first choice, Bazaine nonetheless reluctantly took the reins from Napoleon and received his final, somewhat contradictory, instructions – protect the army under all circumstances and get it to Verdun and Chalons to rejoin the Emperor to form a new army.

These multiple and divergent goals are reflected in the game’s Victory Track mechanic. The French player must not only try to open his retreat route to Verdun by capturing key towns and map edge hexes, but he must do so without losing too many units or – even worse – being cut off from Metz. The Prussians don’t need to worry about casualties at all and simply strive to take important towns on the map that threaten the French army’s position and thwart its mission.

The Other Forgotten War

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Aac pic 1

August 16th marks the anniversary of the Battle of Mars-la-Tour and August 18th the anniversary of the Battle of Gravelotte-St. Privat, both fought in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War. These two battles were titanic struggles, yielding approximately 60,000 casualties in total. Both battles were tremendously important military events when placed into proper historical perspective. In fact, Bismarck himself stated that the Battle of Mars-la-Tour – “beyond argument” – decided not only the Franco-Prussian War, but the future of Europe as well. The subsequent Battle of Gravelotte-St. Privat, two days later, sealed that fate by locking the French Army of the Rhine into its tomb at the Metz fortress. These battles simultaneously killed an aging French Empire and gave birth to a new German Reich.

Two such important battles fought in a war that, despite its undeniable influence on European and world history, seems to garner little attention or enthusiasm in the wargaming community. Aside from the obvious historical importance of the conflict, most of the battles were hard-fought, brutal affairs with the Prussians suffering the majority of the losses. Yet most gamers hold to the prevalent misconception that all Franco-Prussian War games are “slam dunks” for the Prussians. At the grand-strategic level, this may be true. The Prussian Army at this time was an efficient war machine that was well-prepped, well-led and confident after mauling the Austrians in 1866. Helmuth von Moltke, Chief of the Prussian General Staff, was a master strategist and well-served by the talented General Staff. Moltke grabbed the initiative and outmaneuvered a lethargic and ill-prepared French Emperor Napoleon III and his “laissez-faire” generals. The French army in 1870 lived in the shadow of its former glory and its elite reputation was still alive around the world (particularly in the U.S.). Realistically, however, the French aura of military power and superior generalship was a mere facade. So indeed, on the grand-strategic tier alone, the Franco-Prussian War was probably a mismatch. Yet, most wargames that have been published about this war have covered it exactly at that level – a scale at which the game is unavoidably unbalanced in favor of the Prussians and their German allies.