Monday, 14 January 2019

Bags of delay

"You should never wear your best trousers when you go out to fight for freedom and truth" 

- Henrik Ibsen

Almost as unexpected as two wargaming related posts in a row is that we actually played a game last week. It was Novara, the set up of which is as described on James' blog. It's a surprise attack, and it played out in a reliably surprising manner. To allow for what happened historically, but still make a game of it is not easy, but James is rather good at that sort of thing and to be honest I don't think this was any exception; he was just unlucky. The key was that the French Gendarmes were both dismounted and undressed. Piquet is a game of turning cards and then acting on them so in this case the Gendarmes had to turn the Formation Change card - of which they have only one - to get themselves sorted out. It isn't particularly clear from James' blog, but they had to turn it twice: once to put their armour on and once to mount up. The decision before the French commander was therefore whether to arm on the first turn of the card and run the risk of the Swiss arriving while they were still unmounted, or to mount and set of to defend themselves without full harness, or indeed any trousers. An interesting dilemma, or at least under normal circumstances it would have been.

As a digression I must remind you that there are two different types of Piquet: the traditional (we use a version of this heavily amended by Peter and James for the Seven Years War) and one known by the acronym FoB (we use their heavily amended versions of this for Ancient Galleys, Punic Wars, Crusades and Italian Wars). "But," I hear you ask "doesn't that get confusing?". To which I can only answer "Of course it gets bloody confusing!". There a number of differences between the two, but the one which should concern us here is initiative. In the original version it is possible to get large swings of initiative; indeed it is possible, though rather unlikely, for one player to end up with virtually no initiative at all and stand there twiddling their thumbs all night while their opponent burns through their deck. We had a truly terrible SYW game where that happened back in September 2015 should you wish to check out the report. It was just such experiences that apparently led to the design of the revised version, in which both sides always get the same initiative, although you never know whether you might go first or second. If one side goes second then first on successive turns then they might get a run of up to a maximum of twenty card turns, but the opponent will have had ten before they start and will get ten after they finish. The key point is that you turn all your cards each turn and are therefore guaranteed to activate any special conditions such as the one above. Or are you?

Each deck also has a small number of Lull cards. When these are turned each player rolls a dice, if the non-active player wins then he gets to turn a card out of sequence. The law of averages says that it will all even out in the end. However, on this occasion, to represent their sleepiness, the French had a much larger number of Lull cards. The Swiss won a remarkably high proportion of them and ended their first turn through the deck with the French still only part way through theirs. Crucially, one of the unturned cards was Formation Change. I was therefore spared making the wrong decision of whether to mount or dress; instead they did nothing and were cut down still riding their doxies rather than their horses (historically accurate by the way). However, on the plus side Piquet's virtuous side meant that it was in the end a very close game. The Landsknechts - not fully prepared, but not completely déshabillés either - actually bested the fearsome Swiss pike, not least because of the damage done by their cannon (that last part also historically accurate). In fact had their commander not died inopportunely early on, the French might well have won. So, an odd game, but Piquet not entirely disgraced; not as much as the French cavalry anyway.

For the record, Peter's first throw of the New Year was a one on a D12; start as you mean to go on.

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