Warfare In The Age Of Reason: Battle of Kolin 1757

drillmanual18th-century European military drill manual

Now that I’ve had my interest sparked in the Seven Years War (SYW) period, I’ve been doing some homework. For background, a lot of people point to the outstanding Wiki-style Kronoskaf SYW Project website for more than 2200 articles and 5500 pictures relating to the period. I’ve found the maps collection to be particularly compelling since I have a huge interest in how landscapes shape warfare in all periods.

I’ve also laid out a small initial investment on the very popular Warfare In The Age Of Reason rulebook written by Tod Kershner and Dale Wood, published by Emperor’s Press and available at On Military Matters. I also found a Facebook page dedicated to the rules which I plan on using for visual inspiration and gaming information in the coming months. At some point, tracking down a copy of the out-of-print Uniforms of the Seven Years War 1756-63 by John Mollo and Malcolm McGregor sounds like thing to do if I want a collection of handy plates on my bookshelf.

Fortunately there are a few players at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY who already have pretty sizable collections of SYW 15mm miniatures from a represenative cross-section of period armies. Some guys at the club also have figures from the period in 28mm, and one of the newer members is talking about running a campaign-style SYW game next year. Even with models at the ready for gaming at our club, I’m already eyeballing the 18th-century 15mm figures available from Old Glory Miniatures and Essex Miniatures as one of my projects for 2014.

Kolin1757

Battle of Kolin, June 18, 1757

This past weekend, my son and I got together with some club members in Brooklyn for another SYW game, this time the Battle of Kolin June 18th, 1757. The battle came a couple months prior to our previously-played scenario of Moys from September 1757, and proved to be the first defeat experienced by King Frederick II of Prussia.

Admired by contemporaries and scholars today as one of the greatest military leaders in history, Frederick The Great and his Prussian forces were viewed at the dawn of the SYW period as the greatest standing army in Europe. Aligned with Great Britain and surrounded by Austrian-aligned adversaries on the continent, Frederick’s tactical innovations led his often outnumbered forces to numerous victories.

At Kolin in the present day Czech Republic, Frederick led some 34,000 Prussians in a march hoping to destroy the Austrian army seeking to reinforce the besieged city of Prague. Unfortunately for Frederick, he chose to confront the superior force of 44,000 Austrians on their home turf defending from the rolling hills near Kolin. On the hot summery day in June, Frederick’s aggressive gamble would result in his undoing.

 IMG_2605Starting hilltop positions of the Austrians with the oak wood to their right and the Prussian lines before them

IMG_2591The central Austrian defenses with heavy guns at the front, cavalry in reserve and skirmishers in the town beyond

Our battle started historically with the Austrian infantry aligned across the defending hills, three heavy gun batteries at the center and cavalry to either end of the line. The Prussian advance began with a cavalry push on their left around a small town held by Austrian allied skirmishers. Frederick, near the center of the line, began a slow and cautious march to the hill objectives toward the center.

IMG_2597Prussian cavalry charge into the Austrian right

IMG_2596Austrians advanced on the skirmishers in the village

On the Prussian left, a cavalry charge was met with a counter charge from the Austrian-aligned Hussars. Nearby, Austrian line infantry advanced in the hopes of driving skirmishers out of the nearby town. If the initial Austrian press worked, the entire Prussian right flank would fold.

IMG_2602As disordered Hussars retreat, Austrian heavy cavalry ride to answer the Prussian charge

IMG_2593Austrian heavy cavalry gallop to defend their right

As the Hussars folded under the attack and retreated in disorder, Austrian heavy cavalry charged back toward the advancing Prussians. With the Prussian charge repulsed with losses on both sides, the Austrian cavalry now looked to turn the Prussian left flank with more heavy cavalry rushing from the rear.

IMG_2592Gun batteries at the Austrian center

IMG_2604Prussians advance on the Austrian center and receive cannon fire

IMG_2600Prussian lines continue the advance as cavalry reserves in the distance rush to buoy their softening left flank

At the center of the table, the Austrian lines held their ground and pulled into the nearby woods to defend against the coming Prussian advance. As Prussian infantry advanced several lines deep, they were met with several turns of cannon fire yet continued their press forward with Fredrick attached at the rear. If you listened carefully, I think you could hear Fredrick’s famed shout of “do you want to live forever?” echoing from the tabletop as he urged his Prussians onward.

IMG_2603The Austrian battery takes casualties from the advancing Prussians

IMG_2601The Austrian battery is overrun in a Prussian charge

Eventually, the  overwhelming force of the Prussian lines closed on the Austrian batteries at the front of the line. One battery was destroyed and a second fled the field following a charged assault. With Austrian infantry now staring down from on the hill, the Prussians marched uphill to their objective and closed within charge distance.

IMG_2598Prussians press the attack into the woods and up the hill

IMG_2599The wood becomes a locked melee as firing erupts all along both lines and into the distance on the Austrian left

A charge and counter charge locked lines in melee in the woods at the Austrian right as Prussians pressed their advance now all along the line. On the center hill, an Austrian line wheeled down the hill to envelope the Prussian lines in fire both to the front and at their flank. The one remaining Austrian battery continued to pummel the Prussian lines scrambling for the center hill. On the far hill on the Austrian left, lines finally made a move on the Prussians.

With the cavalry charges at a stalemate on the Austrian right and the Prussian lines split into two losing combats at the hills, the Prussians failed a morale test under heavy losses and ceded the field to the Austrian army. Once again, Frederick’s gambit at Kolin had resulted in defeat.

fredIIkolin‘ Frederick the Great After the Battle of Kolin’ by Julius Schrader (1859)

After two games in the Seven Years War period in as many weeks, I’m hooked on the era. The games begin cautiously with slowly-deployed movements but quickly erupt into vicious volleys of fire, swift charges and hand-to-hand combats. Even with thoughtful strategic planning at the outset, the battles quickly evolve into chaotic back-and-forth tactical blood baths. The constant morale checks as the battlefield shifts and fire is taken becomes as much a path to outcome as men falling on the field. And, as with the original battle at Kolin, the Austrians defenders proved to be too much a match again for the Prussian invaders this past weekend.

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Warfare In The Age Of Reason: Battle of Moys 1757

moysfullA c. 1790 map of the Battle of Moys, September 7, 1757

This past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY, there was some focused excitement around around two big boardgames. One group of players was huddled around an ongoing campaign using the very popular Zombicide and its new expansions. Another crowd anxioulsy anticipated the arrival of the newly-released Designer’s Edition of the old Steve Jackson Games sci-fi battle classic Ogre which comes in a monstrous 30-pound box overflowing with huge game maps, 3D models and more than 500 cardboard playing pieces.

At the back of the club, four of us had a go at a game of more traditional historical miniatures wargaming our club was founded on nearly 30 years ago. After a long hiatus, our club President had decided to blow the dust off his “Warfare In The Age Of Reason” rules from Emperor’s Press and host a few of us for a learning game of the Battle of Moys from the Seven Years War. After so many hours spent with World War II miniatures gaming with Flames of War, it was great to dig into a period ruled by wigs, muskets and traditional European battlefield tactics.

moysdetailMap detail of the area of the game scenario

The Seven Years War was a different kind of world war from a very different era. Fought throughout Europe, along the West African coast and in the colonial outposts of India, the Philippines and the Americas, the war raged from 1756-1763 between various kingdoms and alliances competing for land and trade worldwide. By the fall of 1757, several major battles had already been fought including the Prussian defeat of Austrian defenders at the Battle of Prague in May 1757 and the Austrian defeat of Prussians in answer at the Battle of Kolin a month later.

Near Moys in modern Poland on September 7th, 1757, a 26,000-man Austrian force led by General Franz Leopold von Nádasdy moved toward routing an isolated and retreating Prussian force half its size commanded by Lieutenant- General Hans Karl von Winterfeldt.  A small group of advance Prussian troops were posted on the Jäkelsberg outside of Moys but the majority of the army lay encamped at a distance. Rather than attack at first light of dawn, the Austrians waited for the Prussians to complete their breakfasts and morning drills before moving columns of Grenadiers on the defending Prussians. As subsequent Austrian waves pushed onto the heights, Hussars met the retreating Prussians. Surprised by the Austrian attack, Prussian leadership rushed reinforcements from nearby Gorlitz to the fight, briefly retaking the Jäkelsberg. The battle for the raged back and forth, but by mid afternoon the Austrians had deployed lines of regulars in the neighboring plains and forced an eventual Prussian retreat.

IMG_2537Austrian Grenadier columns enter the field toward Moys

Our game began with advancing Austrian Grenadiers and artillery moving in column on the central Jäkelsberg objective hill. With short firing range for small arms, there were a couple turns of movement and positioning from column into line as the Prussians remained stationary in their positions on the hill.

IMG_2539Prussians on the Jäkelsberg spot the advancing columns of Austrians

The Austrian medium cannons also began the game out of range, necessitating them to spend a turn moving and getting into position to fire on the Prussian lines.

IMG_2556Austrian guns deploy on a hill near the Jäkelsberg

By the third turn, the lines of advancing Austrians began softening-up the Prussian left and center with musket volleys as cannon likewise opened fire. On the far side of the hill, Hussar cavalry raced to the flank and skirmishers moved toward the right lines.

IMG_2555Austrian lines advance on the Jäkelsberg as guns fire

With things on the Jäkelsberg heights looking bad for the Prussians, fresh columns of Austrian regulars advanced on the field in turn four and immediately broke toward the open fields on the far side of the battle.

IMG_2557Fresh Austrian columns arrive

On the Jäkelsberg, the Prussian cannon position was overwhelmed by advancing Austrians and the remaining Prussian infantry lines were closed in on three sides.

IMG_2558Austrians take the Jäkelsberg to the left, form lines to the right and fresh columns arrive at the rear; Prussian reinforcements arrive in the distance

With the Austrian objective of taking the Jäkelsberg nearky achieved by turn six, over a hlaf-dozen late-arriving columns of Prussians began arriving on the table in the distance. To the right rear of the Austrians, a Prussian cavlary contingent also arrived and moved to flank the deploying Austrian lines in the field.

IMG_2559As the Austrians overrun Prussian positions to the left, my son’s reinforcements arrive at the edge of the field

The Prussian cavalry made a move to charge the fresh Austrian arrivals in the rear, and one column quickly moved to defend in square formation. Cannon blasts from the Austrian guns routed the Prussian cavlary, driving them toward retreat off the board. By the seventh turn, the new Prussian lines were marching toward the Austrians who were already massig several ranks deep. With the Jäkelsberg held by the Austrians and their lines likewise controlling the open field, we called the game with a repeat historical victory for Austria.

ageofreasonrulesThe Battle of Moys was my first time playng with the popular “Warfare In The Age Of Reason” rules. Having not played a pre-20th-century miniatures game in quite some, I loved the tactics of movement, fire and charges. In the period and game, fighting occurs at very close range, making movement and protecting flanks and rear key to victory. Forcing your opponent into disorder or routing becomes as important as the number of casualties inflicted.

I found the rules to be simple, with the move order determined by drawn cards. Dice throws for morale checks, arms fire and charges all occur with a simple mechanic of adding or subtracting the number of dice according to the position and condition of your forces. Fighting in close quarters causes the battlefield to quickly shift throughout the game as lines and columns ebb and flow for position on the board.

With the fairly large scale Battle of Moys under my belt, I’m looking forward to studying up on the “Warfare In The Age Of Reason” rules and Seven Years War period a bit more. The 18th-century tactics,  colorful troops and special rules according to nationalities and fighting quality provides for a ton of unique fun in a vast world war period I look to get back to again very soon.