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Blogging about the Battlefield since 2005

The King is Dead-A Great New Game by Osprey

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on October 31, 2015

The King is Dead: Struggles for Power in King Arthur’s Court by Peer Sylvester and illustrated by Peter Dennis ($24.95)

Two weeks ago, I received a copy of a new game by Osprey Games, a division of Osprey Publishing, known for their series of military history books. Osprey Games seeks to bring the reputation of the publisher to the world of tabletop and miniature gaming, which is growing in popularity (if the game Twilight Struggle on the Cold War is any indication). The game is called The King is Dead and if it is any indication of what Osprey is hoping to create for historical and fantasy games, future products should prove to be quite good.

The game is set in early medieval Britain, in the wake of Arthur’s death. Players assume the role of a member of his court seeking to gain influence over three factions in Britain: the Welsh, Scots, and Romano-British, all of which are vying for control of the various regions of the island. In the background is the constant threat of a Saxon invasion. While some of the game is wrapped up in the legends of Arthur, the historical aspect comes from the very real conflicts between Britons and the Anglo-Saxon forces during the late 5th and early 6th centuries A.D. According to Osprey’s page dedicated to the game:

The King is Dead is a board game of politics and power struggles in the dark Arthurian Britain for 2 to 4 players.

King Arthur is dead. The nation is divided. The Saxons are coming.

Now, more than ever, Britain needs a ruler who can unite the kingdom, but who will take the crown? Players work behind the scenes, marshalling their limited resources to give power to competing factions and gain influence within their ranks. Players owe loyalty only to themselves, however, are free to shift their allegiances as they see fit. Whoever has the most influence over the most powerful faction will rule Britain from the shadows. But be careful – too much infighting will give the Saxons an opening and put the entire nation at risk.

Its rules and mechanics are quite simple, but with a degree of strategy to keep it quite interesting. I test-played it with a co-worker Friday afternoon and we both found it enjoyable and fun. The length of play is between 30-45 minutes, making it great for players seeking a quick game that is still fun. The game board is very nice and mounted on cardboard, containing a map of Britain divided into eight regions.

The action is driven by cards, with each player having eight action cards they can play. There are also eight region cards that are shuffled and then placed next to each section on the board edge, numbered 1-8. Players then engage in power struggles related to that region, where they attempt to have more followers from one of the three factions (represented by colored cubes) than the other two in a region to gain control of that region for their faction. At the same time, players are removing a follower from the board and inviting them to their court. Power struggles for the regions end when both players consecutively pass and are decided by the number of followers in the region.

The action cards allow a player to move followers, settle followers, or garrison a region with followers. When a region falls under a faction’s control, the followers are moved into the common pool in the corner of the board and are no longer contested. If no faction has a majority when the power struggle ends, it comes under the control of the invading Saxons. This is something the players do not want to happen.

When all eight regions have fallen under a faction’s control, the game ends and whichever faction holds more regions and whichever player has more of that faction’s influence by the number of its followers in their court becomes the next King of Britain. However, if the Saxons control enough territory, the winner becomes the leader of the resistance.

Overall, this game is similar to another board game I have played with historical themes Tammany Hall, which I also enjoyed. The game is easy to play, requires a degree of cunning and strategy to both sway favor with the factions, while also preventing your opponent from gaining an advantage, or letting the Saxons invade. It can be played with 2-4 players and also has an advanced option for King Mordred’s followers.

With a nice board, a great theme, nice components, and a clever box with storage for the components, The King is Dead is definitely a great game and well worth its price of $24.95. It’s short playing time make it great for a lunchtime game with friends, and its relative simplicity makes it accessible to younger players too, as while the recommended age is 12 and up, I think with the right explanation of the rules and some patience, slightly younger kids could even play this game. If you are looking for a good gift for that gamer in your family, or someone that is interested in medieval Britain this holiday season, definitely add The King is Dead to your shopping list.

Download the game rules here.

Check out its Board Game Geek page too.

Posted in Medieval Military History, Other military history, Game Review | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Osprey Publishing examines the Forts of the Frontier

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on October 26, 2015

Originally posted at Frontier Battles

Chartrand, Rene. The Forts of New France: The Great Lakes, the Plains and the Gulf Coast, 1600-1763. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2010. Illustrations, Maps, Photographs, Index. 64 pp. $10.42.

Chartrand, Rene. The Forts of Colonial North America: British, Dutch, and Swedish colonies. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2011. Illustrations, Maps, Photographs, Index. 64 pp. $10.42.

Many of you may be familiar with Osprey Publishing, which produces hundreds of titles related to military history on a variety of subjects. Those interested in the forts of the British colonies and New France will enjoy two titles that Osprey released a few years ago. Forts were important to the history of the colonial frontier, as some of the pivotal battles of the wars that occurred in North America between Britain and France were fought for control over fortifications (ex. Forts Duquesne, Carillon, and the fortress of Louisbourg). Therefore, understanding them and how they were constructed is important to understanding the broader competition for empire in North America.

In 2010, Osprey released The Forts of New France: The Great Lakes, the Plains and the Gulf Coast 1600–1763 by Rene Chartrand. The book is a wonderful introduction to the various levels of fortifications and change over time of them across France’s far-flung colonial empire in North America. Several would be fought over during the series of wars between France and Britain (King William’s War, Queen Anne’s War, King George’s War, and the French and Indian War).

The book is beautifully illustrated, as is customary for Osprey products, with several plates devoted to different forts in New France. The book follows a chronological and geographical flow, examining the forts of each region of New France (Gulf Coast, Plains, and Great Lakes region) from the earliest period of French colonial activity to the conclusion of the French and Indian War, when France was expelled and the territory transferred to British control.

The garrison sizes were discussed, as most forts in the regions were smaller affairs, served by only a couple dozen troops. In addition to establishing French claim over the area, the forts served as centers of trade and establishments of relations with Native Americans. Many of the early forts were established specifically to facilitate trade with Native American groups, especially those in the Great Lakes area (the Pays d’en Haut). Most forts were simple wooden construction and relatively small, but some grew into very large stone fortifications by the eighteenth century.

The forts covered allowed France to maintain its authority over such a vast swath of North America and make its claims over areas. They also served as scenes for the struggle for empire between Britain and France, and with Native Americans in North America. One fort that I was delighted to see included was Fort de Chartres in southern Illinois. I have visited this restored post several times, as it is only a couple hours from my hometown. The book discussed to two distinct fortifications at the site, first wooden, later replaced by stone, both under constant threat from the Mississippi River.

Like the French, the English (later British), Dutch, and Swedes established forts in their colonies to serve as places to claim territory, establish trade with Native Americans, and protect their imperial frontier from French and Native incursion. In The Forts of Colonial North America: British, Dutch and Swedish colonies (2011), Chartrand examined the history of fortifications built by the English, Dutch, and Swedes during the 17th century and the conquest of the latter by the English. Later, these sites became the backbone of British control over its North American colonies and the front line of defense when war with France raged. Like the French, these forts also started as smaller, simple wood-constructed stockades, with some growing into larger wooden fortifications, or taking on stone facades.

This book provides a wonderful general introduction to early colonial history along the American coast and traces the history inland, as Britain begins to establish inland forts. Several forts are illustrated in beautiful color plates that attempt to show readers what they may have looked like in their day. One fort that is featured is Fort William Henry, site of a major siege during the French and Indian War that was later novelized and dramatized in James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans and its film adaptations.

Rene Chartrand was an excellent choice to write these works, as his background is fitting for writing such works for a broad audience seeking a general informative overview. He served as curator for over three decades for Canada’s National Historic Sites before venturing into freelance writing. This allows him to write the works for the casual reader that is seeking knowledge on the broad subject as opposed to a deep academic analysis.

Both books provide wonderful information about the subjects they cover, including detailed maps, chronological tables of key events, as well as glossaries of terms related to the subjects, allowing readers who do not have the background to better appreciate the subject covered. Though geared towards general readers and non-academic audiences, these two books are great for those seeking to get an introduction to the forts of colonial America and some basic factual information surrounding them. They serve as a springboard for diving into other literature on the subjects of fortifications, New France, British America, relations with Native Americans, colonial military history, and a bit of engineering.

Well-researched and illustrated, these two books are worth having on your shelf if remotely interested in colonial era fortifications. While they focus on the sites of empire, Osprey also suggests other related titles that deal with the troops of the various imperial powers fighting for control of North America. At less than $15, these books are a great deal to begin building a library on colonial history and can be enjoyed by readers both young and old, though I would say a good minimum age for these works would be around 12-14 given the subject matter and terms used.

If a fan of Osprey books, or just a casual interested person looking for something different, certainly give these two works a try.

Posted in Book Reviews, General, Other military history, World Military History (1700-1900) | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Review of Ostfront: Barbarossa to Berlin-Wargaming World War II on the Eastern Front and Beyond

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on September 7, 2015

Chambers, Andy. Bolt Action. Vol. 10, Ostfront: Barbarossa to Berlin. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2015. 112pp. Illustrations, Photographs. $29.95 (Paperback), $15.95 (e-book and PDF).

Wargaming is a growing hobby, coupled with a resurgence in tabletop gaming, that is popular across the world, but particularly in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and in the U.S. There are many periods represented in both historical and fantasy, and even more options for rules and miniatures, allowing players to dream of elaborate tables, with flocked terrain and immaculate buildings, as well as beautifully painted miniature soldiers and vehicles.

One such game, Bolt Action, allows players to simulate squad-level combat in World War II. Created by Warlord Games and authored by Rick Priestley, of Warhammer fame, Bolt Action offers players a multitude of options for recreating World War II fights in miniature. In addition to the main rulebook, one option for Bolt Action players seeking to take on the Eastern Front is the book Ostfront: Barbarossa to Berlin, written by Andy Chambers.

Ostfront takes players from the Far East conflict between the Soviets and Japanese to the Winter War, the various operations that revolved around Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, and the Soviet counter-attack that led to the capture of Berlin. Available armies include German forces, Finnish, Soviet, and Japanese, while theater-specific rules provide interesting opportunities for varying scenarios, including night fighting, mud, ice, and snow.

The book does an excellent job of discussing the intricacies of the individual scenarios, including objectives and various vehicle options. It covered the background history of the broad campaigns and the specific battles.  Featuring exquisite artwork that is customary for Osprey-published works, this book is a must for those who seek to game with German and Soviet forces. It is important to note that it is not a stand-alone set of rules, but a supplement to the main Bolt Action rules.

Having played Bolt Action, I’ve enjoyed the mechanics of the game and the smaller, squad-based, scale. This book is one of several theater-specific supplements that allow players to customize their gaming experiences even more than with the main rules. A well-organized, beautifully-illustrated book, Ostfront will delight gamers seeking to either take on the Soviet Union, or defend the Motherland at all costs. For experienced players seeking to expand their Bolt Action offerings and go in a different direction by fighting the Soviets versus Japan, or Soviets versus Finland, Ostfront should be on your shelf next to the main rulebook.

For more information on the game, please visit their webstore and check out this video.

You can also watch a demo game here.

Posted in 20th Century Military History, Book Reviews, Conflict, Other military history, World War II | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Lion’s Gate by Steven Pressfield–Examining the Six-Day War from the Frontlines

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on July 7, 2015

Pressfield, Steven. The Lion’s Gate: On the Front Lines of the Six Day War. New York: Sentinel, 2015. Maps, Photographs, Index. 448pp. $18.00.

The Six-Day War is a conflict full of controversy and strong opinions on both sides. It has also garnered much interest in military history circles. Even wargaming has ventured into recreating the battles of the war, as Battlefront miniatures has a variant of their popular World War II game Flames of War, called Fate of a Nation. There have been many books written on this conflict and even more articles examining the various facets of the conflict, from weaponry used, to tactics, and the political considerations behind this war.

Steven Pressfield has written a new popular history on the war that draws upon accounts from veterans of the war. His new book The Lion’s Gate: On the Front Lines of the Six Day War covers the war through the experiences of men from select units in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). While not a comprehensive history of the conflict, the book does an excellent job of discussing the war from the ground up, which reflects the general trends in military history and conflict studies to study wars from the common soldiers instead of major leaders.

The organization is quite good, divided into six “books” that cover a particular section of the war, including the Sinai, Jerusalem, and the lead up to the conflict. The prose is accessible to general readers and does not come across too academic in tone. While not meant to be an academic history, this work is a good resource for examining the war in detail for those seeking to start studying the war. The book also features several maps and photographs to aid in understanding the scope and reality of the war. Praised by The Wall Street Journal, Marine Corps Times, and Los Angeles Times, Steven Pressfield’s The Lion’s Gate is a great new work on an important conflict in Middle East history.

Posted in Book Reviews, Conflict, Other military history | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Importance of Waterloo-200 years later

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on June 19, 2015

June 18 was the bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo and Europe is abuzz (at least western Europe) with a major reenactment event occurring this weekend (they are even live-streaming it). There is no doubt of the importance of the battle to history, but its importance remains today. It cemented Britain’s position in the world for the next hundred years and laid the foundations for Europe as we now it today. It represented the defeat of the ideals of revolutionary France, much to the relief of monarchists across Europe. Time discussed the importance of the battle, while The Telegraph provided several great stories on the event, including advocating the study of the battle by students. Despite such major subsequent events in military history, as both World Wars, the Cold War, and the current War on Terror, why do we still gravitate to Waterloo?

One reason is because of its importance to the study of warfare. Waterloo ended a long period of conflict between Napoleonic France and the rest of Europe not under his control. His leadership abilities, as well as those of Wellington and Blucher influenced the study of warfare and the thinkers of military history and strategy for years to come (i.e. Napoleonic tactics), which were used in subsequent wars in America, especially the Civil War. Waterloo was such a stunning victory for the Allies over a foe that, until his ill-fated invasion of Russia, had largely been undefeated that understanding how Napoleon was defeated was viewed as essential to future commanders for learning how to overcome odds and achieve victory.

Waterloo’s paving of the way towards our modern understanding of Europe cannot be ignored. It is a perfect example of international cooperation to defeat a common enemy, as Prussian and British forces united to beat the French and save western Europe. As Time pointed out in their article, it played a role in the eventual conceptualization of NATO and the UN, as Wellington’s army consisted of Prussians, British, the Dutch, and other smaller German states, coalesced into a grand alliance. While not the first example of such alliances in warfare, it is one of the more important because of the level of change the outcome of the battle had on European history and geography.

Finally, Waterloo seems to fascinate us because it is one of the last examples in military history of a major pitched battle of forces standing shoulder to shoulder across a field in brightly colored uniforms. Historical wargamers remain enamored with the Napoleonic period, with one man fighting the battle in 6mm (you can view a video of it here). It is one of the last, if not the last, major battle involving flintlock muskets, as technological changes coming by the mid-19th century would render the tactics in the battle obsolete, though leaders still used them, with deadly results (i.e. American Civil War).

As Europe reflects on 100 years since World War I, the next major conflagration to consume the continent, they reflect on the battle that ended an era, while setting in motion the forces that contributed in various ways to that next European war. Waterloo will always have a place in history and continues to provide valuable lessons to succeeding generations. We remember Wellington’s stunning victory, which propelled him to a successful career in British politics, including Prime Minister, as well as a man exiled in defeat, having once come close to being the master of Europe. How different Europe might be were it not for one battle 200 years ago.

Posted in 19th Century Military History, Napoleonic Wars, World Military History (1700-1900) | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »


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