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Review: Leuthen: Frederick’s Greatest Victory

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Warfare in the Age of Reason.  Now that’s a fun oxymoron!  I mean, what exactly about standing perfectly still, shoulder-to-shoulder, in well-dressed ranks trading volleys of musket fire sounds reasonable to you?  At any rate, the period receives little attention in war gaming.  Thus, one of the more brilliant military tacticians in history, Frederick der Grosse, is often ignored.  Too bad.  Because he didn’t get the moniker “Great” for nothing.  One of the ablest practitioners of “less is more,” he expanded his tiny nation threefold and created a new kingdom almost entirely through the use of the small, yet superb, army inherited from daddy.  Always outnumbered and strategically besieged, he nonetheless won victory after victory through decisive action and expert maneuvering with the best drilled and most disciplined troops on the continent.  Now you can fill his boots.  Or get kicked by them.

How it Plays

Leuthen: Frederick’s Greatest Victory is a lighter, small-scale, hex-and-counter, tactical war game from veteran designer Frank Chadwick for two players only, simulating the titular battle between Prussia and Austria in the Seven Years’ War.  It uses movement point allowance and a die-modified combat results table.  Both maneuver and combat can also be affected by terrain, morale ratings, and/or tactical cards.

Game set-up, as far as where units begin on the map, follows the historical situation but allows for some tweaks as players desire.  Counters represent divisions and start face down – some are “dummy” units – to simulate an initial “fog of war” for confusing and surprising the enemy.  The unique aspect separating this Drums & Muskets system – of which Leuthen is the series’ first – from the majority of hex-and-counter war games is that the counters are rectangular instead of squared.  This small design element has a big impact on play.  Counters can face either a hex side or a hex vertex, which determines their flank, zone of control, and how they can move and/or attack.

The “historical” setup.

The battle lasts no longer than six game turns, each representing one hour in historical time.  Turns are strictly divided into four phases: movement, discovery, combat, and administration.  The Prussians go first, completing all phases, and then the Austrians follow.

Movement is relatively straight-forward, as long as you pay attention to a counter’s facing.  Only those facing a hex vertex can maneuver, and then only into one of the two front facing hexes on either side of said vertex.  Each unit has a rated allowance of 2-3 movement points.  Marching into a clearing costs 1 point, along a road costs half a point, and then various terrain like into woods, up hills, through towns, and over rivers add points.  Some moves are prohibited, like cavalry into marshland or any type from one enemy zone of control into another.  But for legal moves, a unit is always allowed to move at least one hex, even if the actual points required are greater than its allowance.  Points can also be used to change facing either 30 or 60 degrees, and a unit may perform one such rotation for free at the start of its move.

The discovery phase is quick and painless.  This is where the gig is up and you have to flip over any counters adjacent to the enemy, thus revealing them as the real thing or a mere ruse.

Combat in the third phase is also fairly practical as long as you heed the minor details.  Unlike movement, a unit can attack while facing a hex side, as well as a vertex.  When facing a side, it may fire into the three adjacent forward hexes.  Every unit is rated for a combat strength from 1-4.  You must declare all battles before resolving them in any order you wish.  Each unit may only attack once per round.  An enemy unit may only be attacked once, although two or more adjacent units may combine in an assault on one enemy target.

To resolve an attack, you calculate the combat differential between all attacking and defending counters’ combat strengths, if any, and add or subtract certain modifiers.  Flanking the enemy or using artillery support give bonuses.  Attacking into woods, towns, up hills, or across rivers incur penalties.  After determining the assault’s modified combat differential, you then roll 1d6 and consult a combat results table – cross-reference your die roll with the appropriate combat differential column.  This determines the attack’s result, that is whether or not the melee ends in a stalemate or with one side retreating.

Consult the CRT!

If either the attacker or defender retreat, they fall back two hexes, regardless of terrain and without altering facing, in the direction of a friendly supply depot.  Then they must test for morale, based on yet a third rating on the counter.  If they must retreat through an enemy zone of control, they automatically rout.  Otherwise, they roll 1d6.  If the result is less than or equal to their morale rating, minus any negative modifiers as listed on the combat results table, they remain steady.  Otherwise, they rout.  Routed units cannot move or fight – they are eliminated if attacked.  If an assault succeeds, you may advance one unit into the vacated hex and/or change its facing for free.

Throughout maneuver and combat, players can play tactical cards.  These specify in which phase and during whose turn they may be played.  They are not in the same design as the popular genre of card-driven war games in which cards are played for either a number of action points and/or event effects.  Instead, they grant one time, rules-breaking abilities.  While not overly powerful, they are a way to enhance your own tactical situation or toss some unexpected wrinkles into your opponent’s plans.

Example of Prussian tactical cards.

The final administrative phase involves removing revealed dummy counters, checking corps morale, discarding/drawing tactical cards, rallying routed units, and checking for immediate victory.  You can rally one unit for free, flipping its routed token to the “shaken” side.  Once shaken, a unit remains that way for the rest of the battle.  If routed again, it is eliminated.  Other units must test to recover during this phase.

Interestingly, each division belongs to a larger corps which has its own overall morale rating from 2-5.  Both sides have three corps apiece.  When a unit is routed, its corps morale rating also drops by one.  When a corps’ morale hits ‘0,’ it is demoralized and all of its routed and shaken units are eliminated, while its steady units become shaken.  Not only that, but the other two army corps get nervous and also take a morale hit.  If one or both of them become demoralized, then you apply the same results again.  The cascading effect can be catastrophic.  In fact, if two or three of your corps are demoralized at the end of any administration phase, while your opponent has fewer corps than you in such a state, then he immediately wins!

If both armies can sustain morale losses, the battle continues through six rounds and victory points then determine the winner.  You earn 1 point for each demoralized enemy corps and 1 point for capturing all of your adversary’s supply depots (two Prussian and one Austrian).  The Austrians win in the event of a draw.

The formidable Austrian center anchored in Leuthen itself.

Advance or Retreat?

GROGNARD (n, slang) (French) • someone who enjoys playing board war games; particularly the long, counter-heavy, densely-complex, historically detailed simulation strategy games

While this war game may conjure up images of old men playing make believe HQ on sprawling tables, it isn’t really for the grognard.  In a sense, Leuthen: Frederick’s Greatest Victory is a gateway game.  Just not the kind that you introduce the world of hobby gaming to Junior or your sister-in-law.  Instead, it is a light, fast, and elementary design that captures and distills the hardcore staples of traditional hex-and-counter, paper map, complex strategy games.  Not that serious war gamers won’t enjoy it.  They certainly might for a change of pace or quick hit.

Leuthen is extremely accessible for a hex-and-counter tilt.  Turn structure has always been rigidly clean and well-organized in even the genre’s monster titles.  Here it is no different and moves along quite crisply.  There are several other factors contributing to its user-friendliness.  The low counter density reduces fiddliness.  The hexes are large enough to prevent overcrowding.  There are a limited number of modifiers for movement, combat, and morale tests – plus they are largely intuitive.  And the 6-turn maximum ensures a fast game.  As a result, Leuthen captures the essence of its more complex brethren in an abridged and manageable form for new and/or casual war gamers.

An assault over the river and through the woods…sing it with me!

The graphic design is extremely clean for a game of this nature, no doubt a benefit from using rectangular counters.  Each chit displays a lot of information: division and corps designations, specific unit-type symbol, and three number ratings for combat, morale, and movement.  However, none of it is cluttered.  It may take a couple of turns your first game to remember which number corresponds to which rating, but it’s all clear and readable with no cryptic deciphering required.

Aside from the essentially functional counters – which allows for little artistic flare – the overall production quality is attractive.  The map is well drawn with easily identifiable terrain features and evokes an historical feel.  Unfortunately it’s a puzzle board, but that’s Victory Point’s solution for affordable, mounted maps.  The cards are impressive.  Illustrated with old paintings depicting period battles, they’re visually striking, as well as usable.  The title and phase in which to play it are clearly marked.  Two separate text blocks describe the card’s ability and give some background on the events.  Artwork and font use up most available space, but never seem crowded or confusing.  Finally, the player aid is outstanding.  It’s not too large, is organized very well, and readily details all of the rules exceptions and modifiers you need to know – a tremendous reference that saves tons of timing flipping through the rule book.

The all important morale track!

Enough about production quality.  What about actual game play?  Well, let me begin with two components already discussed: the counters and tactical cards.

The rectangular counters create interesting decisions.  If you’re facing a hex side, you can attack into the three front adjacent hexes.  However, you can only move if facing a hex vertex, thus marching into the two front adjacent hexes.  One downside is that it’s often difficult to tell exactly which one a particular unit is facing – and don’t bump the table!  This movement restriction can lead to scenarios in which you’re able to maneuver next to the enemy, but unable to fire upon him because you’re not facing correctly.  However, you have no remaining points to expend in order to change face.  Furthermore, you’re now likely flanked as a result!  It’s a great little detail illustrating the importance and difficulties of the period in moving masses of men from line of march into combat formation.  Planning your moves and the opportune moments to strike are critical, but thankfully not difficult.

The tactical cards can make a significant impact and represent those intangible unknowns which have both graced and plagued armies throughout history.  They give you an opportunity to change the fortunes of war – something every great commander has desired through the annals of time.  Beware, though, as your opponent can play the same kind of game!  Prussia and Austria have their own decks.  Some abilities are similar, while others are unique to represent their nationality’s particular circumstances.  These cards provide variety and most of the game’s replay value.

The fortunes of war?!

Despite its elegance, Leuthen: Frederick’s Greatest Victory does have a number of detailed rules and a variety of modifiers affecting movement, combat, and morale.  It’s the nature of the genre.  The player aid is a tremendous help, but new players should still allow for a small learning curve.

Overall, the Drums & Muskets system incorporates a nice set of mechanics that emphasizes the critical influences of command control and morale in 18th century battles.  When part of an army faltered, retreated, and/or ran pell-mell the heck away, it created all kinds of issues.  It exposed new holes and flanks throughout the lines, endangering now unsupported units.  Commanders lost unit cohesion and communication with little ability to reform them.  Troops running away would cause confusion as they smashed into and through their own reserves assembling behind the lines.  Worst of all, the rest of the boys would start to get nervous as doubt and hesitation spread.

Although an auxiliary objective in Leuthen is to capture supply depots, the system is not so much about taking ground than it is pressuring the enemy.  Six turns doesn’t seem like very many, but the rippling effects of a demoralized unit or two can quickly infect the whole army before you realize it.  If one or two units from the same corps rout a couple times each, the whole campaign is in dire jeopardy.  Just one efficient and/or lucky division can create all manner of havoc amongst your ranks.  Sounds unforgiving, I know.  But such was warfare in the day.

Historically-speaking, the brunt of Frederick’s army poised to hit the Austrian left.

Players must begin with units in designated hexes.  They can choose a more historically accurate setup as diagramed in the rule book.  Or they can tweak it and experiment by mixing up placement, although Austria must keep her three corps grouped relatively together.  This provides a little bit of replay value, but not a ton.  Due to the nature of the morale system, sweeping strategies are not as important as small-scale tactics to bring in heavy infantry loaded for bear at critical points.  Plus the map is small and isn’t conducive to any sort of impressively grandiose maneuvers – there just isn’t that much open space.  This isn’t Napoleon confounding and dividing his foe to destroy piecemeal.  It is Frederick driving and coercing his men in the face of fire to break a line at the weakest point.

The design mimics the actual battle fairly well – at least to begin, and with the historical start.  If the Prussian player can press and beat back the Austrians’ left flank before her best troops in the far north can engage, then the Hapsburgs’ morale will already prove a liability.  Frederick caught the Austrians off-guard at Leuthen by feigning an assault on the right followed by a subsequent retreat, only to concentrate and attack in the south.  After rolling the left flank, Frederick pushed north into Leuthen itself where there was fierce house to house fighting before eventually expelling them.  Then his guns and cavalry reserves helped to destroy a third line established north of town which led to the Austrian army’s complete collapse.  Of course, this being a gaming simulation, the Austrian player already has an advantage over his historical counterpart, Prince Charles.  He knows the Prussians are coming and what their initial plan entails.  And he’s armed with the formidable die roll and combat results table – a little luck never hurt!

Attempting a flank march. In hindsight, just smash ’em in the teeth. This took too long!

Prussia will want to keep its strongest divisions in the south where they can close with the Austrian line faster.  While fewer in numbers, her stronger units and plentiful artillery amount to a decisive advantage on the isolated flank for the first couple of turns.  That may be all it takes.  However, if Austria places her best corps to face this initial onslaught, her chances improve slightly.

One prerogative war gamers always jealously guard is our right to complain.  So there is always nitpicking with historical games such as this.  For Leuthen, mine would be to question why Frederick’s own corps begins with the lowest morale (2), despite commanded by the most prominent man on the field?  Perhaps it’s to simulate the greater negative effect that an army commander would have if seen fleeing.  Because of that, the Prussian player needs to be careful not to expose Frederick’s two divisions.  A couple of routs here will demoralize that corps, which then starts the cascade effect previously noted.

An Austrian light infantry division (green) causes all manner of mischief on the sparse Prussian left wing!

Okay, so serious armchair generals who bicker for weeks on military history forums about what hour Napoleon should have attacked at Waterloo will consider Leuthen watered down.  And casual gamers that break out Ticket to Ride with the family and like Bohnanza for the cute artwork will hurriedly balk at the theme.  However, there are many hobby gamers who genuinely enjoy war games, and there are still others looking to dip their toes into the hex-and-counter waters.  For those audiences, the genre’s usual behemoths typically prove prohibitively large and too intimidating to get to the table.

If you fall into those latter categories, you might consider this fair romp.  Leuthen: Frederick’s Greatest Victory shows that hex-and-counter games need not be just for stodgy old men or dusty archives.  It condenses all of the excruciating minutia, massive counter density, and overly convoluted rules set of an epic, hardcore war simulation into a quicker, satisfying, experience with the same flavor and respect to historic detail.

iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Victory Point Games for providing a review copy of Leuthen: Frederick’s Greatest Victory 5 December 1757.

Summary

  • Rating 7
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Summary

Pros

  • Good introduction to hex-and-counter
  • Simple system stresses command and morale
  • Unique rectangular counters
  • Nice, uncluttered graphic design
  • Extremely useful player aid
  • Tactical cards provide variety

Cons:

  • Small map results in little room for maneuver
  • One unit can create lots of havoc
  • Fog of war element is fiddly
  • Probably unlikely to revisit it often
7.0 Good

I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

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