August 13th, 1704
game design by Steve Pole
The Battle of Blenheim 1704 is a tactical level two player game covering one of the pivotal battles during the War of Spanish Succession. One player takes the role of Marlborough, commanding the British and Allied forces, and the other of Tallard, leading the Franco-Bavarians. At Blenheim Marlborough found himself confronted by a superior Franco-Bavarian force in a strong defensive position. Like Hannibal's great victory at Cannae, Blenheim was won by the successful implementation of a bold and imaginative plan. The flanks of the Franco-Bavarian forces were pinned by furious attacks at unfavorable odds which denuded their centre of troops re-deployed to buttress the hard-pressed wings. Then Marlborough released his cavalry to smash what was left of Franco-Bavarian centre and cleave Tallard's army into two. The threat that Louis XIV's France would come to dominate Europe was over.
The Seven Hex System (SHS) derives its name from the map which is divided into areas comprising of seven hexes which enables the player to adopt various positions within an area to reflect different tactical formations thereby making it more likely that an attack will succeed or defending units will stand firm. The SHS incorporates several unique features intended to replicate in a simple and intuitive way the options available to a commander (the wargamer) of a large army. So whilst the commander has complete freedom to devise a plan, and a good deal when positioning units which have yet to encounter the enemy, once battle is joined the options become increasingly limited and unforeseen events can play a part in determining the outcome. Nonetheless, even at a tactical level a commander's decisions are crucial in shaping events. The key to success is a sound plan with a margin for error which allows for ill-fortune, the shrewd deployment of units so as to be able to implement that plan, and the timely commitment of reserves.
BLENHEIM HERALDS INNOVATIVE WARGAME SYSTEM
Posted by Paul Norell on Jul 19th 2018
Game Title: BLENHEIM
Designer: STEVE POLE
Publisher: LEGION WARGAMES
I am writing this review after only receiving the game in the post a day ago; I am currently in the middle of my first game, but have already familiarised myself with the mechanics via the Vassal module. I have been so enthralled by the game, I decided not to wait for the dust to settle, but share my impressions at once.
There are so many things to like about this game which introduces innovative mechanics, yet remains faithful to recreating a realistic and entertaining simulation of an historical battle.
Having played many ‘hex-battle’ games over the years, I was definitely intrigued by the designer’s SHS system. At first I thought it would introduce undue complexity but after only a few turns, I found the procedure not only simple to operate, but accurately creating the sense of the conflict at battalion and squadron level.
Where other games pile information counters on to a single hex to record unit status and formation, Steve Pole’s SHS allows each brigade to occupy its own large space, where the position of those units within the seven hexes will determine its fighting formation together with offensive and defensive capabilities. It is not my purpose here to discuss the mechanics, merely to remark that they allow great flexibility in the way brigades are deployed on the battlefield. If you go for the offensive option, you maximise your attack factors, but leave yourself vulnerable if attacked. If you are defensive-minded, you can optimise your formations to receive an assault, but will not be able to switch easily to the offensive.
For me, this is the crux: Units cannot simply move-fight-move; there are no lightning changes of pace; no ‘Blitzkrieg’ tactics. Battalions and squadrons must reform, recover and, if necessary, be withdrawn to be rallied. All of which means careful preparation and planning. Progress is slow, sometimes frustratingly so, particularly if your order modifiers keep coming up negative. But this is part of the nail-biting fun. You may plan three or four attacks, all of which are crucial, but may only succeed in executing two or, if using the mandatory first order success option, one!
The Order Modifier track is particularly effective in limiting the number of orders which can actually be carried out. The player never knows when he/she has given the last order for the turn.
Command units are also well designed. Their command radius determines which units can make strategic moves and which can rally. Commanders are forever sweeping across the battlefield to crucial areas to rally disrupted troops (which, incidentally, do not rally by themselves as in other games), provide moral encouragement to turn the tide in a specific encounter, or move troops swiftly from one part of the field to another.
This is one of the most relevant and realistic concepts in the game: Both Marlborough’s victories at Blenheim and Ramillies were effected by outmanoeuvring his opponents. It is also one of the things that make BLENHEIM such a competitive game. The ‘apparent’ motive of a move by your commander can throw your opponent off-balance, distracting him/her from you real intentions elsewhere.
Add to the above, a beautiful map and charts; a classy-looking rulebook with clear instructions and excellent historical information; pleasing counter art; some variable playing options; and victory conditions which will have you on the edge of your seat up to the final die roll; and you have a wonderfully rendered simulation with excellent replay value.
One final note. As a predominantly solitaire wargamer, I consider BLENHEIM to be excellent for solo play. If the Franco-Bavarian ‘non-player’ adopts a fairly static defence, the player can experiment with various allied strategies to achieve victory. The pace of the game also suits solitaire play; it is considered and methodical.
I have already adopted the optional variants which alternate each phase rather than the entire turn; and I tend to allow my commanders the flexibility to influence combat as well as rally and move. These are just two of the variants which you can use according to taste.
Those of my thoughts. I hope they may encourage others to try out this new system and I for one can’t wait for the next game in the series.
new blenheim game
Posted by william moran on Apr 24th 2018
I am still in the process of working out movement and conflict resolution. The 7 hex system appears to be overly complicated compared to older AH and SPI movement systems. After a few games I may have a different opinion but it appears now that normal hex movement would be better. You would know what terrain could be crossed and what blocked movement. The command rules that recreate the fog of war and uncertainty about orders being followed correctly are good. This feature could be added to a traditional hex movement and it would be fine. I am disappointed since I have always been interested in Marlborough’s campaigns and have been waiting for a good Blenheim game. Since the map and artwork of the pieces are so good, I will try to see if I can overcome any of the initial problems and give a better review.