War gaming the Seven Year War
Wargaming is the hobby derived from H G Wells’ “Little Wars” game rules of 1913. Tape measures are used to control the movement of figures across the table, while dice add the chance and uncertainty of battle.
There are many figures and rule sets available for this period. The toy soldiers manufactured by EW Baylis and Sons are great for skirmish games. As the range builds larger, battles can be fought. We recommend Toytinmen rules by the Domino Agency which can be found here.
The Seven Years' War, took place between 1754 and 1763. The main period of conflict was the seven year period, between 1756–1763, hence the name. It can be seen as the “First World War” as it spanned the globe including; Europe, North America and Central America, India, West African and the Philippines.
The war had various causes. Globally; over trade and colonies between Great Britain, France and Spain. In Europe, for dominance of the Holy Roman Empire by Prussia and Austria.
In North America the protagonist were Britain and France plus their respective Indian allies. This part of the war is also referred to as the French Indian War. The war was fought primarily along the frontiers between New France and the British colonies, from the colony of Virginia in the South to Nova Scotia in the North. It began with a dispute over control of the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, known as the Forks of the Ohio. This strategic river confluence was controlled by the French Fort Duquesne. Fort Duquesne was to be re built by the British as Fort Pitt and as is the site of modern day Pittsburgh. The conflict opened at the Battle of Jumonville Glen in May 1754, during which a 22-year-old George Washington, commanding Virginia militiamen, ambushed a French patrol.
The following wargame is based on an encounter, in late 1750’s, in North America up around the Great Lakes. Britain and France vied to dominate these strategic waterways by establishing forts to maintain control. The waterways provided the only effective means of transport in the region. There were few roads into the densely forested interior and those that existed left users prone to ambush; the most notorious incident being the defeat of Bradock’s Expedition in July 1755.
Our wargame takes place in the countryside adjacent to a fort which is currently occupied by the British. The fort is garrisoned by a company of local militia. Alongside the quay is a merchant vessel. This is a small shallow draft ship with armaments limited to a few small swivel guns.
The game is played as a large skirmish with a ratio of one figure to one man. The main unit type is a company of about 25 figures. Regular troops are multi-based, mainly in threes, to speed up moving the roughly one hundred figures per side.
For this scenario the British had the following figures;
Company of militia (18)
Ship’s crew and dockworkers (8)
Civilians of all sexes and ages, some of which are armed (12)
Regular infantry escort to supply wagons (12)
Reinforcements of two companies regular infantry, if and when available (48)
The French had the following figures;
Two regular companies (48)
Company of Troupes de la Marine (24)
Indian allies and coureurs des bois (18)
The civilians have few weapons. The Indian allies, from the Huron tribe, by contrast, were well armed with a musket and close quarter weapons such as hatchet and knife The Huron are excellent irregular soldiers. The coureur des bois were French woodsmen, who adapted their dress and lifestyle to the at times harsh North American climate.
The rules used are Toytinmen French & Indian Wars 1755 - 1764. They balance playability with authenticity. All of the troops are regular except for civilians, Indian allies and coureurs des bois. These units also normally operate in open order Open order troops have advantages in speed of movement and terrain over which they can easily move. On the negative side the unit cannot take as many casualties before breaking. Regular units may change formation into open order, but moral suffers as they are not well trained in such fighting. Formation changes are not advised whilst engaging the enemy as they impact negatively on musketry. The player therefore has to balance his force between steadier order and faster open order units.
All regular troops fair badly in the woods The Indians perform well in woods, especially in ambush, and have enhanced close combat values. The British had much fewer Indians allies, until near the end of the war, but could call on Rogers Rangers and some light troops. Only he French player has irregular troops but these can move ahead unseen along the wooded edges of the table.
The wagons move slowest of all but the British commander will have to priorities the supplies against the civilians, the dock and the fort. If the British try to protect everything they may save nothing, alternatively the authorities would look unfavourably on the land laid waste while troops skulk in the fort.
The morning in question, the sergeant of the militia has his men drilling in front of the fort as, a supply wagon train is expected. The sergeant is keen to give a good impression to the officer of the regular troops who is escorting the wagons.
A handful of sailors busy themselves unloading and loading the merchant ship. The population of the small hamlet, that has grown up in the shadow of the fort, toil in their fields.
The settlers briefly stop working as the supply train clears the thick woods and enters the partially cleared land on outskirts of the hamlet. The slow moving convoy is protected by a front and rear guard as well as single troops alongside the wagons.
Suddenly the peace is broken as French Troupes de la Marine rush through the half cleared margin of the forest and into the cultivated land of the settlement. The attacking French commander has decided to sacrifice unit cohesion for speed. As with most regular trained troops of this period, including the British militia, the men have been taught to fight in the massed ranks familiar to Europe. This extra speed provides the Troupes de la Marine with an edge and they start to encircle the British rear guard, which is itself pinned by volley fire from two regular French companies advancing, in formation, down the road.
As the lead wagons reach the fort the garrison can hear the shots in the distance and the Militia sergeant readies his men. Hoping that the rear guard will be enough the commander of the British regular troops escorts the wagons into the fort and instruct his men to line the walls. The Militia commander sends the firsts of his messengers to the neighbouring forts up and down stream and deploys his men to cover the wagons entry into the fort.
For the British and the settlers, in particular, things take a turn for the worse as Indians allied to the French and accompanied by coureur des bois break out of the forest and attack farms at the hamlets edge.
The Indians soon have some of the farms alight and the settlers are killed, captured or flee. Some of the farmers have slowed the advance but numbers tell and the French overrun the British rear guard and adjacent wagons.
Despite the temptation to brake ranks and speed up his forces the French general keeps his regular companies in close order, as he expects British reinforcements as he closes on the fort and quay.
The steady nerve of the British commander seems to have paid off. The militia retreat, to the fort, in good order, as Troupes de la Marine halt their advance and start an ineffective exchange of fire with garrison .At the ship the crew and docker’s prepare to defend themselves.
The British reinforcements arrive from downriver in large enough numbers to match and then push back the French regulars. Troupes de la Marine loose their commander and break, then the Indians and coureur des bois start to fade back into the forest. The French commander decides numbers are no longer on his side and starts a retreat the way he came. The experienced British commander ever fearful of the Indians, once again sheltered by the forest, does not peruse.
This scenario has been played a number of times and to be fair to the French commander the diced for time of arrival of the British reinforcements is key. That said the French must move quickly and not get tied down by the baggage train. If the French Troupes de la Marine, Indians and Cour de Bois can attack the fort early on in the game then the British can become beyond saving. The fort has no cannon, it can be set alight and the Indians get a bonus in hand to hand fighting.
Figures and Scenery
The figures used were E W Baylis Toy & Sons Soldiers in 42mm. These figures are primarily designed for the novice and figure collector and are simply painted and gloss varnished. The scenery has been tailored to complement this toy soldier style. Credit for the great looking table top and contents go to Clive Jebbett.