Lash of the Turk mini-review

A game thats quick, pretty and a good model of a historical situation should be popular. The kicker might be the topic. Fortunately for me, Lash of the Turk ranks highly on that score. And it’s certainly quick. Our play of the first scenario (The Year of Mohacs) came in at the two hour mark. It’s pretty enough, as these counters will attest (original image uploaded to boardgamegeek by Marc Figueras).

A portion of the countersheet

Many of the counters are back-printed, with a 16th century and a 17th century version of the unit. But apart from the leaders, the Transylvanians (who can swap sides) and one artillery unit, the values for these are exactly the same. The only difference is the icon. Not a big annoyance, but it felt… odd because it was so unnecessary.

We’ll begin with a brief AAR. I commanded the Turks, and Markus Stumptner the Hungarians. The Hungarian armies, led by Louis II begin concentrated around the fortress of Buda, ready to march south along the Danube. Their Transylvanian allies led by John Zapolya were mostly around Sibu. Suleiman’s Turks started their campaign at Belgrade.

The Turks have nine turns to take the fortresses of Eszer, Peterwardein (the map spells it ‘Peterwardien) and Buda. That means that they need to get a wriggle on. The Turkish army starts within two hexes of Peterwardein, but their siege artillery train is blocked by swamps. So Suleiman decides to march around the swamp with his train. Unfortunately for him, their is a lot of rain early on. It’s not until GT4 that the Turks take the fortress of Eszer. Suleiman detaches a small force of raiders that harry the area around Banjaluka, with mixed success, and with some losses.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim (Suleiman’s 2iC) crosses the Danube at Belgrade and begins raiding. Zapolya moves up to oppose the Turks, and Ibrahim wins a victory over him at Temesvar. Finally, Louis, and his general Tomori slowly move their army south.

Having driven off the Transylvanians, Ibrahim ditheres. Though the raiding continues, he was in no position to aid his master. However, he also fails to exploit his victory to capture some Transylvanian fortresses. Meanwhile, having taken Eszer, Suleiman finally moves to capture Peterwardein. Unfortunately for him, the Hungarian host arrives outside Eszer and, despite a reasonably strong garrison it’s taken by assault.

Taking Peterwardein, Suleiman masks the strong Hungarian at Eszer. He marches to meet Louis in battle. The dice are not kind to him, and though losses are minimal for both sides (two units each), the Hungarians hold the field. Towards the battle, Suleiman is badly wounded when his Janissaries come under attack towards the day’s end. Carried back to his tent, he succumbs to his wounds during the night. His Pashas proclaim his infant son Selim as sultan, and they appoint a guardian. While messengers are dispatched to find Ibrahim’s army, the survivors begin their march back to to the relative safety of Belgrade.

The unravelling of the Turkish campaign was mostly down to strategic errors on my part. The weather rolls went against me, but I should have sent Ibrahim with Suleiman, where his troops would have made a difference. A small number of light troops could have has the same result, and it would have taken time for Zaploya to effect a junction with the Hungarians.

So what worked? Much of the body worked reasonably well. The sequence of play is igo-ugo; both sides check attrition and recieve reinforcements and replacements. The Ottoman player then do their movement, combat and raiding phases, followed by the Hungarian. There is some interactivity in that a leader stacked with raiders (mostly light cavalry units) can intercept units that move within 1/2 of the intercepting unit’s movement allowance. Supply is 5 hexes to any friendly unbesieged fortress, or a Danube river hex that flows to the appropriate board edge, or to a supplied supply train. Units that are beseiged (and, from GT 3 all units exept fortress garrisons) check for attrition. Raiding cavalry with the army (presumably gathering supplies), forts and towns mitigate these effects, rain and mud (and the Janisarries) worsen it.

So far, so good. Sieges are a nice sub-game; a besieging army rolls to reduce the fort’s effectiveness level (which is used to modify the combat roll), then the defender rolls to see whether they undo the siegeworks. One annoying wrinkle is that new units come in at any friendly fortress. So a unit that dies from attrition far from the front can be re-built at a more convenient spot. What saves this game from being really very good indeed is the antiquated combat system. The old ‘defender retreat’, ‘attacker retreat’, ‘exchange’ might work in some situations. But not here.

In this scenario (assuming roughly equal levels of attrition) the main Turkish army can at best muster a 3:1 to field against the main Hungarian army. There is a 5/6 chance that the Turks will win. There is a 1/2 chance that the Hungarians will lose 1 or 2 units, and a 1/3 chance that they will simply retreat. There is a 1/6 chance of an exchange, where on average each side will lose 2-3 units.

More frequently, the odds will be 3-2 or 2:1, where the reults are less decisive, but the Turks have a lesser chance of winning (1/2 at 3:2, 2/3 at 2:1). This of course assumes no die roll modifiers for leadership. But Suleiman and Louis both have the same leadership rating, so they cancel each other out.

How does this compare with Mohacs? Historically, about 55 000 Turks faced 35 to 40 000 Hungarians (so about 3:2 odds). The Hungarians lost some 14 000 to 20 000 men. The Turks, around 1500. It was a stunning victory for the Ottoman empire. Now, I know that different pieces will represent different numbers of men. But this result simply can’t be reproduced, except by large armies against much smaller ones, which Mohacs was not. Yes, the Turks can win victories, but they will tend to be less decisive.

It’s not that the game should lead to a Mohacs-type decisive battle. But it cannot, and it’s a shame. It really could have been very good indeed.