'This War Without an Enemy'
When a game depicts a conflict that was won decisively by one side then inevitably people will ask questions about it: can the Royalists win, isn't the game unbalanced, doesn't having a picture of Fairfax on the cover show that you are biased and therefore so is your game? Firstly, I would point out that many games successfully simulate very one-sided wars and yet still make for an interesting playing experience - as a designer you can use the victory conditions to provide balance between the two sides (you need to do better than historically in order to win the game). However, in the case of the first English Civil War this is entirely unnecessary as the conflict could have been won by either side at any stage until the battle of Naseby in mid-1645 effectively put an end to the main Royalist field army as an effective force. A generation ago, it was fashionable among historians of the period to put forward the hypothesis that Parliament was destined to win due to its control of London, the Navy and generally having superior resources. But a new generation of military historians are now challenging these assumptions. In their book 'A Military History of the English Civil War', Malcolm Wanklyn and Frank Jones argue that, "Parliament's victory was not inevitable: strategy and tactics won the war, not resources." At the same time, Stanley Carpenter wrote in 'Military Leadership in the British Civil War, 1642-1651' that, "It is no longer sufficient to credit religion, economics, localism or constitutional concepts for the outcome without considering the role of effective military leadership."
What better topic for a wargame could there be, than a conflict whose outcome was decided primarily by military matters? An outcome that could have gone either way at any stage? In terms of my game design, the one critical non-military factor is the entry of the Scots into the war. As I write below, it was not inevitable that they would intervene nor even which side they would support. I could have included a mechanism in the game to allow for this. However, I preferred not to stray to far from the historical narrative and, as it happens, the entry of the Covenanter blocks is far from as decisive as you might think. In the actual conflict, it was only the combining of the Scots army with two others - Parliament's northern army and its Eastern Association - that enabled them to defeat the armies of the Earl of Newcastle and Prince Rupert at Marston Moor. If Newcastle had managed to eliminate the Fairfaxes in 1643 and if the Eastern Association had been otherwise engaged, then he may well have been able to defeat the Covenanters with limited help from the south. Even on his own, he would have effectively neutralised the Scots, as he was managing to do before the Parliamentarians threatened York.
The other aspects of the war, when translated into a game, already provide for a balanced scenario, with both players having an equal chance of winning. The Royalists begin with superior quality blocks, more cavalry, and more strategic flexibility (two Leader blocks to the Parliamentarian's one). They can easily clear the Parliamentarians out of Wales, and should be able to make good progress in the north, providing almost two whole regions for their end-of-year recruitment. For their part, the Parliamentarians begin with control not only of London, but also of the other two major ports: Bristol and Hull. This will restrict the ability of the Royalists to bring in supplies and troops from France and Ireland, until they manage to capture one or both of Bristol and Hull (taking both is perfectly feasible). The Parliamentarians should be able to retain control of the East and of London, providing them with a good base for new recruits. Thus the focus of the early conflict will probably be in the Midlands - between the main field armies - and in the south/south-west. Control of the south is within reach of either side and brings the prize of Bristol and a good source of recruitment. Of course, the Parliamentarians will be boosted by the arrival of the Scots in early 1644. But the Covenanter army can easily waste away, especially if Newcastle's army is at peak strength. Again, in early 1645, the Parliamentarians benefit from a scripted event - the formation of the New Model Army. This brings higher quality infantry blocks (representing the increased effectiveness of the army) and a slew of new leader blocks. However, the event does not bring any extra troops, merely replacing existing blocks with replacement blocks at the same strength. So, if the Parliamentarians are weak then they will remain so. If the Royalists have not already won the game with a major victory before 1645, then there is a good chance that they can hold on until the end of 1646 with a minor victory.
I posted the points below in another forum and thought it worthwhile to replicate them here.
- The Parliamentarians did not enjoy such an advantage in money and men that they would inevitably have won the war, as was a fashionable hypothesis among ECW historians a generation ago. Control of London was certainly an advantage, but one they could easily have lost if the Royalists had been more decisive at the very outset of the war. Perhaps more important were control of the navy and of the wealthy east of the country. The King's heartlands in Wales were relatively poor. But then, the King could rely on his personal wealth and that of the many grandees who supported him, such as the Earl of Newcastle.
- The Royalists had advantages of their own, such as a larger and more experienced officer corps at the outset of the war, more effective cavalry, and (but see below) a unified command structure.
- Given the above, that the Royalists had the upper hand in 1643 and were still in with a chance of winning the war as late as 1645 is not evidence of any greater military skill or competence on their part. Either side could have won the war at an early stage if only they had been led more effectively - both sides committed serious mistakes.
- Despite roughly equal distributions of competency between the two sides, the Royalists had one major weakness: the King himself. He was not a poor general, improved as he gained experience and certainly demonstrated some competency at a tactical level. But he could be woefully indecisive when it counted most. He was the undisputed leader of his army, whereas the Parliamentarians often suffered the problems of leadership by committee, but the King tried to listen to all his advisors - including the incompetent ones - and would often reach a compromise strategy that was likely to be the least effective of all the options.
- Another problem for the Royalists, for which a large part of the blame must be attributed again to the King, was a lack of co-ordination between the armies and forces operating in different parts of the country. In the north, Newcastle largely did his own thing. He was paying for his entire army and naturally felt that he should be making the decisions, but the King left him far too free a rein. Unfortunately for the Royalists, he was even more interested in horses and paintings than the King and showed no aptitude for nor any great interest in the art of generalship. In the north, the evidence is clear that the Parliamentarians had far superior leadership. Newcastle's great wealth gave him an enormous material advantage over the Fairfaxes - his army was larger, better equipped and more experienced than that of the Parliamentarians, and yet they managed to hold out against him for well over a year. Even then, their control reduced to the port of Hull, they were enough of a threat to prevent Newcastle from marching south to use his army to give the Royalists a decisive advantage in the main theatre of action.
- The Scots saved the Parliamentarians, of that there can be little doubt. But it was not inevitable that they would intervene on the side of Parliament. Again, the King must be blamed. If he had had any diplomatic skill whatsoever, and had been prepared to make compromises, then the Scots may not have intervened at all or might even have supported the King.
- Much changed in late 1644/early 1645 with the Self-Denying Ordinance and the formation of the New Model Army. It was not that the army was particularly good in terms of its manpower - it consisted of previous units from various Parliamentary armies plus a large number of raw recruits - but the whole process improved the command and logistics structure of the army. Less competent older generals who had largely held their positions due to social rank, such as Essex, were out and younger men of humbler origin who had worked their way to the top through sheer competence were in (as well as Black Tom and Cromwell, I would mention the superb John Lambert and the highly competent Philip Skippon). Just as importantly, the New Model Army replaced regional armies that were reliant on local notables, with a single body that was, for the first time, reliably funded at a central level. The army had a large artillery train that, for the first time, largely consisted of standardised guns (and thus, could be supplied from central depots) and sufficient horses and wagons to supply both the artillery and the army as a whole. Overall command was in the hands of a committee consisting of largely competent individuals (including the former field generals Essex and Waller), but one that was prepared to allow Fairfax the freedom to make his own operational decisions.