Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Are Liberals Going to Re-Elect Trump?

Last November, I offered some mid-term election thoughts here and here.  In those pieces I asked liberals (I think the word "progressive" is so wimpish) a very straightforward question regarding the 2020 presidential election...

Do you want to be right or do you want to win?

So far, it looks like the left-wing of the democratic party wants Donald Trump to be re-elected, because they are acting like morons.  Today and yesterday, a couple of articles caught my eye as I was flipboarding.

CNN, not exactly a conservative bell-ringer, featured an insightful piece entitled: How Democrats are handing Donald Trump a viable path to a second term.  Then, early this morning, National Review offered: Trump Can Win Again Only If Democrats Keep Moving Leftward

Let's review some facts.  Donald Trump's approval rating has never crested above 50%.  He is the only president since 1937 to be so consistently unpopular.

Trump is the most polarizing president in history.  He is particularly in trouble in swing-states that he won in 2018, like Wisconsin.

Trump is a weak president with few tangible achievements.

Trump's "miracle" for the US economy is a myth.

Trump's strength lies in fear-mongering and in demonizing his opposition as "socialist" or "fake" or any of a myriad of other trigger point terms. 

By most standards, Trump's path to re-election is in trouble.  But the liberals, led most conspicuously by their latest sweetheart, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (ACO), are giving Trump the foothold he needs to turn things around.  How?

CNN points its finger at ACO's "Green New Deal" and the Democrats stance on late-term abortions: "All you need to do is read a transcript of Trump's speech in El Paso, Texas, on Monday night -- billed as the first campaign speech of his 2020 race since the 2018 election -- to understand how much of an opportunity Trump thinks he was handed by Democrats on these two issues.

"Trump, repeatedly, hammered at the 'Green New Deal.'

"'I really don't like their policy of taking away your car, of taking away your airplane flights, of, 'Let's hop a train to California,' of ... 'You're not allowed to own cows anymore,'" he said.

"And: 'They want to take away your car, reduce the value of your home, and put millions of Americans out of work, spend $100 trillion, which, by the way, there's no such thing as $100 trillion. You have to spend $100 trillion. And remember this. No other country except us is going to do it. That's a little problem, too.'

"He also went after Democrats on abortion.

"Democrats are in favor of 'allowing children to be ripped from their mother's womb right up until the moment of birth,' Trump said at one point. Talking about Northam in particular, Trump said: 'The governor stated that he would even allow a newborn baby to come out into the world and wrap the baby and make the baby comfortable, and then talk to the mother, and talk to the father, and then execute the baby. Execute the baby.'"

Then there's the National Review piece: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) seems to grasp that it’s in her party’s interest not to go overboard in response to Trump, but collectively it’s as if the Democrats think the savvy political response to the radicalism they see in Trumpism is an alternatively radical agenda. The problem is that Trump’s actual agenda — so far— hasn’t been as radical as the disorientating nature of his norm-defying personal conduct and obvious contempt for institutional and democratic safeguards has led many liberals to believe.

"In many respects the parties are mirroring each other, as the incentive structure on both sides is geared toward the extremes. Politics is no longer about capturing the center where most voters gravitate, but revving up the ranks of the most passionate. Faced with that reality, enough Americans may hold their noses and vote against the devil they don’t know."

ACO trumpets that the conservative right is "losing the war."  But that doesn't mean the liberal left is winning it.  Far from it.  For all of his many faults, Trump is an extremely effective campaigner.  If allowed, he will drive a wedge between the liberal agenda and mainstream America with fear, exaggeration and lies.  And, right now, the liberals are giving Trump plenty of ammo to spark fear in the mainstream electorate.

Beyond that, there is potential for dissension between moderates and liberals in the democratic ranks if the movers and shakers of the party continue to drift left.  The Democrats need centrists to defeat Trump.

I give Polosi credit.  She knows all this.  She intentionally attempted to distance the Democratic Party from ACO's plan, mentioning that it was just one of many proposals being considered while mislabeling it as "the Green Dream."  That is a step in the right direction.

However, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell sees the potential gold mine ACO can be for conservatives.  He has stated that he will bring the Green New Deal up for a vote.  He's no fool.  He knows the Republican controlled senate will never pass the legislation.  His intent is a tad more subtle.  He wants to force senate Democrats (some of whom are either already running for president or plan to run) to expose their support (or non-support) for the Deal

This is a chess match.  Any Senate Democrat running for president that votes "Yes" on the Green New Deal will be crucified by Trump and the Republicans in 2020.  If these candidates are smart, they will moderate their views.  

Do you want to be right or do you want to win?  ACO and liberals want to be right at the expense of everything, including the alienation of tens of millions of moderate voters that will decide whether or not Trump will be re-elected.  These voters do not like Trump, but they like "socialism" and the other demons Trump will conjure up even less.  

Polosi will likely seek a more centrist path forward.  That's exactly what the Democrats need.  A great example of this internal conflict is reflected in the candidacy of Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.  Many see her as a moderate candidate.  But Klobuchar herself wants to be known as "progessive."  Does this mean she will vote in favor of the Green New Deal when McConnell brings it to a vote?  If she does then she will lose points on electability and create tremendous fear-mongering fodder for Donald Trump.

For the Democrats, 2020 should be about unifying the country and bringing respectability and stability back to the office of the presidency.  For Trump it will be about showing that he is the lesser of two evils with hyperbole about the specter of alleged socialism and the murder of babies.  The way Democrats are behaving at the moment suggests that, despite all his drawbacks and inadequacies, Trump's chances for re-election have never been better.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Reading Sapiens

I reviewed 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari late last year.  That book inspired me to ask for Harari’s other two books, Sapiens and Homo Deus, as Christmas gifts.  Harari has a knack for effectively communicating sophisticated scientific discoveries and debates in layman’s terms without dumbing down the material.  He is also a bold writer, making firm contentions, largely supported by the most recent evidence, in a manner that is simultaneously insightful and troubling to the extent that we humans have only recently begun to fully understand ourselves.  Meanwhile, the road ahead for the next 30-50 years will most likely mark fundamental changes in what it means to be human.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is Harari’s most popular book.  It gives a “brief” history of the evolution of humankind with chapters that are part chronological and part thematic, skipping through time to make an evolutionary point.   In this blog post I will offer a summary of the story of human evolution as Harari tells it.  My next post will review Harari’s perspective on what might happen with humanity over the coming decades. 

For millions of years, our ancestors were animals of little significance.  They were in the middle of the food chain with about as many animals preying upon them for meat as they were able to prey on others.  The invention of fire was perhaps the most significant development during this time.  Fire broadened the range of foods available to them.

Our ancestors split into multiple types of the Homo genus, with Neanderthals and Homo erectus being the most common besides Homo sapiens.  But there were several others, all of this diversity inhabiting the Earth simultaneously.  However, as Harari puts it, we Sapiens have never been known for our tolerance.  Over the comparatively brief span of several thousand years, every other genus vanished through violence and/or disease and possible scarcity of resources.  Sapiens became natural born killers and conquerors.

Suddenly, inexplicably, about 70,000 years ago we Sapiens underwent the Cognitive Revolution.  Our brains became capable of more sophisticated things, perhaps because of genetic mutation or the acquisition of language – no one really knows why.  Our instinctual and experiential cognition, shared by all Homo types, was augmented by the inter-subjective development of our imaginations.  We invented gods and symbols and rituals (such as burials) along with the ability to cooperate in greater numbers than any other Homo genus.

The “Stone Age” is actually an archeological bias.  Most tools crafted by Sapiens were made of wood.  But, since wood doesn’t survive with the passage of time the same way stone does, only the rock tools were preserved by nature.  Dogs were the first animals domesticated by Sapiens, they were useful for hunting and fishing and sounding intruder alerts.  Sapiens lived in small bands and most never knew another person outside of their band.  “The human collective knows far more today than the ancient bands.  But at the individual level, ancient foragers were the most knowledgeable and skillful people in history.” (page 49)     

Part of the Cognitive Revolution was a great expansion of Sapiens over the Earth, in part a result of greater cooperation between larger bands that became possible only with our imagination (turning several bands into whole “tribes”) and language (also cementing shared tribal tendencies).  Perhaps the crowning achievement at this time was the discovery and settlement of Australia, a completely land-locked continent no Sapien had any reason to suspect was even out there beyond the ocean’s horizon.  Harari equates this on par with the Apollo 11 mission in terms of epic adventurous accomplishments by Sapiens.  Within a few thousand years Sapiens had wiped out 23 of 24 Australian animal species that weighed over 100 pounds.  Our migrations took us into North America.  We now dominated the Earth.

“…the first wave of Sapiens colonization was one of the biggest and swiftest ecological disasters to befall the animal kingdom.  Hardest hit were large furry creatures….Homo sapiens drove to extinction about half of the planet’s big beasts long before humans invented the wheel, writing, or iron tools.” (page 72) This was only the first wave of three mass animal extinctions.  The second was caused by the Agricultural Revolution and the third by the Industrial Revolution.

The Agricultural Revolution started about 12,000 years ago.  Harari points out that, ironically, this revolution did not come about because it increased human happiness.  In fact, people were much happier with the easy grasp and slower pace of their hunter-gatherer reality.  Larger settlements, proto fortified towns, were built.  The main driving factors here were the ability to stockpile food, taking away fear of famine, and for security, the towns were safe havens against the wild primitive world.

For the first time, the future became important to many Sapiens.  Preparing for the next rainy season or the next harvest season brought new levels of thinking and organization.  The first large cities emerged around 7,000 years ago, reflecting the immense power and wealth being accumulated by elite Sapiens and their ability to both feed and control many thousands of individuals.  Such mass groupings of Sapiens were not possible until writing and arithmetic were invented.  Virtually all early writing was not about stories or gods or poetry.  Rather, it was transaction related; the valued exchange of crops and taxes.  This, along with our imaginations, made cities of Sapiens possible.

“Time and again people have created order in their societies by classifying the population into imagined categories, such as superiors, commoners, and slaves; whites and blacks; patricians and plebeians; Brahmins and Shudras; or rich and poor.  These categories have regulated relations between millions of humans by making some people legally, politically or socially superior to others.” (page 136)

“Myths and fictions accustomed people, nearly from the moment of birth, to think in certain ways, to behave in accordance with certain standards, to want certain things, and to observe certain rules.  They thereby created artificial instincts that enabled millions of strangers to cooperate effectively.  This network of artificial instincts is called ‘culture’.” (page 163)

Another great breakthrough for civilization came when Sapiens created the “imagined category” of money.  This allowed for the transfer of goods and services between cities and nations.  The imagined empire of Rome was able to spread its influence far and wide, beyond what its military Legions were even capable of, because of the near universal acceptance of its gold coins.   Before Rome, the Akkadian Empire was the first known existence of imperial power, dating from about 4,300 years ago.  The Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian empires followed.  The great empires of China and the Far East developed later. 

“The benefits were sometime salient – law enforcement, urban planning, standardization of weights and measures – and sometimes questionable – taxes, conscription, emperor worship.  But most imperial elites earnestly believed that they were working for the general welfare of all the empire’s inhabitants.” (page 198)  Alongside money, empires were a powerful and fundamental imagined category that helped unify humankind.  The third ingredient in unification was religion.  “Since all social orders and hierarchies are imagined, they are all fragile, and the larger the society, the more fragile it is.  The crucial historical role of religion has been to give superhuman legitimacy to these fragile structures.  Religions assert that our laws are not the result of human caprice, but are ordained by an absolute and supreme authority.  This helps place at least some fundamental laws beyond challenge, thereby ensuring social stability.” (page 210)

“The Agricultural Revolution seems to have been accompanied by a religious revolution.  Hunter-gatherers picked and pursued wild plants and animals, which could be seen as equal in status to Homo sapiens.  The fact that man hunted sheep did not make sheep inferior to man, just as the fact that tigers hunted man did not make man inferior to tigers.  Beings communicated with one another directly and negotiated the rules governing their shared habitat.  In contrast, farmers owned and manipulated plants and animals, and could hardly degrade themselves by negotiating with their possessions.  Hence the first religious effect of the Agricultural Revolution was to turn plants and animals from equal members of a spiritual round table into property.” (pp. 212-213)

Initially religions were polytheistic, which was usually tolerant of other religious perspectives and tended to absorb other gods rather than go to war over any specific god.  This unified all sorts of people and aided in the growth of polytheistic empires.  The first monotheistic religion appeared in Egypt about 3,300 years ago.  Monotheistic religions were much more aggressive and violent toward any other religion.  Within the span of last 1,500 years monotheism has become the most prevalent and powerful form of religion in the world, chiefly due to Christianity and Islam. 

Then, suddenly: “The last 500 years have witnessed a phenomenal and unprecedented growth in human power.  In the year 1500, there were about 500 million Homo sapiens in the entire world.  Today, there are 7 billion.  The total value of goods and services produced by humankind in the year 1500 is estimated at $250 billion, in today’s dollars.  Nowadays the value of a year of human production is close to $60 trillion.  In 1500, humanity consumed less that 13 trillion calories of energy per day.  Today, we consume 1,500 trillion calories per day.” (247)

According to Harari, humanity discovered ignorance.  “The Scientific Revolution has not been a revolution of knowledge.  It has been above all a revolution of ignorance.  The great discovery that launched the Scientific Revolution was the discovery that human do not know the answers to their most important questions.” (page 251)  Prior to this humans asserted (as many still do to this day) that they knew everything of importance through their religions.  By accepting ignorance, humans began to discover a new understanding of reality bit by bit, attained fact by fact.

Once just a path for the intellectual elite, today more students are studying and applying mathematics than ever.  Science and the resulting scientific method have a greater impact in shaping human understanding and experience.  Initially, technology drove most of science, principally in the domains of manufacturing and warfare.  But, ultimately, the advancement of science was impossible without (ironically) religion and/or ideology.  Science is not self-perpetuating.  It requires goals set through motivations.  For a span of time religion directed science into the fields of human health and making basic life more convenient.

Ultimately, however, the primary driving force of science was taken up by the imagined empires of humanity.  “Scientists have provided the imperial project knowledge, ideological justification and technological gadgets.  Without this contribution it is highly questionable whether Europeans could have conquered the world.  The conquerors returned the favor by providing scientists with information and protection, supporting all kinds of strange and fascinating projects and spreading the scientific way of thinking to the far corners of the earth.  Without imperial support, it is doubtful whether modern science would have progressed very far.” (page 304)

The growing prevalence of science and mathematics expanded into human economic systems, beginning with capitalism.  The idea of “credit” is a recent phenomena, a radical extension of money that allows for transactions to happen with deferred payment, another manifestation of the importance of the future in the experience of Sapiens.  Capitalism emerged from this fundamental imagined category.  Capitalism has taken on many characteristics of a religion.  “…free enterprise, thrift and self-reliance.  This new religion has had a decisive influence on the development of modern science, too.  Science research is funded by either governments of private businesses.” (page 314)  Of course, it was a combination of science and capitalism that made the Industrial Revolution possible.

“The Industrial Revolution yielded an unprecedented combination  of cheap and abundant energy and cheap and abundant raw materials.  The result was an explosion of human productivity.  The explosion was felt first and foremost in agriculture.  Usually, when we think of the Industrial Revolution, we think of an urban landscape of smoking chimneys, or the plight of exploited coal miners seating I the bowels of the earth.  Yet the Industrial Revolution was above all else the Second Agricultural Revolution.

“During the last 200 years, industrial production became the mainstay of agriculture.  Machines such as tractors began to undertake tasks that were previously performed by muscle power, or not performed at all.  Fields and animals became vastly more productive thanks to artificial fertilizers, industrial insecticides and an entire arsenal of hormones and medications.  Refrigerators, ships and airplanes have made it possible to store produce for months, and transport it quickly and cheaply to the other side of the world.  Europeans began to dine on fresh Argentinean beef and Japanese sushi.” (page 341)

Just as humanity was transformed by the migration of hunter-gatherers to farmers, so too with the migration of farmers to factory workers.  The growth in waged workers led to another newly imagined religion, Consumerism.  “The capitalist and consumerist ethics are two sides of the same coin, and merger of two commandments.  The supreme commandment of the rich is to ‘Invest!”  The supreme commandment of the rest of us is ‘Buy’.” (page 349)

Once again, the Industrial Revolution led to the third great extinction in history caused completely by Sapiens.  The number of domesticated and agricultural animals dwarfs the number of wild animals on the earth today.  The revolution also made time and punctuality more of an economic than a social necessity.  The impact on humankind was immense.  “…the collapse of the family and the local community and their replacement by the state and the market.” (page 355)  This, along with the imagined ideology of “human rights,” led to an elevation of the idea of the “individual” beyond something just for society’s elites.  Today there is also a strong sense of individuality housed within an imagined sense of “community” as invented by industry and commerce.  

“Consumerism and nationalism work extra hours to make us imagine that millions of strangers belong to the same community as ourselves, that we all have a common past, common interests and a common future.  This isn’t a lie.  It’s imagination.  Like money, limited liability companies and human rights, nations and consumer tribes are inter-subjective realities.  They exist only in our collective imagination, yet their power is immense.” (page 363)

It has created a world that is now in perpetual flux.  “The tectonic plates of history are working at a frantic pace, but the volcanoes are mostly silent.  The new elastic order seems to be able to contain and even initiate radical structural changes without collapsing into violent conflict.” (page 366)  The fact is that Sapiens engage in war far less often today than ever before in history.  In fact, globally speaking, Sapiens commit far fewer murders, while the democratic state has risen in power, squashing imperialism.  While dominating the world, Sapiens are largely governed by peace-loving elites and peoples. 

But we are still not a happy people compared with our hunter-gatherer ancestors.  Science has allowed for the treatment of disease, pain, anxiety and depression to help alleviate this condition.  In the process science has reached a point where it is addressing natural selection itself.  “In laboratories throughout the world, scientists are engineering living beings.  They break the laws of natural selection with impunity, unbridled even by an organism’s natural characteristics.” (page 398) Harari believes we could be on the verge of a Second Cognitive Revolution involving cyborgs, two-way brain-computer interfaces, artificial intelligence, and even a quest to transcend Sapiens altogether.

This is more the topic of Homo Deus, Harari’s follow-up book, which I intend to review next.  Sapiens is very well-written, accessible though challenging in its fascinating historical facts, its bold interpretations, and its ultimate conclusions.  I do not yet know if I agree with Harari in his entirety.  But the facts he presents on how we Sapiens arrived at where we are today are solid.  His speculations on where the current forces of human change are taking us can and should be debated because the trends he cites are all very real.  The depth and breadth of Sapiens is sweeping and, at times, breath-taking.  It deserves its wide readership and merits consideration by readers everywhere who are serious about the meta-perspective of our human condition. 

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Extraordinary Ordinary High Museum

Yesterday, Jennifer and I decided to drive down to Atlanta and visit the High Museum with Avery and her boyfriend, Ben.  Our intent (naively as it turned out) was to see Yayoi Kusama's world-renowned Infinity Mirrors Exhibit.  We did not realize that tickets to the special exhibit had been sold out for weeks.

Disappointed but not disheartened, we decided to spend time with the museum's permanent collection.  I saw the Richter abstract that I blogged about years ago here.  There was also a large mirrored dish mounted on the wall that I have also seen before (see previous link), but this time I saw it in a different light.  

I enjoyed the trip even if Infinity Mirrors escaped me.  There are many smaller wonders at the High.  Barred from the big crowd drawing event, the ordinary aspects of the High's collection became more pronounced in my mind.  It was a wonderful experience.  We spent almost two hours there.  Here are some photos and interpretive signage of the visit.  

The ceiling in the contemporary art wing of the High allows for natural light during the daytime.  This helps defuse many of the shadows cast by lighting the art pieces.  It also brightens the whole space.  Plus, I think it looks cool.

Ben and Avery in the fractured reflection of the concave dish, Unititled, by Anish Kapoor from 2010.  I have seen this piece several times at the High.  But this time I struck me in a more powerful way with its glorious acoustics and infinite, abstracted imagery.  This truly was my personal "Infinity Mirror" for this trip.

Ben and Avery again, followed by some photos I took while watching them in the large mirrored dish.

Julie Mehretu, American, born Ethiopian, Mogamma: (A Painting in Four Parts) Part 2, 2012.

Mathias Bengtsson, Plywood Slice, 1999.

Joseph Stella, Prissima, 1927.  A very large oil on canvas.

Childe Hassam, an artist I previously discovered in Chicago, painted this wonderful impressionistic piece.  Tuileries Gardens, 1897.

A detail of the Hassam painting.  I love the texture created by the brushstrokes.

Gaines Ruger Donoho, The Mount, 1884.  This is a new artist for me.  Very talented.  I want to learn more about his works.

This lone, but delightful, Renoir is part of the collection.  Still Life With Apples, 1890.  This one comes later in Renior's life.  The detail below shows the mix of detailed brush work accented by bold, hurried strokes of color.

Renoir detail.

Monet painted several works featuring the English Parliament building.  This one is from 1903, Houses of Parliament in the Fog.

Toulouse-Lautrec, Seated Clowness: Miss Cha-U-Kao, 1896.  Crayon, brush, and spatter lithograph on wove paper.

Walking back to our car, we passed this contemporary statue, Invisible Man: Salute by Glenn Kaino, 2018.  This work depicts Tommie Smith, the Olympic athlete who in 1968 raised his fist in a display of "black power" as he stood on the platform while receiving his gold medal.  In stark contrast, a Lichtenstein art piece is in the background next to a wing of the High Museum.  The entrance is reflected within the dark stainless steel surface of the statue, revealing large red polka dots along the lobby's windows which brand the Kusama exhibit.  It was a gorgeous day. 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Gaming the Horse & Musket Series

The Horse & Musket series from Hollandspeil, so far.  Volume III was published in late 2018.
Hollandspeil’s Horse & Musket series is an on-going collection of modular games, featuring an abstract, yet realistic, and fast-playing system that slowly evolves with the chronology of the battles being gamed.  This series is defined in the common rulebook as: “…a tactical system that covers the development of musket warfare from Vienna in 1683 and Sedgemoor in 1685 to Appomattox in 1865 and Koniggratz in 1866.  After the American Civil War and the triumph of Prussian tactics at Koniggratz warfare moved from muzzle loaded weapons to breechloaders.”  To date, three volumes have been produced.  Dawn of an Era, published in 2017, is the base module, a prerequisite for all future modules.  Sport of Kings, published in 2018, is the second volume, covering battles from 1721-1748.  Crucible of War is the most recent module, also from 2018, and features the Seven Years War.  

Each volume contains 20 battle scenarios, including many famous ones.  In addition, a supplement will soon be published featuring 20 more historic battles.  This will give the series 80 battles to game so far.  Future volumes will obviously take this number to 180 altogether – or more.  All battles can be gamed in two hours or less.  In addition, Sean Chick, the game designer, has intentionally created the system to be used in battle designs by the players themselves.  He calls it a “sandbox” for depicting land warfare during the time frame depicted.  This is an appealing quality to me.  As a player, I not only get a tremendous variety of fast-playing battles to game, but I also get a common system by which to compare the weaknesses and strengths of various armies, leaders, technologies, and tactics at a dynamic yet compatible scale with standardized core mechanics of movement, command, and combat.  

Horse & Musket casts a wider net than series systems like GMT’s Great Battles of History or Clash of Arms’ Battles of the Age of Reason.  These other systems are far more intricate and sophisticated because they dive deep into the specific period for which they are designed.  Battles in these systems usually take many hours to play and offer the full flavor of the era concerned.  Instead, Horse & Musket encompasses the rapid development of the military art in a more interchangeable, abstract method.  What the system may lack in depth it makes up for with remarkable range and a highly playable combat system that adequately captures the historic feel of each battle.

While depth of historic rules is not the system’s forte, there is nevertheless a tremendous amount of chrome in the system.  Each nationality has its own special rules.  At the Battle of Blenheim (1704), for example, the French have “Inferior Horsemen”, which means they means they roll with a penalty in all forms of combat.  Meanwhile, the British have “Superior Charging Cavalry”, which means that their cavalry units receive a combat bonus when charging. 

At Fontenoy (1745) the British feature “Volley Fire” and “Limited Bayonet Charge”, which affords a combat die roll bonus and a command points penalty for close combat, respectively.  Meanwhile, at Leuthen (1757) the Austrians have “Inferior Charging Horsemen”, “Rough Terrain Mastery”, and “Superior Artillery”.  These express a penalty for charges, a bonus for firing from woods, swamp and/or town hexes, and a combat bonus for cannon fire.  The Prussians are augmented by “Bayonet Doctrine” and “Superior Charging Horsemen”, which grant an extra die roll for close combat and for charges, respectively.

Altogether there are more than 15 “special rules” like the examples above from which players mix and match to fine-tune the basics of each battle to the historic capabilities of the armies at the time.  Moreover, as an optional rule, each nationality has a specific set of characteristics that varies by game module to further enhance realism of play.  A set of playing cards is provided in Volumes 2 and 3.  These are not part of actual game play.  Rather they serve as handy reminders for the various special rules in effect for a given scenario.

The base module, Dawn of an Era, contains the game map used for all battles in the series, the usual counter sheets of units and leaders, and a several counter sheets of large hex tiles representing the various terrain features.  In this way, the blank battle map (consisting of all clear terrain) can be customized with woods, rivers, swamps, hills and towns in various hexes to abstractly but accurately represent the terrain specifics of each battle.

Dawn of an Era, the base module published in 2017, contains a blank map upon which all scenarios are played.  The map features extra-large hexes and a number of terrain tiles for customization.

The battle map as configured for the Battle of Blenheim.  

As configured for the "Leuthen" scenario.  The game is played with a mix of 10-sided and 6-side dice.  Notice the "playing cards" offered as reminders of the special rules in play for a given battle.
The map hexes and tiles are extra-large allowing for easy game play without the need for tweezers which seem required for every other game published today.  Stacking is minimal so the player can spread the counters out within the hex for easy reference.  Each counter moves individually, there are no stacks to push around.  The game requires no markers, though a few are provided as player aids, if desired, in later modules.

The command and combat systems are what make the scenarios play so quickly.  There are very few charts.  The terrain effects are quickly assimilated by the player and apply universally.  All the essential types of units common to the period of muskets are present.  Line infantry and Elite Infantry are the basic foot soldiers.  Special units like Skirmishers, Militia, and Native are scattered throughout the volumes.  Horse units are reflected by Cavalry, Dragoons, and Hussars.  Artillery batteries are also depicted, as well as a few other special unit types (Highlanders, for example) used only in a few scenarios.  

For the most part, combat is resolved simply by rolling various numbers of 10-sided dice.  There is a die roll range to hit for each unit type depending upon terrain and type of attack - fire combat, close combat, or charging.  Generally, units roll three 10-sided dice.  Each time one of them fall within the hit range the target loses a step.  Unit strength is abstracted into a four-point morale system (MPs).  Most infantry and cavalry are “4’s” and “3’s”.  Other horsemen are usually “2’s”, as are artillery units and less-trained infantry forces.  Special units like fierce Highlanders are also a “2” which makes them brittle.  But special rules also make them uniquely deadly as the only infantry units who can themselves charge and who are fierce against cavalry charges.  There is nothing more deadly in the entire series (so far) than Highlanders in close combat, with their unmodified hit range of 4-9.  Rolling a "9" is always a hit, regardless of unit types and terrain modifiers.

The basic game rules do not include unit facing or formations.  Players can add these at their option for even more realism.  This is mostly a comparison of line (for fire combat) versus column (for cavalry charges) as well as facing rules to expose flanks and rear areas.  Personally, I find these optional rules enhance realism at the expense of longer game play.  I am as yet undecided if this trade-off is worth it to me personally.  There is a reason these rules remain optional.  

I’m not sure the slower play time is worth the additional realism when the system already has so much going for it in the way of chrome and historic feel.  Each player can decide for themselves based upon their preferences.  Again, this system is designed as a sandbox as well as a way to fight any battle, large or small, in the musket era.  There are three combat results tables provided that make adjustments, particularly for ranged fire, whether you are play a Grand Battle (Malplaquet, Lauffeld, Villinghausen) a regular Battle (the vast majority of scenarios), or a Small Battle (Killiecrankie, Fort San Lazaro, Plains of Abraham). 

Command Action Points (CAPs) and the specific capabilities of Leader counters further historically refine the distinction of each battle.  Player A and Player B have an allotment of CAP, usually at differing amounts, with a refreshment of CAP each turn partially based upon a 6-sided die roll.  Army Command Leaders can save an amount of CAP each turn up to their rating to give them additional CAPs their next turn.  In this way Leaders can accumulate CAP to perform more actions simultaneously, charge and conduct close combat in the same turn, for example.  This rewards players who put a horseman component into each hex with an infantry or artillery unit.  More damage can be inflicted upon an enemy hex through a “combined arms” approach to attacks.

Most Leaders are not Army Commanders, of course.  Scenarios contain varying number of Leader counters.  As required, Leader ratings are added to morale checks of units in the Leader’s hex, enhancing the probability that the unit will pass its check.  There are some “0” rated Leaders.  They are worthless militarily but they do possess the basic capability of all other Leaders; they can rally troops, usually at the cost of 1 CAP per step.  There is a small chance a given Leader will be killed in action which, of course, can alter the whole game.

The most famous military leaders of the era are featured throughout the series.  Marlborough is the maximum “4” at Blenheim, as is Frederick the Great at Leuthen.  But most Leaders are rated “2” or “3”.  There are a few “1’s” and “0’s” which, as I said, are most valuable in rallying troops.  From an Army Commander perspective, the ability to save up 4 CAPs for the next turn versus, say, 2 works in the favor of the higher Leader in the long run.  More actions can be performed in a given turn over the course of a scenario.

A close-up of Austrian units in "Leuthen."  The Leader Charles of Lorraine is a "0", incompetent.  Terrain tiles for hills and towns are also visible.

Frederick prepares his oblique attack at Leuthen.
Generally speaking, it costs 1 CAP to move or fire, 2 CAP to charge with your cavalry.  Close combat evolves in the period of time between Volume 1 and Volume 2.  In the Dawn of an Era it costs 3 CAP to close assault.  In Sport of Kings (and afterwards) this is reduced to 2 CAP, reflecting better training and tactics as a result of experience on the battlefields.  Depending on the scenario, players automatically receive between 1 and 5 CAPs every turn plus 1 - 3 extra points from the variable die roll in addition to any points saved from the previous turn.  These saved points must be spent in the next turn.  Players cannot just sit around and accumulate massive amounts of CAP.    

As I said, most of the time a unit fires by rolling three 10-sided dice and comparing those numbers to the given hit range for close combat/charge.  Elite Infantry and Cavalry with Superior Horsemen roll with 4 dice to hit, increasing the odds of inflicting damage.  There are several other easily referenced variables.  If an Elite Infantry unit is capable of Volley Fire, as the Prussians are for example, it would fire with 5 dice.  Very deadly.

Like the military art itself, the game system evolves various ways through the volumes.  Accuracy increases for ranged fire in Volume 3 over Volume 1.  Another change is that, with a few exceptions, in Volume 1 each unit waits its turn to fire.  There is no defensive fire in a Line Infantry attack.  The attacker marches up, waits until the next turn, then fires away, inflicting damage immediately and without return fire.  In Volume 3 fire combat has become concurrent.  Whenever any unit fires, the defender fires back and inflicts damage simultaneously.  As I said, one of the reasons I enjoy this system is it allows me to see how warfare evolved through time within a largely consistent set of rules.

The system to date reflects several noteworthy scenarios outside of the larger, more famous battles.  Dawn of a New Era contains “La Prairie” (1691) where the New York Militia and Native allies ambush (a special form of close combat in game terms) the French BourbonsSport of Kings offers “Ogoula Tchetoka” (1736) where the Bourbons and their tribal allies attack Chickasaw tribes.  This scenario features Mingo Ouma, a Native Leader, rated a “2”.  Crucible of War has another ambush situation, “Monongahela” (1755).  Here the map is almost completely covered in woods hexes with the British and their Native allies under Braddock (“1”) against the French and their allies.  A young George Washington is part of Braddock’s command, a secondary Leader rated “2”, good for rallying and modifying morale checks.  All of these are fought on the Small Battle chart, which gives certain units slightly longer ranged fire.  These smaller scenarios are a lot of fun and can be fully played in about 30-45 minutes.  You could easily explore all three of these battles in one “normal” game evening.

Not enough chrome for you so far?  Check out Volume 2’s “Gulnabad” (1722).  This fast-playing battle offers a rag-tag Persian army under Mohammad Qoli Khan (“0”) against an Afghani army of solid Dragoons under Hotak (“3”), which features one of the most interesting units in the series so far, Zamburaks, light cannon mounted on camels.  Though they can only fire at a range of 1 (R1), these cannons can move and fire in the same turn at a cost of 2 CAP, very handy in setting up an advance or a charge.  This one also plays very quickly.

As a sample of game play we will look at the "Leuthen" scenario offered in Crucible of War.  This is offered to give the reader a feel for how the system plays and is not intended as an example of "optimal" game play.

This situation on the game map... the same as this situation in the game's VASSAL module.
First, each player takes into account the scenario’s special rules and CAP allowances.  Leuthen was not a huge battle in terms of troops involved so the regular Battle Chart is used.  The Austrian army, under the incompetent Charles of Lorraine (“0”), possess "Inferior Charging Horsemen" (they roll one less die in a charge), "Rough Terrain Mastery" (roll an extra die when attacking out of Woods, Swamp, and/or Town hexes), and "Superior Artillery" (an extra die is rolled).  For this example, I am not using the optional Formation Rules (makes the mechanics easier to explain) but I am using the optional Nationality Special Rules.

The scenario specifies that regular Austrian Line Infantry never get an extra die when firing from R1, i.e. they cannot Volley Fire.  The Austrians only receive 1 CAP per turn plus their die roll allotment.  So they will not be able to do much in any given turn.  More positively, they have a secondary Charismatic Leader in Nadasdy ("2").  Such a Leader gets to rally one MP per turn at no CAP cost, freeing that point for other use in the heat of battle.  

Frederick the Great (“4”) leads the Prussian Army, which is already organized for the famous oblique attack at the start of the scenario.   The Prussian’s receive 5 CAP per turn plus their die roll.  They will be able to accomplish far more each turn.  On top of this Frederick is also a Charismatic Leader.  The Prussians possess "Bayonet Doctrine" (bonus die in close combat) and "Superior Charging Horsemen" (bonus die in charges).  

There are various other “Nationality” rules for each side.  Unless otherwise specified, these apply to all scenarios.  The Prussians, for example, have an "Oblique Attack" nationality tactic, which allows them to reroll on any failed die rolls in close combat and fires at R1.  This example is sufficient to give the reader the idea of how it is possible to fine-tune an army historically within the sandbox.  The scenario begins with the Prussian CAP roll.  A 6-sided die produces a “4” which grants 2 CAPs.  They start each turn with 5 so they will have 7 CAP to allocate.  1 CAP allows you to move or fire, but not both.  2 CAP allows you to charge, special units can move and fire or fire and move, and a unit may declare close combat.  

Frederick begins the turn by expending 2 of his 7 CAPs on artillery fire from two batteries.  Both fires are at two-hex range (R2) and will “hit” their target on a roll of “8” or “9” on three 10-sided dice.  The Austrian red (Wurttemberg) Line Infantry takes no hits but the gray (Saxons) Cavalry unit takes 1 hit.  With 5 CAPs remaining, the Cavalry unit on the Prussian right flank charges the gray Austrian cavalry at a cost of 2 CAPs.  The Saxons roll (on a 6-sided die) for a countercharge.  A roll of “3” would have succeeded earlier but since the unit took a hit from the artillery fire it fails the check.  The Prussians plow into the Saxons with an extra die roll for being superior at charging.  The charge is modified -1 by the Woods hex so anything “6-9” is a “hit” on four 10-sided die.  This roll yields multiple hits and the Saxons are eliminated.  Three Prussian infantry now advance, burning the remaining CAPs.

The initial Prussian attack on the Austrian left flank which is protected by weaker Allied units.

The initial Prussian assault eliminates two allied units.  The Austrians respond by attempting to reform the line facing the Prussian attack.  The Austrians are limited in what they can do in a given turn due to a low number of Command Action Points.
The Austrian player now rolls a “2” and receives 2 CAPs to his regular turn allotment of 1 for a total of 3.  The red Line Infantry will fire at the Line Infantry next to it.  The first two games in the Horse & Musket series did not allow for simultaneous fire or defensive fire except in certain cases.  With Crucible of War the military art has advanced to the point where fire is now always simultaneous.  If you fire on a unit it always gets to return fire at no CAP cost.  

Also beginning with this volume, infantry of 3 or 4 MPs may fire with an extra die at R1.  But the scenario rules forbid this of the Austrians. So the red unit rolls three 10-sided dice and will hit on any rolls of “6-9”.  Since it is simultaneous fire, the Prussians fire back rolling on four dice with the same “6-9” hit range.  The rolls result in 3 hits on each side.  The Prussian is reduced to a 1 and, though they rolled well, the Wurttemberger unit is eliminated.  Since this was fire combat, not close combat, the attacker doesn’t get to advance.  The Austrian player uses the other 2 CAPs to cover the flanks of the Bavarian Line Infantry and Artillery.

Next turn.  The Prussians roll a “5” for 2 CAPs added to his 5 per turn for a total of 7 again.  First of all, Zieten ("2"), a secondary Prussian Leader, moves to the badly damaged Line Infantry.  That unit will remain in place and, stacked with the Leader, will be eligible to rally next turn.  Leader movement costs no CAPs.  The other Line Infantry as well as both Elite Infantry move up as well, the second Elite unit moves at “Cadence Marching”, another new rule to Crucible of War, which allows for an infantry unit to move two hexes if both are clear terrain.  This costs a total of 3 CAPs.  Both Prussian artillery batteries move forward leaving 2 CAP.  Remember that Army Leaders can save used CAPs each turn up to their rating.  So Frederick, who can save up to 4 per turn, banks the 2 remaining CAPs for use next turn.  This will enable the Prussians to order an extra close combat if needed next turn, for example.

The Prussians continue their attack against the newly formed Austrian line as a few more Austrian units redeploy.

The Prussians press forward, driving further in to the Austrian line.  The Prussian Dragoon unit has just exchanged deadly fire with the Bavarians (in brown).

End of Turn Three.  The Austrians shift more units from their right to their left flank and await the next Prussian assault.
The Austrians CAP roll is a dismal “1” yielding a meager total of 2 CAP for their part of the turn.  They opt to move Charles and another Line Infantry into the Fortified Town hex as well as an Artillery Unit.  Normally Artillery can only move 1 hex but the Austrians feature "Mobile Artillery" as a Nationality so they can move up to 2 hexes per turn.  Note that the other Artillery unit is Bavarian and thus does not possess this national ability.  The turn ends.

Frederick rolls a “2” for 2 CAPs, added to the 2 saved and the 5 regular for a total of 9 CAPs this turn.  The first CAP is spent for Leader Zieten to rally the Line Infantry making it 2 MP.  The Cavalry on the Prussian left now spends 2 CAP to charge the Austrian Line Infantry, doing so through the ranks of the Prussian Line Infantry.  The Austrians pass their morale check with a roll of “4” and may conduct defensive fire but their unlucky roll of three dice fails to hit anything.  Meanwhile the four dice rolled by the Cavalry results in 2 hits on the Austrian Line Infantry.  The unit retreats, the Cavalry takes the hex.  Next the Line Infantry advances at the cost of 1 CAP.  The two Prussian Artillery units fire upon the Bavarian Artillery, causing one hit.  4 CAP remain.  The Prussians now attack with their Dragoon unit which can move and fire for 2 CAP.  It exchanges fire with the Bavarian Line Infantry, each side inflicting one hit.  Frederick saves his last 2 CAP for use next turn.

The Austrians roll a “6” which gives them 3 CAP to go with their pathetic allotment of 1 CAP for a total of 4.  Since they will get to use defensive fire for free in the upcoming Prussian attack, they spend all 4 points on moving three Line Infantry units and an Artillery unit toward the front line.   This particular scenario may continue on for a total of 12 turns.  As we enter the 4th turn things are looking good for Frederick, but he is still outnumbered and he is about to come into contact with towns and a fortified town that are expensive to take in terms of casualties.  Even though they cannot do much in any given turn, the Austrians have numerical superiority which will factor in more prominently the deeper you go into the scenario.  Frederick has the better army, but he will need to rally it from time to time and the Austrians can take advantage of these pauses to bring up fresh forces.   

The Leuthen scenario is really an excellent solitaire exercise for those learning the system or for veterans looking for a game that plays quickly.  The CAP differential is an exception in this series.  Most scenarios have both sides within a point or two of each other CAP-wise, so the variable die rolls for additional CAP can often be important.  An optional scenario rule allows the Leader Daun ("3") to replace Charles as the Army Commander.  This grants the Austrians 3 CAP per turn at a cost of additional victory points, but making for a much more competitive game.  

The Horse & Musket series is a lot of fun with its ease of play, its “open system” sandbox approach to development, and its wide-ranging scope in comparing military armies, leaders, tactics, and eras.  This relatively new series, begun in 2017, will cover the America Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the American Civil War in the near future.  There is also a “Volume 0” planned that will cover battles from the pre-musket, “pike” era.  I am excited both for what I already own and for what lies ahead in this promising system by Hollandspiele.