Cast of Characters
Soldier Kings: Pragmatic Sanction is designed for two to eight players, representing the Great Powers of Europe. The game’s centerpiece is the grand campaign scenario, covering the full length of the War of the Austrian Succession from 1740 to 1748.
Pragmatic Sanction is a game with asymmetric victory conditions; that is, not everyone is after the same thing in order to win. That means you, as the player, will need to keep watch on what everyone else is doing lest you let someone else sneak their way to victory. France and Austria seek the crown of the Holy Roman Empire, but each of them will need help to get it. That usually means favors have to be traded. Prussia and Spain are aggressive, willing to overturn the international order to meet their thirst for conquest. Sweden is likewise acquisitive, but only in a very specific theater. Britain and Turkey are the status-quo powers, out to block excess gains by potential foes. Russia, newly-arrived as a great power, has no desire to see Prussia become a major factor or Sweden to retain her place at the table.
The eight potentially player-directed powers are not equal; some have more military or economic strength than others, and some have a more favorable geographic position than others. And all of them have their own agendas to pursue, sometimes in conflict with those of their allies. Let’s take a look at the cast of characters:
The game’s all about Austria, whether trying to keep her together, or trying to rip her apart. The Habsburgs hold a central core of provinces, with a far-flung periphery of hard-to-defend but rich territories in the Austrian Netherlands, Further Austria, Lombardy and Tuscany. Prussia seeks to strip away territory to the north, Spain seeks Austria’s Italian lands, while France is after the Imperial crown. Austria’s army is weak and her leaders poor; the Austrian player has a great challenge to keep Maria Theresa’s inheritance. Austria has no fleet, and with enemies all around on land, no real need for one.
Britain occupies the island power position familiar to players of Soldier Kings or Soldier Emperor, but the Royal Navy is not yet the dominant force at sea it would become in latter decades. As always, Britain seeks to thwart France, making her a reluctant defender of Maria Theresa’s inheritance. The Blessed Isle itself is not invulnerable, as Scottish clans can rise out at any time, a revolt during which historically she faced invasion not only by the French but by Spanish and Swedish fleets as well. All of that can also happen in the game. Britain lacks the ground forces to exert her will, and will need to hire German mercenaries. There are plenty of those available.
They started it, but lack the power to finish it. Prussia has excellent leadership and a small but high-quality army. Prussia’s goals are simple: expand the kingdom, at the expense of whoever gets in the way. Prussia has no stake in the quest for the crown but does have an electoral vote and thus a potent bargaining chip. Like Austria, Prussia has no fleet, making Sweden a key ally or deadly enemy.
The strongest power in the game, France sports the best leader in the game (Maurice de Saxe) and the most powerful land forces, and a navy not far behind that of Britain. Stretching that power is a broad set of strategic goals: fighting the British for the Low Countries and attempting to secure the Holy Roman Empire’s throne for their own puppet. With two blood enemies (Austria and Britain), French diplomacy will follow predictable lines of trying to recruit the peripheral powers (Spain, Sweden, Russia and Turkey) to her cause. Doing so might instead drag the kingdom into even more conflicts.
Having just concluded a successful war against the Turks and intervened for the first time in central Europe, Russia looks to retain these gains, restrain the Prussian bid for great-power status and hasten Sweden’s continuing decline. Russia begins the game reluctant to move west, but a coup against Empress Anna, should the cards so decree, will bring a far more aggressive posture to St. Petersburg. Russia’s armies are numerous, but not yet the decisive force they will became a decade and a half later.
Spain’s foreign policy is driven by her ambitious queen-regent, Elisabeth Farnese, who seeks to carve out an Italian kingdom for her second son, Philip. She had acquired Naples and Sicily for her elder son, Don Carlos, in 1738 and accepted the Pragmatic Sanction, but reneged for the chance of gaining another son a crown at Austria’s expense. To achieve these ends, Spain has rather weak forces but can count on her French allies to do the heavy lifting of this war.
Sweden’s part of the War of the Austrian Succession, known as the War of the Hats (after the pro-war political party), marked the kingdom’s last hurrah as a great power – and at this point, Sweden was not a very great power. She does have a respectable fleet, and sufficient ground forces to be a power in the north though they are poorly led (the Swedes chopped off their generals’ heads at the end of the actual war). Sweden’s primary goal is the re-conquest of the Baltic provinces lost to Russia in 1720, making her once again Mistress of the Baltic; restoration of her position in northern Germany would also be welcome.
Having just concluded a successful war with the Austrians and Russians, the Sublime Porte is in no hurry to begin another. The Ottoman land and sea forces are reasonably strong, but show the wear of a years-long war. With a strong corner position, the Sultan will wish to preserve the balance of power even if it means supporting the empire’s ancient Habsburg enemies, at least indirectly. Turkey does not need to make conquests to win the game, but does need to prevent an overwhelming victory by her potential enemies (and some of her allies).
And that’s the lineup. The game probably plays best at four to six players (with Turkey, Sweden, Spain and Russia as non-player powers, in that order) but it works well with two (Austria and France) or all eight.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.