Saturday, April 28, 2012

Scales of Imagining

I am weighing two choices in imagination creation - lets call them the large scale approach and the small scale approach.  

The small scale approach is the traditional old-school wargaming method for fighting "age of reason" battles without being bound to actual history.  Since the territory of the Holy Roman Empire was filled with small states it is a small step to co-opt a small bit of generic German geography and place the imagined states within it.  In most maps I have seen the geopolitics are rather distorted - while conceptually the states are small, the armies they deploy and extent of their territories would really be significant in the mid 18th century.

The big plus of the small scale solution is that it allows the inclusion of historical states and the extended political context of the 1750s.

To my mind the big minuses are
  1. It requires large scale distortions to include naval operations.
  2. If I want to go beyond the conventional confines of 18th century gaming to include colonial or fantasy elements then conventional Europe is in the scuppers altogether.
The large scale approach is a bit bolder.  Of course,  fantasy maps from Middle-Earth  to Westros have left us accustomed to imagined geographies resonant with our real world but with their own cultures and technology; however I also want a somewhat "firmer" rooting in the real world; not very firm, but the sort of mix of silly and plausible that sets hoaxes like the da'Vinci code, Chariots of the Gods, and vikings in Minnesota in the human imagination.

My idea for a large scale approach is to "create" a landmass in the Indian Ocean centering a bit north and east of the French Kerguelen Islands.  The relic of lost Lemuria "was" discovered by a party of European crusaders of many nations attempting to find and recruit Prester John to their cause.  They conquered and converted the natives, founded their own kingdoms, and prospered.  They have never actually lost contact with Europe, sending their sons to Europe to study.  Considering themselves as Europeans, they follow the latest trends of their parent nations with great dedication; the latest fashions and books from Paris are to be found in the new land sometimes before they reach some parts of Russia.

With that approach, I can include naval warfare, lace punk, elephants, Indians, and even ancient forces of lost Lemuria deeply inimical to the progress of man.  It's a stretch, but then it is just a search for a fun context in which to place a gaming environment.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What is needed for war...

... is money, money, and more money.

I like a campaign to reflect as much as possible the flavor of he period.  For some periods, and some places, that makes finance a key component of the game.  How can one game the rise of the Italian city-states, for example, without considering bankers and finance a key element?

So, what do we need to cover to capture finance in the 1740s and 50s?  It's a complex period - Bank of England, stock market bubbles, stock exchanges.

So I turned to an old standby, The Fontana Economic History of Europe, edited by Carlo Cipolla and published in the early 1970s.  While I am sure that there has been a lot of development in economic history  since, it is still solid scholarship that hits the high points.  Volume two, The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century (Collins/Fontana, Glasgow, 1973) includes "The Emergence of Modern Finance in Europe 1500-1730"  (Geoffry Parker; pp.527-589) .  While it discusses the more advanced economies, the last paragraph gives us our default position for our small backwater states:

In many areas, even in 1730 ... public finance was still confined within the straightjacket of anticipations and tax-farming.
 Both methods are basically the sale of futures on government revenue for cash up front.  Anticipation is the sale of a particular revenue (say, a salt tax) until principal and interested are paid.  Anticipated revenue is collected by government officials but remitted to the financiers.  Tax farming is complete outsourcing of taxation; the farmer pays for the right to collect taxes according to rules set by the government.  (If you ever wondered why tax collectors were so hated by the people of the New Testament, consider that they were probably subordinate tax farmers who had paid for the privilege of putting the squeeze on their neighbors).

On the income side, we have to remember that "contributions" were also still levied on captured territories -- Frederick squeezed Saxony for every pfennig -- and that if we want to consider possible interference by the great powers British subsidies might well be sent to counterbalance French soldiers. 

That's a simple enough framework for pretty simple basic annual income rules, but does not bring that much flavor.  Volume four of the series is The Industrial Revolution  and it includes "The State and the Industrial Revolution" (Barry Supple; pp. 301-357).  Supple remind us of the state projects of various "Enlightened Monarchs" such as Frederick and Maria Theresa in establishing factories and various other enterprise designed to make their principalities wealthier and less dependent on imports.

It is important to give sovereigns reasons to spend their money besides war.  Royal palaces, grand entertainments, and a collection of artists, musicians and philosophers all contribute to reputation and influence wavering allies; as does a careful caress of gold in the palms of the appropriate councilors.

We shall consider how this would fit into a game in another post.  Early days, as well, and more research needed.