Mid-17th century Europe is a time and place which occupies a special place within popular conception. It is the age of D’Artangnan and Richelieu, of Alatriste, Cromwell and Prince Rupert of the Rhine. It bursts at the seams with Cavaliers, Musketeers, Roundheads and scheming courtiers in ostentatious wigs.
It also happened to play host to some of the most bloody and brutal wars in human history. The French fought the Spanish, the English and Germans fought each other and everyone fought the Dutch. It is sometimes hard to remember that men like D’Artangnan and Cyrano de Bergerac were professional soldiers before they were duellists, poets and adventurers. It was a dark and deadly age, and the conflicts which defined it were no better.
The picture I’ve put up above is a sketch from Jacques Callot’s series, “The Miseries and Misfortunes of War”, showing a mass execution. Conflicts like the Thirty Years’ War (which the artist witneessed, a conflict which cut Central Europe’s population by roughly a third) were the norm, rather than the exception. This was the world which the common man and woman saw and it is the world which Master of Fortresses 2 is based on. Behind the fantastical uniforms, the vibrant plumage and elegantly appointed gentlemen going about the business of command, there is the bleak and bloody reality built upon dozens of burned cities and millions of dead bodies, victims of the bickering and position-jockeying of a select club of tyrannical monarchs.
The 17th century also saw a period of great change in the art and science of war. This is a far more transformative age than the late 18th century setting of the first Master of Fortresses. The old, Spanish style of warfare, built around massed blocks of pikemen and weight of numbers was challenged by the Dutch school of superior firepower at the expense of melee capability. It was at about this time that the French also reorganized their already-formidable artillery corps, making their cannon the most feared in Europe.
This is also the point where the art of frotification arguably reached its height. The Trace Italienne and the Star Fort rose to prominence during this time, as military architects struggled to reconcile the medieval school of high curtain walls and towers with the almost-irresistible force of siege artillery and the increasing power of matchlock, and later, flintlock small arms.
You can probably understand why I consider this such an intriguing time period. The conflict between proven methods and new ideas, of old kingdoms and new republics, is one that allows for unique factions and play tactics, one which is well-suited for a game about fortress defence in the age of gunpowder war.