I’ve had a week off work (yay!) and spent most of it at our caravan with my wife and the dogs – the peace and quiet that usually follows the start of the schools’ autumn term has only been occasionally broken by the Royal Air Force making the most of decent weather to conduct low level flying (I’m fine with that – they’ve got their job to do as well). But despite being away from home . . . I’ve had a wargame (all necessary components shown in the picture below)!
It’s sort of a long story. Back in 2016 I played a 150th anniversary game of the Battle of Koniggratz with my 20mm Prussian and then-recently-finished Austrian armies. I used rules based around my own set for WW1 and WW2 that I also use for Boxer Rebellion games, but they didn’t work too well for 1866. I think this was mainly because of the need to represent more muzzle-loading firearms and both line and column infantry formations. I also used the rules in December last year for my Paraguayan War trial game and realised then that more work needed to be done on them. Since I also want to play Franco-Prussian War games in the near future, I decided I needed to sort the rules out once and for all.
Back in 2015, in anticipation of playing the Koniggratz game, I bought Neil Thomas’ book on wargaming 19th Century European battles. I liked the ideas in the book, but wasn’t sure how well they’d work or what would be the best way to implement the multiple-figure bases with my own figures, so I didn’t use them for the Koniggratz game. But having now given it more thought, I “borrowed” an idea from John, my long-time wargames opponent. He’s recently adopted a new set of Napoleonic wargames rules called “Blucher” and he tested them out using cards to represent units before deciding to re-base all his figures.
So, armed with Neil Thomas’ book, a pen, a ruler, dice, and a pack of 5 inch by 3 inch record cards I made a start. Oh, and a dog blanket, but more of that later! I worked out that to use these rules I’d probably need some unit movement trays designed for 12 figures, arranged in three rows of four figures. These would let me use them arranged lengthwise to represent infantry in line formation (for firing) and then turned through 90° to represent columns (for close assault). That isn’t how the rules in the book work, but it sounded like a simple expedient to me. Since I mostly use 10-figure battalions, the spare positions on the movement trays could be used to keep track of unit strengths based on the rules.
So I cut the record cards to be 105mm by 3 inches (mixing metric and imperial units – unforgivable) to approximately represent the movement tray sizes I’d need for infantry battalions and then wrote out some Austrian and Prussian cavalry, artillery and infantry unit statistics on them. I then drew building plans on some cards and cut others to represent woods so that I had some scenery for a game. Last step was to summarise the rules on eight cards (the book doesn’t include quick reference sheets, but it didn’t take long to do). I then put a clean, greenish-coloured, dog blanket on the dining room table in the caravan and laid out the “scenery” and “units” ready for a game (see picture below). The dogs have loads of blankets, so they could afford to lend me one for a couple of hours!
I avoided the mistake of asking my wife to participate, since she’d win and that wouldn’t provide much of a test for the rules. I set up the Austrians defending a farm and some woods with three infantry units, two artillery units and two cavalry units (at the right hand side of the table in the pictures). There was also some impassable boggy ground, so one of the artillery units was set up behind that with an infantry unit covering each of its flanks. The Prussians had six infantry units, one artillery unit and two cavalry units and their job was to capture the Austrian positions. With those odds, and the Austrians partly in cover, I reckoned it would be difficult for the Prussians. Although Prussian infantry were armed with single shot, breech-loading rifles, giving them an advantage over the Austrian infantry armed with muzzle-loading rifles, the Austrian artillery was better, both of these points reflecting conditions in 1866.
The Prussians made quite good use of cover in their advance, but none of the woods or buildings were close enough to the Austrians to provide decent support positions. This forced the Prussians to advance generally, but Austrian artillery fire was pretty poor so the Prussians made good progress, with their infantry getting close enough to engage with rifle fire (see picture below, which isn’t all that clear unfortunately).
After this, it got a bit confusing! One of the Austrian artillery units succumbed to rifle fire and the other was charged by a Prussian infantry unit and routed. Austrian infantry on their right flank repelled a Prussian infantry assault but were then forced back by a cavalry charge, although they recovered and wiped out the Prussian cavalry! On the other flank, the Austrians holding the farm were forced out, re-took it but we’re then forced back out by additional Prussian infantry attacks. An Austrian cavalry charge slowed things down but inevitably led to the loss of that cavalry unit. At the end of the game, the Prussians had forced the Austrians back and were in a good position, although some of the remaining units were a bit mauled (see picture below).
So, I reckon the result was about right! The game mechanics were simple but produced the right effects e.g. cavalry charges against breech-loading rifles were suicidal. I also had to think about not bunching units up (the rules force you to remove a unit that has its retreat route blocked) and getting units to support each other. A good enough result to make me think about trying some more games, buying some MDF movement trays and using these rules for all my mid-19th Century games! Pretty good result for a holiday, although my wife’s not happy that I can now fight a wargame on a dinng room table!