Last weekend me and Onur at the Istanbul Karargah Club finally sat down and played our first Big Bloody Battles game. Indeed it was our first fully historical game as Onur said, playing using a history based map and scenario. The scenario was Nikopol and can be found in the Big Bloody Battles Yahoo group. This is a veritable treasure trove of scenarios for the 19th century.
I would like to note that this is draft scenario by Chris Pringle and thus has not been play-tested to death. So this game was partly a playtest. We played two games. In the first one I was the Russian attackers and Onur the Ottoman defenders. In the second game I was the Ottoman defender and Onur the Russian attacker.
You can read a full review of the rules by me at BBB Review
Historically the battle of Nikopol was a one sided affair in which the Russians quickly took over the outlying redoubts forcing the Ottoman commander to surrender the fortified city of Nikopol. The operations goal was to guard the flanks of the Russian armies marching on Plevna.
The Scenario turned out a bit different. As created it is a tough one for the Russians.
You can find the scenario orbats and map online
The two armies. This is small corps vs. division size scenario. The miniatures are all 10mm from the Pendraken 1877-1878 line, with some from other of theirs excellent 19th century line. All flags are hand-painted.
Two mistakes we made might explain why it played out in such a ahistorical manner.
The first mistake is an issue of the scenario and will be fixed
1) The Russians receive reinforcements when they take a fortification. We interpreted this very conservatively as meaning one of the redoubts. This was not the case and thus in both games our Russians were denied may-haps crucial scenario reinforcements. Chris Pringle ever the swell guy quickly answered my question.
The second mistake was our own, and not of the scenarios.
2) We misread Ottoman forces and in the first game we gave them two extra artillery bases. This had a huge impact on how the two games played out.
An important question we have not resolved was whether the Ottoman guns in the redoubts can do 180 degree pivots. This is important as those guns are necessary for giving the Ottomans a fighting chance. We had them all pivot but I am not sure if that would be fully correct.
The Scenario has a lot of terrain and I will be frank that we had a hard time representing all of it. Now Chris does note that the maps are there as a base and that as long as you keep the important-salient features of the battle, you can dispense of the secondary ones. But in this battle every little topographical crook and cranny plays an important role in masking the Russian assault columns. We heavily used the map to figure out sometimes the LOS of forts. I actually liked that part a lot!
Our attempted setup, the central area is supposed to be a large plateau, surrounding a ravine.
How did it play?
Due to the 2 mistakes we made above, the first game was very asymmetrical. Add to that my foolish tactical decision to divide my forces and send them to assault too many points in the Ottoman defenses, and the game ended with all Russian attacks repulsed, with the total loss of the Russian forces. Because of this I will not give a more detailed account (hiding my shame maybe :p)
First game setup
The Russians begin their attacks
Russian Units getting flustered and fatigued by Ottoman fire.
Ottoman redoubt guns low on ammo
The Russians once more at it. The green arrows remind us where a unit started from in case it gets Halted by defensive fire.
The Russian Attacks on the Right flank
The Russian attacks are losing steam
Only Russian success of the game. The Cossack force a Ottoman field battery to retire. They got eliminated for their success later on.
Looking across the battle
Russian Supreme effort!
Denied! The wrecks of a crops all over!
The confident Ottoman commander!
Russian what went wrong!
The green arrows indicate the axis of Russian assaults. As you can see yours truly forgot the cardinal rule of concentration!
In the second game we rectified Mistake 2. Onur did not repeat my mistakes and instead massed his forces on essentially the angle of Ottoman defenses. His furious attacks succeeded in forcing the first line of Ottoman defenses and take a redoubt. I was able to hold the line with some desperate fighting. If Onur had been given his reinforcements he may had taken a draw. But things were hard enough that it took most of the scenario time to take one redoubt. That said I think strategically it is a victory, as due to the topography even one lost redoubt critically breaks the Ottoman defenses.
The Russians advance!
The Russians use the shadow created by the steep hills to mass for the charge
But the Ottoman fire power is still ferocious.
Shout Urrahhh and Charge! The Russian soldiers ascend the steep slope and attack the Ottoman rifle-pits.
The rifle pits in the angle fall, while the Ottomans fall back into the wooded ravine.
The Ottomans counterattack to contain the breach.
The Russians have a secure foothold at the plateau!
While the Ottomans are forming a new line of defense.
The Russians turn to their next target, one of the redoubts.
While fighting rages in the ravine below.
The redbout falls! But the Russians are out of time.
The arrows indicate Onur's more concentrated attacks.
Scenario Thoughts: I would give the Russians a victory if they take two redoubts, rather than a draw. Or keep everything as is, but give them their reinforcements early on. This is a tricky situation to get right as a war-game due to the very unbalance character of the historical battle.
Onur's thoughts on the game and scenario
Game Play: Smooth and Fast. No tricky rules and easily understood. I am not an expert but I felt like rules simulates warfare of the era well. I am writing this last sentence upon my experience in Black Powder
Scenario: Historically biased. Ottomans are over-powered. We played the scenario twice. In first game I was Ottomans and placed two extra artillery by mistake and diced very good. So no Russian unit was present on table at the end of Turn 6.
Second game. I was Russians and deployed and attacked in more concentrated area. Still Russian beaten.
At the end of Turn 7 Russians were only holding 1 objective which was in jeopardy. If game was 10 turn or so, Russians might have a chance. And it is only with Reinforcements.
East edge brigade and 3 artillery piece deployment is not a good choice. They are either decimated by Infantry fire or spending much time to redeploy. But I do not think they should get a free deployment option either. In that case Russians would be too powerful (might give it a try)
Army composition, unit stats/weaponry and skills etc was perfect in my opinion.
Final Thoughts: All in all I like BBB more and more. Despite the scenario problems, we had fun. The battle gave a wealth to tactical choices to both sides. Another thing that hit me is that one could use the BBB battles to produce Black Powder, or Neil Thomas 19th century Rule divisional and brigade level games. Thus you could use the BBB battle as a campaign map, and play the corps-divisional sized actions that arise as BP or NT games. An interesting concept I dare say!