Friday, November 28, 2014

Battle Report and Rules Review : Neil Thomas Wargaming 19th Century Europe

Rules: Neal Thomas War-gaming 19th Century Europe 1815-1878, Kindle Edition

Scenario: Battle of Oeversee, 1864 from Neil Thomas rules.

Type: Minigame

Ahistorical elements: Terrain was in spring colors, while historical battle was in winter. Armies used are my 10mm Pendraken 1877 Russians instead of Danes and Austrians. Historically half the Danish force retreated early in the battle


I decided to give my painted Russians a small run. Having bought several months ago Neil Thomas War-gaming rules, and having created some terrain I decided to try one of his minigames. Specifically the Battle of Oeversee fought during the 2nd Schleswig-Holstein war. This was delaying action by the Danish 7th Brigade during the retreat of the Danish Army from the Danverike towards Dybbol. The Austrians attacked and drove the Danes away but the Danes put an energetic fight under the command of Obrest Max Mueller.

The Rules
Neil Thomas “Wargaming 19TH Century Europe” is part a short treatise on how war was conducted in the 1815-1878 period, part a gaming philosophy book , and partly a rulebook with army lists and scenarios. Neil has a very specific philosophy when it comes to wargaming, one that stress abstraction over detail as  the key to a good war-gaming experience.  Any special rules are better included in scenario design rather than rule design.

We thus have a simple set of rules that promise to provide a fun and quick game. Units are divided into infantry (itself divided in early 19th century close order infantry, and later 19th century loose order infantry) , skirmishers (representing units that skirmished more than the infantry), cavalry, dragoons and artillery. Infantry, dragoon and cavalry units are four bases, while skirmishers two, and artillery one.

  There are really only two formations in the game. For infantry these are a static line representing a unit engaged in long range fire fights and having deployed its troops into line or extended line formations, and a column representing troops deployed in depth in order to feed a close range attack.

Rather than have assault or  march columns, he simply treats all columns as assault, but gives troops in column formation extended movement  if they are moving along a road and stay away from the enemy. Thus he can represent two things with one formation, and nice and simply differentiated march columns from attack columns by the restriction of moving too close to the enemy. This is a good example of his design philosophy which is more with less.

Artillery can be limbered or unlimbered. All other units are in one formation, with cavalry in column, and skirmishers in line.

 The game is IGO-UGO though defenders get to use defending fire when charged, and close combat is simultaneous.  Neil does spend time defending his choices, which makes it easier to accept them.
Fighting is based on rolling an x amount of dice based on the units weapons, and the type of its enemy. When certain scores are met, a hit is made. Depending on some conditions units might get a saving thrown to negate a hit. Four hits will cost a unit a base, and when all bases of a unit are lost it is eliminated. Units might be forced to take morale tests, which are rolling a d6 against a range of numbers based on their morale (fanatics , levy, rabble etc). If you fail it you lose a base.

The rules are simple enough and can be accommodated in a one double paged QRS. There is no command and control, since Neil believes players themselves will provide the friction that C&C rules try to replicate. Your army never really leaves your control, but as losses accumulate it will be less able to fight. He thus condenses the reality of combat to a simple situation where units are either fighting or are eliminated. Thus this game is one for the higher level of command, in which many times you would not be fully aware of what the state of a unit is until that unit is destroyed. 
He does offer optional C&C rules, but they did not entice me.

Neil’s hope is that this condensed model of warfare will provide a fast and fun game. His games are geared toward the wargamers who do not own massive tables and massive collections ergo why most of his scenarios are for 120cm x 90cm or 60cm x 60 cm tables (the minigames). His promise is that minigames will last about an hour.

Does ti work out?

The minigame of this scenario gives the Danes 5 units (there is an option for reinforcements that I did not use). Four infantry (each unit representing a battalion) and one weak artillery unit. Al Danish units start on the table from turn 1. The Austrians get 9 units: 1 Cavalry Unit, 2 Artillery Units, 1 Skirmish Unit, and 4 infantry units. The catch is that the majority of the Austrian units arrive in turns 1,2 and 3 rather than start on the table.  The Danish units have lower morale than the Austrian ones, though through a special scenario rule the Danish player can upgrade each turn and only for a turn the morale of one infantry unit by two grades, by attaching Obrest Max Mueller to it. 
Obrest Max Mueller, Danish Commander

The game lasts 10 turns, and the Austrians must clear all Danish units from the main road that runs north south on the table by turn 10 or lose. Below you can see the initial dispositions of the battle on my home terrain, which follows my rule of cheap is good (felt pieces for fields, 2d hand painted woods, lake, roads, river, bridge built using kebab skewers, houses are 3mm paper terrain from the Altar of Freedom guys, hills are layers of cardboard glued together under the felt green cloth) . 


The Danes start with their battalions set up on the Oeversee road, flanked by Lake Sankelmark and a forest and a hill with the artillery behind them. The Austrians start with a cavalry regiment before the bridge crossing the Trenen stream with the town of Oeversee to its left. 

Austrian Turn 1

Turn 1.
The Austrians guns fire trying to silence the Danish ones. They fail and on their turn the Danish guns score hits on the Austrian Hussars. I decide not to sacrifice them  on  death charge and keep to the rear. The arrival of the Jager Battlions (1 infantry unit and 1 skirmisher unit) leads to my decision to try a frontal assault, as I fear an attempt to outflank them through the woods would cost too much time. For the Danes I attach Mueller to one of the more exposed Danish battalions, while I begin moving the two battalions that were in the second line in column, forward so they can deploy in line.

After Danish Turn 1

Turn 2-3
Further Austrian reinforcements arrive and begin marching towards the first line. The Austrians guns try to silence the Danish ones once more, and this time succeed. They also bombard one of the Danish forward battalions. 

Turn 4-5
 The Jagers after the skirmishers try to soften up the targets assault the center of the Danish position while the other Austrian units move forward to deploy for attack. Danish defensive fire takes its toll from the brave Jagers. The Austrian artillery bombards the Danish line.  The Jager attack breaks the Danish Battalion despite Muellers energetic leadership. But they themselves suffer heavy casualties

Turn 6
The Austrian artillery continues bombarding the Danes, while another Austrian battalion joins the Jaegers in their frontal charge. The Danes force the Jaegers to retreat and then break them by shooting, but see their left flank broken by the Austrian attack. 

The flank is pierced! 

 Turn 7-8
With artillery and skirmisher support  two Austrian battalions lunch new frontal attacks against the Danes. Slowly but surely the are forced back and units eliminated, despite brave counter attacks led by Max Mueller. 

Turn 9

The final battered Danish battalion is forced of the map by the Austrians who claim victory with only 1 turn left. The Austrians lost one Elite Unit but eliminated five Danish ones. 


The game lasted exactly 1 hour (8:35 in the morning to 9:37). Despite the number of units on the table I had a ton of fun. The game lends itself easy to solo playing. The lack of C&C did not annoy me, since it is not a major issue in a 1 hour battle.

The result was historical. Historically the Austrian artillery  drove the Danish artillery off the field and then blasted the second Danish line forcing it to retreat. The Austrians then attacked using both frontal assaults and flanking maneuvers forcing the Danes back. Max Mueller's leadership did provide the Danes with a fighting chance though.  

Neil Thomas rules fills an important gap in my 19th century wargaming. For detail and long battles I have Black Powder. For abstraction and large battles I will be using Alter of Freedom and Big Bloody Battles. These roles permit me to play short battles in reasonable space and time. Nothing stops you from grafting Command and Control rules on them, indeed even variable turns. But as they are I would call the Minigame iteration the DBA of 19th century war-gaming, but with a more relaxed attitude and simpler rules.

This rules set (10 $ in Kindle form, 30$ for hardcover) , together with two Pendraken Army Packages (90 dollars for both)  would make an excellent present to somebody interested in entering historical wargaming.

I  recommend it to those who are looking for a simple, well defended system of rules, for small to medium tables, and short amounts of time.


alastair said...

Nice write up. I think these are an excellent set of rules. I've tended to use them for the FPW. The author's sections on military developments and his ideas on the design of the game make interesting reading too.

Phil said...

Nice looking game and great period!

Konstantinos Travlos said...

Thank you gentlemen. I always wanted to collect 19th century armies. I have now fell in love with Pendraken 10mm for many reasons.

Dale said...

Great writeup and good enough terrain!