Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Battler Report and Review: Langesalza 1866 using Big Bloody Battles


Hello to all. I finally sat down to play a solo game of Big Bloody Battles by Chris Pringle. These are rules for large Army or mutli-Army battles but Chris was nice enough to make some training scenarios of smaller battles. So take into consideration that this battle report might not be testing the full potential of the rules. That said I believe his rules can work fine for smaller and faster battles.

I decided to run the Battle of Langesalza scenario (available at the BBB Yahoo Group), using my white coated 1877 Russians as Prussians, and the green coated as Hannoverians.

First let me start with a short discussion of the rules.

The Big Bloody Battles Rules

The rules are only available in hard-copy form. I got mine from Caliver Books. What you get is a tightly written 56 page black an white manuscript. The rules take about 25 pages, with the rest of the book being a set of 8 scenarios for the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871.

Units are made up of a number of square bases and those bases depending on the scale can represent anything form 500 to 2000 men. Many base together represent brigades or divisions which are your basic unit of maneuver.

The rules are divided into four places. The first part discusses terrain and how it affects movement, fire-fights and assaults. Most of it is straightforward and a good summary table finishes the chapter. The main substance are the Movement, Firefight and Assault Rules.

Movement is fairly simple, but Chris has included command and control friction into it. To move a unit you roll 2d6 on a table, depending on whether it is disrupted or in order, and affected by various modifiers (for example for being close to a commander). Depending on the roll a unit may move half its movement, full its movement, rally broken bases, rally from disruption etc. It may even break from the battle. This simple mechanism creates a good amount of friction representation with little headache. In the Battle Report the East Flank of the Hanoverian suffered from some bad rolls which created traffic jams, which I thought was a no-nonsense way to create such results in the game.

To represent better command and control Chris gives armies who had it more generals on the field than those who did not, which can affect the 2d6 rolls. Once you can move, movement is simple with deductions for moving outside your forward arc, changing formations, and terrain features. Formations are three for cavalry and infantry (in Line, Depth or March Column), and two for artillery (Limbered or Not). Because of the use of 2d6 I never felt that a set of unlucky rolls were ruining my game.

One of the coolest things about this rule-set is how it deals with interpenetration and road movement. Units can interpret other friendly units without a issue, expect if that unit is moving in marching column on a road. Now road marching is very very fast, so you will be using it. But because of this you will get the historically accurate traffic jams. What is more a unit can displace a friendly unit to behind it by simply marching into its position. This is awesome for one tiny reason. It means that you can know relieve front line units without having to do geometric dances. You simply march the fresh units and displace the tired unit behind it. Viola. Reserves down easily!
Yes, you can now do this.

After the discussion of movement (and essentially C&C) the rules move on to the Fire-fight. This again is simple with units totaling firing factors depending on the number of bases a unit can bring to bear. This fire factor depends on the formations of the firing units, the weapons they are using, the range, the status of the firing unit. Each unit can be targeted only once, and each can fire only once, but a single unit can be targeted by multiple ones (which combine their fire factors), and firer can divide its fire among different targets (x number of bases on one unit, y on the other). 

Once you locate the Fire Factor, you go to a table of fire-effects and find the appropriate column. Depending on some situations you may move to the next left (better for the target) or right table (better for the defender). You then roll 2d6 and cross reference it. The higher you roll the better. Every hit will cause the target to be disrupted, some will also cause losses of bases (x number of lost bases depending on unit class-veteran-trained-raw , will make it Spent), and some will Halt the unit (more on this later). Very high rolls (11-12) will really do a number on the enemy but make your units Low on Ammo, which will put a halt on your elan.

You fire twice in each turn. Once as a defender, who can fire at enemy units that moved. This is where the halt result comes into play, as if you get that you can move the enemy unit back along its movement path. After the defender fires the player who moved fires offensive fire.

Generally speaking I liked the firing rules, though in early games you will have to consult the QRS or book all the time, which can be tedious. The key to the firefight is to combine many units against one and decimate it in a flurry of fire. But good defensive positions will make defenders able to survive. Another thing I did not like was the Low Ammo rule. While I loved that fact that your devastating fire is balanced by it, I did not like the effect it had on infantry. The artillery version is straightforward, but the infantry version was a bit hard to keep track off and meant that it is very unlikely that you can get rid of it in the hit of battle. I also do not understand if Disruptions stack, or if you are once disrupted can you get disrupted again ? (for example from firefight and combat)

The final main rule part is the Assault. Once more simple and elegant. You roll a dice for the defender and attacker, subtract the first from the second roll and have a base number. That number is then adjusted to the defenders or attackers advantage depending on the circumstances of the attack (like having more bases in the fight than the other side). Larger numbers are good for the attacked, lower numbers are good for the defender. You compare the final tally to a table which tells you what the results are. These can range from lost bases to disruptions, to nothing.

The final rules section is rules for Night Intervals, which are important for playing 2-3 day battles.

Final Thoughts

Generally I like the rules. Some elements are very straightforward and elegant. That said you do need to go back and forth to the rule-book in your early games, which can eat up time. The Halt results and defensive fire mechanisms alleviate the IGO-UGO character of the game, and are as elegant as they can be, but they will still slow down game a bit. Some elements are easy to forget in early games. Especially ,the fact that units can restore lost bases, the effect of the 3 inch Zones of Control, and Spent conditions. It is a game that needs markers no doubt about it. I also am not fully happy with the Infantry Low Ammo rules though I understand why the author made them. Finally the scenario maps can be a bit challenging to do them justice. But they are manageable.

But despite these issues this is a really really good set of rules I recommend to anyone who games the 19th century. Chris is probably one of the most friendly and helpful authors out-there. There is a huge scenario book out which covers many of the major and minor wars in Europe in the 19th century, and Chris has made a bunch of scenarios available for free on the BBB Yahoo Group. So no excuses! Take command and fight Big Bloody Battles!

Battle Report

Langensalza using BBB (historical battle narrative at Wikipedia Battle of Langensalza

The historical battle

The BBB scenario map

Time it took : 7:00-10:15 in the night (3 hours). This game took more time than either the author or I though it would take. Reasons were the fact that I was new to it and had to consult the rulebook a lot of times, and maybe that it was solo. I think two veteran players will be able to get it through in 1 hour and a half. But new players might want to put 2 hours on the side for it.

Uniforms of the Hanoverian Army of 1866

General Flow of the battle

The Hanoverians falnked the Prussian positions from the east and west, but the Prussians held the Mills and Langazeda almost to the 7th and 8th round. The Prussian artillery was destroyed early on, but once the Hanoverians went into the assault the Hanoverian artillery had no more effect in battle. Prussians had heavy losses losing the Advance Guard (2 btn/Saxe Coburg Gotha Rgt), the 25th Regiment (Main Body), and the Lanwher Reserve, as well as all their artillery. Only the 11th Grenadier Regiment was left on the field, ejected from Langensalza

The Hanoverians lost two artillery units (both to charges) and some skirmish bases, but no major unit. All in all this was a major victory for the Hannoverians as they did not just beat, but routed the Prussian units. But it was not a cakewalk. If the Prussians had fallen back from Mills and Bad earlier , and fortified around Langensalza they probably could had gotten the draw. But they stubbornly held Mills and Bad until it was too late. 

Some Prussians of 1866

Initially cotton puffs were signifying objectives. It took me some time to use them for Disrupted, my dead man counters for BP to signify Spent, SAGA command dice to signify Ammo Shortage, and coins to signify objectives.

Rules I forgot : High Commard Rolls return lost bases to units. 

High scenes: 

Both Hannoverian aritllery units outside the center got taken by charges. 

25th Regiment flags and band playing relieves the Gotha a Mills and Bad and then gets decimated by the combined fire of two hanoverian brigades and two artillery batteries. 

The Landwher holding at bay the 3rd brigade for 4 rounds.

The Hanoverian Garde du Corps and Cruissiers charging and forcing to retire the 11th Gren Regiment

3rd Brigade assault driving through the decimated Goth and 25th regiment units on Turn 8

Eisenach-Mulhausen road between Merxleben and Langesalza became an avenue of death for the Hanoverian 1st and 2nd brigades that charged across it but were always beaten back.
And here are the pictures

The Setup

The Hanoverian Force

The Prussian Force

Initial Setup

Prussian columns marching towards Mills and Bad

West Flank of the Battle field.

Prussians deploying around Langesalza

Hannoverians Deploy to put pressure on Prussian Center

Hannoverians push forward on the West Flank, opposed by the Landwher. That artillery unit will be destroyed by the Landwher.

The Gotha regiment gets a pounding in the firefight at Mills and Bad

Hannoverians push on both flanks. At the center the 25th Regiment moves forward and replaces the Gotha units in the Prussian front line.

Fighting on the Western Flank. 3rd Brigade vs Landwher

The 11th Gren. Regiment moves to contain the East Flank advance of the Hannoverians

Emulating he Landwher it destroys the Hannoverian artillery on that flank.

But is left open to a Hanoverian Calvary and Infantry Brigade

The Landwher and 3rd Brigade go back and forth.

The 25th Regiment is rendered spent by the devastating fire of two Hannoverian Brigades and artillery bases.

Which leads though those units to go Low on Ammo

The general situation mid game.

On the East Flank, the Hannoverian cavalry lunches a charge on the flank of the 11th Gren.

Which forces them back. Meanwhile the Hannoverians assault Mills and Bad at the center.

But are repeatedly driven back by the gallant 25th.

Furious fighting at the bridge

The 11th is steadily driven back in the East Flank

While the Lanwher is broken in hand to hand fighting on the West Flank.

The Hanoverians push on...

Forcing the Prussians to pull back towards Langesalza

The noose around Langesalza closes

The Prussians mount a desprete defense since their route of retreat is cut off by the Hanoverian cavalry

The Hannoverians assault from the East.

And drive the 11th out of the town.

While the 8th launches a furious charge that breaks the Gotha..

and 25th regiments!

Leading to a brilliant Hannoverian victory 


ChrisBBB said...

Great report, Kostas. Looks like you got a pretty historical result!

On the "Low Ammo" rule: this was a factor in numerous actions. I guess you could limit its effect to an infantry unit's next shot, same as for artillery. Either way, yes, you do need some markers of various kinds in BBB.

Sorry it took so much longer than expected. I have a pretty robust formula: with 4 experienced players, # of inf or cav units x # of turns / 100 = # of hours. Obviously for your first time with the rules it will take a bit longer. Plenty of new BBB players have passed through the ranks at our club and generally people get the hang of the rules very quickly, though of course it is easier if you are learning from people who already know the game.

Glad you liked it, and thanks very much for posting about your game.


Konstantinos Travlos said...

Thank you Crhis!!

Jason said...

So this is basically the fire and fury mechanisms using D6 then?

Jason said...

So this is basically the fire and fury mechanisms using D6 then?