My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Wargaming Nineteenth Century Europe 1815–1878

Yes, another post about another set of rules by Neil Thomas. I hope you are not getting tired yet.

Hey, I bought this book specifically so I could do something with all of those lovely Baccus 6mm Franco-Prussian War 1870–71 figures I purchased. It was going to inspire me to paint all of those guys up. Well, the rules weren't the problem. Neil rules seem pretty historical. It seems that the wars that I was most interested in were ... well ... pretty one-sided. It is kind of hard to convince people to join in games where they know (or strongly have the perception) that one side is going to lose, and you are going to have to be creative in defining what "winning" and "losing" really is.

Case in point: I played a small portion of day one of Gettysburg and the scenario was pretty lopsided. We drew, according to the scenario design but I think my gaming buddy nailed it: we did a lot better than the historical Generals (especially him; his command historically was wiped out) so we won.

I am trying to get another miniature project off of the ground and thought I would like to try a European army from this period. I also wanted to specifically try these rules, so glancing through the book I immediately rejected the Franco-Prussian War as I did not want to duplicate my 6mm army-in-waiting. Too many I knew nothing about. I settled on the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 (Seven Weeks' War). Now I know that the Prussian for this war are effectively a duplicate for the Prussians of the Franco-Prussian War, but nothing else grabbed me. I could use the Austrians for the Second Schleswig War 1864, where I could also bring in the Danes. And, although the Austrian uniforms had changed, I could still fake it pretty good and use them for the Franco-Austrian War of 1859. So, it seemed pretty good. (My second choice was to finally break down and do the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, but I thought that it might not be sufficiently different from Napoleonics. My third choice would have been the Crimean War.)

I wanted to play the rules as straight as possible, but I wanted two core changes:
  1. I wanted to try a game now, and not a year from now, so I needed to reduce the figure count on each unit. I reduced all units to a single base. However, I kept track of when four hits were received with markers and then used a different colored marker to indicate when a base was lost. So Infantry and Cavalry still had the equivalent of four bases, Skirmishers two bases, and Artillery one base. The base for Artillery was 1/2 the width of the bases for the other units.
  2. I wanted to play the game on a square grid. I created a gridded map where each square was the width of one base. (Remember, one base equals the frontage of one unit, which is two bases wide in Neil's rules.) Making sure I did not mess with the ratio of unit frontage to distance moved and distance moved to firing range I converted all measurements to Unit Widths.
Both changes worked pretty well, and I do not believe changed the flavor of the game, or more importantly, the math of the design.

Sorry, no pictures or battle report. I was using unfinished, unpainted, prototype figures and a hand-drawn map with a dotted grid and terrain features. It looked ugly but was functional. So, no pictures. Okay, just two (click to enlarge). I call it: Cartman joins the Austrian army. Intentionally very minimalist. They are about 12mm in height.


Those are the only ones painted.

Here is one big takeaway from playing the rules, army lists, and scenarios. Neil Thomas believes in bathtubbing  games (playing tactically at one level – in this case one unit equals one infantry battalion or artillery battery – but treating each player's army as if it was a much higher level command, like a Corps or Army). Practically all of his rules are this way.

The other is that this set of rules would seem to play better solo than as a one-versus-one or multiple players per side. Why? Well the scenario I played had the attacker (the Austrians) losing two units right off the bat due to random events while the defender (the Prussians) was able to forward deploy three of its ten units, putting them occupying all key objectives. There are so many variables – die rolls for numbers and types of troops, random events, who attacks, which side of the board you enter from – that it could lead to interesting games, but not necessarily interesting for both sides. I looked at the start and figured (correctly) that the Austrians were going to get their butts kicked (they did). It was very interesting to play, but I am not so sure it would have been if I had played the Austrians against a player.

Memoir '44 is like that. Their scenarios lean more towards being historical than being balanced. That is why when I organized a Memoir '44 tournament I made sure that each round was two games, each player playing once on each side, using their combined score to determine who won. It almost seems like you should do that with Neil's rules, if you use all the elements (random armies, random events, etc.).

But as a solo player, interesting scenarios – even if interesting from only one side – is still interesting. You don't feel like you lost. When the side you think will win you think "Okay, well that was what I was thinking would happen." But when the other side wins, you think "Cool! I won! I pulled it off!"

The basic turn sequence is:
  1. Change Formation
  2. Charge
    1. Declaration
    2. Move
    3. Defensive Fire
  3. Move
  4. Fire
  5. Hand-to-Hand
  6. Morale
The interesting idea is that formation changes, unlike his Napoleonic rules, as free. It costs no movement and the act of changing does not affect later combat (although the formation you change to will affect combat). Effectively, you can be in any formation you choose, when it is your turn, but you have to live with that choice through your opponent's turn too.

One of the more surprising aspects of the game mechanics is that infantry formations in Line cannot move, effectively putting everyone into assault columns every time you wish to maneuver. Given the rule above, that means if your line infantry moves, you inflict lighter casualties in your turn when you fire, and you take heavier casualties in the enemy's turn. This blunts one of the worst aspects of many rules systems, which is the "Alpha Strike", or as Wally Simon used to put it "Gotcha' Gaming". If rules allow the player to fully move forward and then fire with full effectiveness, essentially a player can move from outside of weapon's range into range, fire, inflict casualties and thereby reduce the fire effectiveness of the enemy, all before the enemy can react. This is the "Alpha Strike/Gotcha'" and the whole point of the game then becomes dancing around the table trying to stay far enough away so the enemy cannot Alpha Strike you, and see who makes the first mistake. By blunting the Alpha Strike advantage the player who initiates it get to hit first with weaker damage, but theoretically that is offset by taking more damage in return.

Another surprising aspect of these rules is that firepower cannot stop a cavalry charge, except by utterly destroying the cavalry unit. (Actually, it cannot stop any charge, for that matter.) Yes, cavalry takes a nauseating amount of damage, has no save, and has an additional morale check if fired upon while charging by the charged unit, but even failing the morale check(s) only increases the casualty count; it does not stop the charge. My guess is that Neil's attitude is "so?" After taking huge damage it will throw less dice in hand-to-hand. Except that my experience is that it did not play out that way, which is good. No one really wants a whole section of their army to be totally useless. Just understand that if your Napoleonic rules doesn't make your cavalry a "one-shot" weapon, these rules will. If you charge infantry frontally, you may actually succeed in that charge, but it is the last charge you will make in the game with that unit. (Of course, there is always horrendously bad luck in either direction.)

When I played my test game I did use the command and control rules (which hurt the Austrians even more). Basically your commander's rating determines which column you roll on for how many units are commanded each turn. For the Austrians it was 4–6 and for the Prussians it was 6–8. However, there are a few exceptions: skirmishers are always in command and don't count towards the total; and the Austrians can command one extra artillery unit. I think the reason I never felt the pinch for command points is because of the loss of the two Austrian units before the game started due to the random event. They always seemed to have just enough. The Prussians never had a problem at all. The biggest problem is remembering to fire with half effect if the unit is not in command. Playing the rules more would solve that problem.

All in all it was an enjoyable game even though the Austrians got stomped and the board was practically cleared of them by the end of turn four. With the Austrians being forced into column by special rule (they cannot form line) stopping for a firefight is a bad move. Further, the fact that they were using muzzle-loaders and were up against breechloaders meant that they had no saves in those firefights while the Prussians did. So the Austrians made a lot of charges, some of which succeeded, but many of which did not. It basically allowed the Prussians to shoot twice as much (once in defensive fire and once in their turn). I think that is why the game ended so quickly. Games with lots of charges will crank the firepower up, while firefights will be a slower attritional battle.

I will definitely play this again. Like with DBA, I wonder how well it plays when you scale it up?


  1. going to a grid sounds interesting. I did the game on a hex grid, with each hex counting as 6" as this was the lowest common denominator for movement allowances and weapon ranges. It all worked out rather well.

  2. We have been playing One Hour Wargames a lot at our club with the Rifle and Sabre rules. We made some small amendments, but they play really well when combined with the thirty scenarios included in the book. We also have the above rules and are going to try them out. The above is an interesting read. We use 10mm armies for the War of the Pacific and Russo Turkish War 1877. We have also used 10mm Anglo Egyptian War armies with equal success in OHW.

  3. Dale, as I've commented here before, I am a fan of the Neil Thomas rules. One of the things I found really attractive about the 19th Century volume was the idea of "standard" units for the armies (in different categories), and then scenarios that would tell you for Army A and Army B how many of the "standard" units to use. You would then, for the army you were playing (Crimean Russians, Prussians from a Schleiswig war, Italians from Reunification, etc), and it would tell you which particular units to use in place of the "standard" ones.

    Also the scenarios are very good (as good, to me, as some of the scenarios were in the Warhammer Ancient Battles periods books such as Age of Arthur, and Shieldwall - and I think those are really good).

    So, a long way of saying - I agree with you, these are good rules, and very well done.

  4. Even though I haven't been particularly taken by Neil Thomas' systems--I have both his book on gaming the 19th C and One Hour Wargames--I found your analysis and thorough explanation very interesting. As a rukes tinkere and someone who also dabbles with gridded gane boards, there are some good ideas here to, inspire. :). Goad you posted on my blog.It brought me to yours, which I wasn't aware of. Nicely done.

  5. I think the fascinating thing with the NT approach is the "less is more" aspect. So things are relatively straightforward and characterized on general lines, but with strong differentiation between unit types. So I just finished a lengthy series of changes for his OHW Medieval rules, pulling them back from the high medieval period and machine-gun arrow storms into the Feudal period. But Units still have strong characteristics, and all are valuable when played well altho certain scenarios of the 30 definitely favor some unit types over others. For example, Knights move twice as fast as foot, and inflict d6+2 Hits. Heavy foot are slow but take half Hits and inflict d6 damage. Archers also move slow but have great firepower at d6+2 in the original rules, d6 in mine. Levy foot take damage normally [as do knights] and inflict d6 hits. As all the types are strongly differentiated, you end up with definitive uses for each unit type.

    My read of the Napoleonic and ACW rules in Intro to Wargaming is that while I do not agree with all the generalities, I think that the overall shape of each army will certainly give them some character. I will add that I haven't played those sets yet, however I disagree that there is no charging in the ACW. Charges were common altho quite a second place next to a firefight. Same in OHW, so I just stole the cavalry charge rules and used them for infantry assaulting with a few mods.

    Since most of the design parameters are clear, it is quite easy to change the rules and give them a bit more depth without losing the quick-play side.

    I've a bunch of NT rules and commentary here and here

    Like the comment on the Alpha Strike. Still, it is solved in all the NT rules I have which don't let you move and fire, so the defender always gets the first shot. Sometimes I modify this by allowing the player to move and fire at half effect each or something, which still gives the fire advantage to the defense overall, but one can get double-lucky and roll up while the defender rolls low, so you never know.


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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").