Bismarck’s Wars, Field of Battle, 10mm
I wouldn’t say that my pal Gerry “the Vet” Henry is a one trick pony. Oh no. He doesn’t just wargame – he competes in hill rallies in a souped-up Mini, he raises horses which his daughters ride competitively, and he’s extremely well-read. Once can almost forgive him his rabid political views, largely because he delivers them with such charm, wit and flair. However, when it comes to wargaming Gerry is a bit obsessive. He only really does one period – or two if you count two wars fought just five years apart. He games the Franco-Prussian War, but his real love is the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. Fortunately, he does his one period very well indeed. I’m really a dyed-in-the-wool 28mm chap, but I have to admit Gerry’s tabletop depiction of Bohemia is a real work of art – and his table is a real pleasure to play on. Well, this weekend he invited me up to his house in Fife to try out his latest version of his 1866 house rules. I’m glad he did, as I spent a very enjoyably Sunday rolling dice, turning cards and sending teeny-tiny Germans to their doom.Before we started, Gerry talked me through the rules, and showed me the purpose-built cards he’s made for the game, the range sticks (colour coded for each side), and the easy-to-read playsheets. These all made the game much more enjoyable to play, as there was no need to worry about ranges, as they were built into the sticks, or worry about the game mechanics as the cards and play sheets were so self-explanatory.He also stressed that this wasn’t a competitive game – we were merely playing through segments of the larger battle, in order to test out the rules. Gerry then proceeded to get very competitive indeed, particularly when his beloved Austrians didn’t do what he wanted as the right cards didn’t get turned over! Still, Gerry is the soul of impartiality when it comes to combining the roles of umpire and aggressive Austrian player – a real gentleman… although it was clear which side he was on…The segment of the battle we concentrated on was the fight which centred around the village of Wenzelsberg. There in June 1866 the Prussian advance guard held the plateau behind the village, while the rest of the Prussian V Army Corps made their way through the Nachod defile behind them. If the Austrians could seize the plateau then they could prevent the Prussians from debouching from the mountains into the open countryside beyond. This made the fight around Wenzelsberg the key to the battle. Right, the first thing you learn about this period is that the Austrians have better artillery than the Prussians, and their rifles have a longer range. Gerry admitted that the sensible things for the Austrians to do was to sit tight and plaster the Prussian lines with artillery rounds. However, time wasn’t on their side – they needed to put the stopper in the bottle and block the exit from the Nachod defile. This meant they had to win the battle the hard way – by sending their infantry in.That’s the village on the left in the picture above – complete with an Austrian artillery range stick, showing that the Prussian infantry in front of the Austrian guns is within effective range. Anyway, I moved some Prussian jaegers into the woods in front of their position, and their fire halted the first determined Austrian attack. The next lesson was that Prussian guns are deadly at short range, especially when you play a “Schnellfeuer” card. The Prussians were suffering too – taking some severe casualties from the Austrian guns.By this time another Austrian brigade was badly shot up by a small Prussian 4-pdr. battery, so the Austrians couldn’t launch a coordinated assault. When the second unit finally went in it was shot to pieces, as were the supporting jaegers. To add insult to injury the Austrian guns drew some pretty lousy cards, and rolled poor dice, and as a result found themselves silenced or at least out-gunned by their smaller and less efficient Prussian counterparts. As the battle around Wenzelsberg ended the Prussians were advancing towards the village, and the Austrians had little left to stop them.As this battle was winding down Gerry decided to open up another part of the battlefield. At this point I have to say that both sides had a lot of troops on the table, but this was a rules-testing game, so only two small portions of the battlefield and these Corps sized armies were brought into play during our game. This new portion was a cavalry clash to the north of Wenzelsberg, near the village of Wyskow. An Austrian cavalry division advanced along the main road leading towards the Nachod defile, while a smaller Prussian cavalry brigade advanced towards it, supported by a much more useful brigade of Prussian infantry. In the end the infantry never got to fire a shot in anger.The way it panned out, while one of the two Prussian cavalry regiments screened the Austrian advance, the other – an Ulhan regiment – charged a “target of opportunity” – a regiment of Austrian cuirassiers. Amazingly the Austrian cavalry were chopped up and destroyed, and the Prussians continued chasing their remnants off towards the north. The next turn they turned round, just in time to hit another cuirassier regiment in the flank, and drive it from the field. To complete their hat trick they then rode down the Austrian divisional artillery, and almost captured the Austrian Corps commander Field Marshal von Ramming. A veil was drawn over this sorry Austrian performance, which ended with the remaining Austrian cavalry brigade hiding in a hollow, while the Prussians held the high ground in front of them, and the victorious Ulhans threatening them from the rear.So, there you have it. In our little series of two mini games the Prussians emerged victorious, largely thanks to some inordinate luck, and some great die rolls at crucial moments. I have to say I really enjoyed the game. It got off to a slow start (I was feeling a little fragile during the morning), but after a light lunch and some excellent port I rallied, and the game speeded up immeasurably. The system is pretty slick, and I really liked Gerry’s self-produced but very professional cards – that’s some of them down below. The final picture of course, is of my host, wondering what on earth went wrong with his Austrian cavalry.