Mainly devoted to the "Bloody Big BATTLES!" wargames rules (BBB): scenarios being developed or playtested; games played; figures and terrain; and also to any of my other (non-BBB) wargaming activities.
BBB is published by SkirmishCampaigns, and is available from dealers such as:
On Military Matters;
North Star Figures. For loads of good stuff related to BBB, check out the BBB Yahoo group: https://uk.groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/BBB_wargames/info
Friday, 23 January 2015
Review of "Bloody Big Battles!" in the Foreign Correspondent
BBB and BBEB have now been officially reviewed by Bob Mackenzie in the
latest issue of the Foreign Correspondent, #105, journal of the
Continental Wars Society. Bob and Ralph Weaver of the CWS have kindly
agreed that I may reproduce the review in full here. Bob is an
experienced rules author in his own right and a thoughtful critic who
knows what makes a good game - see his essay on scenario design on his
website here: Bob Mackenzie's homepage - 20mm & 1/300th Wargames
(I encourage you to join the CWS. Contact Rob Burke Burker1@aol.com or Ralph Weaver firstname.lastname@example.org for details.)
Bloody Big Battles (BBB) and Bloody Big European Battles
Bloody Big Battles is a set of wargames rules designed to
simulate the wars from the end of the Napoleonic Era up to the start of the 20th
Century. It includes 9 Franco- Prussian War scenarios. Its companion volume is
Bloody Big European Battles, which is a scenario book for BBB and contains 16
European scenarios from 1854 (the Crimean War) to 1897 (the Greco-Turkish War).
First a disclaimer … Chris Pringle, the rules’ author, is a
good friend of mine. I have had the great pleasure of playing many excellent
games of BBB with him over the 4-5 years the rules took to playtest. Despite
this I have striven to be objective in my comments. This relationship means the
review is based on playing the rules
many times rather than just taking a cursory look through the rule book. I am
no C19th expert, so what follows are comments on how the rules play, not on
their realism. Having said that I have glimpsed Chris’s personal library, which
is awesome. This was not a set of rules knocked together after reading a pair
What do I get for my hard earned cash?
The rules are $25 or
£18, they are 54 pages long, they come in an A4 (US letter) stapled booklet
with paperback quality covers. BBEB is a similar format. There are 24 pages of
rules, which include copious examples; 29 scenario pages and a 1 page
introduction. The rules buck the current trend for lots of extraneous fluff in
rules: so no painting guides, army guides, or “codexes”. The rules are printed
in black and white so completely lack the overwhelming amount of “eye candy”
that can be found in some sets. The one useful thing omitted is a separate
quick reference sheet. There is one bound in to the back of the book but you will
have to copy and prepare the quick reference sheets yourself. So what you get
are the rules and a bunch of scenarios and nothing else.
The rules, it is fair to say, were inspired by the Fire and
Fury ACW set, but ruthlessly simplified so as to deal with big battles in a
reasonable time. As an example, I played the first two scenarios in BBEB,
Kurudere and The Alma in an afternoon, in just under 6 hours. That excluded the
first game set-up but included the set-up for the second game. Both of the
games were played to the last turn and both came down to a nail- biting last
Base sizes are flexible and the rules suggest 1 to 1.5”
frontage, though I suspect bigger bases would work perfectly well too, which
means you are unlikely to have to rebase. The rules make the point that the
bases are considered the “centre of mass” of a unit so base size is not
critical. It’s up to the players to determine the numbers and scales of figures
to mount on a base; it’s irrelevant to the game mechanics. A base represents
1000 infantry, 1000 cavalry, 24 guns or 24 MGs, however this is flexible to
allow bigger scenarios to fit on a reasonable 6x4ft table. An inch on the table
represents an average of 200yds and a
turn is roughly 1 hour, though
scales are somewhat elastic to allow for
playability of scenarios.
The core of the rules is the “movement chart” which is
actually a combined movement and morale chart. Each unit rolls dice to see how
far it can move. If the unit’s morale is bad enough it may move backwards. The
chart also deals with rallying. This system is unlike some other dice
activation systems where it’s not unusual for all a player’s units to remain halted
if they have poor quality troops. In BBB most units move at least half a move
most of the time. I have yet to see an instance where a player was stymied in
moving all of his units. The activation system is certainly an inconvenience to
your plans and will make perfect co-ordination of your forces almost
impossible, however it is not designed to frustrate players by preventing them
moving anything. Movement distances are generous, 12” for infantry and 18” with
cavalry if you roll well on the movement table. This makes the games very
dynamic. The battlefield situation can change dramatically every turn, which to
my mind makes for an exciting challenging game. Do not expect to spend half the
game “playing” out a meaningless approach march.
The shooting and assault rules work smoothly and are
competent. There are no radical mechanisms but they do produce results that
feel correct. Fire often disrupts the enemy rather than kills, but combine
enough firepower and the effect can be decisive.
The rules are good but they are not the highlight of BBB.
Chris is a genius scenario designer and this is what sets the books apart from
their competitors. The scenarios appear thoroughly researched. They tend to be
asymmetrical in some way which adds considerable interest, and the victory
conditions are cleverly thought out to provide an interesting and viable
challenge to both sides. None of the scenarios represent bog-standard “line ‘em
up” frontal assaults, all represent fluid situations which are interesting to
game with many thorny decisions to be made. Each scenario has a smattering of special
rules, not enough to overwhelm the players, but enough to capture the
particular flavour of the battle.
Games Workshop aficionados may be disappointed.
Game play is based around the historical scenarios. There
are no army lists and no points values. There are no generic scenarios and no
mechanisms for balancing a fictional scenario. If competition gaming is your
cup of tea then these are not the rules for you. Even if you like scenarios but
feel the need to set up your own there is no guidance for creating your own, so
you are very much on your own in this situation.
None of the scenarios are small (there is a hint in the
name). Although the rules are simple and easy to pick up the game requires
considerable investment before you can play. You need a lot of troops.
Froeschwiller in BBB is a relatively small scenario but requires 90 assorted
Prussian bases and 50 French bases. If you have a suitable collection already
then all is good but this is not a set where you can dabble with a few troops
before investing in bigger armies.
[ChrisBBB adds: actually there are now some small 'training scenarios' available in the files of the BBB Yahoo group.]
Scenarios have realistic terrain, which certainly makes them
more engaging. However you need a great deal of terrain to make up the maps.
The most challenging aspect will be hills. Nearly all of the maps are covered
in contours and it ’s rather unlikely most gamers will have enough hills of
suitable shapes to fit most of the maps. Books under a cloth is not suitable
substitute as the game rules require clearly
delineated contours and require all steep slopes to be marked clearly. Personally
I feel a system of making ridgelines would have been more accessible to most
gamers when trying to model the battlefield topography. Modelling the hills can
be done, but will require some investment.
The maps in the game are its least attractive aspect. They
are black and white with shading. In some the shading is tricky to follow,
especially in those with many woods which sometimes use similar shading to the
contours. Luckily all the maps are
on the BBB
Yahoo group in
glorious, and comprehensible, colour: https://uk.groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/BBB_wargames/files
, as are the quick reference sheets. Note you need to be a registered member of
the group to access the files. The maps
(but not the QR sheets) are also
available on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/127771552@N03/sets/72157646425291544/
Some of the best gaming I have had over the last four years
has come from BBB. If you have the models and terrain to hand so you can start
playing immediately I thoroughly recommend the rules. Even if you are not
particularly interested in the period I recommend give it a go, the rules and
scenarios produce great entertaining games. If you haven’t got the kit to play
then find a friend who has so you can try it, it may well inspire you to build
up your personal collection.
I’ll leave you with Chris’s final words from BBB: “And
remember: if you lose, it’s due to bad luck; if you win, it’s due to your
superior generalship! Have fun!”
“Bloody Big Battles!” and “Bloody Big European Battles!”.
Chris Pringle. 2014. SkirmishCampaigns. RRP $25. Available in the US from
Brigade Games or On Military Matters, and in the UK from Caliver Books or
Irregular Miniatures. Reviewed by Bob Mackenzie.