Wednesday 22 September 2021

Hungary 1848 #11: Hegyes

Our Hungary 1848 campaign continues. The 11th of our planned 15 games took us to the southern front for the first time for the battle of Hegyes. This was the largest battle on that front, inflicted some of the heaviest losses suffered by the imperial side, and was Hungary's last major victory of the war.

The situation was an unusual one. Under pressure from invading Austrian and Russian armies in the north and west of the country, Hungary's government had decided to mass its forces in the south, knock the imperial Army of the South out of the war, and then base itself on the fortresses of Arad and Temesvár. The imperial C-in-C in the south was Jellachich, Bán of Croatia, commanding an army mainly composed of 3rd- or 4th-line Grenzers. He was holding the line of the Franzenskanal between the Danube and the Tisza in what is now northern Serbia. The Hungarian forces converging on him took one end of the canal, forcing him to choose: should he fall back behind the Danube immediately, or thrust forward to give the Hungarians a bloody nose in an attempt to deter and delay them?

Opting for the latter course, he took some 12,000 men on an overnight march to seize the village of Kis-Hegyes and its bridges over a minor river, the Barra, which he knew were Hungarian-held. Unfortunately for him, a similar-sized force of Hungarians under the English general Richard Guyon, well aware of Jellachich's approach, was hunkered down in Kis-Hegyes and the neighbouring villages of Szeghegy and Feketehegy. At 3:00 a.m., Jellachich walked into a division-scale ambush. His initial assaults on the villages were repulsed and Hungarian hussars lapped around his flanks. Hearing gunfire in his rear as well, he realised he was in danger of being cut off and captured. His assault turned into a fighting withdrawal which he executed rather well, but he lost over 1,000 men.

Unusual terrain: the Barra has carved itself a gully through the flat plain of the Bácska. The steep banks of the gully are denoted by the green lines of pipecleaners. Three sprawling villages straddle the tree-lined river, with vineyards on the slopes behind them. Jellachich's force has arrived from bottom left, then executed a wheel to the right to deploy for battle. The Hungarians lurk unseen in ambush.

This is tricky to capture in a wargame scenario because of the problem of hindsight. Unlike Jellachich, we players know that his assault is probably doomed to fail, and we know that an outflanking force will threaten to cut his line of communications. Rather than the usual simple formula of judging victory by who holds which objective locations at the end, I defined three strategic objectives for the Austrian side:

1. To seize one of the three villages, even if only temporarily;

2. To have at least one of the two Austrian cavalry units survive to cover the retreat and to have lost no more units Spent or destroyed than the Hungarians;

3. To have no Hungarian unit closer to the two line of communications road exits than all Austrian units.

The Austrians needed to achieve all three of these for a win or two for a draw (and had to have assaulted a village with at least two units).

The point of this mix of objectives is that the Austrian mission changed halfway through the battle from "seize a village" to "run away!". Thus the Austrians have to make a good-faith effort to attack the villages initially, but they are not required to hold any at game end.

The Austrian problems are compounded by a scenario rule to reflect the nervousness that gripped Jellachich's force when they heard cannon fire from the rear. Starting on Turn 4, the Austrian side must dice each turn to see if the whole Austrian force becomes Fragile. If it does not do so by Turn 6, it is ruled Complacent instead, and a Hungarian unit shows up in the Austrian flank or rear, followed by the Austrian reserve that historically got sent back to protect the retreat.

Last but not least, because this was an ambush, none of the Hungarian units are deployed on table initially or even plotted on a map. Instead, the Hungarian players can simply deploy them in a village as soon as the Austrians move within 3" of it, or in any village in their own turn.

I was a bit anxious about these unusual scenario special rules pre-game because 'funky' rules do not always work out as intended. I needn't have worried: they provided us with a distinctively different battle that still gave a close and exciting game and a decent representation of the historical battle.

As was always going to happen, the first Austrian unit to move up against Feketehegy (the Erzherzog Wilhelm and Piret infantry) was ambushed by a Hungarian firing line anchored by a battery at each end. The hapless Wilhelms/Pirets were immediately reduced to half strength, Spent, and played no further significant part in the battle.

However, the Hungarians could not be everywhere. They did declare troops in Szeghegy as well, but not enough to prevent Budisavlievich's Grenzers from pressing into the village. Intense fighting in and around both villages ensued.

At the northern end of the line, the Hungarian right wing (commanded by our new comrade and BBB novice, Simon) debouched from Kis-Hegyes. All that was in their way was Castiglione's cuirassiers. These carelessly loitered long enough to be blown away by Hungarian artillery, meaning the Austrians could not afford to lose their remaining cavalry on the other flank if they were to have a chance of winning.

At the start of Turn 4, the dice decreed that 'Austrian Anxiety' came into play, word spread through the Austrian ranks about the enemy advancing in their rear, and all Austrian units became Fragile. The Austrian players' morale was creaking at that point too, but I pointed out that they still had a chance of victory if they could clear one village. One Austrian unit in Szeghegy duly turned to the right and attacked the flank of the Hungarian defenders of Feketehegy, clearing them out and planting a yellow Habsburg victory counter in it.

 Circa Turn 5: the Austrians have cleared the large village of Feketehegy (upper right). Hungarians from the north approach the Austrian left anchored on the crossroads (upper left). Both sides' cavalry are disrupted after a clash on the southern flank (bottom right).

As the Hungarians from the north closed in, the Fragile Austrians were compressed back towards their precious line of communications exits. On their southern flank, there was a tense series of cavalry actions between hussars and cuirassiers, the latter being superior in combat but having to be cautious.

On the last turn, all three results were possible. The Austrians had suffered one more unit than the Hungarians Spent/destroyed; if they could kill the hussars in the south, they would rectify that and win. Conversely, if the Hungarians could get either hussar unit closer to either road exit, that would produce a Hungarian victory. In the event, neither transpired, and it was yet another classic honours-even draw to conclude an exciting and different game.

Game end: the Austrians have been driven back but managed to cover their line of communications. Red markers bottom right are on the Hungarian batteries that delivered the initial ambush but were then driven off with loss.


BBB proved again how easy it is for new players to pick up: Simon said he was daunted at first but comfortable by the end.

The simple special rule for the ambush deployment produced the right effect.

The mix of objectives to reflect the Austrian change of mission mid-battle likewise worked. (Phew!)

Perfect scenario for a Monday night at the club: simple terrain to set up, ~10 units a side, enough variety of troops to be interesting, both sides have to manoeuvre. Eight turns long so we were done in two hours' play, despite going in slow time initially to introduce Simon to the rules.

Our regular multi-player format is good for flexibility! When Simon was looking for a game, it was easy for us to fit him in as a third player on the Hungarian side. Conversely, we were expecting three Austrian players - one couldn't make it, but the game went on without him, whereas in a one-to-one game, if one player drops out, the other player's evening is written off as well.

And finally, John and I relished one thing remote gaming can't really provide: the post-battle pint together in the pub.

Sunday 19 September 2021

A healthy varied gaming diet

This year's ongoing project is to playtest all the scenarios for my planned Hungary 1848 BBB campaign book (10 out of 15 now done). These battles have kept me and the gang very much engaged. Even so, a change of diet now and then is healthy. Happily, over the last couple of weeks I've played three quite different games.


Two new members, Simon and Martin, joined OWS and laid on Gaslands for us. This is a kind of car wars game in a Mad Max type post-apocalyptic setting. The scenario was a race, but one in which we could shoot or ram our fellow competitors. We each had a team of two cars. I chose two that closely resembled cars I used to own (apart from the rockets). Our referees had a lovely layout which we duly charged around, cheerfully machine-gunning and ramming each other. With four newbie players, we didn't quite complete the circuit, but Bruce's sturdy van was comfortably in the lead when we wrapped up and my poor little sports car was scrap metal ...

Six teams surge from the start line, Bruce's van in pole position.

Excellent lighthearted fun, a nice change from historical gaming, and great to meet two new members who will enliven OWS. Incidentally, Simon is the proprietor of Syborg 3D Printing, producing a terrific range of 15mm vehicles, aircraft and terrain for WWI, WWII, post-war and more.

Fetching Gaslands scenery and oil slicks. Terrain matters!

Lützen 1813

Back to BBB but not to Hungary. Mark has been working his way through all of Napoleon's biggest battles. This time it was the turn of Lützen, a battle about which I knew effectively nothing until now. This was Napoleon's first victory of the spring campaign of 1813, an attempt to knock the Prussians out of the war and dissuade the Austrians from joining in. It makes a good game because initially the Russian and Prussian are on the attack, trying to beat up Ney's isolated corps; then as French reinforcements arrive, the allies have to fend off Napoleon's double envelopment. Thus everyone gets to do lots of maneuvering and make important decisions. Mark's scenario was particularly good because he drew the frame wider than most maps of the battlefield tend to do, so he made all that outflanking space available for people to make mistakes in.

View from the French side. The Imperial Guard (and friends) have counterattacked up the road from Luetzen (offtable bottom right) and retaken three of the four central villages, as well as both flanks, but failed to cut the allied line of communications (road exit at top) - a draw.

We fought this in two sessions: the first remotely, the second in person in Mark's Kriegspielium. That made a big difference. In the remote session, seeing just a segment of the battlefield at a time made it hard to appreciate how the sectors connected and interacted - so for instance I didn't realise some of my artillery in the centre was vulnerable to enemy cavalry on my right until they pounced. Having the overall view of the whole battlefield made it much easier to understand what was going on. Not a complaint - the limited 'fog of war' view is probably more realistic than the 'helicopter' view! - and either approach can work, it was just unusual to have the chance to get both views in the same game.

Close-up of Napoleon himself among his grognards in recaptured Kaja, Rahna and Gross Goerschen.

As for the course of the game itself: broadly historical, I think. A big slugfest in the centre over the four strongpoint villages; then pressure on both allied flanks from French reinforcements; and finally the Imperial Guard smashing into the middle. Honours even, objective-wise, meant everyone went home happy with a draw. A terrific scenario that doesn't need any further revision.


I was entrusted with a 10-year-old boy to entertain for a Saturday. Fortunately he has been indoctrinated, is already army-barmy, and was eager to roll some dice. I was recently given two boxes full of 15mm Hundred Years War figures, painted and based, but somewhat the worse for wear after decades in a barn. My apprentice and I spent a happy hour or two just sorting them out and getting rid of the goose poo, cobwebs and dead beetles. Next step was a 3-minute video, "Battle Stack: The Battle of Agincourt tactics", pitched at just the right length and level for an excited youth who just wanted to get the toys on the table. Once he knew what the historical battle was, he had a jolly time setting up a sort of Agincourt terrain. I say "sort of" because my French had it even harder, having to cross a river into the teeth of entrenched bombards and organ guns.

A rare sight in my war room - something pre-Napoleonic! Linear, yes; limited, yes; dull, no.

I didn't have a suitable rulebook to hand so we played DBM - that is, De Bellis Made-it-up-as-we-went-along ... let's say inspired by DBA/DBM (command pips and opposed die rolls) but simplified for speed and with movement 'kriegspieled' rather than measuring. This exceeded my expectations: after 90 minutes or so I kept trying to surrender, but His Majesty the King of England was having such a good time he would urge me to charge again and again. I did overrun the bombards and the cocktail-stick chevaux de frise, and I did get rid of a lot of English longbowmen and men-at-arms, but eventually ground to a halt and was permitted to concede defeat.

This was surprisingly good fun for all concerned. It was also educational for my young pupil: he now understands the importance of maneuvering your medieval troops in "battles" rather than modern skirmish lines; and how lethal the longbow was; and has had a first taste of command pips as one way of representing a commander's limited time and attention and influence.

Back to the staple diet of BBB Hungary 1848 tomorrow, but refreshed and invigorated by having enjoyed some different games in between!