Sunday 23 April 2023

Can frontally assaulting redoubts make a good game? Düppel (1864)

How many games have we all seen or endured that are just a boring line-out, wall to wall troops from table edge to table edge, with few tactical options beyond grinding forward and hoping to roll high?

How much more painful is it when one side is entrenched and has virtually nothing to do except keep rolling fistfuls of firing dice?

OK, I know it is possible to revel in such games simply because of the occasion and the spectacle. People will refight Pickett's Charge, or the Charge of the Light Brigade, and it will be awesome just because the original was so epically disastrous and because recreating it with your buddies in glorious 28mm has to be fun, right?

But for those of us for whom a game should be about making interesting and challenging decisions every turn - no thank you. (No disparagement of any beautiful Pickett's Charge game intended, it's just not for me.) I want options, choices, the chance to make an actual plan and see it succeed or fail. I don't want everything straitjacketed and railroaded and all the important decisions already made for me in how the game is set up.

It's a cracker! Specifically - the Rolf Krake.
1/600 model of Denmark's 1864 ironclad, scratchbuilt by Crispin for his Dybbøl/Als game.

Therefore, when I was creating the scenarios for the "Bloody Big European Battles!" companion volume to the BBB rules, I was confronted by a conundrum. The major action in the Second Schleswig-Holstein War of 1864 was the Prussian storming of the Danish redoubts at Dybbøl, aka Düppel. This war had to be covered in the book, so this battle had to be there. Not counting the preliminary bombardment, it lasted three and a half hours, costing thousands of casualties, but can essentially be boiled down to this: Prussians storm the line of redoubts; Danish reserve brigade counterattacks; Prussians commit reserves in return; Danes surrender.

That really didn't appeal to me as a game. Perhaps there could be some tactical decisions for the Danes about whether/when/how individual battalions should fall back from the redoubts, or where/when/how to move the individual battalions of the reserve brigade. For the Prussians, perhaps some nuance about which battalion attacks which redoubt, or how to exploit success, and where/when/how to commit reserve battalions. But for a big battle game that should be about manoeuvring entire brigades or divisions and that should generate some ebb and flow ... there just wasn't enough there.

So what to do? I found salvation in the battle's prelude and aftermath: the minor outpost skirmishes in the two months before it, then the amphibious invasion of the island of Als two months later. These were not worth a BBB scenario in themselves - Als cost the Prussians fewer than 400 casualties - but they offered an opportunity to shape the actual assault on Dybbøl, to give it context and consequences, and (most importantly) to give the players on both sides more scope for decisions and manoeuvre.

It was feasible to fit all these actions on a single 6'x4' table at the modest scale of 1700m per foot. I therefore decided to treat them as three linked phases of the same scenario: Outposts Stage; Redoubts Stage; and Als Invasion Stage. Prussian numbers make Danish military defeat virtually inevitable. The trick to making it a challenge was to put the Prussians under time pressure with a turn limit. The idea is that the Danes are trying to buy time for the other great powers to intervene and lean on Prussia and Austria to call their dogs off. Thus, for each stage I set certain objectives the Prussians have to take before moving on to the next: e.g., if they overrun the outposts swiftly, they gain time for a more methodical assault on the redoubts, etc. Ultimately, they have to take all the objectives within 10 turns to win or 11 to draw; otherwise, they lose.

Crispin made a custom battlemat and rolled it out for us at OWS last week. Luke, Ben and John fancied defending the Danish cause, so Mark, Dave W and I took the Prussians. AAR in three captioned photos below, followed by some reflections.

Looking southeast across the battlefield. Top left is the island of Als, separated from the mainland by the Alssund. Pontoon bridge top centre links it to the high ground defended by the Dybbøl redoubts (the light green strips with gun embrasures). White counters mark the objectives. Prussians are marching on from bottom left and bottom right. One lone Danish brigade is forward in the lowest wood on the right; two more in the villages behind it; the other Danish division in the redoubts.

Mark commanded our left. As time was critical, his sensible advice was that we should ignore and bypass the forward brigade initially, press ahead as fast as possible, and let it be tackled by our follow-on forces arriving on Turns 2 & 3. However, I could not resist getting my jaegers into action , so I let two of my brigades get involved in a fight in the woods immediately. I did bypass with the other two, but carelessly failed to bring them on as far east as I could have.

My carelessness was compounded by a spate of dismal movement rolls across the Prussian army. One turn I rolled 2, 2 and 3 for three of my brigades, which therefore failed to move at all, while Mark did little better. Consequently, I think it took us 5 turns to take all the Outposts and be able to move on to the Redoubts Stage.

First Prussian assault on the redoubts. Our massed siege guns line the hill in the foreground. We outnumber the Danes about 4:1. The pic isn't big enough to fit all the Prussians in. The good news for the Danes is that the tardy Rolf Krake has finally got up steam and is raking the German attackers. That plus kind dice meant it took two goes before we could break into the redoubts. Turns 6 and 7 gone - we really needed to clear the remaining Danish brigade off the hill in Turn 8.

Keeping the red flag flying! That blue counter and Dannebrog flag belong to the last unit of the Redoubts garrison, a Spent 2-base Danish brigade, being assaulted by four Prussian brigades. It was swept aside, of course. However, the clock die reveals that it had survived the crucial Turn 8 the turn before, as most of our troops failed to get the movement they needed to reach it, and Danish fire stalled those that did.

We moved on to the Als Invasion Stage. We knew we needed at least two turns of movement to reach the Als objectives, so with nine turns gone it was impossible for us to take them on Turn 10 to win. A draw was still possible if fortune favoured us a little. But Lady Luck was against us - one more turn and we would have done it, but we had failed, and victory went to the gallant Danes.


It's a micro-campaign! I'm rather proud of the scenario structure. My Reflections on Wargaming essay on "Changing Situations Mid-Game" didn't mention this scenario, but probably should have. The three stages give two opportunities to reset and they create repeated peaks of excitement in between, as the Prussians try desperately to complete each stage and the Danes try to fend them off. The Danes also have important decisions about how many troops to commit and where during the first two stages. All told, it definitely has more options and more replay value than a straight assault would have.

Mistakes in Deployment are not Easily Rectified. Isn't that a von Moltke saying? Maybe Moltke the Younger in 1914? Anyway, I managed to prove it right this time. By letting myself be distracted by one irrelevant outpost brigade, I cost our advance precious time that we could never recoup.

The Maritime Dimension. Having a naval element in the game - in this case, the Rolf Krake (loved it) and then the crossing of the Alssund (albeit that is basically abstracted) - enhances both the aesthetic and the game interest. 

Right and Wrong Ways to Divide Command. On the German side, we didn't divide very sensibly: Mark on the left had a clear sector to himself, but on the right, I had the leading forces while Dave took the ones arriving on Turns 2 & 3 in the same sector. I'm sure that contributed to my carelessness. By contrast, the three Danish players decided they didn't have enough troops to divide up, so they made the interesting decision to divide command by time instead, each of them commanding in a different stage of the game (except Luke got the Rolf Krake throughout as his stage was going to be the shortest). This meant they always had unified command and therefore a clearer, more focused approach, vindicated by victory.

Yes, Assaulting Redoubts Can Make a Good Game! (To answer my own question in the headline.) It was a rocking good time, complete with whoops of success, cries of woe and wails of dismay. Even though the Danish force was largely wiped out, the Danish players greeted each turn that they survived with jubilation. Happy days!

Friday 14 April 2023

"Hungary 1849" reviewed: "a cracking read"!

I was delighted today to see the first review of my recently published book, "Hungary 1849: The Summer Campaign". I am obliged to Colin Ashton for reviewing it on his "Carryings On Up The Dale" blog, here.

Colin gave a very generous review to the previous volume, "Hungary 1848: The Winter Campaign". This time he is equally kind. Phrases like "Chris Pringle has again done a superb job" and "a sympathetic translation, forensically researched and presented, and a cracking read to boot!" are calculated to warm any author's heart. (As is giving it five stars on Amazon - thanks, Colin.)

I hope I might have a chance at some wargame show or other such event to express my appreciation to Colin in person, but for now let me publicly thank him here.

Tuesday 11 April 2023

Golan Heights tank battle: Nafah (1973) (oh, and Ramillies again)

The long Easter weekend provided a rare opportunity for a game with Bob Mackenzie. As I'm getting plenty of BBB horse and musket action at OWS these days, I put in a bid for a tank battle and Bob kindly obliged. (Earlier in the week I also got another go at Ramillies - see brief report at foot of this post.)

The setting was the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Bob's scenario can be found along with many other good things on his website. The scenario depicts the action around the Israeli base at Nafah on the Golan Heights on the second day of the war. The Syrians have broken through on this southern sector of the Golan and are hooking right to cut off the Israeli defenders on the northern sector. The Israelis are responding by frantically scrambling troops from all directions to fill the gap.

It's a classic contest of quantity versus quality: roughly four big Syrian brigades vs three small Israeli ones. Especially in the early moves, the Syrians have a big numerical advantage which they can exploit to envelop the few defenders who start on the pitch and to race towards undefended objectives on the far side of the table. However, it doesn't take much for the poor quality Syrian units to become spent and therefore much less useful in attack and very vulnerable in defence.

The 17 photos below tell the story of the game. They're followed as usual by my reflections arising from it. (And then by a brief Ramillies photo-AAR and more reflections on that too.)

View looking NW. All Syrians enter from SE (bottom table edge). They will find a couple of Israeli units in the middle of the table and a tiny garrison in Nafah (the buildings). Syrian objectives are Nafah, the three road exits at top, and the top right hill (Tel Avital).

Not sure which is more fearsome: Israeli Centurions, or Israeli artillery (in this case, M7 Priests). All the models in this game are from Bob's collection - mostly Heroics & Ros, I believe.

More Centurions, this time supported by M50 155mm - oh, and some recce jeeps (who will wisely enter the table last after the serious fighting is over)

Had to give these exotic creatures a pic of their own: T-34/122, a Syrian conversion.

The meat and potatoes: Syrian T-62s (there were also a lot of T-55s).

On Turn 1 my 51st Brigade tried to bully the isolated Israeli delaying force. Sukhoi Su-7B joins the fun. Unfortunately the Centurions have us outnumbered more than one to two ...

Same episode seen from the other side of the table.

Turn 3. The only Israeli units are the now damaged 266th Bn, 188 Bde HQ, and the Nafah garrison. The small 2-model 82nd Bde has been wiped out. However, most of my units are Disrupted (marked by craters) and the two at right and bottom of pic are Spent and Low on Ammo (marked by hospital tents and ammo crates). The poor quality Syrian units can't take nearly as much punishment as the Israelis.

Turn 4 and Israeli counter-attacks arrive from two directions, NW and SW, hitting my front and left). Here comes the frontal hit - I think my mech bde miraculously survived this time but still had to fall back.

The hit from the left was brutal and soon put paid to any ideas I might have had about storming Nafah. The quality difference gave the Israelis a +2 advantage in every assault and fire combat. This is huge on 2D6. Oh, and my Sukhois are done for the day and it is time for Israeli Skyhawks to arrive.

The metaphorical and literal high point of the Syrian attack: 43 Bde's Mech Bn ensconces itself on the top of the Tel Avital objective and sets up its Sagger missile launchers. 

Turn 6, the halfway mark. Most of my force mills around in the middle of the table. The Syrians are all rated Passive, a -1 penalty on all their activation rolls when in good order. That doesn't half slow your blitzkrieg down. No such problems on the Israeli side as their 96th Tank Bn ploughs on through my left flank. 

By now, the Israelis have got four artillery units into action. Here we see those M50s close up. All that firepower was devastating.

Turn 7. Not so many Syrian green unit labels visible now, and more white Israeli ones are pushing forward from the left of pic and in the centre. Two arty bns park on the road exits at top edge. One joins the Skyhawks in obliterating my hilltop battalion, top right. So much for that objective.

It was one-way traffic for the next three turns as the Centurions steamrollered my disorganised, outflanked, rubbish formations. Turn 10 sees me commit my last intact unengaged tank battalion - unengaged because it failed to move for four successive turns despite the bde HQ being next to it ... every artillery piece and aircraft in Israel opens up to make sure it's not going anywhere. Holding zero objectives meant I was one short of a draw. I can console myself with the fact that it's still a pretty historical result. Bob said I'd done better than he did when he played the Syrians.

In fairness, I had inflicted a dreadful toll in white metal alloy on Bob's force - no fewer than 8 strength points. That's a lot of damaged Centurions.

Against the Israelis' 8 SP lost, I think I count a mere 43 Syrian casualties. Clearly a Pyrrhic victory for the Israelis, then.


I do like tank games. As with C19 horse and musket, the mix of the three different major arms (infantry, armour, artillery) makes the tactics interesting and produces battles with depth and scope for manoeuvre - a good recipe for fast-moving games with changing situations.

Nice scenario. It's almost as though Bob follows his own advice - see his great essay on scenario design. Room for manoeuvre, grand tactical options for different plans, both sides having to move a lot, action across most of the table ...

Victory conditions: Bob did say he felt the victory conditions were too difficult for the Syrians. He has now adopted modified conditions based on my suggestion. The Syrians no longer have to hold objectives, they get victory points just for reaching/taking some 'high water mark' locations. The Israelis for their part get VPs by reaching locations along the Syrian baseline, representing the degree to which they cut off or crush the Syrian force. (And giving those Israeli jeeps something useful to do.)

Quality vs quantity: always a nice contrast. The game demonstrated very well how the quality difference produced the actual historical result. It prompted a long post-game discussion between us about the importance of leadership, right down to NCO level, as illustrated in many a conflict down the ages.

Knowing the rules helps. We were using Bob's WWII/Moderns adaptation of "Bloody Big Battles!", BBWW2B. On previous occasions I've enjoyed Bob's WWII and modern games but had to rely on Bob a lot because I found the rules a bit fiddly, I guess because of the wide variety of armour and anti-tank ratings and resulting complex interactions. This time, almost all the tanks were effectively the same, it was crew quality that made the difference, so I found it easier. Even so, ignorance cost me at times: eg, if I had known my Saggers were so useless and my infantry so vulnerable, I might have had 43 Mech Bn hide behind the objective rather than on top of it.

Beautiful models. Bob is a craftsman and it is a pleasure to play his games and use his armies.


Now let us step back nearly 300 years to the War of the Spanish Succession. Matt reran the scenario we played last August (AAR here). This time I commanded the French left wing. AAR in the photo captions, followed by further reflections.

Initial French set-up before the allies deploy. Essentially: beefy garrisons in each of the three main objectives (fortified villages) and also in the village on the river on the right flank. Massed cavalry on the heights guard the open ground on our right. More cavalry in reserve behind our left wing.

The bourbon fleur-de-lys flutters gaily over Autre-Eglise, whose gallant defenders will soon become gallant attackers to threaten English-held Foulz.

Marshal Villeroi himself stands ready to hurl his cavalry reserve forward to support the attack on Foulz.

The allied dispositions are revealed, presaging determined and repeated assaults on Ramillies itself (lower left), with cavalry in support to push back our right wing.

How it ended up. Red labels are allies, pale labels are Franco-Bavarian. Left of pic, early high dice for my defenders' fire soon stymied any thought Matt had of taking Autre-Eglise. This encouraged Mark and me to commit reserves and push towards Foulz. However, the marshy valley and some deadly British volleys in return stalled us. Top left can be seen two British cavalry units who must have been commanded by the Duke of York, as all they did all battle was march slowly and with frequent halts to and fro along the Foulz ridge. Right centre: Ramillies fell to the fourth British assault, I think. Mark mounted a couple of counter-attacks but couldn't retake it. However, he did hang onto Taviers, and although his cavalry were pushed back they prevented the allied horse from breaking through to the road exit objective in our rear. Thus, the allies barely scraped a draw.


Linear warfare! With Matt's rule mods, this is a very different game. It becomes crucially important to plan a couple of moves ahead and ensure your troops are pointing in the right direction from the start. It definitely feels as though it captures the essence of 18th-century warfare. It certainly had us all pretending to have powdered our wigs and starched our lace so we could bow and flourish appropriately before inviting our opponents to fire first.

What to do with cavalry? I demonstrated again that I am a light infantryman at heart and should not be trusted with horse. (Just self-deprecating for effect - maybe I could have done better with them but I didn't do anything disastrous either.)

The fun factor of special units. In amongst all the regular field and light artillery, Matt mixed in a couple of units of siege guns and mortars with special capabilities. Siege guns rated Devastating but had to reload (miss a shot) after every shot; mortars negated one column shift for cover. Players had fun firing with these and trying to nullify them.

Beautiful models (again) - just a feast for the eyes.