Friday 10 November 2023

Twice in one night! Spicheren revisited

This report is written in some haste, partly because I'm busy, partly because this is a report of a game several weeks ago that I've only just got round to writing up. Please forgive the resulting brevity. Maybe that's a virtue.

Spicheren was one of the small curtain-raiser actions in the first days of the Franco-Prussian War. It shows off the contrasting vices and virtues of the two sides: French passivity and Chassepot rifles pitted against energetic but unsubtle German command and Krupp guns. I last visited this scenario when I first wrote it in 2015 as reported here. Crispin rolled it out last month on one of his famous battlemats.

It's a small game - 7 units a side, 8 turns - with an option to play an even smaller version on 4'x4' with even fewer units that lasts only 6 turns. We were able to play the game twice in three hours at on a Monday night at OWS. Six annotated photos below tell the story of the first game. Some reflections after.

Frog's-eye view of the battlefield, i.e., looking northeast from Forbach (bottom centre) through the Sophie glassworks and Stiring Wendel (the two BUAs on the railway, left centre) towards where the Germans are debouching through Saarbrücken. Spicheren village is the red roof furthest towards the upper right.

German 5th and 14th Divisions on the march through Saarbrücken. Note the brown-chalked hills south of the town. This is where the German artillery will be set up as a massed battery.

French defenders await on the Rotherberg. Red marker behind them belongs to a half-strength mitrailleuse unit. White counter denotes an Objective.

We Germans were too scared of French firepower to march straight up the Rotherberg. We opted for a pincer movement. Half our force hooked left through the Pfaffen woods to even things up between Chassepot and needlegun. This photo shows the right hook running into French resistance north of Stiring Wendel. A firefight breaks out across the pond.

Now the left hook develops into an enveloping attack on the Rotherberg. By now the massed battery has done great execution, obliterating a French brigade. We like these odds better. Snake-eyed dice top left betray the French cavalry's reluctance to tangle with Prussian hussars who are on a wide sweep around the French right. 

Germans seize Forbach unopposed. Victory! The scenario provides for the German 26th Brigade to arrive mid-game from the west and attack Stiring Wendel (as it did historically) or to arrive even later from the southwest to threaten the French supply depot at Forbach (a concern that hamstrung the French command on the day). In our game, the French gambled, left Forbach undefended, and paid the price. 


Short and sweet. With four players, this game romped along so swiftly that we were able to change hats and play it again. In years gone by, I've played too many games that were left unsatisfactorily unfinished (see my Reflections essay on "Who cares if we don't finish the game?"). Hence BBB where we virtually always get a result in an evening. On this occasion we managed two.

Replay value. As one of the joys of historical scenarios is to replay them and explore different plans, it was a bonus to be able to fight this twice in quick succession. I think in game two the French deployed further right to cover better against the German left hook from the first game; the Germans responded by pushing more strongly in the centre. Different plans, different games, similar end result (emphatic French defeat).

Victory conditions. The French were so soundly beaten that we wondered if the scenario was skewed. Another club had recently reported playing this so I consulted them. In their go, the Germans actually got trounced! But apparently this was down to new players testing the rules (and their German army) to destruction. I do think BBB is less forgiving of novice errors by attackers than by defenders. Anyway, the collective playtests indicated I just needed to up the German victory targets by one extra Objective. Updated version of the scenario is now available from the BBB files here.