Monday 11 March 2024

BBB = busy, busy, busy!

It's been a wonderfully busy few weeks in BBB world. Lots to tell you about, so this post will try to summarize it all briefly. In short: the Bash Day convention in May; forthcoming BBB scenario books; and recent games set in diverse conflicts ranging from Egypt in 1801 via Spain in 1813, the American Civil War, WWI in Africa, to WWII in East Africa - all using BBB!

Bash Day is approaching!

The next Bloody Big Battles convention, Bash Day V, will be held on Sunday 19 May at Battlefield Hobbies, Daventry. See full details in the previous BBBBlog post here.

New BBB scenario books

The next BBB scenario book will be "Napoleon's Bloody Big Battles!" (NBBB). See here for the table of contents. NBBB is with the publisher now. Can't tell you a publication date but hopefully soon.

In an advanced stage of playtesting is "Bloody Big Battles in Africa!" (BBBA). A nice companion to Mark Smith's excellent "Bloody Big Battles in India!" (BBBI), this will be a collaboration between Mark and Anton van Dellen. About half of it will be Anton's fine scenarios for the 2nd Boer War; the French campaign in Egypt (1798-1801) will also feature; the rest will be assorted major colonial battles in Africa such as Omdurman, Khartoum, Adowa, etc.

Further down the track: probably a Napoleonic volume of Peninsular War scenarios; then a magnum opus of American Civil War battles.

The rest of this post is five very brief summaries of recent games.

Alexandria (Egypt 1801)

One of Mark's scenarios for the Africa collection. (See "Colin the Wargamer" blog for nice full reports of the two preceding battles, Aboukir and Mandara.)

French assault columns march on from bottom of pic. British march columns are arriving from top of pic to form a line between the Roman ruins (centre left) along the central ridge to the redoubts on the Alexandria canal. British warships will sail the sea top left while their gunboats ply the bay top right.

This produced an absolute ding-dong scrap. The French converged on the centre/right of the British line at the righthand end of the ridge and made a big dent in it. The British second line arrived, hurled our impudent columns back, then pressed its advantage. The British right marched across to attack our left flank as well. Despite heavy losses, the French veterans rallied to the assault once more, their cavalry to the fore. French left and British right fought themselves to mutual exhaustion. In the centre, a last desperate charge forced the British defenders off the vital high ground and they could not muster the strength to contest it. All jolly exciting!

The best reason for doing the French campaign in Egypt: camels! The French dromedary corps, which spent the game skirmishing in the dry lakebed on the right to threaten the supplies in the British camp.

Vitoria (1813)

This clash, the biggest battle of the Peninsular War, is a tricky battle to design a scenario for. I wrote one for Sam Mustafa's Grande Armée rules about 20 years ago and it wasn't a great success. The problem was I made it too easy for the French to concentrate against the separate Allied columns and defeat them in detail. Mark's BBB scenario doesn't make that mistake and produced a tense and close game.

I had command of Hill's column, seen here arriving from the southwest. Gazan's men await around Subijana, astride the road that is the French axis of retreat.

More British arrive on the left of Hill's vanguard. The other major British columns arrive beyond the top left corner of pic. It took us a long time for those to force their way across the river and menace the French line of retreat. Hill's force did largely destroy the French rearguard in front of it, but we weren't quite able to defeat the French quickly enough to claim a victory in game terms. Splendid good fun regardless of the result.

Champion Hill (1863)

The largest battle of Grant's Vicksburg campaign in the American Civil War. His victory here resulted in Pemberton's Confederate Army of Mississippi being bottled up in Vicksburg, where it surrendered a couple of months later.

Another of Crispin's growing collection of custom battlemats, making it super-easy to roll out a game at the club on a Monday night. The game started with Rebs trying to hold Champion Hill (top left) to cover the main road that runs to bottom edge of pic. White counters indicate objective locations (the hill, the bridge, the road exit). More Rebs screen the other road exit lower right; more Union come on from top edge to drive the Confederates back. In our game, the Union took the hill and the bridge but could not get any troops off at either road exit. However, the Confederates suffered so many casualties in preventing the Union pursuit that it was a Union victory.

Otavi (1915)

Anton treated us to something very different - a Bloody Small Battle, still using BBB (with minor mods), set in German Southwest Africa (modern-day Namibia) in WWI. Perhaps 3,000 German Schutztruppen were attempting to fend off or, failing that, evade considerably more South African troops (mainly mounted infantry).

An austere, arid battlefield, looking north. Ignore the troops on the left - these have just got out of the box and are not yet deployed. Half the South African forces arrive from the bottom edge. The rest arrive in two flanking columns from the top corners halfway through the game. The Germans start with a third of their force in a screening position at Otavi (centre left), the rest around Tsumeh (top centre).

This was an unusual game in that the defender had three distinctly different ways to try to win the game. One was by holding Otavi. (This was important because the South Africans had marched a long way from any other source of water. If they failed to capture it by end of Turn 4, a significant part of their force would have to turn back.) Another was by holding Tsumeh. (They could entrench there and hope to hold on against South Africans at the end of long supply lines.) A third was by escaping off the top edge (an option they could not resort to until the last two turns of the game when they realised they risked being trapped).

We effectively played this two and a half times. First game was a really close draw. SA tried an enveloping move, infantry taking Otavi while cavalry raced up the right to attack Tsumeh. The Germans fed a unit forward to reinforce Otavi, which proved enough to prevent it falling until T5. The thus reduced SA just about managed to wipe out the Germans at the end but could not quite take the last objective in time to win.

Second game, the Germans got crushed. SA concentrated on Otavi from the start and rolled lethal dice. Germans in Tsumeh then opted to bolt off the north edge but were stymied by dire movement dice. Easy SA win.

Third game, we just experimented with how it would go if the Germans simply committed to escape from the start (albeit still not allowed to leave before T7). The arrival of the flanking columns still made it really difficult and they didn't quite get enough troops off to claim a German win.

Really interesting scenario geometry which posed tricky problems for both sides and could be replayed again and again and turn out in multiple different ways. Anton really has a gift for scenario design.

Gallabat-Metemma (1940)

Crispin's turn to get creative and write an unusual scenario for us. This time it was set in East Africa in WWII. Historically, a tiny Italian incursion from Eritrea into the Sudan provoked a counterattack by a mostly Indian brigade under the man who would later become famous as commander of the 'Forgotten Fourteenth' Army in Burma: Bill Slim.

View from behind my command: the 10th Baluchi battalion (the three companies lower left of pic). Top left is the town of Metemma, with Gallabat village and fort next to it across the river that is the border between Eritrea and Sudan. Difficult country to manoeuvre across, with big patches of boulder-strewn elephant grass in between the steep hills. Disturbed patches of pinkish soil centre of pic betray the presence of an Italian minefield. Three Italian battalions have yet to be deployed in the fort and BUAs. 3rd Bn Royal Garwhal Rifles is astride the road, followed by our mighty armoured fist (a dozen A9s and Mk VIs), covered by 28 FRRA's 18-pdrs. A third battalion (1st Essex) will arrive from the lower right, as will the 4.5" howitzers of 7/66 RA.

Crispin had been inspired by a magazine article to create these armies and terrain specially. He obviously had to come up with a couple of rule mods to accommodate tanks, minefields and bombers (both sides launched air strikes). These worked fine and most of the tanks were taken out by mines and boulders in a very historical manner. Our attack with three battalions against an equal-sized force that was dug-in had as tough a job as you'd expect. Our artillery advantage and superior quality helped to even things. We managed to get into Gallabat village. Given more time, we might have defeated the Italians, but when the turn limit ran out we had not taken enough objectives to avoid defeat in game terms.

It was an entertaining game that did a good job of recreating the action and had a distinctive flavour. Rule mods and victory conditions will no doubt be tweaked but were pretty close for a first playtest. This and the four very different games above demonstrate how a single ruleset can serve to recreate a huge range of wars and give us a different flavour of fun every week - no wonder BBB has established itself as our regular fare for the last 15 years!

Thursday 7 March 2024

BBB Bash Day V, Daventry, Sunday 19 May 2024

The Bloody Big Battles Bash Day has established itself as a highly entertaining wargames convention for veterans and new recruits alike. Come to Bash Day V at Battlefield Hobbies in Daventry on Sunday 19 May and find out for yourself!

There is no need to know the rules, just dive in and enjoy the historical battles on offer. While BBB games have clear objectives and victory conditions, this is not a tournament but an opportunity to discover history, banter with like-minded souls, and revel in the (mis)fortunes of war. BBB is easy to pick up and the games will be multi-player, so you will have experienced gamemasters and fellow players to assist you.  The rules won't get in the way of your tactics!

There will be time for you to play at least two in the day, maybe even three, and discover how a single ruleset opens up so many different gaming possibilities. Games available will probably include, among others:

Napoleonic: Hanau. (From the forthcoming book of scenarios for the Emperor Napoleon's battles.) BBB lets you fight even the hugest, such as Borodino or Bautzen, in just 3 or 4 hours. Feel the thrill as you shift whole corps from sector to sector and enjoy the ebb and flow as titanic armies slug it out!

Sikh Wars: Mudki. Still Napoleonic weaponry but with a very different flavour. The asymmetric nature of these battles - small but high-quality British and EIC forces against less well-trained but more numerous opponents with lots of cavalry - produces truly fascinating tactical challenges!

Crimean War: The Alma and Balaclava. Famous battles recreated as two gorgeous games by Matt Bradley. A rare chance to see his outstanding work in the flesh, as displayed on his 'Pushing Tin' blog.

(possibly) 2nd Italian War of Independence: Montebello (1859). Small 'training game', tremendous fun, pitting ponderous raw passive Austrians against outnumbered but aggressive French in a clever tactical puzzle.

(possibly) Austro-Prussian War: Langensalza (1866). Another fun tactical puzzle / training game, this time with Prussians fighting a delaying action against the Hanoverian army.

American Civil War: Brandy Station, the largest cavalry battle of the ACW. Tons of movement and action all over the pitch!

Franco-Prussian War: we will have not just one but two FPW games.  From the Imperial phase of the war, Mars-la-Tour, as Bazaine's army tries to escape west from Metz while the Germans rush up to cut him off. Play outnumbered, beleaguered Germans or passive, indecisive French! Then the republican phase will be represented by Champigny / Villiers, the largest French sortie from besieged Paris - featuring forts, gunboats and railway guns!

Zulu War: Isandlwana! A battle that needs little introduction. This game shows off Bruce's gorgeous 28mm figures and went down a storm as a participation game at Colours last year!

Spion Kop (2nd Boer War). Another famous battle brought to life on the tabletop. Can the outnumbered Boers hold off the imperial juggernaut?

Details of venue, timings, etc:

When: Sunday 19 May. 09:00-17:00 (games start ~09:30+). Whenever you turn up and however short or long a stay you can manage, we will do our best to fit you in.

Where: Battlefield Hobbies, South March, Daventry, Northants NN11 4PH.

How: turn up on the day, or (better) sign up in advance via the Battlefield Hobbies website (tab through the Events list to May) and pay £7. Spaces are limited and half have gone already (per 7 March). Book early to improve your chances of playing your preferred games.

Who: to express interest or ask questions, contact us at bbb.bashday @ .

Read about previous Bash Days to get the flavour here.

Monday 12 February 2024

The Race for Thrace: Kirkkilise (1912)

Battle #2 in our Balkan Wars campaign is Kirkkilise. In #1, Sarantaporo, we saw the Greeks attack the Ottomans on the southern front in an attempt to reach Thessaloniki ahead of the Bulgarian army coming from the north. Now we visit the eastern front, where the Bulgarians were attacking into eastern Thracia (that corner of Europe that is still part of modern Turkey).

No fewer than nine of us convened in my war room - fortunately the rest of the guys couldn't make it! Luckily, the scenario lends itself reasonably well to four a side, since it starts with nearly all the forces on both sides deployed on-table on a broad front. A very broad front, in fact: the battlefield is 60km across (one 12" grid square = 10x10km), with ~150,000-200,000 men a side engaged.

Plan A

This shows the entire battlefield. The Ottoman army is in the southern half of the table (top half of pic). Its left flank rests on the extensive and well-armed Entrenchments around Adrianople, the right on the somewhat weaker fortifications around Kirkkilise. The Bulgarians have a significant quality advantage (about half the Ottomans being raw, fragile Redif reserve units), but they have to attack against well dug-in defenders. I have called this pic 'Plan A' because we managed two goes at the game. Red and white counters are objective markers. In the first attempt, Dave T, Bob, Mike and John tried to focus on taking Kirkkilise, with a secondary attack to secure the two villages on their right, hoping then to wheel right from Kirkkilise and roll up the Ottoman centre.

In executing this plan, they discovered just how hideous 1912 firepower was against 19th-century formations and tactics. From the comfort of their fortifications, solid lines of Ottoman riflemen and guns were able to concentrate their fire and blow away the Bulgarians as they came forward in a rather piecemeal fashion. The Bulgarian guards arrived as reinforcements from the bottom right corner and fought their way forward far enough to attempt a bayonet charge against the defenders of Adrianople, but this stalled under withering fire. Credit to the plucky Bulgarian players, they persevered for another turn, but it was clear that they were bound to lose.

We therefore reset the table and the teams swapped sides. With the advantage of having seen Plan A fail, Anton, Crispin, Phil and Bruce changed headgear and took up the challenge of commanding the Bulgarians.

Plan B

This time, the Bulgarians tried to avoid the fortress artillery, aiming instead for the soft centre: not so many Ottoman guns, little cover for the defenders, and plenty of rubbish redifs to bully. Far from being overawed, the Ottomans responded by pushing forward I & IV Corps to confront the Bulgarian advance. As the battle progressed, III Corps and Shukru Pasha's force also sallied from their entrenchments to capture the objective villages on each flank (representing threats to the Bulgarian line of communications). This was much less one-sided than the first game, as the Bulgarians made the Ottomans pay a much heavier price in terms of casualties. Nevertheless, it still ended in Bulgarian defeat as the Bulgars ran out of steam and troops.

Bulgarian high water mark as the guards assault the entrenchments outside Adrianople. (Bulgarian figures are proxied by my Russo-Turkish War Russians - actually Prussian Napoleonic Landwehr. The Ottomans are Anton's WWI Turkish army, hence the particularly arid bases. He got these painted in 2020, then didn't have a chance to use them for years because of COVID - this was not only the first time they saw action, they'd never even come out of the box they arrived in before.)


Modern weapons change the rules! Most of our BBB games are nineteenth-century battles with muskets or single-shot rifles. The arrival of magazine rifles and plentiful machine-guns makes fire more deadly and manoeuvre consequently more difficult and dangerous. Whole units were swept away much more quickly than we are used to. You can see why by 1915 everyone was soon deeply dug in and bringing up ever more artillery. Illuminating.

Overstretched elastic? This scenario stretches BBB's elastic scale to its limits. That's OK, but I should really have limited ranges to maybe 12" for artillery and 9" for infantry: the guns being able to reach 20km were too much like airpower and it was too easy for defenders to concentrate firepower and kill manoeuvre.

Virtue of replaying scenarios I wrote a whole 'Reflections' essay on the pros and cons of replaying scenarios. As I said there, "if the scenario itself is unbalanced, playing it from both ends evens that out in a way". That was certainly true on this occasion. If we'd just played it once, I think we'd have left feeling a bit flat. Swapping sides meant both teams got to dish it out as well as take it and marvel at how bloody it all was but without feeling unfairly battered.

Importance of the reorg phase The luxury of a Sunday game meant we could then all adjourn to our favourite local curry house for a post-battle social. Good friends, good gaming, good times!

Monday 29 January 2024

FPW - Loire battlefields

The republican phase of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 is full of interest for us wargamers. The republican armies are a fascinating mix of troops: elite corps such as the Foreign Legion, Papal Zouaves, exotic spahis, sailors turned into infantry, a lot of 'régiments de marche' formed from depot units, irregular francs-tireurs, and of course the bulk provided by hastily trained and poorly equipped gardes mobiles. Pitting these against by now very experienced and increasingly tactically skilful German formations makes for excellent asymmetrical match-ups on the wargames table. In particular, I like the Loire campaign and am a great admirer of General Antoine Chanzy, who commanded the French 16th Corps and then the 2nd Army of the Loire and held his force together in considerable adversity. Three of the main battles of the campaign - Loigny, Beaugency and Le Mans - feature as scenarios in the "Bloody Big BATTLES!" rulebook and I have fought all of them, plus the opening action at Coulmiers, several times. Loigny is an especial favourite as it is very mobile and both sides have plenty to do.

However, apart from Le Mans, I had never actually visited the battlefields. Now that has been rectified. Herewith a brief (and in some respects incomplete) report of my battlefield tour and a few photos.

First some general observations. Coulmiers, Loigny and Beaugency were fought on the Beauce, a great agricultural plain. It is very flat and very open: dotted with villages, but few and small woods, and no hedges to break up the extensive vistas. This is handy for wargamers, as it makes the terrain simple to set up ... but it means not many dramatic key points for me to take photos of, just one field looking much like another. There was snow on the ground when we arrived but it had gone by the time we started our tour. This was a pity as I hoped to see the battlefields as they were described by one eyewitness, a chequerboard of white snowy fields and dark patches of villages and copses. 

1. Coulmiers

The Army of the Loire was formed in October 1870. Its main mission was to push north and attempt to relieve the siege of Paris. At the battle of Coulmiers, it pounced on the Bavarian I Korps screening Orléans. The Bavarians were driven back and the French then retook Orléans. (The Coulmiers scenario is a good small 'training game' and is in the BBB group files here. For a report of it being playtested, see here. For an exquisite 2mm game of it, see here.)

I didn't take any pics of where particular actions occurred, nor any general ones of the battlefield, as it just isn't that distinctive. There are two large monuments next to the main road on the northern edge of Coulmiers village.

The French monument

Inscription on the French monument: 'Here, on 9 November 1870, the Army of the Loire under General d'Aurelle de Paladines seized the Coulmiers park [the grounds of a small manor house], the Bavarian forces' last centre of resistance.'

The more modest Bavarian monument in the cemetery.

2. Loigny / Poupry

This was definitely the main event of the tour: the most interesting battlefield with the most to see. (For a full account of the history, see here. For our most recent tabletop outing of the scenario, see here.) There is a museum in Loigny dedicated to it, the Musée de la guerre 1870. Unfortunately it is closed in winter.

In rough outline: the French left advanced, drove back the Bavarians and captured Loigny. The German 17th Division held Lumeau in the centre; 22nd Division came up on the German left at Poupry and held off the French right wing coming through Artenay. The Bavarians retook Loigny and a famous climactic charge by the Papal Zouaves at Loigny was unable to save the day for the French.

This panel on a plinth just south of Loigny sketches out the battle.

A helpful panel on the side of the museum steers visitors to placards at various sites around the western half of the battlefield. These have QR codes on them that should provide more information. Unfortunately the links didn't work for me.

The 'Croix de Sonis', just south of Loigny, is dedicated to Louis-Gaston de Sonis, commander of the French 17th Corps at Loigny. He personally led the final charge and was wounded, subsequently losing his left arm but continuing to serve.

The panel about de Sonis.

View of Loigny from the 'Bois des zouaves' (the Zouaves' Wood) showing the ground the Papal Zouaves charged across. As previously stated: very flat (Loigny is on an almost imperceptible rise), very open.

Panel about the Bois des zouaves.

In the Bois des zouaves is this monument to one of their number, the Comte de Verthamon.

Plaque on the monument.

The only German monument, just north of Loigny. That field was too muddy to get any closer.

Explanation of the history of the German monument. There were two others that no longer exist.

The chateau at Lumeau: a manor house surrounded by walls and very sturdy buildings. This was the German stronghold in the centre.

No photos of Poupry, sorry: a pretty little village with a lot of woods behind it.

3. Beaugency

This was a sprawling battle on a 10-mile front. At its northern end, the Germans fought through the Foret de Marchenoir - a seriously large forest. At the southern end, they fought through the large town of Beaugency. Neither makes for good battlefield photos, while the centre was more flat Beauce country. Hence no pics of Beaugency at all, sorry.

If this seems a bit incomplete and half-baked, apologies. It was sort of impromptu so I wasn't as fully prepared as I might have been and wasn't able to do as detailed a tour as I otherwise might. Also I didn't get to Beaune-la-Rolande (another fun battle to refight) or the area of the 2nd Battle of Orleans (a scenario yet to be written, I think). Still, it was enough to get a feel for the nature of the terrain and a better understanding of the events of that freezing winter of 1870-1871.

Wednesday 17 January 2024

January Gamefest: Sino-Jap, La Haye Sainte, Ligny, Norway 1940

January brought our traditional four-day gamefest: excellent company, splendid wargames, fine victuals, wide-ranging learned conversation - altogether the epitomy of the HQGE. To summarise four days of gaming goodness in brief, we played:

1. Tai'erzhuang (Sino-Japanese War, 1938) in 20mm using homebrewed rules.

2. La Haye Sainte (1815) in 28mm using modified BBB.

3. Ligny (1815) in 15mm using BBB.

4. Roa (Norway, 1940) in 15mm using homebrewed rules.

Here are about 15 annotated pics to give you a tiny glimpse of how much fun we had.

Tai'erzhuang, as visited last January as well. CB's armies are too beautiful not to use at every opportunity and the scenario merits replaying. In the foreground is an incense burner that added to the atmosphere, literally and metaphorically. The AFV right foreground is the fearsome Japanese SS-Ki flamethrower tank.

We played TEZ twice. First time up I was the Chinese mobile force, including Sdkfz222, CV3/33s, PzI and Vickers E, seen here arriving ontable and immediately rueing not spreading out more (the skull shows where Japanese mortars have already caused casualties). The khaki Chinese troops are Mexican federales figures, I believe, complete with goggles on their caps.

Scott joined me with a mighty Chinese motorcycle battalion.
(I think the figures are actually sold as Polish.)

Game 2: La Haye Sainte! Young Charlie's scenario. Basically BBB rules, but a unit is just a couple of battalions, musket range increased to 6" and made a little more deadly. Worked really well. Mark F and I commanded the British line. Looks like Sharpe is in the sandpit.

LHS viewed from the French side. For the scenario, it was divided into two triangular halves that could each hold one unit. CB's columns are about to go in. Special rules for pioneers with axes, obviously.

View of most of the table. I think it was 12'x4'. Five French infantry brigades and associated cavalry versus the Prince of Orange, Picton and Alten, plus heavy cavalry offtable. Looks like a proper traditional wall-to-wall Napoleonic wargame line-out, doesn't it! But there were still decisions to be made and maneuvers to be executed.

Black Watch and Gordon Highlanders. Between them and the French in the distance you can see a blurry thin blue line of Dutch troops. There were three of these Dutch/Belgian units out front. These started the game Disrupted. For their first activations on Turn 1, Mark and I rolled three successive pairs of snake-eyes, meaning all three units lost a stand and retired behind the hedge, the Raw ones becoming Spent immediately. I make that a 46,656-to-1 chance. Our luck improved after that.

The French assault goes in on the hedgeline. Our left centre was soon breached and we took heavy casualties all along the line. My Hanoverian militia evaporated. Only the high quality of the British infantry kept us in the game. We were reeling and creaking until Mark unleashed the Household Cavalry. The French attack had opened a gap between the French units now in La Haye Sainte and those in the centre, where a couple of their units had taken a pounding already. The British heavies smashed into these, broke a square and wiped out another regiment, winning the game for the Allies - just as they did when we fought the whole of Waterloo in 6mm last year.

And so to Game 3: Ligny! This was basically Dave T's scenario from the BBB group files, but adapted by Rob to add some what-ifs (which did not transpire). Rob had put in a lot of work in the weeks before, making sure the troops, terrain and scenario were all ready to go, and it paid off. Here we see Bluecher next to the windmill with the Prussian centre around Ligny. (Proper Ligny church model, top left.)

The whole Ligny battlefield. More Prussians will arrive from lower left and lower right. French march on from the top board edge. Ligny centre of pic, left of my Grosse Batterie that was soon dismantled by the Imperial Guard Artillery. Crippling scenario rules for Prussian low ammo didn't help.

Les français arrivent. We held Ligny for a long time against 3:1 odds and repeated assaults but were eventually ejected by the Imperial Guard. Meanwhile, overlooking the fact that most of the important objectives were in our left rear, I had encouraged CB to commit the Prussian right wing against the French left flank in the irrelevant top right quarter of the battlefield. This left Tim's Prussian left wing of mostly raw Landwehr to be crushed by imperious French cuirassiers. It was a tough fight but we ended up soundly beaten. CB blamed Tim's inexperience. I blame my tactical error of washing down breakfast with Calvados, not to mention elevenses and lunch too. We discussed the merits of tweaking the victory conditions etc, but really they worked fine to give appropriate structure to what was a magnificent game with a properly Napoleonic look and feel.

Anyone remember this WWII skirmish ruleset that Scott and I published over 20 years ago? For our last game (a short morning session before I left), Scott set up Roa. This was the first skirmish scenario he published, set in Norway in 1940. We used his homebrewed rules that he is calling "Arc of Fire 2" but that don't really have much of AoF left - more BBB DNA in there, plus ideas from various other places.

The snowy Roa battlefield. Germans arrive from the left. Norwegians start hidden. They aim to hold the house and/or the hill in the top right corner; the Germans will try to exit troops off the right edge.

The German advance encounters nothing but reindeer initially. Behold the mighty Panzer I! Better than anything the Norwegians have, anyway.

The first ambush is sprung. Snowsuits have their pros and cons:
harder to spot than feldgrau, but they don't half show the blood.

Situation when we had to call it a day: mass combat developing around the bridge and the house objective. Sheep top left are unperturbed and unwilling to leave the little green circles they have nibbled through the snow.

The real weather outside matched the Roa game inside.

So endeth another fantastic January gamefest. Now for a bit of online gaming, followed by a stint of the regular Monday club games, and of course the next Bash Day coming up in May. If you can make it to Daventry on Sunday 19 May, you can be assured of an HQGE of your own!

Monday 1 January 2024

Balkan Wars campaign begins at Sarantaporo

The "Bloody Big Balkan Battles!" scenario book for the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 was published back in 2019. A lot of these battles were fought over very mountainous terrain that takes time to set up, so is not ideal for a club night and better done at home. My war room at home has been out of commission for a while but is back in action now. To inaugurate the refurbished war room, I decided to host the first game in the BBBB book: Sarantaporo (which I playtested in 2017). I took advantage of the Christmas holiday to run it twice for different groups of friends.

The scenario sees a thin Turkish cordon defence in the mountains facing a much larger Greek attacking force. The strategic situation is that the Greeks are racing to reach Thessaloniki (some distance offtable) from the southwest before the Bulgarians can get there from the north. Victory therefore depends on how long the Turks can delay the Greeks before being inevitably overwhelmed.

Fourteen annotated photos tell the tale, followed by some reflections at the end.

Plan view looking north from the Greek side of the table. The wavy green line marking off the SE quarter is a steep slope between the flat and open river valley (Level 0, good going) and the rest of the table that is all difficult terrain and Level 1 or higher. The 'polystyrene jigsaw' hills are Levels 2 and 3. Those crested with pale lichen are impassable peaks. (For an essay on various ways to represent complex hilly terrain, see here.) At lower left edge is the fort at Lazarat, guarding a pass. The town of Sarantaporo is the church next to the road, upper centre. Red counters mark the five objectives (you can't see the one at Mikrovalto, halfway up the westernmost road, because the Turkish cavalry are sitting on it). Greeks have to take three of these to draw and four to win. Most of the Greek army starts massed in the SE corner but a couple of divisions, cavalry and evzones are along the western half of the southern edge.

View from the Greek SE corner towards Sarantaporo and the Skopia-Vigli hilltop objective. You can see roughly four of the Greeks' six divisions here (three 3-base regiments to a division; some little 2-base Evzone units). Blue counters are temporary to indicate Greek deployment areas. Ben and Luke modified this deployment before the game started and established a grand battery of 80+ guns along the stream and to the left of it.

The defenders of Sarantaporo. (6mm figures by Irregular Miniatures, painted and donated by Dave W.) Most of the Turkish force is raw, fragile Redifs (hastily conscripted reserves), as indicated by the absence of flags. All my Turks are in anachronistic 1877 uniforms rather than 1912 khaki. Never mind, red fezzes look pretty.

The Greeks retaliate with some red hats of their own: two bases of elite Evzone mountain troops (right of pic) prepare to advance alongside a couple of regiments of line infantry. (Evzone figures are actually French chasseurs alpins; line inf are British WWI.)

The Turkish strongpoint on Skopia-Vigli. These two regiments are veteran Nizam regulars (hence get flags). The one in the foreground has been given VIII Corps's entire company of nine machine-guns, giving it the Devastating Volleys attribute. The hilltop regiment has the advantage of a Skirmisher base. Entrenchments and sandbag emplacement are from Irregular Miniatures. The hilltop itself is carved from ammunition packing for added authenticity.

Luke, Ben and John M opted for a three-pronged attack. On the left, John pressed up the Lazarat pass and over the high ground either side of it. Luke and Ben avoided the Turkish 'killsack' in front of Sarantaporo and Skopia Vigli, Luke marching wide around the right. This pic shows Ben's central force working its way towards Sarantaporo from the south and pushing through the mountains west of it. Meanwhile, the Greek grand battery takes fearsome toll of the Turkish redifs who are soon spent and disrupted (black and white smoke markers).

Endgame on the right. The Greeks have taken Mikrovalto, Livadero and Sarantaporo, securing a draw. Can they take either Polirabo or Skopia-Vigli for the win? Luke's right hook approaches Skopia-Vigli - but the mountainous terrain has delayed him too much and he runs out of time. Dave T's defenders stand firm in the Turkish centre!

Ben's regiments storm forward through Sarantaporo, but they can't reach Skopia-Vigli in time either. And on the left ...

Mark S's Turkish reserves arrived in time to garrison the vital road junction at Polirabo. John's infantry can't quite get there. Only Soutsos's cavalry brigade can reach it. Sabres drawn, they charge into the teeth of Turkish Mauser fire - which fails to stop them! They rout the first redif regiment, exploit onward and drive out the second regiment as well. Victory to Greece! The Bulgarians shall not have Thessaloniki!

Game 2 saw me and Bob command the Greeks against Crispin's Turks. This shot shows most of my force on the Greek left and centre (cavalry and some more inf out of shot to the left), ready to advance on Livadero (red objective marker).

I didn't tell Bob how the previous game went, but he too opted for a grand battery in the centre and a right hook to avoid the 'killsack' of combined Turkish artillery, skirmisher and MG fire.

However, he soon realised that the difficult terrain would make it hard for a wide right hook to arrive in time, so he changed his plan and converged into the killsack after all. The grand battery had done much execution by now, as had the Greek infantry's rifle fire (seen here wreathed in brown smoke showing they are Low on Ammo after a high firing roll), so the weakened defensive fire was not able to stop the Greek advance.

Still, the combination of defensive fire and difficult terrain meant that only two Greek regiments were able to assault Skopia-Vigli on the last turn. Turkish fire repelled this desperate assault. As in the previous game, it all came down to what happened at Polirabo ...

... again the Greek cavalry charged, this time in support of an infantry assault with the bayonet. However, I had not been able to suppress the defenders beforehand, so their fire was effective - our charge was repelled and the Turks hung on to Polirabo. Match drawn!


Too tough for the Turks? While a draw is very achievable, we found it hard to see how the Turks could win. Perhaps if the Greeks neglect to set up a grand battery initially and try to rumble their guns forward? But bar some such major error, it would be nigh impossible for the Turks to hold three objectives. Maybe they should be rewarded if, say, 4 of their 9 inf and cav units survive on-table at game end (as Crispin managed against me and Bob, a game that felt like a defeat to us even though technically it was a draw).

Variable objectives? Crispin suggested variable objectives are a good thing, not necessarily just here but in general. In particular, my scenarios for Gettysburg and Königgrätz both have variable objectives that are not determined until after deployment (and in the Gettysburg case, after the first day of battle). This is good for replay value and also for producing some fog of war, obliging players to plan for uncertainty. Maybe I'll try to do more of that in future.

The battlefield shapes the battle. Everyone remarked on the huge influence of the difficult mountainous terrain, not just in slowing movement, but also in breaking lines of sight and creating shadows below steep slopes. Thus it both hindered and helped maneuver. Crispin said that one of his biggest pleasures from our BBB games is the terrain: the complexities and idiosyncrasies of realistic battlefields generate rich tactical decisions and make each game a different and unique tactical challenge.

Free deployment vs strict historical. Following on from the point about terrain generating decisions, we talked about deployment decisions. Sometimes scenario writers allow very free deployment - any troops anywhere within a broad deployment area. Others are very prescriptive and stipulate that every unit must start exactly where it did on the day of the battle. Perhaps the ideal is somewhere in between: some historical restrictions about which corps can be in which sector, but a fair amount of latitude about how the forces in each sector can deploy. That gives players some interesting choices at the start of the game and also increases the replay value by allowing more variety of plans.

Game-themed refreshments! As it was Greeks vs Turks, what else could I do but offer my guests a large tray of tasty baklava (as if any of us needed that sugar rush on top of the stimulation of an exciting BBB battle!).

Bloody Big Balkan Battles! is available in both print and PDF from Brigade Games.