Monday 14 December 2015

Bloody Big Battles! - some thoughts reconsidered

When I first tried these rules I misunderstood the movement table which marred the game and skewed my review. I'm yet to retry them, but having realised the error of my ways it was only fair to withdraw the original review and rewrite it.

I've had a long-term, if largely unrealised, interest in the Continental wars of the 19thC and wargaming them at grand tactical level. The interest was originally stimulated  by Phil Barker's forever draft of Horse, Foot & Guns. I joined the Continental Wars Society, collected a load of books on 19thC warfare, collaborated in a couple of other rule-writing projects, and bought some Pendraken 10mm figures for the Franco-Austrian War of 1859. But no wargamer fulfils all their dreams and the project was relegated to the back-burner.

My interest then took another turn with Martin Rapier's Rifle & Kepi rules and the ceramic blocks I used for Solferino. I like this game and would have played it more often, but it requires quite a bit of work to research the OOBs, produce a hex map and decide on the starting positions. I also subsequently bought a copy of the Franco-Prussian War rules To The Last Gaiter Button (Realistic Modelling Services) which uses a Square Bashing style square grid, but they also languished in the drawer unplayed.

For one reason or another (other projects, lack of time) I've never taken the plunge, but I'm always on the lookout, and back in March of this year I bought a copy of Chris Pringle's Bloody Big Battles! and joined the particularly vibrant BBB Yahoo Group. But once again things slid and it was not till the Reading Warfare show in November that I finally encountered a BBB game. To be precise, I didn't actually see the game being played, but I did see it being packed up and I was extremely impressed by the busyness of the terrain and the superb scratch-built buildings. I do like games with a landscape so vast that you feel you could get lost in it. It seems to take away that edge of the table feeling.

Anyway it was enough to send me digging out the rules. BBB was years in the making and is a serious undertaking. Although it can be played as a points-costed pick-up game, it was essentially developed for large historical scenarios with set OOBs, arrival times and detailed maps, all reminiscent of Fire & Fury. The scenarios provided in the rules, the Bloody Big European Battles! scenario book, and via the Yahoo Group represent a huge amount of research by Chris and his collaborators.

Each 1" square base represents 1000-1500 men, and these are grouped in divisions or brigades which are the tactical units. The groundscale is 1” to 150-250 yards. Small arms ranges are greater than you'd expect as the bases represent a centre of gravity for each unit which is assumed to throw out skirmishers etc.

The rules are simpler than they look, and are essentially confined to the basics of movement, shooting and assaults in order to support large games without unnecessary detail. Terrain - so important in determining the course of real battles - is extensively covered.

It is obvious from the scenario contour maps that creating detailed, accurate terrain is both fundamental and a real challenge. Various options are discussed on Chris's BBB blog, but it set me thinking about modular approaches that would combine reasonable accuracy with potential reuse.

My mistake in playing the game related to the all-important movement table which also covers morale. The table omits mention that Disrupted units automatically rally if they achieve a full or half move. It's clearly stated in the text beneath the table, but in this age of skim reading I missed it. Failing to understand the true probabilities of 2D6, I also had the impression that movement easily stalled. I now know that the actual chance of a unit under command stalling is only 1 in 12.

The fundamental mistake about rallying, coupled with lack of experience, lead to an unrewarding game in which we seemed to throw a lot of dice without decisive effect. Having sorted out these issues I can't wait to play the game again, but that won't be till after Yule. I will be reporting on that game and, hopefully, many others, as I am very keen to pursue BBB in the coming year.

BBB Yahoo Group
Bloody Big BATTLES Blog


  1. I'd suggest that you also have a look at Bruce Weigle's Grand Tactical Rules that cover the 1859 campaign as well as the 2nd Schleswig-Holstein War. Plenty of information contained therein in a simialr vein the BBB, but the maps are a bit more detailed as are the OOB. Quite easy to convert as well.

    I've ordered Mike Embree's book that covers the campaign in the North of Italy for 1859. I'm eagerly awaiting it but knowing Mike, it should be a great read.

    Looking forward to more reviews of BBB and some AARs.

    1. Hi Steve

      Thanks for your fast response!

      I have the Weigle books which are magnificent, but I felt his approach was a little too detailed for my time and tastes.

  2. They are great books aren't they? Plus Bruce is a true gentlemen, having met him at Colours a few years ago along with Mike Embree. Not all Americans are loud and brash! I know what you mean re: too detailed. Bruce did in fact comment on BBB earlier this year and how it is much more playable than his rules. I beilieve his next set, 1871, will be more streamlined a la BBB. I plan on using his scenarios and OOB once I've become more familiar with BBB. Let's hope you can find an opponent soon.