Friday 18 March 2016

Bloody Big Battles! - Spicheren

Spicheren (6 August 1870) was a Franco-Prussian War battle which compelled the French to withdraw to the defences of Metz. In the Bloody Big Battles! refight we rolled dice for the privilege of choosing sides. I won the roll and chose the hasty and aggressive Prussians whilst my friend Ian commanded the defensive and well-armed French.

The game was fought over a 6' x 4' table using Hexon tiles to create the terrain. That involved some simplification of the contour lines, but none significant IMO. The river, roads, railway (black), towns, villages and ponds were fashioned from felt. Buildings were from a wooden toy village set. The bridge was resin. Matchsticks at the edges of the hexes were used to indicate steep slopes. Hexes that contain tree models or lichen (not enough trees) were wooded.


The Prussians (blue) were mostly off-table at the beginning. The main Prussian force came over the river in the north-west. The French (red) were somewhat spread out. A subsidiary Prussian force threatens to enter further to the south at Schoeneck or on the southern edge. The five white counters denote the objectives. The French must be prepared to defend the southern objectives as well as fending off the main Prussian force.

Turn 1

My leading unit (the 27th Brigade) had deployed as close as possible to the  French and attempted to assault straight away, but it was stopped in its tracks by defensive fire and was disordered. This pretty well set the pattern for the initial turns.

I was confident that I could overwhelm the isolated French units in the north by pinning them frontally and turning their right flank. However, despite their strategic passivity and lack of good generals, a series of very exceptional movement rolls allowed the French to bound forward.

End of Turn 1. The French are moving into good defensive positions before the Prussians are fully on the table. A precipitous Prussian assault has been beaten off.

Turn 2

The French begin to create a strong and continuous line on the edge of the steep and mostly wooded slope that runs north-south. This position provided cover, impeded any assaults and gave the French a clear field of fire over the open approaches. It represented the ultimate achievement of the French tactical doctrine of obtaining a "position magnifique".

End of Turn 2. The village just behind the French line is Spicheren.

Turn 3

By moving another unit to complete an 'L shape', my advance was not only boxed-in but dangerously enfiladed. The leading Prussian units were decimated. This was going to be a costly day.
End of Turn 3

Turn 4

I continuously attempted to assault the French line but by the end of Turn 4 the Prussian units in the north were suffering variously from being spent, disordered and low on ammunition. The situation looked grim!

Under the scenario rules, the Prussian reinforcements can enter from the west on turn 4 or delay their arrival to turn 6 and enter from the south. I decided to enter on turn 4. Had I delayed things I might have been able to stretch the French a little further.

End of Turn 4. The Prussian reinforcements have entered at Schoeneck and are making for the objective of Stiring Wendel defended by the southern-most French infantry unit.

Turn 5

Despite my difficulties, this was no time to stand around. I pressed home the attack and by coordinating it I prevented the French from concentrating their fire. By sheer weight of numbers I finally burst through the centre of the French defensive line.
The French are thrown back and I occupy their position, taking my first objective - the Rotherberg. That should form a little spur (see map) but is simplified in my terrain without any particular significance at this scale.
My southern force, meanwhile, attacks the objective of Stiring Wendel. The French are thrown out. I now hold two objectives - a draw under the scenario conditions.
 Stiring Wendel after the French expulsion. (The 'squiggly' red label represents French limbered artillery - I have since improved the design by adding a different artillery symbol to the reverse of the tablets. I can now flip them over to denote limbered/unlimbered.)
But the French counter-attack and I lose Stiring Wendel...

A combination of French infantry and cavalry destroy the Prussian victors.
The French also counter-attack in the north but they are not so lucky...

The French counter-attack but the odds are not in their favour.
It's difficult to find much use for cavalry in this period but I sent my single cavalry unit on a wide outflanking march which obliged the French to divert two artillery units to protect their rear. 

Prussian cavalry creep round the northern flank behind the cover of the woods.
By the end of Turn 5 the Prussians had lost 11 bases to the French 3.

End of Turn 5. The Prussian breakthrough can be clearly seen.

Turn 6

Prussian cavalry attack the French rear.
Emulating the Charge of the Light Brigade, the cavalry attacked the half-strength French artillery protecting their rear. The artillery should have counted as only one base which would have given me this combat. As it was, my cavalry bounced and were subsequently destroyed.

End of Turn 6

Turn 7

By the end of Turn 7 the French centre is weak and open. We are waiting for Turn 8. It's do-or-die for both sides. By this time the French player is complaining bitterly about low dice rolls. C'est la guerre.

End of Turn 7

Turn 8

In the final turn of the 8-turn game I had another go at taking Stiring Wendel but was thrown back. 

Second Prussian attack on Stiring Wendel
Meanwhile, the Prussian 10th Brigade (Schwerin) pushes forward towards Spicheren.

The victorious 10th Brigade now exploits towards the two limbered French artillery units (squiggly blue and red tablets) and in so doing is able to clip the outskirts of Spicheren and claim another objective. 
If my clipping exploitation move counted as taking the objective, I had secured two objectives and just scraped a draw. My opponent was reluctant to accept this! In this last turn, everything had hinged on two decisive dice throws. If I had won both I would have won the game.  If I had lost both I would have lost the game.

End of Turn 8 - end of game.
The casualties were tremendous. The French lost 12.5 bases, the Prussians 22. We completed the game in about 5 hours. This was our first full-sized game of BBB and the first we've fought to a proper conclusion. It was a memorable struggle and a very close run thing.

I always find that these grand-tactical games representing the great narratives of military history have an epic quality. Our next game will be an American Civil War one so that we can see how the rules play out at the early end of the technological spectrum. By now we have gained a reasonably good grasp of the rules and are enjoying them.


  1. An excellent game overall, although the single dice roll for close assaults can be a bit brutal. This game goes to prove that Germans will try and claim any sort of victory on the flimsiest evidence!

    1. Hi Ian

      Thanks for your comments - I'm glad you enjoyed the game.

      Resolution of assaults does seem to contrast with the 2D6 bell curve mechanism used for movement and firing, but I don't have the mathematical skills to compare the relative chance elements.

      Once I realised that all wargames are really games of chance disguised by narratives, I began to sleep more easily. But I only publicly admit that when I lose.

      As to the Prussian victory, those who win (or blog) control history!


    2. Hi Richard,

      Really nice layout and report. Great that you're enjoying BBB.

      The Assault is still resolved on a 2D6 bell curve, you're just rolling 1D6 each.

      (At risk of alienating Ian - it does look to me as if you could Exploit so as to get a base into Spicheren, claim the Objective and salvage a draw!)

      Bloody Big BATTLES!

    3. Chris

      Thanks very much for your comments.

      I said my mathematical skills weren't up to much. Now it seems I don't even realise when one plus one equals two!!! So in this case, instead of adding 2D6 and reading off a chart, 2D6 are being opposed. Having put the results into a matrix I see that the chance of ending up with a difference of 5 is only 2/36 and the most likely outcomes are going to be 0, 1, 2 etc in that order. With two otherwise matched forces the most likely result is going to be just a retire move. We always tend to question the dice when they go against us, but once again the underlying mechanics of BBB are proved to be rock solid!

      Looking closely at the photos, I think my final Exploit move could have been angled a little more to the right which would have made my occupation of Spicheren a little less ambiguous though no less disappointing for Ian!


  2. Doctor Phalanx,

    I do like the very effective use of Hexon II terrain system, the simple wooden buildings, and block armies. It gives the impression of being a huge battle being fought over a large battlefield far better than most figures game can.

    Very inspiring!

    All the best,


    1. Hi Bob

      Thanks for your kind comments.

      The blocks are great and so completely versatile, but little lead figures are calling me too. I've been thinking long and hard about figure scales. In order to keep that big battle feeling I think you need to go as small as possible. 2 mm are just too small to be distinguishable. 3 mm would work but don't yet have the ranges. That leaves 6 mm where the ranges are available and 10 mm for the rest.


  3. Looks very good!Glad you are liking the rules!

    1. I've wanted to do a 19thC grand-tactical game for a very long time. 'Horse, Foot and Guns' was incomprehensible and still not finished. Bruce Weigle's rules were magnificent but just too ambitious. Then along comes BBB which is playable and comes with OOBs, maps and scenarios. It's certainly my 'project of the year', and, I'm sure, for well beyond.


  4. An excellent looking game and full of action. Very interesting to compare it to our game based upon bruce's ,1870, scenario.

    1. Bruce Weigle's '1870' is a great resource but I prefer the simpler approach of BBB. There is certainly no lack of German commanders in the BBB version.