Today saw us give “Bloody Big Battles” their first run out here at Monty HQ. Steve and I decided on a simple ‘training’ scenario to allow us to work through the various aspects of the rules and we therefore sought to ensure that these situations occurred rather than necessarily doing the sound tactical thing!
My apologies as well for the table. We didn’t have figures to use so counters were used instead. They are all about the right size with the big rounds being artillery and the smaller ones the generals. I’m afraid all the terrain wasn’t painted either, but we wanted to give the rules a run out so went with what we had.
Anyway, we set the game in the ACW and I had the Union side with the following:
3 units of 6 bases of trained infantry with muzzle loading rifles.
2 fragile units of 6 bases of raw infantry with muzzle loading rifles.
2 units of rifled artillery.
The whole rated as passive. Comment: we put all these characteristics in to see how they played out.
Steve took the Confederates with:
2 units of 6 bases of veteran infantry with muzzle loading rifles.
3 units of 6 bases of trained infantry with smooth bore muskets.
1 unit of smooth bore artillery.
And all the infantry were aggressive.
Here are the initial deployments:
And the Confederate advance:
The game essentially split into 3 ‘fights’ – on my left I had a trained unit supported by an artillery battery and backed by a raw unit lining the road in front of the woods – Steve advanced a trained unit with a general in range against them. The Confederates pressed forward and we had a succession of rounds of fire, disrupted, recovery and so on but the Confederates closed and drove the Union unit back behind its support. Comment: I never managed to combine the 2 units into an ‘in depth’ formation – a learning point for next time. I should also have made better use of the cover of the woods. Sitting back a little further from the start would have made all the difference.
Steve continued in against the raw unit, even though he was now low on ammo, but the cover of the woods, his low ammo and my 6 to his 1 saw the Confederates repelled and losing a base. The trained unit now recovered and moved forward to take position at the front and, at that point, we concluded that the position had held. What of the artillery, I hear you cry? They were forced back and silenced in the first assault and a succession of poor rolls saw them skulking at the back of the field and taking no further part! Courts Martial are being assembled!
The fight on my left including the crucial dice roll!
In the centre, Steve led with a veteran unit backed by a trained unit against the village, held by a trained unit. The Confederates never managed to close to assault and, by the end, the Veteran unit was spent and the trained unit had taken the lead, but with little chance of success.
On my right, most of the action occurred. Again, I had a trained unit supported by artillery and backed by a raw unit. Again, Steve came at them with a veteran supported by a trained with his artillery and a general between his left and his centre. In this case, the combined fire of the artillery and trained unit managed to keep the Confederates at bay. Silencing and reducing his artillery early on (the work of my own guns) made a real difference and Steve held them well back, so they added little firepower. That said, had they pressed forward, there is every chance they would not have made it.
Clearly Steve played to the aim not to win. We both agreed that he would normally have sought to force me to extend my line, exposing raw units, and then focusing in on them. In that case I would have been much harder pressed. And here we are at the end:
So, verdict on the rules! What we liked:
- The mechanics are simple – within a couple of turns we had significantly reduced our use of the Quick Reference Sheet and were ticking along quite nicely. This is a key point. As a Club, we only meet twice a month and we do play a wide variety of games, which means rules don’t get the consistent and persistent play necessary to master anything too complex. These fit the bill perfectly with mechanisms that are readily picked up even by a novice.
2. The game is not simple! The simplicity of the mechanisms hides a great deal – these are subtle and elegant rules. I think the rules are easy to master, the game is not. The complexity has been distilled into these simple mechanisms for our benefit, but it is still very much there and we really began to appreciate just how subtle the rules were as the game went on.
3. It does allow games to be played out in a reasonable timeframe. How many times have we played games and not reached a conclusion? I dread to think. These rules really do offer the potential for resolution in the space of a typical club evening.
4. Realism! At the end of the day, however simple, elegant and subtle the rules are, if they don’t give a good representation of the warfare of the period, I am simply not interested. Not so with “Bloody Big Battles”. We felt the battle really played out as we would have expected and gave a good and accurate representation of an ACW battle between the forces we had.
5. Focus. We were always taught ‘2 up and 2 down’, meaning that, as a commander, you should be looking 2 levels below your own and 2 levels above your own. In many rules that try to represent larger battles, we can find ourselves drifting down into the tactical weeds so beloved of wargamers! Not so. The author has kept his focus with real discipline and these rules really do keep you at the level you are supposed to be at.
6. The ability through the use of a few ‘attributes’ and the number of generals to create forces with a very different flavour but without over complicating things. A light touch here is good and the attributes are very appropriate to the level of game.
7. The ability to further tailor forces but within the rules framework. For example, we came up with the idea of the characteristic of ‘Resolute’. It works exactly as Aggressive but only when defending.
House Rules/Amendments. We came up with one we would apply, and it is a pretty standard one for us:
- When measuring for generals, you measure from a prominent part of the base not the base edge. A prominent part could be the general’s head, a standard, a piece of scenery on the base. The reason is simple. We quite often tend to make a little more of our general’s bases –aides, HQ flags, broken guns etc etc. This means base sizes are often larger and not standard so this just removes any risk of inadvertent advantage from doing a nice little model. Yes, space is sometimes tight, in that case we just mark where the general is and measure from there.
What we didn’t like:
- Steve was a bit miffed when I ‘jinxed’ his dice for a key roll – “anything but a 5 or less!”, but made merry when, in my next movement phase, I failed to roll above 4 in 5 attempts!! You reap what you sow!
But seriously. We didn’t find anything we didn’t like and we will be playing them again soon. I sort of feel I should find something to balance the positives, but I really can’t – honest! I really do feel these rules are excellent and a tremendous amount of work has clearly gone into producing them – thank you, Chris!
Monty the Desert Rat