Tuesday, 22 March 2016

First impressions of Bloody Big Battles!

Since the New Year my wargaming activity has declined, partly due to a busy social schedule but also because I don’t currently have any on-going projects. At the Warfare show in November there was https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic2763574_t.jpg considerable interest in a new set of rules, Bloody Big Battles! (BBB) written by Chris Pringle (published by Skirmish Campaigns), which focussed on the European wars of the late 19th century. The demonstration games looked impressive and the organisers (including the rules author) were happy to chat and discus the publication and related lists, website etc. I purchased a copy of the rules and hoped to use them with the small 6mm armies I already possessed for this period. I had initially played using the Principle of War (PoW) rules but I have found myself less and less enthusiastic about the rules, and as a result the figures have remained in their boxes for many years now. Maybe BBB will prove to be the answer and breathe new life into this interesting period of history.

I have now played a number of solo games using the rules and feel able to express my opinion on them. Essentially the rules are very, very similar to the well known American Civil War rules, Fire and Fury (F&F), which I really like and have discussed in a previous blog post. The turn structure and basic mechanics are the same with the major change being the replacement of the 1D10 dice roll to the use of 2D6. The replacement of the F&F linear probability with bell curve probability is something I have long considered doing myself but never got around to, so finding it in BBB interested me. There has long been a debate amongst wargame rule designers about the relative importance of ‘average’ or ‘extreme’ outcomes and the effect on game flow and historic simulation. I think the best summary of the arguments can be found in Brent Oman’s introduction to the Piquet rules, although he clearly falls into the ‘extreme’ camp. Surprisingly, I found the change to using 2D6 in BBB did not have a big effect. Yes, the dice results were generally less extreme but it is shocking how often I managed to throw snake-eyes or box-cars at the most inappropriate times! So, like F&F the BBB rules give a good game that flows well, and is simple and fast to play. But the Franco-Prussian War is not just a European version of the American Civil War, and does BBB reflect this difference? I think it does on the whole. The French units are normally designated as ‘passive’ and receive a negative modifier when activated. The French infantry are armed with the excellent Chassepot rifle which out-performs the Prussian Dreyse Needlegun in range and accuracy, and this encourages the French player to sit-back, take a passive stance and keep the enemy at bay. In contrast the Prussian player has to push to close quarters irrespective of losses and therefore act in an aggressive manner. The Prussian artillery is noticeably better than the French counterparts and can be used to good effect, in fact I would like the Prussian artillery to have been rated slightly better in the rules. My one concern with the rules is the handling of the French Mitrailleuse which can pump out a lot of firepower at close range. There is no restriction on how the French player can utilise this weapon and he can deploy such units as frontline infantry support. My understanding is that the French historically misused this ‘secret’ weapon, the Mitrailleuse, by putting it under artillery command and deploying it too far back due to fear of the technology falling into Prussian hands. Cavalry in this period always represents a problem in terms of battlefield performance, and BBB seems deal with the issue by the small size of cavalry units whereby any losses destroy the unit. I have yet to explore whether larger (4-5 base) cavalry units can be more effective.

In addition to the rules, BBB provides a series of historic scenarios covering the early Imperial period of the Franco-Prussian war, with well laid out OOB and battlefield set up. I’m ambivalent concerning historic refights but these listings will provide a useful tool for calculating force compositions for my own battles and scenarios. I believe the author has published an accompanying booklet covering other battles of the period including the Franco-Austrian War, Seven Weeks War and others.

In conclusion, I like these rules. Firstly, I played using my 6mm armies but found the scale to be too small and fiddlely, so later games were played using card mounting board bases with no figures. For this reason I have not included any photos of the games. I am now considering selling my 6mm armies and instead moving up in scale. I think 28mm is too large, 15mm would be good but I am inclined to buy Pendraken 10mm instead. I like Pendraken castings, good painting detail can be achieved and the cost is low; less than £100 will provide for two reasonably sized, balanced forces.

Finally, I believe I have found my next wargame project!


  1. Mark, appreciate your overview of BBB. How similar is BBB to F&F? Does it use the same basic model and mechanisms with the exception of the 2D6? Is it that derivative of F&F?

    New project for you? Excellent! 10mm is a good choice but I went the 15mm route for my own 19thC project. If you want to see how good FPW looks in 6mm, take a look at some of Bruce Weigle's games.

    One example here: https://goo.gl/photos/P27x9BUBA2kK6GEV6

  2. Hi Mark,

    Thanks very much for the kind words, and I'm glad you like the rules enough that you're considering getting new armies to use with BBB.

    On the mitrailleuse firepower: if you look at the orbats in the historical FPW scenarios in the BBB book, you'll see that in many of them the mitrailleuse units appear as "0.5 MG" - i.e. they start the game Reduced with halved firepower and taking only one hit to kill.

    Yes, there is a companion scenario book, "Bloody Big European Battles!", with 16 scenarios from assorted conflicts. But there are also now about 30+ historical scenarios freely available online from the files of the BBB Yahoo group. Several of these are smaller games which are good for learning the rules or just for when you have less time and space available: Montebello, Langensalza, Velestino etc.

    Have fun!
    Bloody Big BATTLES!

  3. Jonathan - I immediately saw strong similarities between BBB and F&F, and this encouraged me to buy a copy of the rules. They do play in a similar manner and I think the prime change is the move to the 2D6 probability system. My choice of new scale (10mm) combines a good number of figures to be deployed whilst keeping the cost and storage requirements low. My 6mm armies do look impressive but I find they are to fiddly and light weight on the tabletop.
    Chris - I really like the rules and it was good to be able to speak to friendly gamers playing the demo games at Warfare before buying. I will join the BBB Yahoo group and look forward to reading the scenario suggestions and any mechanisms for pick-up, non-historical games. My criticism of the Mitrailleuse is not so much about the firepower but rather the tactical deployment. My reading around the period suggests that the French high command wasted its potential by incorrectly deploying the weapon with the main artillery, rather than using it as a true infantry support weapon. The rules allow the French to deploy their Mitrailleuse (even 0.5MG units) in any manner they want, even if this is not historically correct. What are your thoughts on this and my comments concerning Prussian artillery and the use of cavalry within this period?

  4. Mitrailleuse tactical deployment: I did consider putting in scenario-specific constraints on this but decided that at the scale of the game it doesn't matter that much. If the French put them somewhere where they're liable to be dangerous, they generally get sorted out by German artillery anyway.

    On which point, Prussian artillery: playing the historical scenarios, the Germans usually seem to have sufficient weight of metal over the French and win the artillery duels. The factors may not look very different but a single column's difference on the firepower table is a big deal.

    Cavalry: in BBB FPW games cavalry tends to evaporate when fired on. It therefore has to find flanks, or to act in support (2nd rank in assault), or else to get lucky. My regular playtesters who've played loads of later C19 battles were amazed by how dangerous cavalry became when we tried some Napoleonic action where everyone has 3" musket range and fire factor of 1.

    So I'm comfortable with the balance of the game. Of course, tinker with factors or introduce house rules if you like. But I suggest you try the rules as written a few times first.