Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Big Battalion Wargames

The Battle of Pettstadt - Sept 23, 2006 - please click on picures to enlarge.

My taste for wargaming "in the grand manner" was acquired during several visits to the Wargame Holiday Centre ("WHC") in the UK many years ago. There is nothing like the inviting prospect of thousands of splendidly painted figures and seemingly limitless flanks and tabletop area to excite the wargame senses in a person. I've been forever warped by this experience, in a good way, and ever since it seems like I have been trying to replicate my experience back home in the States.

There is one certainty about gaming with large 60-figure battalions of miniatures as we do in our Batailles de l'Ancien Regime ("BAR") rules; and that is that one requires a lot of tabletop real estate in order to game a moderately sized game with, say, a dozen battalions of infantry and four regiments of cavalry. It was only a matter of time before I put the two elements together: big tables and big battalions. So borrowing ideas from the WHC, I decided to host a game played over two tables measuring 6 feet wide by 27 feet long. I envisioned perhaps a dozen wargamers commanding their own brigades in a game that would have plenty of maneuver space and plenty of room for a second line of battle and other reserves.

I decided to host this game on September 23, 2006 at the Marriot Lincolnshire Resort located in the suburban Chicago area. If you click on the pictures above, you can see that the hotel provided plenty of table space for such an extravaganza, with plenty of room to spare. So I rented the gaming area for the day and made arrangements to have a catered lunch and a mid afternoon snack break so that the players could relax and not feel that they had to rush the game or leave the premises for an hour for lunch. The food was magnificent, if I do say so myself and it was a wonderful and relaxing day of gaming with a very cordial and friendly group of wargamers.

As per the WHC arrangement, there was a six foot "imaginary" gap between the two tables, which ran parallel to one another. In the pictures above, the Prussians were deployed on the left hand table while the French and their Austrian and Russian allies held sway on the right hand table. When you approach the imaginary gap, you simple measure up to the table edge, step across the gap, and continuing with your movement and measuring on the other table. This can create some problems with depth perception, as I noticed that some of the gamers acted as if they were six feet away from the enemy, not realizing that they were actually within musket range. That can get exciting!

The battle that I presented was called the Battle of Pettstadt, which was a fictional encounter taking place during the Seven Years War, circa 1757. The town of Pettstadt is an actual locale that is located on the perifery of the site where Frederick the Great defeated the French at Rossbach. Instead of the Reichsarmee, the Russians and the Austrians served as willing allies of the French. And instead of the bumbling duo of Soubise and Hildburghausen commanding the allies, we had le duc de Broglie, a professional soldier of good reputation who was sure to test the mettle of Frederick and his Prussian army.

The Austrians set up on the Allied left wing.

Oddly enough, the French and Prussian commanders had battle plans that were mirror images of one another. The French loaded up their right wing with a strong advance guard of cavalry and French infantry. To the immediate left of the French was a very strong brigade of six Austrian battalions, with Austrian cavalry forming a second line reserve. These elements hoped to overwhelm the Prussian left, opposite them. The Russians were posted in the center, where they were to occuppy and hold the villages of Pettstadt and Storkau. Finally, on the Allied left, a strong contingent of French infantry and Saxon cavalry were "refused, or holding back from the attack. The picture above depicts the initial deployment of the Austrian brigade on the right wing.

Frederick surveyed the terrain in one of his patented reconnaisances and deemed that the Prussian left wing (the Allied right wing) was most suitable for his legions of heavy cuirassiers, dragoons and two brigades of Prussian infantry. The Prussians planned to conduct an oblique attack on their left, and refuse the center and the right wing. The Prussian Hussar brigade (Green, Yellow and Black Hussars) formed the vanguard and quickly collided with the superior French heavy cavalry, but the Prussian hussars were backed up by two brigades of steady infantry, a brigade of dragoons and a brigade of cuirassiers. See the picture below a view of the Prussian attack. The hussars have been largely driven off, although the pesky Black Hussars are visible in the background, having taken shelter in the woods. They would come back to give the French fits throughout the rest of the game.

Prussian left wing attack supported by cuirassiers.

So the Prussians, French and Austrians were having at one another from the first turn, and this pleased me as the game judge, because you want to get all of your players involved in the game. While this fight to the death was going on, a more delicate minuet was occurring in the center, where the Russians were content to occuppy Pettstadt and hunker down with what seemed to be an endless supply of artillery. Opposing them, was Frederick himself, commanding the cuirassier reserve (6 squadrons of 12) and the infantry reserve (consisting of two guard grenadier battalions, a regular grenadier battalion and two heavy 12-pounders). Der Alte Fritz (me) had no intention of contesting possession of Pettstadt. His plan was to keep the center occuppied and gradually reinforce the main attack on the Prussian left.

Scruby Russians Defend the Center at Pettstadt

The above picture depicts the Russian defense of the village of Pettstadt in the center. Note how the movement trays are made to match the frontage of the French and Prussian battalions. As a result, the smaller Scruby figures can occuppy the same frontage as larger 30mm figures. This clever idea was conceived by their owner, Mike Tabor, who commanded the Russian contingent. These figures are delightful to look at and just goes to show that older figures can still be used in our wargames. The Russian mounted general is actually a Scruby Frederick the Great personality figure in 25mm.

Finally, we come to the Prussian right wing, and the French left wing, both of which were refused. Hal Thinglum, as the local Prussian wing commander, was given the task of moving his brigade forward into the town of Lundstadt, at the edge of the Prussian table on the left side of the game room. The French decided to contest Lundstadt and they advanced vigourously toward the village and briefly ejected the Prussians from the town. However, Frederick released two battalions of grenadiers from the reserve and these helped General Thinglum recover Lundstadt for the Prussians. The Prussians were so successful in thes area, that they continued onto the Allied table and briefly occuppied the Galgenberg hill, which potentialy threatened the entire Allied flank. A fierce Franco-Saxon counter-attack regained the Galgenberg for the Allies by the end of the game.

The Heyden Grenadiers (Elite Miniatures) eject the French (Suren figures) from Lundstadt

While the action was hot and heavy on the Prussian right (Allied left), things were rapidly falling into place for the Prussians on their left wing. The Prussian cuirassiers and French heavy cavalry basically neutralized one another into extinction and this would enable the Prussian Black Hussars to break around the French flank and start mopping up French infantry that were in the process of being broken by the Prussian combined arms attack, with a little assist from some friendly initiative card draws for the men in blue. The Prussian dragoon commander decided to use his cavalry as a battering ram and tried, with some success, to ride down the Austrian infantry. This wore down the Austrian units, who were then put to rout by the crisp volleys of the Prussian infantry nearby. By the end of the game, the Prussian were all the way to the edge of the back table (the French table) and were swinging around to assault the Russians in the center. And those pesky Black Hussars had free ride through the rear echelons of the French army, much to the ever-lasting chagrin of the duc de Broglie.

All in all it was a fantastic gaming experience. (but of course, the Prussians won, n'est-ce pas?). The outcome wasn't really certain until the final couple of turns. A key card draw here or there for the French could just as easily propelled them to victory on their right flank. Everyone seemed to have a good time. Nobody sat around waiting for something to happen as everyone was deeply involved in the combat. And did I mention that the food was superb?

We plan on doing this again, on October 13, 2007 at the same venue, the Marriot Lincolnshire Resort in Lincolnshire, Illinois. We have 17 players signed up for this year's game, so it should be even larger than the one that we held in 2006. The key to large games such as this is to give every player a brigade to command. This is just enough miniatures to sustain your play throughout the day, without having traffic jams and wall to wall figures crowding the table area. As you can see from some of the pictures, there was plenty of open space and unsecured flanks to keep things fun and exciting.


  1. Looks like a great game; what a fabulous setup

    -- Allan

  2. Good show! I'm another veteran of the WHC and well remember the masses of figures and the novel and effective table arrangements.

  3. Last Years Game was a wonderful time. Even if oyu where on the loosing side, as I was. I was on the French left. Looking forward to this years game. Randy

  4. Please let me urge all participants in this year's game to take lots of photos . . . I will hope to see them on a number of blogs and in the OSW Photos section.

    Have fun!

    -- Jeff

  5. An inspiring report about a great way to spend a day. Who can argue with a day of visual splendor and great food? Well done.

    Although, what self-respecting Prussian bandies about French terms? "Of course the Prussians won, nicht wahr?" sounds much better.

  6. Good point Starfury, although I suppose that I could fall back onto the defense that Frederick spoke French when conversing with his friends. Yes, that's the ticket. I like your idea. [off to the German lessons now :^) ]

  7. I ask to forgive my bad English
    may be you help me
    Recently I and my friends was possible manage rules the Big Battalions. We liked also we play on them. But we after their perusal had a question - whether the cavalry can choose reaction counterattack under that condition when in flank the cavalry is attacked by infantry.