Napoleonics with Bloody Big Battles

After I disliked Age of Eagles for its huge amount of bases required and too much detail for a brigade level rule set, I promised myself to give Bloody Big Battles from Chris Pringle (Blog) another go. It uses about 1000 men to a base and is primarily used for battles after Napoleonics and before WWI. I had some Napoleonic rule amendments which diversified artillery and cavalry a bit and made muskets more potent. In the original they are at the lowest end of the weapon scale and quite useless (rightfully so).

As this was more of a rules test I played a fictional battle with similar forces. The table was generated with Field of Glory: Napoleonics rules (my new favorite terrain generator). The battle pitted French against Austrians. The French used units of 4 bases with skirmishers, Dragoons and some artillery. The Austrians had the disadvantage passive infantry (harder to move and rally) but the advantage of larger units and a few more bases in general. All units were considered trained to keep it easier.

Disclaimer: This was a test, so there is not much flavor to it. Units are units and not the 5é Ligne of II Corps. Though the rules and the look on the table lend itself to it and I have seen other bloggers working with 1-2″ unit markers with flag and name and stats that looked quite nice. This you won’t see here, for now 🙂

Set up

A view from the French left wing and center. The cavalry command of the French was situated on the left, while the Austrian counterpart was deployed in the center (randomly determined).

And here we move over to the center-right wing. The Cavalry in the lower center of the picture is part of an infantry command. As you can see the roads leading to the enemy can be quite useful for the French here, as their side of the table is devoid of good defensive positions and they want to close the gap quickly.

The Austrian right flank. Two large Brigades of passive infantry units and some Dragoons.

A nice quirk of random deployment zones. You rarely see the cavalry command of an army in the center. It is a small one, though. Two medium cavalry units and horse artillery. To the left you can see a steep hill which incurs movement penalties (important for later on).

Close up of the Austrian left wing. This is the biggest command and it starts close to two hills. From there they will have a commanding view and artillery position.

The Battle Plan

Of course a simple rule set test is not complete without testing other ideas at the same time! This one is from Shako. In Shako you draw a map and arrows for your commanding officers. An arrow is an attack order and at the end of the arrow it becomes a defend order. In theory you have to advance with your units on attack order into combat, apart form artillery which can support from farther away. The Commander of a formation ‘rides’ on the arrow and his units need to stay in command.

This is the plan for both sides (as I played solo) viewed from the French side. The Austrians are rather careful and want to deploy in defensive positions on and between the hills. The French are effectively trying to refuse the left flank. Their left flank Cavalry is ordered to attack the Austrian Cavalry in the center and the French center is ordered to move around the forest in support of the right wing. The ‘T2’ means that they start their move on turn 2.

Each side has a HQ with an Aide de Camp. The Aide can be sent to give new orders to a commander at the speed of Cavalry. He also hase to get back thereafter. In Shako you have two Aides but for only three commands I limited this to one Aide each. As the French are way better at facilitating orders, they change orders as the Aide arrives. The Austrians are more plodding. They need a full turn to change their orders after they arrived.

The Battle

A few turns in. The Cavalry forces are clashing in the center. Austrians are getting the better of it. They already caused losses on both French units and routed a limbered horse battery. The white packing chips are musket smoke or dust clouds and signify disrupted status.

Being disrupted in BBB affects movement, firing and melee but doesn’t make a unit completely useless. BBB finds a nice balance here I think. On the lower right you can see the Aide de Camp with new orders for the French. They are to defend in the position they are in. The French don’t need their Cavalry to win but pin the Austrians.

The Austrian Aide can be seen as well far away. He brings new orders to switch from defense to pursuit of the French Cavalry.

The refused Austrian right wing has already been ordered to pack it up and move to the steep hill in the background. The gains of Austrian cavalrymen make this a safe move so they form in column to be faster. Still, with the turn long order delay they are already late.

And this is the reason for the order change. The Austrians were quite surprised as the central French formation swung right. Now there are close to 30.000 Frenchmen weighing down on a thin Austrian defense line. It is not all going to plan for the French, though. Their artillery support has been silenced (has to retreat). The attack columns keep getting disrupted and halted before connecting. Space is also a problem as support and reserves try to find the right deployment area. Part of the problem is the Austrian Foot Artillery position top right on the hill. Fire support from the guns is key for the Austrian defense.

As the Austrian columns cross the battlefield, Cavalry still clashes. Austrian battery support is showing here as well. Not by casualties but by continuously disrupting French movements.

Another of couple turns in the French concentrated mass has done its damage. Assault columns have routed the central Austrian unit and are now closing in on the remains. In the top left an isolated Austrian Brigade deployed squares against nearby Cavalry but gets blasted by musket fire. In the top right Austrian losses are mounting off table.

At the end of the battle French troops have successfully stormed the artillery position.

Austrian left wing forces finally shaking into battle formation at the end of the battle. Even if the engagement wasn’t over (turn limit) they would have had a hard time attacking up hill against the basically intact French forces.


My downscaling of ranges for a smaller table and Napoleonic amendments were off a tad and I made some mistakes. One Austrian commander should have been killed or captured twice! Still I really liked the game. Yes I know. Shockingly I like the rules.

Where the similar set Age of Eagles complicates things for sake of realism, BBB moves a step further back. Which is a good thing for me, who favors less restrictive rules these days.

Units are big and can move quite far. Command friction is done via dice rolls and failure to move or rally disruption. All this give a game that feels strategic akin to its scale. Part of this stems from the battle plan rules I grafted from Shako on top of it. But this is basically a solo play mechanism, not a missing part of BBB in any way.

After the game I found another Napoleonics amendment that looks better. It incorporates skirmishers better. For example by limiting the effects of long range musketry (basically skirmishing at this scale) against Cavalry.

The Aide de Camp feature is a nice ‘realism’ feature but I think it will work better with some form of command dice roll to see if the orders arrive and when they can be executed. The whole turn delay for non-French is rather harsh from a balance perspective, though it gives some insights about the problems generals faced against the French system.

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