The Prussian Team for Game 2 of 1866 and all that assembles.
The Prussian Team for Game 2 of 1866 and all that assembles.

Yesterday I played in an 1866 megagame, well in one of two 1866 megagames. Megagame Makers ran two simultaneous megagames about the 1866 bruderkrieg (between the Prussians and the Italians on one side and the Austrians and their allies on the other).

One of the most interesting things about today’s 1866 megagame was that there were two entirely identical games going on at the same time. The only difference between the 1866 megagames were the players. Both games had the same briefings, maps, counters and mechanics. The end results were quite different, although in both cases fairly close to historic. Certainly within the bounds of plausibility.

My role in the 1866 Megagame

Unusually I was playing the megagame. This was because Alexander came to play in his first megagame. I was the Chief of Staff in the Prussian Army of the Main in Game 2. Alexander was the operations officer in the same army. We were commanded by Paul Hill.

The Saxon and Prussian operations officers rest after a frenetic campaign towards the end of the 1866 megagame
The Saxon and Prussian operations officers rest after a frenetic campaign towards the end of the 1866 megagame

We had three objectives:

  1. Capture Stade (on the Baltic coast) and Celle (~120Km south of Hamburg).
  2. Prevent the German Federation states from combining their armies
  3. Advance to the river Main (~450Km South of Hamburg)

After negotiating with the Minister of War we had five divisions and a replacement contingent. I think my key argument, with Bismarck rather than the Minister of War, was that while they couldn’t win the war in West Germany they could lose it if 150,000 Germans joined forces.

I won that argument. We had slightly more troops than historically, but still a small fraction of the available 23 divisions in the Prussian army (excluding the Landwehr).

Our plan was relatively simple. We had three divisions with fixed start locations. One in Hamburg (B), another in Paderborn (A) and the last in Minden (C). The Hamburg division was reinforced with a second division and an allied contingent of 6,000 men and tasked with Capturing Stade, a fortified port. The Paderborn formation had an additional division and the Army HQ. It was tasked with capturing Celle, also fortified. When it had done so it would go firm and wait for the Minden division to catch up.

IMG_20160521_120345As it happened the Minden division found itself next to the Hanover Corps. So we attempted to attack it immediately. The Hanoverians ran south rather than fight. The men from Minden chased them south.

Celle fell rapidly and there were Saxon and Bavarian Corps coming North. It looked like they might link up in the Gotha area. I was worried about the Hanoverians getting away, so moved A East to interpose two divisions between the Hanoverians and the others.

It looked dicey briefly, especially when force A was practically surrounded by federal German forces. I’d already sussed that the only way to defeat them in detail was to ensure that when I attacked there was no way for them to escape. Once Stade fell I force marched force B south. I had C almost surrounded by Germans and A and B coming down from the North.

Diplomacy saved the day, along with decisive military action. Bismarck kept the Saxons hesitant while negotiating with them. I caught the Hanoverians from both ends of the same road and defeated them without loss to the Prussian forces. Hanover surrendered and made a separate peace.

From that point on I had five Prussian divisions in the field against four German Corps. We were outnumbered but qualitatively superior. I used manoeuvre and road capacity constraints to beat the Germans in detail. Usually three divisions per battle, although once all five against a single Corps. The Germans lost every battle we fought and gave up fighting us, choosing instead to retire and keep a force in being.

We followed them all the way south onto the Main. I laid siege to Frankfurt and it surrendered with the Federal Diet still there. We shipped them off to Berlin with a Division and a half as reinforcements for the eastern front.

Through the campaign I used dummy units to maintain each formation at four apparent divisions and also had a fourth manoeuvre unit covering my flank/rear to discourage the enemy from doing to me what I was doing to them! I also talked up my capabilities a lot, player morale being more significant than megagame mechanisms. It seemed to work after we’d won a few battles, because the enemy gave up. Even when we shipped troops off to Berlin they stayed static.

Innovative Mechanisms in the 1866 Megagame

There were a number of innovative mechanisms in the 1866 megagame. Two things stood out for me. The first was player initiative. The other was the battle mechanics.

Player Initiative

At the map in the operational phases the turn order was determined by the players declaring themselves ready to move. Whoever said it first got to go first. In itself this lead to some roleplay. When I wanted the enemy to attack me, or I wanted to outmanoeuvre them I let them go first. That way I could respond to their move rather than trying to anticipate it. Of course my enemies were doing the same. So sometimes it was a race to be ready. Other times it was “After you, I insist”. One turn game control had to toss a coin.

This mechanic might not be absolutely new, but the 1866 megagame was the first time I’ve seen it formalised in the rule book. It’s certainly worth keeping.

Battle Resolution

The mechanims used in the 1866 megagame were very new. At first sight it looked normal. There’s a battle board with three wings and room for support lines and tactical cards. The foamboard counters have the traditional step loss boxes.

When you look more closely though it is very different. What causes casualties is the number of units deployed. Their size is less relevant than the number of tokens. Each unit in the front line deals two losses on the enemy to its front. The supporting unit adds another loss, and helps to share the punishment.

Tactical cards then modify the number of losses. These are limited to one cavalry, one artillery and two general tactics cards per wing with troops deployed. The cards are specific to each nationality, reflecting training and doctrine. Some are common, others less so. Most of the Prussian tactics cards reduced casualties, for example we got -1 for firing from prone. There were a number of reusable cards, and a higher number of discardable ones.

After the first battle I developed a set of reusable cards ready to deploy. All we needed was a few of the other cards to help when facing larger enemy forces.

Battles were won by making the enemy units break. Any unit that took the same or more casualties than its morale number broke. To start with most units had a morale of 4. Typically 3-5 hits would reduce this to 3. The morale level was a vertical track on the edge of the hit boxes. Each row reduced morale.

The Prussian took three hits in seven battles, so we were happy to keep fighting. The first couple of battles were relatively inconclusive, but they taught me the battle system. They also sapped morale in the German Corps I was facing as they tended to take 2-3 casualties in the battle to my none. The battles against the Hanoverians exemplified this. Their Corps (1 counter) was attacked by two Prussian divisions (2 counters). In the initial exchange it was 4:2. However my tactics cards modified all the hits away. The Hanoverians took three hits but didn’t break. So the attack stalled.

The next battle was different. I had an extra division, from behind the Hanoverians. As per the rules it attacked separately. Predictably it didn’t break the Hanoverians, however it did inflict a loss on them for none itself. It also forced them to use some tactical cards. The Hanoverians then had to fight the original two divisions again, this time with no tactics card. We’d also take receipt of a new reusable card having survived two battles (between turns, not as a result of the first part of this action). Our now veteran divisions inflicted an additional casualty on the Hanoverians, making it six losses in total. They broke and, with nowhere to run to, surrendered.

All my other battles featured at least three units in contact, to maximise the losses inflicted. In most battles the enemy took enough losses to break at least one Corps. The most we ever took in a battle was a single loss. Effectively the Prussians were unstoppable.

That said, if the Germans had caught one of my divisions on its own with two or three Corps then it would have been badly mauled. The system wasn’t overly biased, but it did give the Prussians a strong edge.

The other mechanic that really helped, which is a feature of the battle system, is the different sizes of units. The Prussians field divisions, these are just as potent as Corps. However they are smaller and so don’t last so long when taking casualties. However this is balanced by the tactics cards making it less likely to take casualties.

The other difference is that smaller units have fewer restrictions from the road net. Being smaller they don’t cause as much congestion. There were two classes of road. Red allowed three Corps, or six divisions. Yellow allowed two Corps or four divisions. Railways were the same as red roads. I was fighting five Corps with five divisions and a contingent. These were split into three formations, four with dummies. So I could move any two of mine along a yellow road, and everything on a red road. By contrast the German Corps needed parallel roads to move their entire force.

You needed to be a brilliant German commander to have a chance of winning. However a competent Prussian shouldn’t lose.

Suggestions for the next 1866 megagame

The only thing I would change for a future 1866 megagame is to rule that the first unit deployed is always in the centre of the battle board. That way if you only have one unit and you are badly outnumbered you get hit from both flanks.