Thursday, 13 April 2017

Franco-Prussian Black Powder

This week saw a long-overdue outing for my Franco-Prussian armies in a game of Black Powder at a friends house.  I'd decided to try and tweak the standard BP rules to take account of the particular quirks of this fascinating transitional period.  A bit of googling threw up lots of ideas that other people had come up with and I then tried to piece together something that made sense to me.

The first dilemma with the FPW is how to reflect the variations between the French Chassepot rifle and the Prussian Dreyse: technically the Chassepot had twice the range of the Prussian rifle but there were also differences in fire discipline and problems with the French breech loading mechanism to take account of.  Most suggestions give the French range increase of somewhere around 25-50% so mine had a range of 24cm while the Prussians were limited to 18cm.  I also made all infantry 'Sharpshooters' which allows them to re-roll one missed firing dice each turn to reflect the murderous fire from rifles in this period

Similarly the artillery needs to be adjusted heavily in favour of the Prussians.  I gave the Prussians a 72cm range and the Sharpshooter ability while the French had a maximum range of 48cm.  My figures are 6mm, hence the change to cm rather than inches.

Prussian command ratings were higher than the French (8 vs 7) apart from the Bavarians who were also on 7.  The other changes I made are listed below and were a combination of the ideas that made sense to me from various people on t'Internet...

1.       All Dreyse and Chassepot troops are consider Sharpshooters allowing them to roll one missed shot. This represents high fire rate of the breach loading weapons.

2.       All Dreyse and Chassepot troops can go prone. They need an order to change formation to/from prone:

a.        -1 to save from shooting
b.       If charged frontally then can attempt to stand, needs successful command roll
c.        If charged & contacted when prone then no closing fire
d.       If charged & contacted when prone then -1 to hit enemy troops in H-to-H

3.  1870/1 Mitrailleuse must deploy next to artillery and cannot be attached directly to infantry formations. Although best used as an infantry support weapon the French did not fully understand its capability and because it looked like an arty piece it was given to the gunners

4. Cavalry are not expected to frontally charge breach loading infantry (Dreyse or Chassepot). If they did they usually got slaughtered. Cavalry can charge Shaken infantry or charge flanks/rear.  However, on a few occasions the sheer surprise was worth a last ditch effort. Roll a d6, if 5 or 6 then the charge can be declared and conditions are good (order still needs to be given by the commander, so it may not go ahead) – infantry are caught “surprised” and cannot issued closing fire.

During the game we immediately forgot about using the 'going prone' rule which didn't have much impact on me but might have helped a couple of Andrew's units form getting peppered by long-range French rifle fire.  The changes also meant that the cavalry were quite limited in how they could be used but this seemed to fit the period...neither of us felt brave enough to risk the 1 in 3 chance of launching a von Bredow style Death Ride!

The final change to normal Black Powder practice was to muck about with the turn sequence.  This seems to be a widely adopted change but not one I'd tried.  We moved Firing so that it now occurred before the Command firing then movement.  This seems to have been introduced to prevent a lucky unit making a 3 move advance and then blazing away at close range with the opponent unable to do much about it.  I struggled with the turn sequencing throughout the game and found this hard to get my head round: although it seems to make sense on paper I found it very counter-intuitive and I'm not convinced it adds anything to the game.

So onto the actual game...

The scenario had the 3 Prussian and 1 Bavarian Brigades advancing to seize a village and road junction defended by 4 French Brigades.

The Prussian objective

The Prussians advance rather menacingly down the roads

As the French player I managed to get a unit into the target village and onto the hills overlooking the junction and this was quickly opposed by a Prussian Brigade.  The 2 Brigades remained there for the remainder of the game with the Prussians getting slowly whittled down by the longer range of the French rifles.

The standoff in the centre

On my right the opposing Cavalry Brigades manoeuvered around for a bit and glowered at each other a lot but neither of us was willing to take the risk of committing them to an attack.

..and another standoff on the right flank as the Prussian cavalry stared down the French

The battle really unfolded on my left flank where I'd advanced a Brigade too far and it found itself under pressure from the Bavarians and a Prussian Brigade.  I was briefly spared when the Bavarians blundered and retreated but Andrew was still able to coordinate an attack which eventually broke my Brigade.  By the end of the fight the Bavarians were pretty beaten up however and took little further part in the fight.

The intense fight on the left flank

The Prussians pushed on towards the village an a fierce fight broke out in a wood as a second French Brigade tried to shore up my flank.  This also took heavy casualties and was looking pretty ropey by the time was called a halt.  We decided this was a close Prussian victory with the French holding out but having taken too many casualties in the process. 

I think most of the amendments worked: getting the ranges right is always tricky but these felt ok to me.  If only we'd remembered to go prone when the bullets were flying!


  1. Well done. It's always hard to remember rules on the fly. Ross is of the opinion that any rule forgotten three times should be excised.

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