Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Neil Thomas: 19th Century rules

Back at Xmas I acquired a set of Neil Thomas' 19th Century rules having heard good things about them at the Guildford Wargames club. Last night I finally got a chance to try them out.

For anyone with an interest in the Continental wars of the 19th century the rules are well worth reading. They're presented in a traditional book format and the rules themselves only make up 8 pages out of 193. The remainder of the book is made up of a lengthy and very interesting explanation of Neil's ideas and why he has designed his rules in the way he has and a detailed discussion of 19th Century political and military changes [anyone that references AJP Taylor is alright in my book!].

The rules themselves are brief and give every impression of being simple, but as is usually the case with rules like this they're actually more complex than they first appear. Having set out the mechanics of the game there are then several scenarios [Pitched Battle, Meeting engagement etc] in which a random element of the armies may fail to arrive, be delayed, arrive on a flank etc. I've always enjoyed games where the set up and composition of the armies is slightly degraded by random factors... Peter Pig rules are particularly good for this... as I guess few Generals every really got to play with all of their toys exactly as they'd planned.

The rules also include a number of army lists with specific rules for each period/theatre and appear to cover most of the 19th Century on mainland Europe.

I'd convinced Andrew to give these rules another go... he'd played them on a previous occasion and had some reservations but kindly agreed to indulge me! My armies for this period are in 6mm with all the figures from the excellent Baccus ranges. I have a French and Prussian army but have been slowly building up some additional Austrians and Piedmontese which should allow me to get away with at least 3 wars for the price of 1!!

We played out a Pitched Battle scenario with the French taking the initiative and attacking Andrew's Prussians. As the defender Andrew was able to deploy a couple of units forward of the main army and took advantage of this and occupied one of the 2 towns with his Skirmishers. The French were making a Flank attack so their cavalry and 1 Infantry unit were held off table till turn 5: we assumed that the Prussians wouldn't be aware of which turn this happened in although this wasn't clear in the rules.

In the NT rules units can't move while in Line formation so the both sides began marching steadily towards each other in columns but the French [despite being the attacker] quickly halted and deployed into line to take advantage of their Chassepot rifles longer range. Meanwhile the Prussian Steel Rifled artillery began the process of knocking lumps out of the French Infantry: luckily being in Line meant there was a better chance of saving some of the hits but it was still painful

On the right the French managed to occupy the 2nd town but came under heavy fire which slowly whittled down the defenders. On their left the Prussian columns were beginning to pay the price for having a shorter range carbine and having shot up the leading Prussian unit the French decided to go in with the bayonet in true French style. This was very effective and wiped out the Prussian unit but left the French weakened and vulnerable to a 2nd Infantry column that had advanced and to fire from the Jaegers who had advanced out of the town and moved around the French flanks. Another Prussian column had advance bravely towards the French guns and was shot to pieces for their efforts, even getting close enough to allow the French to deploy their Mitrailleuse.

A pretty equal exchange of fire on this flank meant that all units were becoming pretty battered and the Prussians were able to charge into the French Zouaves and drive them back... despite this the Zouaves held on with a handful of men and continued to rather annoyingly pick of Prussian infantry. 

The Prussians charge the French Zouaves

As turn 5 dawned the French flank forces finally arrived. The Infantry advanced against the Jaegers while the cavalry deployed against the Prussian Kurassiers. Andrew was able to quickly charge one of the French Heavy Cavalry and drive them back and at this point I discovered the lethality of artillery vs cavalry. The Prussian Krupps guns swung round and began knocking large holes in the 2nd unit who steadily advanced under the hail of fire and almost reached the guns... it was all very gallant and brave and I'm sure there were medals given for it but it was equally pointless! The Kurassiers meanwhile chased the French Cuirassiers around the table to no great effect.

The French cavalry decides to turn up...

The Prussian guns take aim at the doomed French Hussars...

By this point the game had pretty much reached an end. The French had no real intact units left on the table and the Prussians were equally battered but had a couple of units the remained effective so were able to claim the victory.

So what's the verdict on the rules. I knew Andrew hadn't been a great fan before and I'm not sure this did anything to change his mind but I have to say I really enjoyed them. As I said earlier they appear a fairly simple set of rules but have quite a bit of depth to them [some of which it would have been helpful to realise beforehand... cavalry and guns don't mix!]. They certainly emphasise the bloody nature of warfare in this period of breech loading and rifled guns. As someone at the club later commented: " The Franco-Prussian War... like the American Civil War but without the intelligence..." [but with prettier uniforms!]


  1. If you wanted him to play again you should have let him have the Prussians! :^)

  2. I really enjoyed your report, thanks for posting.


  3. Alastair, my one game with Mike using his 28mm Franco-Prussians was enough to sell the rules to me. I have my own copy and fancy collecting armies for the Crimea, although I can't make up my mind what scale to do it in! Cheers, Anthony

    1. I'm increasingly converted to 6mm for this period, especially with Baccus minis.

  4. I recently read this book after seeing it on my friend David Crook's blog and wow did I love it. I have a long, unrequited love for the FPW but have never found an opponent to try it with. maybe finally I can try this conflict out with those lovely Bacchus figs.

    Can we see more of your FPW figures please?
    I'm feeling very tempted to go order a few packs worth!