Blood and Iron (Pacific Rim)
Playings, 7 (15 hours)
"Blood and Iron" must rank as the most popular recent title for a board game, care is required when ordering this game by mail order. To clarify there are 3 recent boardgames with the same name, in order of appearance XTR's battle of Sadowa, 3W's double game of Worth and Sedan, followed by this strategic offering from Pacific Rim. To confuse the issue there also exists a set of computer moderated minatures rules for the late 19th century called Blood and Iron.
Although subtitled Bismark's Wars for Empire the Pacific Rim game concentrates on the strategy of the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian Wars. 2 other scenarios are based in Italy (1859 and 1866, Italy only) but the scale chosen relegates the playing area to under 6" square. In 1859 the Austrians can either nip out, trounce a few Italians then move back into their fortresses or stay locked up and dare the French to come and get them. 2 games and the strategic options are used up. The map and a 1/4 provided covers all of Germany and then South to Italy, not quite getting as far as Rome, West past Paris and as far East as Konigsberg. England is missing having been replaced by an upside down Denmark solely used in an introductory scenario. Movement ranges from 2 to 4 hexes, Vienna is 8 from the Prussian border at Konnigratz, rail lines allow this to be done in a day trip. Most counters are scenario specific, there are separate Austrian counter mixes for 1859. 1866 and 1870, the other nations share some but not all counters between scenarios. The general effect is to reduce the game to magazine size 200 or so counters and 1 map in use per scenario. This map and counter mix differs from that offered by the 2 S&T games in allowing the Franco-Prussian and Austro-Prussian Wars to be seen in a European context. Austria can intervene in the war with France and France help out Austria in 1866. There are no rules for Denmark joining in 1870 although this would be possible if the French fleet landed troops in its recently lost Duchies, however the troops and map areas are available should you wish to try.
The price to pay is a considerable loss in playing area detail. Compared to Miranda's 2 games of the period, playing area is drastically reduced (the Decision Austro-Prussian War playing map is reduced to 16 or so hexes wide) the manoevre (this may not be the right word in the case of French units) before Baziane retired to Metz is lost because this terrain is reduced to 4 or 5 clear hexes with no benefit in combat.. There are no restrictions on movement (except by rail), if a unit has got somewhere to go it will move, compare this to the S&T activation systems. This enables the Austrian to pull together quickly in 1866. The set up allows the Saxons to be placed where the Prussians cannot catch them on turn 1, allowing them and the Bavarians to abandon their homes and support the Austrians. Similarly the Austrian can immediately begin to strip Italy of good troops to beef up the North, leaving just enough to slow up Italians outside fortresses.
HQ counters offer some restriction on who can do what. ZOCs have pretty standard effects but only Corps within 2 hexes of a friendly in supply HQ have any ZOC. This will leave a lot of smaller forces bypassed and cut off from supply or holed up in fortresses. Units also have to be within 2 hexes (3 for Prussian) to attack at full strength and HQs act as supply sources for other units (5 hex supply range if the HQ is in turn within 5 hexes of a friendly city). HQs are thus essential for a decent advance or counter-attack, they are not so important in defense. The Prussians well outclass the Austrians in HQs having (1866) 3 to place anywhere and a 4th to initially mop up West Germany. Facing this the Austrians have 1 HQ in the North and another in Italy plus 1 Bavarian and another Federal HQ in the West (which is doomed). Not surprisingly the Sud HQ will move North and the Bavarians will help the Austrians because they are allowed to draw supply from any allied state. The movement of Saxons into Austria is historical (and the Saxons are well hard), also the Austrians did move Albrecht North after Sadowa although much of the army organization of his Sud army remained in Italy. The wholesale movement of the Sud staff North as the first shots are fired gives the Austrians a big boost. More worrying is the ability of the Bavarian HQ, its troops are historically awful but the attached command structure can be beefed up with a few Austrians or Saxons to great advantage. The 1866 scenario rules allow Bavarians to command any allies but hidden away in is a scenario optional rule which states that Bavarians may (optionally) use their HQ as a supply source. In which case without the optional rule the Bavarian HQ cannot be a supply source (this is the sort of situation for which errata was invented). Even if limited in effect the Bavarian army is just too good based on its performance in 1866, having a clinically mad C in C (Ludwig the looney) and a 72 year old General was not a big help. Note that when the Bavarian army shows up in Decision's game of this war it is pretty mighty ther'in.
An interesting aside as the similarities between this system and the Decision game. Disregarding the obvious map and force pool matters there are general hints that Miranda may have seen an early version of this game before designing Austro-Prussian War. Corps counters can be broken down to Divisions and in turn Prussian (only) Divisions can split into Brigades. All Divisions are assigned to historical Corps which is a swine for breakdown and building up but Prussian Divisions are split into generic A and B parts exactly as in the S&T game. Also the troop compositions of HQs are kept off map in both games, those provided with Blood and Iron will need re-drawing with substantially larger boxes to fit in relevant units.
Combat in Blood and Iron is morale based, hard work and highly random. Combat occurs after all movement and is initially odds based. 2D6 are rolled, modified (usually adversely) by terrain and the presence of artillery (in which the Austrians have a handy advantage). The result of this initial roll is a morale modifier for each unit in both sides. Units are individually rated, Prussians about 9, Austrians 7. 2D6 is rolled for every unit modified by the CRT result, forts in defense and certain commanders, the original combat die roll modifiers are not used again. The effect of failing is to flip a unit to a lower strength and morale state. Any unit in good order cannot be destroyed in a single combat roll. To be destroyed a unit must be disrupted and then disrupted again but Corps that are disrupted once are forced to break into component units (all of which must immediately check morale), these shattered Corps can be rebuilt in 3 turns if all the bits are in good order and in the same hex. Because Corps have an advantage in stacking, several shattered Cops may overstack a hex (with unspecified effects) and will certainly increase the counter density. Units within 2 hexes of an in-supply HQ can try for 1 or 2 following combat rounds by rolling under the HQ's morale. Disrupted HQs are out of supply so a bad roll for that single piece in the 1st round will prevent a good result being exploited. Defenders have the option of withdrawing after the 1st round but fight at a disadvantage if they fail, unless there is a chance of having a HQ destroyed (these units cannot be replaced) it is not worth trying to withdraw because there is a fair chance the attacking HQ will fail its commitment roll. Defenders do not get a chance to counter-attack but must wait until their combat phase before which the opposing side has a chance to rally. Units in enemy ZOCs cannot rally, if your HQ has held out and the enemy is disrupted there is a good chance of removing some units.
The bottom line in combat is die rolls, always 2D6 and plenty of them, if playing with 2 players it is best to have 1 calling and 1 rolling (very fast), solo, roll a few then check. Although 2D6 should ensure an average die roll distribution (as opposed to 1D6 which will have no norm), odd high results can be a big set back. A 12 in combat will automatically shatter 1 attacker's Corps as well as being a swine of die roll in its own right. Disrupted units generally have a less than 50% chance of recovery, for HQs this can put the war on hold. The terrain modifiers of fortress cities can make all but the poorest troops well hard. Being a city the friendly force will be in supply and liable to recover (invaders do not have this benefit when holding captured cities), plus there is a modifier to combat and a morale boost for being in the fort, even Italians can hold cities. Many forts have intrinsic defense and morale which is printed on the map, there are counters for eliminated garrisons but no easy way to mark garrisons which have failed morale. Forces can be shut up in forts or cities by placing 2X the attacker's force in the same hex. This can make a big force in a fortress a problem (unlike in Metz) but even small forts need to be taken because the ground scale gives them great prominence (each hex being a large area forts command large areas) and the garrisons prevent that hex being entered unless it is taken or masked. As examples Theresienstadt, Konnigratz and Olmutz block the 3 clear terrain corridors from Prussia to Austria. A force in Konigratz (Sadowa) would be considered to be all in the fort rather than fighting outside and making this a darn'd fine hex to fight a battle. The rules on stacking prevent more than 12 (15 with a HQ) stacking points occupying a hex from both sides when a fort is masked. This is the usual limit for 1 stack in a hex and is obviously halved if 2 sides enter 1 hex to render a fort masked. So what happens when 1 force is large enough to mask a 2nd but the 2 combined will be to large to fit in the hex. As usual unclear but as masking is a function of movement rather than combat, the defender must be either small enough to be masked or too large and forced to fight without the benefits of the fort. A simple rule of how many units can be jammed into a fort would be helpful.
At Metz the French surrendered 5 Corps and a HQ, some 160,000 men and 15 stacking points, so how could Bazaine have been blockaded? The city was tightly blockaded by 2 regular Prussian Corps and a Landwehr Division, the 1st and 2nd Armies were however tied down by the presence of French in Metz. Perhaps 200,000 Germans were held up by Metz, certainly not 2X the force blockaded inside. Blood and Iron does not allow for the surrender of garrisons except due to repeated failure of morale which can only come about as a result of combat. The only way to take Metz in the game would be by assault, the sort of action that could have smashed the Prussian armies and made Bazaine the hero of France. The less important fort of Strasberg was taken by formal siege with the French surrendering with honours of war only when the Germans had dug siege parallels and opened an assaultable breach. Some sort of fort attrition rule is essential, 1 is suggested later that will cut down on the hiding in forts.
The situation in France 1870 is similar to Austria in 1866 but a narrower front gives increased prominence to forts. To trace supply deep into France the Prussian will have to clear rail lines only 2 of which lead into Prussia and these are blocked by Strasberg and Metz. In 1870 these both precipitated serious sieges but were both taken by siege rather than assault. The only method to remove these blocks in Blood and Iron is by assault. The French will have stuffed them both with good troops plus left a few in a 3rd fort that blocks a route into France further South close to Belfort (this route is not linked to Germany by rail so cannot lead to Paris falling). The Prussian will have to sidle up to the weakest held fort with all available troops and assault, a bad roll will put an end to the war, even good rolls will take time to disrupt and destroy the defenders. Meanwhile those French who are not inside the besieged fort will gather together ready to attack any assaulting stack that has been badly mauled by the last attack. Compare this to 1870 where Metz and Strasberg tied up 2 Prussian field armies but before either fell the Prussians were able to move past and capture another French army at Sedan. Without some mechanism for the surrender of forts this cannot be done in Blood and Iron because even if the forts are masked or blocked by a strong of adjacent units these units will never be freed by surrender without a prior assault. As for the siege of Paris you can stay there for good with no fear of capitulation and no need to organize any relief. Combat in early 1870 is like World War I (Verdun style) with the Prussians piling on the boys to wear down French strength and hoping to break through to the green fields beyond. The fighting over the French land between Metz and Germany will be limited to cavalry withdrawals because it is a poor killing ground compared to the forts. Another problem that will not turn up is the difficulty in attacking out of a fort. The French failed to break out of Paris or Metz because of the difficulty in moving troops into the open and organizing them for the assault before the Germans had reinforced the point of assault. Bazaine did get close at St. Privat but should have no such problems in Blood and Iron, if masked a garrison has a +1 to the combat die when attacking out but from Metz (which cannot be masked if chock full of Frenchies) Bazaine would have no problem in concentrating his entire army against 1 of the besieging forces, he can pull back if another army is likely to reinforce the Prussians after the 1st round.
One clear mistake in the simulation of 1870 and to a lesser extent of 1866 is in the initial organization of the defenders. Both sides are allowed liberal choice in set up which is fair for the aggressors who have already massed troops on the border. However the French and Austrians had inferior mobilization systems and did not benefit from the Prussian planned use of railways. The French armies start at full strength and in the player's choice of situation, usually packed in the frontier forts. Historically this was where units were supposed to be going but the peacetime units had to be fleshed out with reservists to come up to textbook values. By August 1870 the majority of the French army was based around Metz and Strasberg but these units were not up to full strength and had not been fully equipped or accustomed to working together in Division and higher units. Franco-Prussian War (S&T) handles this well having units set up in place but with strength markers of below printed values. In Blood and Iron a unit can only be full strength or disrupted there is no reduced strength but good order state. The nature of French mobilization was to send the units direct from garrisons in France and North Africa to the Corps assembly points. Reservists would have to travel to their unit depot to be equipped and then on to the battalion. This system did work but took time, longer than the Prussian mobilization, by the beginning of the war the French army on the Rhine stood about 2/3rds of expected strength largely due to the inability of the French railways to distribute men and material in sufficient quantities.
Considered as history the game fails because it fails to reflect the problems of Prussia's enemies. If Austria is prevented from using its Sud HQ in the North in 1866 and some limits are put on the Bavarians then 1866 becomes an acceptable scenario. In 1870 the feel of the French army is not conveyed, Corps begin at full strength in the right places and a constant supply of new HQ units (based on those formed after Sedan) help to overcome any setbacks. If the Prussians can pound through the initial defenses relatively untouched they will ramp up the victory points on the way to Paris. The general cock up that was French strategy in the early weeks of the war (Zola's novel "La Debacle" says it all) is not reflected. That the French could sort it out given time is shown by the Armies of National Defense, if the troops that were holed up in Metz had been used instead of Mobiles in this organization the French might have relieved Paris. S&T's Franco-Prussian War is a far better simulation and game of 1870 although it too requires further hampering of the French.
1: French Corps units may never move by rail. They may break down and move their component units by rail.
2: All French units except The Imperial Guard begin the game at half strength to represent incomplete mobilization and lack of organization. Each Recovery Phase roll D6 for half strength Corps on a 5 or 6 they are changed to full strength. Any half strength unit forced to break down has all component units deployed at half strength, the component units must roll individually for recovery of strength. If disrupted a half strength unit is counted as half its disrupted strength. Half strength units retain their printed morale. Masked half strength units may not roll until they are relieved.
3: French units may begin the game broken down from Corps counters.
The Austrian Sud HQ may not leave Italy unless at least 1 Italian HQ has been destroyed.
1: In masking the attacker has only to have equal strength to that in a fort to mask the hex.
2: When masking a hex both players may have up to the stacking limit of units in the same hex.
3: Before any combat in which defending units occupy cities, forts or fortress cities the defender must state if his forces are sheltering inside or not. If the defender elects to shelter he receives terrain benefit for the hex but if forced to retreat must retreat inside the fort and the attacker may immediately advance to mask the hex if he has sufficient strength. If the defender elects to fight in the open he receives no benefit from the city fort or fortress city, he may either retreat into the fort or retreat to an adjacent hex.
4: Attrition of besieged forces. 2D6 check for cities and forts after every enemy combat phase, +1 in city, -1 in fortress, +1 if no friendly force of at least the strength point size as the units testing within 6 hexes of the rolling fort, add up the good order enemy units masking and adjacent to that hex and -1 the die roll for each odds column they outnumber the defenders by (1:1 no modifier, 3:2 +1, 2:1 +2 and so on), 12 is an automatic fail.