After-Action Report 26th August: ‘Square Bashing’ 6mm Franco-Prussian War

Club member Peter reports on a game that he ran at the society recently.

You know how it is – you collect all these armies, have great fun and lots of memorable actions – and then one day you realise that the last time you played this fab little game was the turn of the century! So, post-retirement I have been dusting-off a variety of games and systems which deserve wider exposure – and ‘Square Bashing’ is certainly one of them…

The System/Rules

Briefly, ‘Square Bashing’ was developed by good old 15mm manufacturer Peter Pig and some associates and is a sort of boardgame/tabletop ‘hybrid’ which allows for fast yet accurate handling of large formations, beyond the capability of most other rules. It achieves this by using markers on a normal wargame table to denote squares, roughly 25-30cm on a side. Units are made up of so many bases but orders/activation, movement and combat are by ‘square’. Movement in march mode is relatively fast, but once ‘deployed’ things slow down – a lot! Thus, it encourages thinking at the true Corps and Army level, as it takes precious time to deploy and then re-orient units in the field. Speaking of which…

The game also has a fiendishly simple but vital initiative and ‘battle clock’ control on game length, whereby the loser of the initiative roll each turn can choose to either go first or move the countdown clock on by whichever of the two dice scores they choose. Thus, can asymmetric forces fight on more equal terms, as the large force cannot simply sit back and grind an opponent down but has to ‘get on with it’ before nightfall or some other key event. More on this aspect later…

The system has been used very successfully for WW1, Russian Civil War – and now mid-19thC battles. It was the latter in which I had some input, and to demo the system it seemed the most appropriate -so……

The Game

The game was based on a real encounter during the opening phase of the Franco-Prussian War, when the initial French assaults had been thrown back in some confusion and the German States were seeking to force the nearest French army back into the fortified zone of the city of Metz. Whilst this was too strong to assault and the Germans lacked any giant siege guns, having 150,000 extra ‘guests’ for lunch would overwhelm the supplies held there and, eventually, force their capitulation.

The game was therefore set-up as follows:

      • The table was roughly 9×6 squares, each representing about 0.75Km a side. It consisted of rolling, low hills, dotted with farms and light woods with the odd dense bit of forest.
      • Two French Corps would deploy anywhere in the first three rows, with orders to keep any German units away from their base edge. Just off table behind them, however, was the main French escape route, with progress of other units denoted by very slow-moving wagon markers – or so it seemed to the players!
      • The three German Corps were allowed to enter anywhere on their baseline, but there had to be at least one square gap between corps (or risk massive traffic jams). Their orders were to simply push ahead and ‘slam the door’ on Metz. The only complication was that the three Corps were from two different armies, Prussian III Army and the Bavarian contingent. I had little to do by way of briefing to add a little ‘healthy competition’ between the different commands…

So yep, five complete Corps, plus reinforcements, on the table in one afternoon’s play!

The initial French deployment was extremely ‘sparse’ – worryingly so, until I noticed that they were only using 1x Corps! Somewhat happier when the available units doubled in size, they were slightly more chastened by (a) the ground scale, which meant that their ‘old fashioned’ artillery could not support everywhere if grouped too heavily; and (b) the unending stream of Germans now marching onto the table…

Prussians begin to arrive as French ‘beef-up’ their extended front line

I won’t give a blow-by-blow account, if only because I was too busy to observe the minutiae of turns. Essentially, a dramatic cavalry thrust by the French on their extreme left was almost immediately destroyed by a combined-arms Bavarian group attempting a right-hook. The French were a little worried about a follow-through here, but this was closed-off by the adjacent French infantry division left-facing and thus threatening any attempt to exploit.

On the main Bavarian front, the French reinforced an advanced village/farm complex at a key crossroads which they proceeded to hold against several Bavarian assaults until literally blown-away at game end by massed batteries, themselves taking long-range hits by infantry fire. The French stand had, however, blocked any advance in this sector, as per orders.

French left Corps throws back Bavarian assault in confusion, but is starting to be by-passed…

In the centre-right, the Prussians were feeling their way forwards whilst deploying stronger formations in their rear. An early probe on their left against a large farm complex was bounced in short order by some Algerian Legionnaires and a Light Infantry unit. However, long-range bombardment and a full divisional assault eventually carried this position and was threatening the French extreme right until a timely reinforcement galloped on in the shape of a Guard Heavy Cavalry division (to add some ‘tone’ to an otherwise unseemly brawl by foot-plodders).

The centre was initially a see-saw with no major advantage going to either side, despite the mounting casualties. However, when the main Prussian assault finally got under way the close-range firepower of the Dreyse rifles, plus long-range artillery support by rifled pieces finally blew a gaping hole in the French centre, through which one of the reserve cavalry brigades poured. These galloped over the low hills to see a most unusual sight – strung-out before them in the distance were a long column of French army vehicles and assorted support units!

French reserve cavalry (foreground) on their way to destiny…

While this information was relayed to the commanders in the rear and tired infantry units summoned to exploit the position, minds were soon brought back to the current battle as they looked to their left down upon the gaily deployed French Cuirassier Division – facing the other way. As the clock reached game-end, the French cavalry were thrown into almost complete disorder when hit in the flank downhill, at least one French commander choosing to die here on the field, safe in the knowledge that some of the army, at least, had escaped the vice closing on Metz….

Final moves – French right is finally destroyed as the Guard Cavalry arrives (not Prussians on hill to their flank!)

After game observations

All players very quickly got to grips with the system, and I was pleased to see how feverish conversations soon focused more on high level plans re bunging one or two divisions in here, how many brigades to place there, grand battery vs close support etc, possible terrain restrictions on exploitation and so on.

It was also salutary to see how reserves now played a key role, as although units fought well for a while, they soon lost their initial ‘edge’, then went to ineffectual despite several apparently holding ground. This is what happened to the Bavarians on the German right and the French in their centre-right. Once the Prussian reserves arrived, the previously successful French were stretched too thin and quickly dissolved – but not before buying vital time, which was the point! Gosh, commanders following higher orders – whatever next?!


The Prussian Corps were ‘square’ formations – 2x regiments per brigade, 2x brigades per division, 2x divisions per Corps. The French were similar except that these particular Corps had three divisions apiece. However…… Prussian forces had two important tactical advantages – their infantry at close range got a key bonus (Dreyse rifles being ‘slam-fired’), and their artillery was more numerous and had greater range (just). Lower-level leaders were more prevalent (not ‘better’, just more effective), and so individual units were slightly more flexible (elite divisional light infantry could be attached to brigades). Cavalry were still a threat as while they fared badly against infantry etc in stand-up fights (the French left were ‘vaporized’ in turn two!), they could also fall suddenly on disorganized units or a flank and create chaos out of all proportion to their numbers.

The French ‘advantages’ were not really of much use – their infantry rifles could fire two squares, and did seriously harass the Bavarian Grand Battery. Their prodding of the Prussian centre however may have simply stirred-up the ant’s nest which then lunged forward! But what of the famous Mitrailleuse machineguns? Well, they had to deploy with the artillery (as per doctrine), so missed-out on supporting the infantry fire-fights. On the few occasions where the enemy came to them (‘’Fortress Norfolk’ on the French left), the Bavarians soon saw their effectiveness……

The Clock

This feature as already discussed was central to the scenario design. It’s fair to say that the French were first to realise that ‘all’ they had to do was allow time for the sluggish Army wagon trains to exit left – terrain, losses did not really matter. The Prussians were slower to pick up on this, understandably focusing on the detail of battle. However, as they got closer to the French rear edge and could discern no form of counter-plan, it very quickly dawned on them what game the French were playing, and they went over from considered progress to major punches, sometimes surrendering the initiative for the turn to the French in order to adjust the clock by the smallest amount! This was very successful, as the French – on the overall defence – rarely needed the initiative anyway, although a couple of Bavarian brigades might dispute this plan!

My thanks to all for a great trip down memory lane (and for loans of scenery).

Prussian:              Pete S, Paul L

Bavarian (almost Prussian):          David P

French:                 Mark N and ‘Bob’

Club meeting 11th September

A brief picture album of the third meeting back, still operating under members only rules.

Four games in play today, in chronological order:

First up a FOG Ancients game by Colin & Paul, we only have one picture of this unfortunately.

FOG Ancients game in progress

Moving on to the 17th Century we had a FOG Renaissance game with Brett, Pete, John and Mark, the Scots involvement in the English Civil War.

FOG Renaissance Scottish (mostly) await the attack.
FOG Renaissance Cavalry on the move
FOG Renaissance ECW Scottish in action

Moving on a couple of Centuries we move to Mexico in the 1860’s, with the French Intervention played by Alan and Mike using Zouave II rules.

Republican Mexican defences
French and Imperial Mexicans advance

Finally we have a couple of games of Stargrave.

The first game was run by Stephen, with Eric, Marcus, Jeremey and Andy sending their crews to investigate Dr Moreau’s House of Pain.

First Stargrave game, run by Stephen
Dr Moreau’s bunker from Andy’s point of view
Andy’s crew fight off Audrey II
Marcus’ alien crew
Eric’s and Marcus’ crews approach each other
Marcus’ and Eric’s crews engage
Dr Moreau’s creatures take the high ground as Jeremey’s crew approach the compound
Andy’s crew try hacking the force field

We had to cut the first game short as Stephen had to leave, so we then played a second game which Jeremey had devised. As Andy’s crew had to disband after his Captain was killed in the first game he ran the second game enabling Jeremey to play.

A ship had crashed, leaving a trail of cargo and potential loot in its wake. Jeremey, Eric and Marcus’s crews came looking for loot, with indigenous interference run by Andy.

Eric’s crew, lead by Captain Greyfax
The crashed freighter, with cargo strewn in its trail. Jeremey’s crew approaching from the top of the picture, Eric’s from the bottom.
Eric’s crew approach the wreck
Eric and Jeremey’s crews fight over the loot (the corrugated fence representing a Holographic Wall)
The indigenes