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Subject: Solferino 1859 rss

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Pete Belli
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The battle of Solferino was the final engagement in the 1859 campaign which led to the end of Austrian dominance in northern Italy. The French and their Sardinian-Piedmontese allies -- for convenience, these formations will be described as Italian in this session report -- confronted the Austrians in a bloody struggle. The severe casualties and the suffering of the wounded shocked Europe and led to the formation of the International Red Cross.






The system developed by Richard Borg for Battle Cry is a superb match for the Solferino narrative. The battle was a classic meeting engagement with both armies advancing to contact along an extended front. In 1859 the battlefield was conveniently divided into three sectors. On the northern flank near Lake Garda the Italian forces pushed against the Austrian right wing, which was refused. French forces were massed in the center with the objective of splitting the Austrian army. In the southern sector a smaller French delaying force faced the main thrust of several Austrian corps attempting to turn the French right flank.

The map for this scenario depicts the area between Castiglione in the west and Cavriana in the east. San Martino and Pozzolengo are the villages on the northern end of the board (to the left side of this photograph) while Medole, Rebecco, and Guidizollo are located in the southern end. Solferino is in the middle of the battlefield. The map is not exactly to scale but each hex represents approximately 1000 yards. The terrain tiles include hills, woods, cultivated areas, an irrigation canal, and two types of villages. French miniatures are blue, Italians are beige, and the Austrians are gray. The units represent divisions.






The royal sovereign for each army was present at Solferino. None of the rulers were professional soldiers. King Vittorio Emmanuele spent the morning observing the French assault on Solferino and left the Italian troops to fight without the benefit of his leadership. Kaiser Franz Josef meddled with the strategy of his generals before the battle and then disappeared from his headquarters for several hours during the fighting. Emperor Napoleon III was also a military amateur but he was aggressive and energetic. The mounted general miniature and accompanying staff officer figure with binoculars represents Napoleon III and can function as a headquarters, issuing one order per turn to a single French unit within two hexes.

The French/Allied player receives five command cards and the Austrian player is provided with just four cards. The scenario uses my special "hot" deck with many of the superfluous cards removed. Random events are depicted by modifying certain cards. For example, one card signals the early arrival of French reinforcements from the III Corps at the southern edge of the board. The appearance of the Rally card allows both commanders to gather stragglers and multiple battle dice are rolled to determine what types of miniatures will be replaced. Another card ends the battle with a "storm" turn. This card is randomly buried near the bottom of the deck and will appear at an unexpected moment.

The powerful formations with six miniatures at the bottom of this photograph represent the divisions of the Imperial Guard. Unlike his uncle, Napoleon III was prepared to commit the Guarde Imperiale early in the battle. There are no restrictions on the deployment of these two units.

All infantry units can move two hexes but may not move and battle in the same turn. This rule reflects the obsolescent tactical formations used by both armies.






Italian infantry divisions are represented by four miniatures. These were good soldiers fighting under inadequate leaders. The divisions of the Sardinian-Piedmontese army had no formal corps structure and coordination between the brigades was abysmal. Although they are the largest formations on the battlefield (averaging about 9000 men) these divisions roll a 3-2 pattern on the battle dice.

Austrian infantry divisions are represented by five miniatures. The men fought tenaciously when placed on the defensive but the maneuver performance of the Austrian formations was sluggish. These divisions averaged about 7500 men and roll a 3-2 pattern on the battle dice.

As mentioned earlier, there are two types of village terrain. The "town" tile shown here represents San Martino, a hilltop village. Troops defending a hilltop village (like Solferino) receive a double benefit. The "homestead" tiles represent a village located in relatively level terrain.






This image of the fighting around Solferino (with gold Austrian control marker) portrays the heavy losses suffered by the attacking French divisions. Regular divisions contain five miniatures. The strength of the French divisions varied widely. In broad terms the army of Napoleon III was more flexible and, on a soldier-for-soldier basis, more effective than the army created by Austria. French infantry divisions roll a 4-2 pattern on the battle dice.

The rifled French artillery pieces were superior to the smoothbore cannon used by Austria. French gunners were often able to pound Austrian formations at long range without suffering counter-battery fire in return. French artillery units roll a 4-3-3-2 pattern on the battle dice while Austrian (and Italian) artillery units roll a 4-3-2 pattern. Guns firing canister rounds at close range proved to be deadly weapons... a preview of the carnage which occurred a few years later in the American Civil War.






Austrian cavalry near Cavriana prepares to block a flanking move by the French II Corps south of Solferino. Cavalry units contain four miniatures and represent ad-hoc formations approximately the size of a division. Cavalry units follow most standard Battle Cry rules but can move four hexes.

Cultivated areas and the irrigation canal have a limited impact on movement. If a formation enters a cultivated area (or crosses the irrigation canal) and the hex is adjacent to an enemy unit there is a 1 point movement penalty.






After expending a prodigious amount of command points a coordinated Italian assault on the formidable San Martino position results in just one Austrian casualty. In this scenario the "crossed-sword" result only scores a hit of the attacking formation is adjacent to the enemy.






The Austrian defenders rally (the random event card mentioned earlier) and drive the Italians away. Napoleon III orders the Imperial Guard to advance on San Martino. Villages are a source of victory points and Solferino counts double, making it the important objective it was historically.

Casualties affect victory but this scenario uses my special withdrawal rule. I developed this system in an attempt to force a player to act rationally when heavy losses occur. A commander may "withdraw" a shattered formation (presumably when it has just one figure remaining) at the cost of an order. The remnant is completely removed from the board but now that feeble division cannot be "hunted" by a sneaky player trying to squeeze out a quick victory point.






French reinforcements join a counterattack on the southern flank. Napoleon III has committed his cavalry. During the battle in 1859 the action would see-saw back and forth as the outnumbered French IV Corps held off most of the Austrian 1st Army under Feldmarschall Wimpffen.






A famous American army officer was serving with the French cavalry at Solferino. Philip Kearny was one of the most colorful figures in United States military history. Kearny defied the wishes of his wealthy family to join the army. In the 1830s he fought with the French Chasseurs d'Afrique in Algeria and earned the nickname "Kearny the Magnificent" for his courage. Kearny served with the U.S. army in Mexico and lost an arm during a cavalry charge. He returned to France and won the Legion d'honneur at Solferino... Kearny was the first American citizen to receive that award. Kearny performed brilliantly with the Union army during the American Civil War; he was killed at Chantilly in 1862 after refusing to surrender during a chance encounter with a group of Confederate skirmishers.






The deck of command cards is shrinking and the French commander knows a special event card ending the session will appear soon. Solferino is finally captured by a division under the direct leadership of Napoleon III. During the 1859 battle the Emperor exposed himself recklessly to enemy fire and, according to legend, had part of his uniform torn off by an Austrian rifle bullet.

The French have little hope of taking Cavriana (adjacent to the Austrian artillery) so Napoleon III plans a big push against both enemy flanks. At this point in the struggle the Austrian commander is essentially responding to French initiatives.






A lucky roll of the battle dice by the French commander drives a depleted Austrian division out of Rebecco. A unit defending a village may decide to take a loss instead of retreating after a "flag" result but the Austrian commander didn't have enough figures to absorb the blow. The formation retreats to Guidizollo.






In a desperate battle Austrian artillery breaks up an attack by the Imperial Guard against San Martino. Although three Austrian divisions have been wrecked the army of Kaiser Franz Josef is hoping to get at least one more round of play before the storm hits... this might allow a fresh assault to recapture Rebecco on the southern flank.

It was not to be. The event card ending the session appeared with the French holding villages worth 5 victory points and the Austrians in control of villages worth 4 victory points. While this is not enough points (6 out of 9, to be specific) to guarantee a French triumph based on terrain the heavy Austrian losses push Napoleon III over the finish line with a win.


Thanks for taking a few minutes to read this lengthy article.


This was one of the best sessions we've had this year. If anything needs to be changed, it would be a slight extension in the number of potential game turns.
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Marc Puig
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Hi Pete,

Thanks for this wonderfull report.Good pictures and explanations.

What you explain about hot deck and another extra rules mean you have developed a few rules for this battle or you have special rules for Battlecry?

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Pete Belli
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The special "hot" deck is intended to speed up the action.

All of the Skirmish cards are removed.

Cards that add unwanted fiddly elements (like Construct Fieldworks and Sharpshooter) are also removed.

Other cards which trigger random events (like the Rally card in this scenario) are marked with a removable sticker. When these random event cards appear they must be played immediately. The commander drawing a random event card pulls another card from the deck to fill his hand after the action is completed. Random events might affect both players, so this adds tension to the scenario.
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Marc Puig
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Thanks for the answer and for the tip, althought you deserve it more than me because of the hard work.

Another question: Plastic minis are all from Hat?


Thanks again.
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Pete Belli
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Quote:
Another question: Plastic minis are all from Hat?


Almost all of the figures are produced by HaT.

The cavalry miniatures are from Eagle Games.
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Mayor Jim
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Great article/review...thanks. I really like your "withdrawal" rule to prevent "hunting." That's one I'll have to incorporate in other BC games as well.
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