I first came across these rules whilst browsing The Miniatures Page 19th Century discussion pages. 1859 is a sister publication to the 1870 Franco-Prussian rules by Bruce Weigle first published in 2001. So what do you get? 132 pages with Grand Tactical Rules for the 1859 Second Italian War of Independence. This war culminated in the huge Battle of Solferino, as a result of which the International Red Cross was ultimately formed. In addition to these rules (and quite a massive addition it is) you also get a set of tactical rules for the 1864 Second Schleswig War with Austro-Prussian forces invading Denmark. Two comprehensive summary sheets, one for each war, are provided that enable the gamer to browse the rules once learnt. Within this tome, the reader gets a wealth of information and data on both wars:
1859 are grand tactical rules, meaning that the basic unit of maneuver is the brigade. These brigades are made up from infantry battalions, artillery batteries and cavalry squadrons. Armies in each game typically consist of at least one corps, which immediately allows the player to put large forces onto the table. These rules have excellent photos and descriptions that allow gamers to visualise building and organising their own forces. The rules are centered on the ability to Command and Control your armies and the first phase of each turn is, appropriately, called “Command and Control”.
Note that turns are simultaneous and hence this phase is absolutely vital for generals to get right. This may cause consternation for many gamers, and I am very used to the alternate turn style of play, but this does encourage gamers to actually think about tactics. If you try to cuff your battle plan, then stand by for some serious losing! The first person in your army to attempt an order is the Brigade Commander. He can choose either Move, Charge or Reform, all fairly self explanatory and standard fayre for many gamers. Commanders have ability ratings from Excellent through to Poor. If the Brigade Commander equals his rating or less then the order can occur. If it fails, then the Divisional Commander can have a go and if this fails then the Corps Commander can have a go. However, this command intervention can only occur once per turn, so use this ability carefully. Each nationality has a certain number of Command Chits that can be allocated, so again you may not be able to give orders to all your troops. This is a very elegant system that can be applied to any rule set that attempts to emulate real Command and Control problems on the battlefield.
We played a game at the Exmouth Imperial Wargames Club set in 1859 with a French Corps attacking a weakened Austrian Corps. As it happened, I didn’t give the Austrians enough forces to complete the mission and hence the French would be able to steamroller over them – or so I thought. The rules forced the French to conduct some serious battle planning and due to some very good die rolling, they were able to get their forces moving on one flank, but due to the Command and Control rules, had to wait at least four turns before all other forces could get moving, i.e. two whole hours. This was very satisfying in game terms, as it made the grey matter work and consider real time issues, such as what the enemy was up to. I am a big fan of these types of rules and so 1859 gets a big thumbs up.
The rest of the rules were fairly simple and hold no real surprises for any gamer. Each player needs only a few d10 for all Command and Control, Morale and Combat events. There are only three main tables for resolving the game mechanics, although there are plenty of rules to provide those moments in a game that create suitable tension and drama. I did find that I compared these to Volley and Bayonet as they too are grand tactical. The main difference is that V&B does not delve into the management of battalions on the battlefield, whilst 1859 still requires the commander to concern himself with what his battalions are up to. My personal preference is for the V&B method, so my simple brain does not have to think about too many things at once. Many gamers will be happy with the latter, and I know that there is a strong fan base out there for 1870 and so they will support this transition to the 1859/64 period.
Overall, these rule mechanisms are clear, elegant and very playable. There are some concepts that gamers will need to get firmly in their head, such as simultaneous movement and concise order writing, but these actually add to the fun and total value of the rules. This is a package that you can dip into and keep finding something new. It is an excellent resource for further research, with one of the best bibliographies I’ve ever seen, including references with reviews carried out for each book in the list. Obviously, a great deal of deep research has been done and so the rules carry a lot of credibility. There are some very nice mechanisms and they are flexible enough to be used from tactical (for the 1864 variant) through to grand tactical (for the 1859 variant). The quality of production is very high, on nice glossy paper, with ring binding so that pages can be left open during gaming.
I understand that there is an 1866 variant in the wings, and I will certainly be getting a copy of these. If they emulate the effort that has gone into 1859, then they will be worth every penny. Anyone who has their own favourite rules for this period (like me) but who also has an interest in the 1859-1871 period of European warfare, will find that these rules provide a wealth of information and data not previously seen in one publication. So, what are you waiting for? Go and get them!
Based on the popular 1870 rules, 1859 & 1864 are grand tactical rules that allow gamers to recreate the Second Italian War of Independence and the Second Schleswig War. Not merely a rehash of 1870, 1859 & 1864 represents a stand-alone set of rules with modification and additions specific to these two wars. A page is devoted to the explanation of these changes, a nice touch. 130 pages, complete with rules and scenarios.
After a brief introduction of scale, organization and basing (among other things), the mechanics of the game are explained. The heart of the rules appear to be its Command and Control rules – better led armies have more order chits (allowing simultaneous movement) so they will perform better and will activate the orders given to them more often. After the Command and Control and activation phases, the game follows the traditional move (and op-fire), fire and melee sequences. Each set of rules has highly detailed scenarios with precise maps to allow recreation of seven of each wars’ major battles (one Danish scenario is hypothetical but highly possible). Expect LOTS of interesting terrain! Specific rules allow for “half-” and “quarter-scale” variants to allow the recreation of smaller battles.
Besides rules for two completely different games, the book also has very interesting sections covering historical background, chronology, orders of battle, designer’s notes, an index (very useful) and discussions about each of the participants’ armies – the rise of French artillery, shock doctrine and the evolution of tactics, to name only a few, offer insights to the gamer new to this period (extremely well written and fun to read).
Things I liked best about the rules were how well written they were, how easy they were to play and the multiple examples available (and the main page below offers further support and errata for free). Because I do not have figures for this period, I cut out some paper blocks to represent French and Austrian forces and played out a few turns. I found them very easy to learn; the rules rewarded good tactics without being cumbersome. Unlike the American Civil War fought at the about the same time, these wars pitted countries with completely different tactical doctrines and weaponry. Can you overcome the disadvantages of poor command and control as the Austrian commander? Can you accept the daunting task of the Danes and stem the assault from two major European powers? These are challenges that make these wars interesting – 1859 and 1864 are excellent rules to game these periods!
The 1859 (and 1864) rules set is another example of a sumptuous rules booklet, beautifully illustrated and more like a book than a rules set. The rules cater for 6mm and 15mm models which is a little sad, as many collectors today prefer the larger figures. The booklet is clearly organized with good explanations of the key points and sketches to illustrate the rules in action. There is a very useful quick play card foldout with a miscellaneous “handy rules box’ for those important, but hidden rules you can never seem to find. There are seven scenarios for 1859 and seven for 1864 with detailed ORBATS, historical background and chronology with beautiful full colour illustrations, although in the photographs the figures are dwarfed by the magnificent terrain – possibly the reason why there is nothing in the booklet on uniforms. Also the huge number of fields shown in the scenarios maps require a vast number of hedges, and in one game over a thousand trees were used.
There is a also a ‘Designers Excursus’ where he explains in depth the weapons and tactics of the mid nineteenth century. In “Designers Notes’ the wargamer can get some very useful hints and tips on how to best manage one of the various armies. At the end of the book there is a splendidly detailed bibliography.
The rule mechanisms seem to work well with formations including ‘disarrayed’ similar to ‘unformed’ having overrun the enemy position for instance. The activation of units takes place at brigade level and the gamer can arrange his commanders to get a higher chance of orders being carried out. Artillery roll two dice to fire, one for hits and one for ‘suppression’, the affected unit cannot move, but receives less damage next turn. The French can charge ‘furiously’ which lowers Austrian morale, and there are half and quarter scale variants when units are scaled down, but this tends to complicate brigade organisation.
A couple of dubious points (according to taste) are that many different sets of markers can become unsightly or confusing, and the 1864 Austrian and Danish infantry must always charge in column. But these are minor quibbles in an otherwise excellent rule set.
This set follows the previously published 1870 set for the Franco-Prussian war. The booklet is spiral bound and has full colour pretty much throughout and some charming pencil drawings. There are two, large, quick reference sheets. I recommend you get these laminated or they will rapidly deteriorate with play. Although no design scale is quoted, figures of 6, 15, and 10mm are included. The 1870 book is frequently mentioned highlight similarities or differences. D10 is used throughout and the player generally has to roll below a given number for a beneficial result. Intriguingly, there are two levels of the game: At the Grand Tactical level single bases represent a battalion, two squadrons or a battery. In the half scale variant, an infantry base represents a half battalion, most other aspects of the rules remain unchanged.
Each base is allocated a combat value and some a fire value in addition. A base is removed after all, usually two, fire points have been lost. (But, cavalry don’t have any fire points…). Troops are additionally allocated a numeric morale rating up to 10.
Order chits are placed faced down by units then activated by die roll – a neat idea. Chits and die rolls are dispensed with when the enemy is within 3” to reflect unit officer’s initiative. The number of chits and their transferability are limited by historical factors. Brigadier and higher-ranking commanders have command radii which limits their influence. Such commanders are also numerically graded, this being the target score to activate the order.
The basic movement rate of infantry in line is 8 inches, with a 50% bonus for marching in column. This does not change for different figures scales. Re-enacting experience shows this principle to be a fallacy. Both line and column formation march at the same rate, the column is quicker when changing direction because the other end of the wheel doesn’t have to move so far. Dressing the line in practice means the laggards are chased up. From the same source we discover that the larger the unit, the longer it takes to change formation.
Shooting: the fire points are added for troops firing at a particular range and cross referenced with a die roll to get the damage inflicted. The range bands may seem odd but they give a better reflection of the dramatic way casualties rise as the range shortens.
Charges are complicated: First the attacker assesses his morale, then the victim assesses his and may or may not be able to change formation. Support fire happens at this stage. Then the victim fires and the attacker has to check morale to see if it charges home and the victim checks to see if he stands. Historically, charges involving infantry rarely closed to a fight. If that doesn’t happen on the tabletop you then proceed to the melee. This is simpler: add up the combat points of stands in base contact with the enemy, add tactical modifiers to this total. Compare with the die roll on casualty table. Highest loses as loser check morale.
The original morale rating is modified according to casualties and circumstances. This is compared with a single die roll; less than the modified morale rating is a pass, equal or more is not good. Although simple to operate, this makes the units heavily reliant on the die roll.
There is a six page backgrounder to the 2nd Italian War of Independence, seven scenarios, and seven pages of Orbats. 15 pages on the evolution of weapons and tactics and eight pages of designer’s notes. The 1864 Second Schleswig war is covered in eight pages of modifications to the main 1859 set followed by 6 pages of historical background and seven scenarios and three pages of Orbats.
Primary scale: 6-15mm
Infantry base size: 1.25” wide, 0.5” in depth, the number of figures per stand varies with figure scale.
Command and Control: D10 to implement order.
Movement: simultaneous. Infantry columns move 12.
Shooting resolution: Fire points plus d10 make casualties.
Melee resolution: Combat points plus d10 make casualties.
Casualty removal: whole base (battalion) only.
Morale: Modified d10
I understand that Bruce Weigle of the USA is currently working on a ruleset for 1866. Judging by his already published rules1870 Grand Tactical Rules for the Franco-Prussian War (2001) and 1859 Grand Tactical Rules for the Second Italian War of Independence (2006) the latter also including complete rules for the Second Schleswig War 1864, these new rules will be well worth the wait. Actually it is worth pointing out that Mr Weigle’s publications offer far more than just rules, providing as they do a wealth of background information, scenarios, orders of battle, etc. Not Cheap, but certainly excellent value for the money.