Frontier Battles:
The Previewing, Part II

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
November 2016

A long time ago, I decided I wanted to be a game designer, if not full-time then at least as a substantial portion of a freelance career. So I put together a list of the wonderful wargames I would design, and drew up specification sheets for them with topic, outlines of game systems, number of pieces and so on.

Among these would-be masterpieces were games on the great feats of Austrian arms, like the 1866 Battle of Trautenau. Once that rousing success hit the market, there would be follow-up titles on more 1866 battles like Jicin and Skalitz.

Why I thought anyone would want such things is beyond my understanding a couple of decades later; although some things I did just a few years ago don’t make a whole lot of sense, either. But at any rate, I eventually resurrected the games and we offered a set on the Battles of 1866.

If I had it to do over again, I would never have created such a game. Of course, if I had it to do over again, I would never have become a designer or publisher of games. The fool I once was is gone now, and I sort of miss him sometimes, so in his honor I’ve striven to make Battles of 1866: Frontier Battles the game that he would have wanted: beautiful to see, fun to play, and filled with many options.

There are a dozen scenarios all told, split between three battlefields. I looked at the first set in an earlier set of ramblings; here’s what you get in the second, on the Battle of Jicin. The Jicin scenarios take place on a 34 x 22 inch map, and Jicin would make a very respectable stand-alone game all by itself. Anyway, here’s what happens:

Jicin: The Battle
This is the straight-up historical scenario. We ran a piece about the battle a while back, found here. The Austrians hold a line of hills, and the Prussians approach from three different roads. The Austrian position is very strong thanks to the woods and hills, which provide fine ground for their gun line.

An Austrian corps on the defense is a formidable opponent: the infantry isn’t exposed to needle gun casualties unless its commander defies his orders, and the artillery can play to its fullest extent. Austrian guns are more powerful than their Prussian counterparts with greater range as well. And at Jicin, the defenders actually outnumber the attackers.

That should make for a fairly easy Austrian win, but it’s not quite that simple. First off, the Austrians are led by two of the more outrageous characters from this campaign. In command of I Corps is the “Army Drum,” Eduard von Clam-Gallas. He is the worst leader in the entire Battles of 1866 set of games, and there will never be anyone worse depicted in any series game: it’s a mathematical impossibility.

Fortunately for the Austrian cause, Clam drinks when he’s under stress. A lot. If he falls into a stupor, the corps’ ad latus commander, Leopold Graf Gondrecourt, takes over. He’s more capable than Clam, if not in the first rank of Austrian leaders. But there’s a price to be paid: Gondrecourt quite literally wrote the book on the stosstaktik, the Austrian mass bayonet charge. He’s more likely than other commanders to order his brigades to justify his theories by charging the Prussians at some inopportune moment whether the player wants them to or not.

And while there are more Austrians than there are Prussians, there are not enough of them to cover the whole Jicin frontage. The second formation that should fill out the line, the Royal Saxon Army Corps, is still straggling onto the battlefield. So the Prussians can find weak points if they can strike before the Saxons get into position.

Jicin: A Genius For War
When writing these scenarios (it’s never felt correct to call it “designing,” since the game system is already in place) I sometimes raise questions, in my own mind, about why the game situation is the way it is. Or maybe those are just the voices offering an opinion. Either way, Jicin is notable for its late start: the Prussians only show up in mid-afternoon, and then the historic commander took his time about launching an assault (failed his activation die roll, in game terms).

Yet the Austrians, they of the supposed incompetence, had marched no less a distance than the Prussians and somehow managed to arrive at Jicin many hours ahead of their enemies. The Prussians, they of the supposed Teutonic efficiency, had badly tangled their units and supply trains in the town of Münchengrätz to the west of the Jicin battlefield and needed many additional hours to sort them out.

So how would the battle have played out if the Prussian army commander, Prince Friedrich Karl, had gotten his divisions moving when he wished? In this scenario, the Austrians aren’t fully in place yet, though they can probably get where they need to be before the Prussians are upon them. What gives the Prussians the edge here is many more hours of daylight in which to attack, and to get all four divisions onto the map so they actually outnumber the defenders since the Saxons are not any faster.

Jicin: Gondrecourt’s Plan
Gondrecourt would later claim that the Jicin position needed a full three corps to be held properly, and in this scenario, he gets them: the I Corps and Saxons from the historical scenario, plus the III Corps of Archduke Ernst. During the actual battle the Saxon Crown Prince Albert asked Ernst to bring his troops to Jicin; Ernst refused. Archdukes could and did do that sort of thing.

The Prussians are no stronger, but they’ve been given a little quicker arrival schedule to help balance things out some. But their objectives remain the same as in the Battle scenario so it’s pretty tough on the Prussian side.

The Austrians have more troops, plus their laggard Saxon allies are actually on the battlefield, so they now outnumber the Prussians by roughly 3:2 and are on the defensive. On the negative side, over a third of their force is still commanded by Clam and Gondrecourt so bad things can happen. Ernst is easily the best of the Habsburg archdukes depicted in the three 1866 games, which makes him a middling commander compared to the common professional soldiers.

The Saxons are very good, with better morale than either the Austrians or the Prussians. Albert, who serves as Allied army commander in most scenarios, is only a fair general. And the Saxons lack the special powers of Austrian artillery and cavalry, and can’t always combine with the Austrians easily.

Jicin: Benedek’s Battle
In all of the preceding scenarios the Prussians are on the attack and the Austrians on the defensive, and I wanted a scenario with those roles reversed. Ludwig von Benedek, commander of the Austrian North Army, made vague comments about the importance of Jicin, stating more than once that the Prussians would be crushed there.

Austrian propagandists called Benedek the “Second Radetzky” after his fine performance in the 1859 war with France and Piedmont, and a battle at Jicin would have followed the pattern laid down the great Josef Graf Radetzky for Austrian battle tactics: wear down the enemy by defending a favorable position, then strike at the key moment with a large, fresh reserve. The same formula brought Austria victory over Italy at Custoza five days before the Battle of Jicin, and formed the keystone of Benedek’s plan at Königgrätz.

This time the Austrians bring three of their own corps to the field, plus three cavalry divisions, plus the Saxons. Benedek does not seem to have intended to bring his own headquarters to Jicin, so the array is still led by Crown Prince Albert as the “Army of the Iser.” Despite the name, the “army” had no additional staff assets, so the various corps commanders must place themselves in command via Initiative. That means the additional Austrian corps is of limited value, since it’s led by Archduke Leopold, whose command brilliance approaches that of Clam-Gallas without the boozing.

Jicin, The Second Day
The actual battle came to a pretty abrupt end when orders arrived from North Army telling the Austro-Saxons to retreat; by the time they got to Albert and Clam-Gallas on horseback (despite a perfectly functional telegraph line) they were seven hours old and the Austrians wanted to continue the fight while the Saxons wished to pull back.

In the standard battle scenario the game’s end is variable because of these orders, but I wanted to see what a second day’s fighting would have looked like, with all four Prussian divisions and the Saxons on the field and fully ready to engage.

It’s hard to say whether the Austrians should have stood and fought; the Prussians have penetrated the Austro-Saxon lines at this point and to restore them means the Allies must counter-attack, and that means facing the needle gun. Both sides have about half their force already damaged in the previous day’s fighting, while the other half is pretty well untouched. Again it will come down to Austria’s artillery against Prussia’s needle gun.

The Summarizing
Where the Trautenau/Soor selection previewed previously is harder on the Austrian player in most scenarios, I think the opposite is true here. The Prussian is outnumbered and on the attack, balanced by the incredibly inept leadership of the Austrian I Corps. The historical scenario and those derived from it (the early start and second day versions) show the Austro-Saxon problem: too few troops to adequately man the perimeter, which can’t really be shrunk without abandoning the line of hills. The Prussians may be outnumbered on the field as a whole, but they can load up on one sector for local superiority. Gondrecourt (who deployed the men for his drunken boss) probably made the right call in sticking with the hill line, long identified in Austrian war planning as a prime defensive spot. But players can try pulling back to the flat ground around Jicin instead.

Jicin would make a fine boxed game all by itself, with a nice mixture of scenarios, a full-sized map and pretty extensive counter mix. It’s attractive and plays very well, but it’s an artifact from an earlier age of both myself and my company. For those with tastes outside the wargaming norm, you’re going to like this one.

Fight out the Clash of the Teutons! Order Frontier Battles right now!

Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold is smarter than an archduke.