Le Pot de Chambre: Sedan 1870, a new game on the battle that extinguished the Second French Empire.

Napoleon surrenders his army to Wilhelm & Bismark at sedan.

Hello fellow wargamers. My name is Ray and I'm an aspiring game designer currently playtesting a game on the battle that caused the fall of the second French empire. Most people have avoided examination of this game through a simulation because it is widely perceived that Sedan was a completely one sided contest, where 2 sophisticated and well led Prussian armies managed to completely encircle Sedan on August 31st 1870, one whole day before the battle even began.

This view is arguably not incorrect, there was a chaotic and astonishing breakdown in French command that led to no retreat orders being issued when several generals suspected the Prussians would easily encircle them post Beaumont had they spent a night resting men in Sedan. To make matters worse, General MacMahon who had just been put in charge of the army by Napoleon III the day before and did not favor a retreat towards Paris, was wounded in the first few hours of the battle leading to a conflict of command. General Durcot had assumed command on the spot and issued immediate orders for the army to start a retreat towards the west. This would have saved the last army of the 2nd French Empire as indeed the Prussians, not believing their eyes at the sight of resting French soldiers, split up into two armies and quickly set about surrounding the French.

Right when things seemed like the French had a chance to escape impending doom, general Wimpffen provided supposed proof of a commission that made him general in the event of MacMahon's demise. Wimpffen favored keeping the army at Sedan and fighting off whatever the Prussians threw at them, unconvinced the Prussians could so easily encircle the French. Wimpffen ending up winning out the command debate and set about setting defensive orders to the army which ultimately doomed them.

The situation on the morning of Sept 1st compliments of playtester Keith Tracton

Napoleon III after trying to get himself killed in battle a few times finally decided it wasn't worth the deaths of more of his men and surrender to the Prussians near the end of the day on the 1st. While Napoleon had wanted Peace, the people of Paris would go to overthrow Napoleon III and reinstate a republic and endured a grueling Prussian siege for a short while.

The French army was of similar stock to the same army that did most of the heavy lifting during the Crimean campaign 15 years earlier, except that the french had been working on several revolutionary inventions to weapons technology that would have as much of an effect on WW1 as would Prussian artillery during this period. One of these was a new artillery gun the French had dubbed the, "Mitraileuse" which was essentially what amounted to an early machine gun. In addition the French had developed the longest range deadliest rifle of its time, the Chassepot.

During the early phases of the war, the Prussian's gained a respect for the Mitraileuse as to paraphrase one Prussian solider, "Once it shoots you, you are dead." The French made a critical error nonetheless in deploying the Mitraileuse like an artillery gun, which at the time was usually up front where it could do the most damage. Given the Krupp Prussian guns could rain down death from a few miles away, it was often the french guns and their crews that got shot to hell first with modern steel artillery. The king of the battlefield (artillery) was again responsible for neutralizing or at least containing the long range threat of Chassepot fire. French infantry quickly became demoralized and combat ineffective as shells rained down on them while they tried to hold various spotted positions

Shock combat in Sedan

Having said all of that, the French army itself was regarded as one of the best armies in Europe not withstanding a humiliating loss to the Mexicans years before. The men were exceptionally loyal to the army and had had years of experience in expeditionary campaigns abroad. They were well commanded in the field and had proved this at the Alma 15 years before, where in spite of an almost comical lack of preparation on the account of their allies in the British, they managed to turn scale steep costal mountains to turn the Russian left into a complete rout by the Russian army at the Alma. These are both examples nonetheless of the exceptional qualities of the fighting men themselves as opposed to the often aristocratic, aloof, and vainglorious generals of the period across Europe. As with the other failed misadventures of the French Second Empire, they were a result of complete breakdowns of command leaving men in the field without orders and often without initiative. Though individual efforts of smaller formation generals through their own initiative would often tip the balance in their favor in various instances. Sedan nonetheless is a tragic example of the French leadership's inability to recognize or acknowledge the situation unfolding around them, and not the fault of the men that fought the doomed actions of the battle. So to me at least, this was an opportunity to explore the possibility of saving the Second French Empire given hindsight and pure acknowledgement of the operational reality facing the French. 

Now allow me to end the history lecture and go to the game itself! The core of the game is based on Kevin Zucker's The Library of Napoleonic Battles series which has always been my favorite engine of 19th century warfare played out at a grand tactical scale, although my game changes a few of the rules to compensate for evolution in both tactics and weaponry by the 1870s. After helping him work on his last game Naploeon's Last Gamble (you'll find my name in the credits,) Kevin graciously agreed to let me use the basic tenants and calculations of his system as the base of operations for my own game. Apart from letting me use parts of his rules, I am forever grateful for the relentless constructive criticism he gave me in my early efforts of the design project. With Kevin's influence I was dogmatic about having everything make sense with the actual history of the battle, from frontages per hex to the initiative ratings of units that would either be in communication with headquarters via telegraph or by messenger on horseback. I spent over a year working on combining and searching for sources as the OOB over went several drastic changes. Information from the time is generally hard to pin down as most of the French accounts are in archives in France and in French while the German notes are thorough and useful but ultimately biased and sometimes just wrong about French organization present at various actions throughout 8.31-9.1 1870. 

A legal setup for the introduction scenario "La Moncelle." Lebrun's 12th corps must attempt to hold off 2 Prussian infantry corps that are packed to the seams with men.

The game itself features infantry units at both division and brigade level, including batteries, battalions, and corps (only artillery reserves.) With the exception of the scenario pictured above, the game uses a simple VP ratio system to determine victory at the end of Sept 1st. The following sequence of play is used until the completion of a turn, unto which it repeats until turns run out. 

1. Administrative Phase (Occasional)
1.1: Roll 1D6 for weather.
1.2: Roll 2D6 and check chart for next admin turn.
1.3: Check supply for all on-map units.
1.4: Units move from the awaiting recovery box into the recovered box.
1.5: Units attempt to move from the eliminated box to the recovered box by rolling <= init.
1.6: Leaders may reorganize the unit back on the map at reduced strength in their hex.

FIRST PLAYER SEGMENT

2 Command & Movement Phase.
2.1: Breakdown / Recombination
2.2: Spend commander command points on officers and units.
2.3: Check Order Interdiction.
2.4: Commanded movement.
2.5: Roll init for officers not commanded with point.
2.6: Out of command initiative and movement.
2.7: Check line of sight, add/remove stealth counters for units in/out of LOS if using hidden movement.

3. Artillery / Chassepot Fire Phase.
(French Infantry range: 2 hexes. French Artillery Range: 3 hexes. German Artillery range, 9 Hexes.)
(French units that fire in this phase are NOT allowed to participate in the Combat Phase.)
3.1: Declare hex receiving fire.
3.2: Check for associated unit spotting.
3.3: Determine total fire strength.
3.4: Adjust strength for artillery range as appropriate.
3.5: Roll die and compare roll with the appropriate chart.
3.6: Apply Results.

4 Cavalry Charge Phase.
4.1: Cavalry that did not move starting from the turn before, may charge units within their movement range.
4.2: When entering the hex of the unit being charged, determine relative strengths and roll on the ChgRT.
4.3: Apply results, if successful the phasing cavalry unit charges into the enemy hex pinning them in place.

5: Combat Phase.
(All units in an EZOC must conduct combat [see exceptions.] Units must attack every unit in their ZOC [see exceptions.])
Cavalry Retreat Before Combat.
5.1: Determine relative combat strengths.
5.2: Adjust strengths for TM and relevant markers.
5.3: Roll on the CRT.
5.4: Check for Shock (If Shock conduct Shock combat, see (placeholder for page.)
5.5: Apply Results.
5.6: Check line of sight, add/remove stealth counters for units in/out of LOS if using hidden movement.

6. Game Turn Phase (only after both players complete the sequence above)
6.1: Check victory conditions for sudden death.
Check VP gains or losses as per scenario.
6.2 Advance the turn marker to the next turn.
6.3 Repeat 1-5 for both players.

7. Night Turns (only on specified night turns.)
7.1: No Combat or Artillery Fire at night.
7.2 Units do not exert a ZOC at night.
7.3: Units disengage from an EZOC. Movement is 2/3.
7.4: Leaders may set one march order for any one corps.
7.5: Recombination only may occur.

A sample of the map. The darker the ground the higher the elevation. 

So while the above may look complicated, we have found turns tend to take a relatively short time. The historical campaign can be usually completed in 2-3 hours, whereas the other scenarios are anywhere from 4-6 each. The game has optional hidden movement with additional dummy counters included in the countermix, but otherwise is also very soloable and game time tend to drop dramatically as one get more familiar with the rules. So far my one worry about the game so far is that for what I think is a relatively simple game I have some 26 pages of rules right now. Extra pains have been taken into explaining all concepts as clearly as possible. If anyone wants to help me setup a quick rules / setup format, I'd appreciate it. As this is the first wargame I have worked on (I made a dolphin RPG before this, no shit. Google Everything is Dolphins) I have my own doubts about the clarity and organisation of my writing so that is hopefully the first thing we hope to iron out in playtesting. So far though as the rules were built with a solid foundation to start, things have been fitting into place nicely so far.

The game includes mechanics for ranged Chassepot fire, Prussian long ranged artillery, Napoleon III's gout, dead messengers, morale, and everything in between. It rewards careful planning with the elimination of enemy units most efficiently from turning their flanks (retreating into an EZOC.) Veteran wargamers should have no problem with the rules as Kevin's rules are fairly popular, and the ones I add use fairly popular conventions. 

Prussian cavalry spotting for their artillery in the rear. 

Currently we are trying to solicit as many playtesters as possible. There is a well functioning Vassal module written by the talented Allen Dickerson and the rules I believe are 99% complete with charts for most everything. If you can playtest I hope to send everyone who does a copy of the game once it finds a home with a publisher. Haven't really been sending out yet as this finalized version hasn't been playtested but a few people have it. I would hope that anyone knowledgeable and or interested would hit me up here or on facebook. 

Thanks for reading, I know it was long. Ask me anything here!

Best,

Ray

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