Friday, 15 January 2016

First Bull Run - A Bloody Big Battles AAR

As planned Dave and I met up to give First Bull Run a try using the excellent Bloody Big Battles ruleset for our game. However the best layed plans of mice and men were somewhat undone but a manic few days at work, that left me little time to get the table set. A last minute rush saw me able to cobble something together, but not to the level I would have liked!

I've had a few games of Black Powder ACW before at my old club, but as was the way of things back then, it left me cold as the members invariably took too much cavalry, Berdan's Sharpshooters etc and the games ended in tears. You get the picture I'm sure. So I was looking forward to this game as Dave had shown me last year the Napoleonics can be fun.

Dave chose to be the Confederates, broadly giving him a defensive role early on, whilst I would have the initial advantage of numbers as the Union attacker. I won't go into much detail on forces etc as there is so much information out there. Full details the scenario can be found here.

Due to the hectic build up to the game, I was too tired to make any notes, so hopefully the captioned photos will suffice.

The view broadly South over the Bull Run, with Newmarket village in the top left hand corner. The Union 2nd Division can be seen in the bottom right hand corner in column of march, with the Confederate troops by Ball's Ford in the bottom left hand corner and near Newmarket village.
The Confederates get the better opening moves, as Bartow's Brigade moves to cover the crossing between Bald Hill and Henry House Hill. The Union 2nd Division in contrast don't seem that keen to get to grips with the Rebels.
Boths sides re-inforcements arrive, but still the Union troops are tardy to say the least.
Porter's Brigade comes off worse in the firefight with Evan's Brigade on Matthew's Hill, losing a base and thus becoming 'Spent' for the rest of the game.
The mass of Union troops slowly move along the road towards Newmarket village and the crossing held by the Confederate troops. Jackson's Brigade take up a strong defensive position at Stone Bridge, which will make it hard for the Union troops to try and force a crossing there and at Ball's and Lewis' Fords.
The Union troops in strung out in column of march.
Finally the Union troops manage to deploy into line and start the firefight with the Confederate troops defending the crossing between Henry House Hill and Bald Hill.
Things are starting to look promising for the Union troops...
The Union 1st Division finally arrives to contest the crossings defended by Cocke and Jackson. Elswhere the firefights continue.
The mass of Union troops that constitutes the 1st Division.
Both sides struggle to get the upper hand in the firefight as the Union troops find it hard to deploy into line to make the numbers count.
A mass of Confederate re-inforcements arrive to bolster the defences held by Cocke and Jackson.
The arrival of Bonham's Brigade is really going to make it hard for the Union troops to force a crossing at Ball's Ford.
As the Union troops attempt to force the crossing by sheer weight of number, Evan's Brigade gaemly charges into the Unions flank.
The beginning of the end as the Confederates push back the Union 1st Division and turn the flank of the Union 2nd Division.
With a Rebel Yell the Confederates pour across Bull Run river.
The Union troops, despite their best efforts, have been unable to force the crossing and have now had their flanks turned.

End of the Game
At this point it was obvious that the Confederates had won a convincing victory as it would be nigh on impossible for the Union troops to seize any of the objectives. So we shook hands and took stock of how things had panned out.

Post Game Thoughts
So another good game of BBB and one that was very different from previous ones that we have played. There were several reasons for this and some of them can be found below:

  • Having Raw and Fragile troops really does change things in a big way. It is harder to get them moving and once they become Spent, this really does become very hard indeed.
  • The Confederates benefited from having a General on the table as at times his presence helped to negate the above. 
  • Neither side was really able to get their firing going, with both of us rolling quite low for most of the game. When we did roll high, we seemed to end up Low on Ammo result. Better luck next time.
  • Having Smoothbore Muskets and a 3" range was a bit of a shock. Artillery certainly comes into its own at this point, if you can bring enough to bear on a target (and hit it of course!).
  • Having 'proper' bases with 6mm figures really did make a difference to the game. Not only did it look better, but manouevring the troops became more challenging. As an example, Bonham's 1st Brigade consists of 8 stands, which whilst gaving the Confederates a lot of firepower, makes them rather awkward to manouevre around the table, deploy etc.
  • Despite having to rush the set up, I was happy with how the felt roads worked. They don't move around and nicely conform to the contours of the hills etc. The same is true of the woods. I also have some blue felt for rivers and streams, but didn't have time to get these cut for the game.
  • My foam blocks under the table worked well to get the contours sorted. Basically I made them in 2", 4", 6" and 12" squares and simply gridded up the map, thus allowing me to transfer this grid onto the table. Whilst not perfect, it is quick and easy to do and the are re-usable for other scenarios. 
  • I certainly enjoyed my first ACW game and am looking forward to the next one.
  • You certainly need lots of trees for ACW games. Mine are 'in progress' but a mix trees, felt to delineate the area plus some scatter and lichen will help reduce the quantity required.
So there we have it. A bit of a break next week as Dave is not available, but the plan is to move forward a few years to a scenario with better troops, more Generals and longer weapon ranges.


  1. A great start to 2016.
    The Reb's certainly seemed to have luck with them.

    1. Only a little bit of luck for the Rebs, but enough to turn the game in their favour.

  2. Interesting stuff Steve. You're certainly getting in more (and more varied) games than me these days. BBB is a fine set of rules.

    1. With Dave working locally during the week means we are able to meet up pretty much each week, barring the school holidays. To be honest HoW and BBB allows us to play a great mix of periods in an evening, without having to learn a new set of rules each time, which is just what we want these days.