Sunday, 29 March 2009

Solferino in Thirty Minutes – A report on how the Salute 2009 games went

I must admit, although I knew the game was a good one, I was unprepared for the response it received from a lot of people who stopped to watch or to take part. One passer-by even asked when the game would be on sale, as he wanted to buy a copy!

So how did it go?

Well during the course of the seven hours from opening time at 10.00 am until closing time at 5.00 pm the game was played through at least eight times to my knowledge. Amongst those who commanded the French or the Austrians were several past and present members of Wargame Developments, a chap whose name I do not know but who always makes a point of playing the WD participation game at Salute, and a retired Major General who served in the Royal Engineers.

The results were very interesting; in five of the seven games I witnessed, the French achieved a marginal victory by capturing Solferino, retaining Medole, but not capturing Cavriana or Guidizzolo. In the other two instances the Austrians not only managed to retain Solferino but also managed to push back the French troops commanded by General Niel. The crucial factor in both of these cases was the Austrian 2nd Army Cavalry, which should have retreated in the face of the advancing French, but did not.

Several ‘improvements’ have been suggested; for example, making the composition of the deck of activation cards more random and giving the Austrian artillery the same range as the French artillery. Although these suggestions are good ones, they would change the nature of the game, which is – essentially – a re-fight of an historical battle. That said, several people have indicated that they intend to use the basic game mechanisms to re-fight other nineteenth century battles such as Chancellorsville and Fröschwiller.

Richard Brooks (the game's designer and the author of the newly published Osprey book about the Battle of Solferino), Ian Drury (a long-time member of Wargame Developments and also a prolific game designer and author), and Alex Kleanthous (the current editor of The Nugget), having a quick run through of the game.

Richard Brooks looking somewhat astonished (or possibly even alarmed!) as I try to photograph the game over his shoulder. During this run through I commanded the Austrians ... and made a right mess of things!
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The following summary was given to all the players and to interested passers by.

Player Summary


The battle of Solferino was fought in Northern Italy on 24 June 1859 between a Franco-Sardinian army commanded by Napoleon III and an Austrian Army under Kaiser Franz Josef. The latter’s defeat made possible the unification of Italy during the 1860s.

Military Significance:

Solferino was the first major battle where both sides used rifled muskets, supported on the French side by rifled field guns. The last great battle in the Napoleonic tradition, it foreshadowed the mass industrial wars of the future.

Game Design:

Solferino was a very large battle, involving 259,000 combatants, on a 12 mile frontage, and lasting 15 hours. Wargaming so large a conflict in a convenient time and space demands a high level of abstraction.

The Board:

Represents the 6-mile square central part of the battlefield where the French engaged the Austrian main body. Its chequered pattern reflects the patchwork of fields south of the ridge around Solferino village, and defines frontages, ranges and movement.

Playing Pieces:

Represent divisions of Cavalry, Infantry, or Guards, their supporting Artillery, and Commanders-in-Chief. Set up as at 9 a.m. following the initial contacts.

Game System:

Simple mechanisms bring out key features of the fighting:

  • Personalised command cards transfer initiative to different sectors of the battlefield.
  • Chess-like movement encourages historically appropriate manoeuvres.
  • Combat resolution rewards combined arms tactics and intelligent placing of commanders.
  • Limited duration: The game ends when all cards are drawn: rain ended the battle at 5 p.m.
  • 1 square any direction, except infantry & guards only move forward/diagonally/backwards.
  • Cavalry may also make a knight’s move, but not over enemy occupied squares.
  • Towns are impassable to guns and cavalry; Cavalry never enter ridge squares.
  • Cavalry and infantry never stack; artillery and C-in-Cs may do so.
  • No diagonal movement between enemy units or past enemy directly in front.
  • Players only move own units, except Napoleon may let MacMahon move his artillery or a Guard unit. MacMahon may transfer a cavalry division to Niel.
  • Austrian Armies never cross the centre line of the board, except cavalry.
  1. Count attacking and supporting units able to enter/fire into enemy square under attack:
    • French guns have 1 or 2 squares range.
    • C-in-Cs never initiate combat.
    • Max 1 attack per unit per turn.
    • No attacks at <= odds.
  2. Multiply by Average Dice (+1 French attack/C-in-C adjacent).
  3. Defending unit rolls Average Dice (+1 friendly artillery or C-in-C adjacent):
    x3 Built up area; x2 French guns or any infantry in open; Else x1.
  4. Compare scores: Attacker>=Defender x2: Defender annihilated; Attacker >=Defender x1: Defender retreats; Otherwise no change.

French must take Solferino and retain Medole for a marginal victory, and take Cavriana or Guidizzolo for a decisive victory. Otherwise the Austrians win.


  1. I agree with the guy who wanted to buy a copy--when will this be available?!

    Best regards,


  2. Chris,

    A good question!

    There was an extensive report on the game and its design in THE NUGGET (No. 229) which is available to members of Wargame developments via the organisation's website.

    At present it is password protected, but will be generally available from about September onwards when the new subscription year starts.

    All the best,



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