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"Musings on the Franco Prussian War of 1870" Topic

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Liliburlero Supporting Member of TMP11 Apr 2019 11:31 a.m. PST

While reading a dual biography of Napoleon III and Eugenie, and catching the film "Juarez" on TV recently, I thought again about how much I love this period for wargaming. And even though a poll here ranks it as "obscure" (but not by that much), it seems there are some fans of the FPW.

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As a gamer I've been very lucky since Dad had a large army for this period, as did our dear comrades the Jackson Gamers, so I was/am able to game. But do you think it is due to….

~ large armies required
~ unfamiliarity with the historical period
~ limited available rules
~ other

…that this isn't a more mainstream/popular period? Please muse away, I'm interested in your thoughts.

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP11 Apr 2019 12:10 p.m. PST

I've been gaming since the 70's and, in that time, I have personally known 1 guy with a FPW collection. Maybe it is a:

Lack of familiarity
Not colonials, and not WWI
Lack of commercial rules
Not as many manufacturers producing figures for the period

It is one of those periods that never grabbed me.

Grelber11 Apr 2019 12:31 p.m. PST

It has always been on my list of things I'd like to do, but never bubbled up to the top of the list. Yes, I have figured out what I'd need and how much that would cost, and it's clearly a "big army" war, which is daunting.

A lot of "big army" wars provide some opportunity for smaller battles, as you buy and paint more figures. I'm sure (in a general, philosophical sort of way) this does, too, particularly in the latter part, but there doesn't seem to be much information available in English.

Nor has it generated any movies or television shows, unlike the colonial era. Les Miserables (the book) has some stories of Waterloo, but I don't know of any literature that includes the Franco-Prussian War.

I've bought a number of The Foundry's FPW figures, and they are nice figures, but they were drafted into my colonial and 1897 armies.

I think The Courier ran a set of FPW rules back in the mid-80s. I proxied my Airfix WWI Germans and Foreign Legion, and did a solo battle, which was interesting.


Lion in the Stars11 Apr 2019 1:24 p.m. PST

One of my gaming buddies is quite fond of the various Wars of German Unification and Franco-Prussian Wars. I think he used the old Chassepot and Needle-gun rules.

Actually, he likes gaming any wars before about 1900 and the mass deployment of machineguns that made horse cavalry extinct. He's always game to play the Pathans when I break out the NWF troops, as an excuse to shoot up the British.

But I'd blame the general relative lack of interest in the FPW on a lack of popular literature and film set during the time. If there was a FPW equivalent of the Sharpe novels, it would help.

Tony S11 Apr 2019 2:07 p.m. PST

As an owner of a French and Prussian army, I personally find the period quite interesting!

That said, finding a good set of rules – ie rules that appeal to your biases and preconceptions – can be tricky, although that's improving. The period itself isn't as well known, perhaps because neither Britain nor the US was involved?

The war itself and more generally all the wars in this era were also quite short, so not as many battles are available to refight.

Admittedly, that could be a big advantage. It is a lot easier to raise an army, and learn the history of a more limited conflict than, say, the vast depth of the Napoleonic wars. But to mention all the uniform changes. A lot less figures to buy and paint.

Another shortcoming is that the wars themselves were definitely NOT between equals. Danes versus Prussians and Austrians – what's going to be the outcome of that war? For example, we've been playing a few games now, in 1859 Italy, and the Austrians usually lose. Awful tactics and dreadful leadership tend to do that. (Historically! My esteemed opponents are not the problem, rather the rules we use reflect the historical advantages and disadvantages of each nation).

SOB Van Owen11 Apr 2019 8:54 p.m. PST

One of my gaming friends has both sides. We play whenever he wants to put on a game.
So, I have no need to paint up either side.

When you game the FPW, you're killing either Germans or French. What's not to like? I'll play whichever side comes on from where I sit at the table.

rmaker11 Apr 2019 9:06 p.m. PST

For Americans, it IS an obscure historical period. Not helped by the "hundred years peace" propaganda (no European Wars between Waterloo and Sarajevo) still, evidently, being promulgated in American schools. That said, there ARE good English language sources available, even modern ones, if people only knew where to look.

Personal logo Unlucky General Supporting Member of TMP11 Apr 2019 9:08 p.m. PST

I suspect Tony is right. I wouldn't have the first idea that there are wargaming movements beyond the English speaking world other than in Europe. People do seem to get interested in something when they have even a distant connection with or an ability to identify with one side or the other. Generally most people wargame the better known periods and conflicts and the more who do the more they seem to attract – a kind of gravity.
I have a slowly emerging French Franco-Prussian army but no-one to game against particularly. I am also building both sides for the Crimean War which also seems to fall into the niche period.
I doubt size has much to do with it – you can game in any scale and size you want. As a mainly 28mm gamer I can never hope to play an entire battle in many cases.
If you look at any century we generally land our collective interests in repetitive subjects. The eighteenth century is generally dominated in wargaming by WSS, SYW, WAS and lately AWI. In the nineteenth century it's Napoleonics, ACW and if you are British you might like to relive the one sided colonialism of Sudan or the Zulus wars. Most of all the other conflicts around the world over the centuries are yet to be covered.

Martin Rapier11 Apr 2019 10:30 p.m. PST

I do a lot of mid and late Nineteenth Century wargaming, but tbh I find myself far more drawn to the APW and 1859 than the FPW. I guess it is the asymmetries of the earlier periods which make them more interesting, a lot of FPW battles are just a bit dull.

Green Tiger12 Apr 2019 12:05 a.m. PST

It's not a very even conflict…

AussieAndy12 Apr 2019 3:33 a.m. PST

I agree that it seems to lack mass appeal, but I have no idea why that is. It has a lot going for it.

parrskool12 Apr 2019 6:29 a.m. PST

Rules? Try Neil Thomas's Book: Wargaming 19th Century Europe"

AussieAndy12 Apr 2019 8:11 a.m. PST

I think that the limited number of sets of rules available is actually a good thing. I suspect that folks who game the FPW are more likely to have some experience with the three or four main sets of rules in use for FPW than Napoleonic players will have experience with the scores of sets of rules in use there. Sorry, that's a horrible attempt at a sentence, but it is 2am.

advocate12 Apr 2019 8:20 a.m. PST

Zola also wrote 'The Debacle' specifically about the period 1870-71.
It's not been made into a musical though.

advocate12 Apr 2019 8:25 a.m. PST

Historically it wasn't very even, but you can say that about many wars. The technology was asymmetrical and new, and no-one was clear what to expect. That makes for a challenge in recreating the feel of the thing.

Bismarck12 Apr 2019 9:39 a.m. PST


I have always considered it mainstream. It does seem that periods fall in and out of favor and back over time. I have always felt the heyday for FPW was back in the 90s when we had Larry's long standing rules, along with some others and saw They Died for Glory and 1870 come on the scene, as well as new figure lines becoming available and coverage from the Courier. Think it was the theme period for one Historicon.

My thoughts:
lack of familiarity
large armies needed
table size( 12x6 for the 25-28mm players).
lack of movie and media coverage.

For me, it has been my favorite period. I would love to see its popularity recover. Perhaps Bruce Weigle's 1871 rules will be a start. A war that could have prevented WWI or WWII from ever happening. Last war with colorful uniforms, linear tactics and the first with modern weaponry.

FYI for the other posters, my 15mm army is 1000 figure strong and covers both sides. I still have 400 or so to paint for the Republican phase of the war. An ahistorical based Army sized game can be played to conclusion within a 4 hour time limit.

I owe it all to Classics Illustrated comic book version of Zola's DOWNFALL back in the mid 50s and of course, your Dad.

Hope you are well.


parrskool12 Apr 2019 10:39 a.m. PST

…. and the best set of memoirs is " The reality of War" by Leonce Patry (Translated by Douglas Fermer)
… gives a real feel for the time.
and, yes the Classics Illustrated comic book version was abig influence on me as a 10 year old. I have since got the proper novel entitled "The Debacle". (Along with TDFG, 1870, 1871, and the Neil Thomas set of rules).
The interest as a game lies in balancing superior French small arms against superior German artillery

Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP12 Apr 2019 1:37 p.m. PST

The Jackson Gamers have played FPW for years using Larry's Chassepot and Needlegun rules. I personally like to call it the Franco-German War since just about every Germanic state except Austria was involved.

We've had recreations of various battles from both the first phase where the French Imperials were clobbered by the Germans and the second phase where the various French Republican armies vainly tried to lift the siege of Paris.

My particular forces are based on the German IX Corps (18th Prussian and 25th Ducal Hessian divisions, plus cavalry and plenty of artillery) versus the French 15th Corps (1st Army of the Loire) with its odds and sods gathering of everything from regular regiments de marche through the Foreign Legion Regiment and naval infantry regiments to Gardes Mobiles regiments and the Voluntaires de l'Ouest.

We've done both 15mm:

and 28mm battles, but prefer the 28mm:

and my blog postings on the raising of my army and some games:


P.S. We also game the Crimean War (in 15mm) and the Russo-Turkish Wars (in 15mm), both using variants of Larry's standard rules.

Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP12 Apr 2019 1:42 p.m. PST

parrskool stated: "The interest as a game lies in balancing superior French small arms against superior German artillery."

That is very true. The French longer range chassepot rifle can literally shred the German attackers before they close into needlegun range. But the much longer range and more numerous German artillery can do the same to the French. We've found that the Germans need to spend two or three turns doing nothing but softening up the French infantry before moving into the attack.

Additionally, almost all of the German commanders tended to march to the sound of the guns while most, if not all, of the French commanders did not. This is hard to replicate in a tactical tabletop fight but if one does an operational map phase before hand then such German operational art can be replicated by having overwhelming force available and coming from several different directions.


Lucius12 Apr 2019 6:36 p.m. PST

I've been reading William Manchester's "The Arms of Krupp". His description of the FPW is basically Krupp cannon obliterating large formations of French with impunity.

That doesn't sound like a recipe for fun to me. Did Manchester exaggerate the case, or was that really that lopsided?

BillyNM12 Apr 2019 9:31 p.m. PST

I love the period and would game FPW except for:
1). The armies, battlefields and weapon ranges are very large representing a big investment and a need to go small scale where the beauty of the uniforms is lost.
2). The one-sided nature of almost all the results – I find it hard to game periods where one side winning would feel anachronistic.

That said I keep mulling over the idea of perhaps doing some skirmish level gaming perhaps using Sharp Practice which is bit bloody for black powder muskets so might suit early bolt action rifles – anyone else skirmish in this period?

Bismarck13 Apr 2019 8:05 a.m. PST


Before health got in the way, I ran 7 annual games at a local con based on the actual timeline and battles of the war. Prussians were ahead 4 games to 3. Only two out of the seven resulted historically. I use a heavily modified version of Chassepot & Needlegun, "bathtubbing" the forces and terrain to proportionally match the actual forces. So gaming the FPW is not so one sided as one might think.

Like Col Campbell, I too did operational maps prior to the game providing deployment areas to both commanders.

Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP13 Apr 2019 10:31 a.m. PST

The games are not so one-sided as the historical battles. We did a number of "play tests" many years ago with Lori trying to develop the best tactics for the Prussians to use. In most cases the Prussians got shot to pieces by the French chassepots before they could get into range with their needleguns. The trick, which I mentioned earlier, is for the Prussian artillery to soften up the French as they did in many of the actual battles. But even with overpowering artillery support, the Prussians did suffer horrendous casualties in several occasions.

Quintin Barry's two volume work -- The Franco-Prussian War, 1870-71, Volume 1: The Campaign of Sedan, Helmuth von Moltke and the Overthrow of the Second Empire and … Volume 2: After Sedan, Helmuth von Moltke and the Defeat of the Government of National Defence (Helion & Company, 2007) are perhaps the best English language volumes on the war.


mkck194713 Apr 2019 11:57 a.m. PST

Lori,one of my first large wargames was with your Dad's FPW armies and I've had a soft spot for the period ever since. It's been over 40 years since that game but I just bought large Piemontese and Austrian armies so that I can add 1859
Risorgimento battles to mix. It is one of the rare periods where major industrialized states had vastly different quality of weapons. In the case of the FPW the French qualitative advantage with small arms and the Prussian qualitative in artillery makes for fascinating challenges for both sides.

While book quality is certainly subjective,I don't think that in English anyone will ever surpass Michael Howard's one volume history. It is still used as a model in college Military history classes.


ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP15 Apr 2019 3:26 a.m. PST

"do you think it is due to….
~ large armies required
~ unfamiliarity with the historical period
~ limited available rules
~ other
…that this isn't a more mainstream/popular period?"

I'd say it is due to unfamiliarity, compounded by the fact that what little a lot of folks do know about it is the simple stereotype mentioned a few times above: a one-sided walkover with overwhelming Krupp firepower clearing the way.

It's true the French didn't win many FPW battles, but that doesn't stop them being interesting games. Some of their defeats were winnable; and even an inevitable one like Sedan can be made an exciting game just by pitching the victory conditions right, so that the French player's army can take a battering but still win in game terms by doing less badly than his historical counterpart.

People have mentioned the asymmetry of technology and the asymmetry of doctrine and command. Both of these were pretty dramatic and make for interesting and different grand tactical and tactical challenges for both sides, hence interesting games.

We have had a ton of fun fighting FPW battles (including one epic weekend where we fought all through a whole campaign of nine of the biggest battles of the war). I reckon those who never try it are missing out.


Bloody Big BATTLES!

Pvt Snuffy15 Apr 2019 7:42 a.m. PST

- people look down on it because it was so short and the results were so lop-sided. They assume it is due to bad Soldiers, when in fact it is due to incredibly incompetent leadership at the top for the French, and reasonably competent leadership for the Germans. As gamers take care of incompetent and competent generalship, this isn't an issue for the period.

- There aren't as many figures for it.
- there isn't as many research readily available on it in English [loads in French and German]
- People are biased b/c the cavalry isn't as powerful as in the Napoleonic wars
- No US or British involvement
- Firepower appears to be too powerful. This is incorrect in the sense that it just needs to be balanced with more terrain as there was LOADS of charging and assaulting on both sides

And that's just for starters!

mkck194716 Apr 2019 7:50 a.m. PST

Chris, we just started using BBB for FPW,Austro-Prussian and Risorgimento. Having a lot of fun with it. For those who haven't yet tried it, give it a playtest.

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP17 Apr 2019 12:12 a.m. PST

Thanks, Ray, very nice of you to say so! I'm glad you guys are having such fun with BBB.


Bloody Big BATTLES!

Chad4717 Apr 2019 12:43 p.m. PST

There are figures available in various scales covering 1848 to 1871. These are well supported by campaign, organisation and uniform information. There are also several sets of rules available. So none of the above could be considered a reason for lack of popularity.

Jeffers18 Apr 2019 5:02 a.m. PST

I'm sure I've written this elsewhere, but as the wife says I'm always repeating myself I may as well do it here too.

About 25+ years ago, I sculpted the Wargames South 10mm F-P range. Foundry, Minifigs and Heroics already had ranges out and I'm sure there were others, including the nice but short lived Pioneer figures. I had no problems finding English language sources and this was using those old book things and the inter-library loan system. There is even more available now and umpteen ranges in sizes to fit all budgets. So it must sell enough to be viable.

Remembering back to discussions on the trade stand, the general view was that it was too 'one sided' – at the same time they were buying our France 1940 figures!

Sparta18 Apr 2019 5:32 a.m. PST

After playing Napoleonics for 25 years this period suddenly found my love. We have started collecting and am now near 50 battallions a side i Baccus 6mm in 1:20. We have run a few small test games. I find the asymmetry and different tactics of the two sides to be the charm. We have discovered that playing Prussian needs players with brass balls willing to brave the Chassepot fire, and the french needs the patience of an angel trying to get their incompetent commanders to move their troops.

I am planning an austrian arny as well, the three armies makes it possible to play both 1859, 1866 and 1870 – great!

Old Contemptibles21 Apr 2019 12:35 a.m. PST

I don't believe it is that obscure any more. I may have one of the largest collections of 15mm figures. There are plenty of figures being made in all scales. Plenty of rules available. Fascinating period. Our rules are "They Died For Glory." I have figures by Old Glory, Friekorps 15, Frontier and Essex.





Brownand21 Apr 2019 7:31 a.m. PST

Sadly there is only just one range of figures which is almost complete (Foundry). The others are far from complete and/or of different scale/posture

Old Contemptibles21 Apr 2019 2:38 p.m. PST

If you must do it in 25mm, The Foundry range is nearly complete. It has Bavarians but not all of Prussian allies. I find that the size of the battles lends itself to 15mm. You can find any figures you need in 15mm.

138SquadronRAF22 Apr 2019 5:53 a.m. PST

and reasonably competent leadership for the Germans.

Taking the French Imperial France in 3 months and mopping up the Republic in 3 months more would suggest something more than "reasonably competent" leadership.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Bruce Weigle's "1871" rules, the latest iteration of this authors sets.

138SquadronRAF22 Apr 2019 5:56 a.m. PST

Sadly there is only just one range of figures which is almost complete (Foundry). The others are far from complete and/or of different scale/posture.

Pendraken do a complete range in 10mm except for maybe sume caissons.

Baccus do a complete range in 6mm

These scale figures do mean you can do something on a reasonable sized table and still maneuver – not all games have to be with bloated 28mm figures.

Brownand22 Apr 2019 10:50 a.m. PST

138 Sorry, meant of course 28/25mm
I have personnally no interest in smaller scales (although maybe 20mm would be acceptable

Jeffers22 Apr 2019 10:55 a.m. PST

The range I did was complete and included Communards (the French ones, not Jimmy Somerville). Lord knows where it is now. I would recommend Pendraken in that size today; figures and service are both excellent.

Best rules for that period I have used are Neil Thomas', but Weigle's rules are worth buying for all the extra info you get.

Liliburlero Supporting Member of TMP22 Apr 2019 7:29 p.m. PST

Thanks to all for your responses; it's been interesting reading.

When Dad wrote "Chassepot & Needlegun" he was very aware of the disparity/advantages on each side and so he "tweaked" history and came up with a set of rules in which either side could win. (He did the same with TSATF.) Playability with a sense of the historical was always what he tried to capture (and fun!). He told a gamer at Historicon once he hoped his rules were just a starting point; if you enjoyed them, then go read some history on the period.

I played my first FPW game in the early 1970's after George Carr Sr. traded his 25mm Minifigs to Dad. I still remember those games as if I just played them. As I said, it's still my favorite period for gaming and thanks to the Jackson Gamers and their variants/playsheets for the following, 1846 Mexican American, 1854 Crimean 1859 Franco-Austrian and 1866 Austro-Prussian, it's a wonderfully colorful era for gaming.

Thanks again for the comments.

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP25 Apr 2019 11:09 p.m. PST

And thanks for the interesting topic, Liliburlero.

The wide array of responses prompted some brief musings of my own on wargaming one-sided wars:


Bloody Big BATTLES!

Stalkey and Co22 Jan 2020 6:56 p.m. PST

The bottom line, IMHO is…

It is a transition period, and therefore more challenging to wargame in. That being said, it is not an insurmountable goal to game in this period, but you will not find a "bolt action" or Warhammer "whatever" set of rules for it at this point, and that is also what is great about the period! Unlike Napoleonics, it has not been spoiled and is way morefun to wargame in.

Personally, I wasn't interested in the period until a buddy asked me to write a set of rules for his large FPW armies that were collecting dust. Now, I've totally moved on from Napoleonics, to Napoleonics III!

Bottom line, is it kicks ass out of most black powder periods, it is not "all the same" and that's why it's great to game in.

Double G27 Jan 2020 1:37 p.m. PST

Yeah, not sure why anyone would want to game this period……………

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