"A 10!" - Jim P.
By Iron and Blood is a two-player wargame depicting the final, decisive battle of the Austro-Prussian War.
The Battle of Koniggratz (or Sadowa) occurred on July 3, 1866 and involved over 450,000 men from multiple European nations and principalities.
The battle would decide the destiny of Europe, determining whether Prussia or Austria would form a united Germany.
The Prussians under General Helmuth von Moltke invaded Austria in late June of 1866 with three major armies, each following a separate axis of advance. Using divergent approaches was risking defeat in detail, but Moltke counted on superior Prussian maneuverability to outflank the Austrian North Army under Feldzugmeister Ludwig von Benedek.
Battles were fought at Nachod, Tratenau, Skalitz, Soor and Gitschen with the Prussians prevailing in nearly all those encounters. The demoralized Austrians gathered their remaining strength in prepared positions in front of the fortress of Koniggratz, hoping that one last titanic defensive battle would win them the war. The Prussians advanced with the 1st and Elbe Armies, engaging the Austrians. Prussian commanders looked for the approaching 2nd Army, hoping it would arrive in time to deliver the final blow.
But where where were the Prussian reinforcements and how long would it take to reach the battlefield? The race was on – could the Austrian North Army defeat their outnumbered Prussians foes before the 2nd Army closed the vise or would the war end under the walls of Koniggratz?
"Rated Koniggratz a 10 after 2 solo plays. An effective mix of strategy (choosing the timing and cost of corps activations; deployment of corps and pace of action; and use of cards), grand tactics (units are mostly divisions with some brigades; use of terrain; when, where, and how to attack and defend; and use of cards in battle), and luck (dice rolls; arrival time of reinforcements; card draw luck).
I am interested in mid-19th century warfare and By Iron and Blood captures the period quite well. Each army is modeled to show its strengths (Prussian rifle fire and leadership, Austrian artillery and infantry assault) and weaknesses (Prussian artillery doctrine and firepower, Austrian firepower and reaction/leadership/mobility). The battle features a lot of back and forth and attack and counterattack, with it being fairly easy to force the opponent back but difficult to destroy units. For example, over the course of 3 turns, a back and forth battle may take place over a hex or two that results in few long term losses by much short term disorganization and exhaustion." - Jim P.
Command Tracks for Austrian and Prussian Sides
"A beginning report as it stands. Today my buddy Alan Majeski and I started By Iron and Blood by White Dog Games and designer Hermann Luttmann. We only managed to get to turn 3 as it's our first run through and getting familiar with everything took a bit of time. However, the rulebook and player aids are fantasitc and make start up exceedingly simple. Once we both got a bit familiar and got our heads around it things are moving quicker.
I have to say that I think this "river" system is absolutely EXCELLENT. Just through a couple of turns and already it's really interesting how your activation decisions and CPs (Command Points) really play into the big picture and really give a realistic feel to fog of war, different commanders and their individual initiative and how orders are conveyed and understood throughout an army. I actually enjoyed the historical aspect of the event cards as well and they can completely throw a wrench in things for either side. But, it's incredibly fun figuring out how to react to those setbacks and/or advantages given by the cards.
My Prussian army is making its push right off the bat. The Elbe Corps has been stymied at the Nechanitz Bridge and haven't yet been able to force a crossing but they will continue to force the issue. Some units of IV Corps have been able to secure to VPs in the woods north of the enemy works but the Austrian Army has moved out of position and is threatening my foothold. Current score, Austria 12, Prussia 4.
For all of you interested in a great new and really interesting activation system and a fascinating battle set during the Austro-Prussian War of the mid 19th century, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this so far!
It's been incredibly nail-biting and intense from the starting line." -- Michael B.
"HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!" - Kevin K.
A Review of By Iron and Blood
The Battle of Koniggratz, with around 500,000 men deployed, was considerably larger than the Battle of Gettysburg. By Iron and Blood (BIAB) successfully makes a manageable, fun game of this battle. It grafts an interesting command and control system to movement and combat mechanics that will be familiar to anyone who has played the Blind Swords or Black Swan games previously designed by Hermann Luttmann and his team of developers.
There’s an information void around this game, so I’m going to spend a little time describing it before diving into the review.
The command system is based on formations and activations, like Blind Swords. No chit draws, however. Instead, the game has a command track listing 1-4 command points (the actual track is 1-2-2-3-3-4 command points). Generally, when you activate a formation, its activation chit falls back to the 4 space on the command track. Practically, this means you can rely heavily on one or two formations, but it is not efficient, and it’s a pretty bad commander who only focuses on one segment of a huge battlefield. You have to spread your 8-10 (usually) command points around, or the rest of the battle is going to get away from you.
Each army also has an HQ activation chit, which gives you a limited ability to activate a formation without sending them back to the beginning (4 space) of the track—but then the HQ is stuck back in the 4 space instead.
It all makes for intense decision making and resource management. Example: I really need to activate the Prussian Elbe Corps, but it uses 4 of my 5 remaining Command Points. Do I activate the Elbe Corps at this critical point, risking other places, or have the Elbe Corps hold steady so I can address three other areas of the battle?
The mechanics of movement and fighting resemble Blind Swords, but not too closely. BIAB is a different game. Formations still get orders (though the four options are different than Blind Swords in important ways) that determine how they are allowed to move, engage the enemy, or recover. Units ordered to fight fire first, then move, then assault. There’s no defensive fire, but units approaching an enemy must check their morale (or TE in the game, for training & experience) before assaulting. Once you are in combat, you roll two D6, using one die for the tens digit, to generate a number from 11-66, then look up the results on the combat charts, which include the Blind Swords-style column shifts instead of die roll modifiers. And of course, you can’t plan everything, because both sides have a small stack of event cards.
The two sides—Prussian and Austrian—are distinct to reflect historical differences. Each has its own movement rate and combat table. Prussians (who have needle guns ) have more firepower than Austrians with smoothbores, for instance. But it’s all worked into the combat tables (mostly—see the section on components).
VP come from controlling spaces and breaking enemy units. In BIAB, the Prussians are under serious pressure to move, as the Austrians control all the VP spaces at the start of the game and have the larger army. Move too fast, though, and the Prussians are outnumbered by an enemy that loves a close assault. But the Prussians have an ace in the hole—a second Prussian army is on its way. This army arrives randomly and piecemeal, using a card deck to slowly build up points that release 2nd Army units in a specific order.
The emphasis in BIAB is on battlefield chaos, with a randomly arriving army and event cards that throw everything awry. It’s less chaotic than Mr. Luttmann’s US Civil War games, because the command system gives the players more control over which formation activates while forcing them to consider the cost of each activation.
BIAB’s components are perfectly good for playing the game, but don’t expect the kind of graphics or materials you see from GMT, Compass, or Vuca. White Dog is a smaller, print-on-demand publisher. Nothing turned me off, but nothing wowed me, either. The map feels like wargame-standard paper, and the units are more wooden-pressboard-something than cardboard. I’d have splurged on a couple more pages to the rulebook and enlarged the font. The only material flaw I found was that the Austrian units are white, and the Prussian armies two shades of gray—the second of which is really, really light gray in my copy. When I punched the game, I accidentally mixed a few up. I’m delighted by beautiful components, but serviceable works for me when the game itself is this good.
For me, there could be some ease of use improvements. There’s no Terrain Effects Chart—just a single spaced list. There are around a dozen types of units in the game, depending on how you count, and their movement rates are not on the counters. They are also in a single spaced list on the Player Aid Cards. These lists were the only drag on the game for me. Neither my opponent nor I could keep the movement points memorized—especially when affected by orders—so we had to keep looking them up in the list. I know from the Civil War systems that Mr. Luttmann or someone on his team doesn’t like movement rates on counters, but there’s fewer unit types there, and it doesn’t bother me. Putting the numbers on the BIAB counters would speed the game up, at least for me.
Otherwise, the Player Aid Cards are well designed and handy.
We’re planning to play again next weekend, so we must have liked it. And my opponent isn’t normally a hex-and-counter guy.
Not to be coy, I found BIAB just as fun as the Blind Swords system while presenting a different challenge in decision-making. The game system itself is 5 out of 5. The components rate 3 or so out of five—they do the job, and should not limit the reach of this game. BIAB takes a large and complicated battle and makes it a playable, fun and interesting experience that will normally play in a full day.
I hope to see more battles using the BIAB system (which needs a catchy name). My preference would be for a series that stayed outside the US and gives us some less-gamed European battles like Kongiggratz, but that’s up to Mr. Luttmann and his team.
- Kevein Klemme