Wargaming: Big Games with Small Miniatures at Gross-Beeren

10 February 2023

Words by Dave Tuck. Photos & map by Malc Johnston.

Ever since the day I walked into Peter Gilder’s Wargames Holiday Centre near Scarborough, I have always been a fan of the big game. Unfortunately, I do not have a building that will accommodate a pair of 24’ by 6’ tables with a 3’ shelf behind each of them.

Still, having said that, I am very lucky, having access to a 12’ by 6’ table, and this – together with the use of 15mm figures – still gives scope for large battles to be fought. What is a big game? My definition is one that takes several hours (at least six) to conclude, involves at least half a dozen players, and each of them controls a realistic all arms force.


This definition enables 20th century games to be included, as well as the whole gamut of battles from Ancient to 19th century. I realise a lot of gamers will not be able to set up such a game, but surely it is worth aspiring to play in such a game, at least once, in your wargaming life?


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What is so different about games on this scale you may ask? The first and most obvious, is the camaraderie it develops amongst the players on the same side. You are all committed to the same goal, and Napoleons maxim about “give me a lucky general”, surely comes into its own in this type of game. The dice-Gods, not only effect you, they also impact your team-mates.

The second difference is how each player is drawn into his own zone of influence, and events elsewhere become less important. Well... at least until the left or right flank collapses! I once played in a large Crete game, and – although we held up the Germans at the airfield – this counted for nothing, as, on a completely separate table, the Germans had managed to land a large force from the sea, which was gradually marching on us from overland. The experience of this felt very realistic: local commanders were resolving local issues, with little thought for the grand tactical situation.

Another difference when running larger games is it allows several players to contribute troops to one side or the other. The fact they are painted to different standards, doesn’t matter when several hundred – or even thousands – are arrayed for battle. The ‘three foot rule’ (as in “well it looks pretty good at arms length” Ed.) counts for a lot in this sort of game.

If you are a member of a club, I would encourage you to at least consider a big game. You may want to use it as a catalyst to start a new period. If all the club members bought and painted a box of, say, Perry Wars of the Roses (other manufactures are available... Ed.), there would soon be a large force of medieval at your disposal with enough models to put on a large – maybe more realistic – sized game. Recruit a force using 12,10 or 6mm figures and the type of battle you can recreate increases exponentially.

If you want to be enthused more by this type of game, I recommend the podcast broadcast by The Yarkshire Gamer, who is a fellow enthusiast of this type of experience.


Having banged the drum, I intend now to show you how we set up our recent 15mm battle of Gross-Beeren, fought outside Berlin, in Germany in 1813.

We have access to a large amount of 15mm Napoleonic French, Saxon and Prussian forces, mainly AB Miniatures, Minifigs and Lancashire Games models. These number about 40 French and Saxon, and around 50 Prussian battalions, of between 32 and 36 figures each. We also have around 20 Cavalry regiments of 24 figures, and a large amount of Artillery. Any deficiencies in our forces were readily made up from the collection of Marcus Croft. The choice of Gross-Beeren, came about after I googled “Napoleonic battles involving the Prussians and Saxons”. Reynier was there and his force was made up mainly of Saxons, so... the algorithm had worked its magic!

A foray of my bookshelf led me to The Poles and Saxons of the Napoleonic Wars by George Nafziger and the excellent series of pamphlets Great Battles of History Refought! This is a Napoleonic series by P.P.H Heath, which has a volume dedicated specifically to Gross-Beeren. This is an excellent series, published in 1985, and I am lucky to own most of the volumes published. They give a brief history and a fairly detailed break down of the forces involved, and a wargames scaling down of them. George Nafziger does a huge number of detailed army lists, not only for the Napoleonic period but centuries of Western armies, in numerous conflicts.

Rules wise, we used the same ‘home brew’ system Napoleonic Steel that we used for the Battle of Maida back in issue 463 of this magazine very magazine. I will include a download for the rule sheet with this article.



The historical background to the battle was a result of the armistice of 2nd June 1813, which only ended on 17th August. Both sides used the time to regroup, and Napoleon’s revised plan was for an attack on Berlin in the north with 120,000 men. Meanwhile, the main army of 300,000 was to gather around Dresden, and then await the movements of the allied forces. With Berlin under his control, most of the Prussians would be on the defensive. The bulk of Prussian resources would be under French control, and Bernadotte’s Swedes would be forced to withdraw to defend their homeland. It was a good plan, but giving the lead role to Oudinot, was not a good idea: he was a very capable Corps commander, but not so good with larger forces.

On the other hand, the allies based their whole plan on the assumption the French would first attack the Austrian forces. In this they were mistaken, as the events of 18th August were to show. Oudinot had three corps, and these were concentrated only three marches from Berlin, but he delayed moving until 21st August to allow III cavalry corps to be absorbed into his organisation.

By the 22nd August the French were occupying Juhnsdorf, with the prospect of a march along the single road through a dense forest, on the way to Berlin. They did not anticipate any contact with the enemy. VII corps was on a different parallel road, anticipating another unopposed march to Gross-Beeren. Once clear of these forested areas the ground opened up, and the road to Berlin would be open. Oudinot’s deployment would normally have been sensible, but there were very few roads and no communication between the corps until they exited the woods. So, no easy deployment zones, and a terrain where the troops arrive consecutively, and any lack of cohesion would cause a chaotic deployment.

Unfortunately for the French, a Prussian division under Taunzien was bivouacked at Blankenfeld and Didersdorf, villages located at the exit to the forest. His forces were all Landwehr, with under three months service. The Prussians deployed around the village, and the French were unable to use their superior forces, as deployment from the forest road was hampering this. The French commander assumed the other French force would have exited its forest road by the time this took place. He then told his men to go on the defensive awaiting French troops arriving from his left front! When they failed to show, he decided to withdraw after some half-hearted fighting, withdrawing back into the forest.

Things were little better at the exit of the other forest road. A Prussian force was encamped around Gross-Beeren, and they were starting to leave, to enable a move away from the forest. The French were delayed by the rain (which started early afternoon) and their arrival drove off the Prussians from Gross-Beeren. The French took it over and settled down, thinking the day was done, and rest was in order.

Bulow had reports of fighting at both Gross-Beeren and Blankenfeld, and reversed the direction of his troops, sending them back at the French, and these arrived in a somewhat piecemeal fashion. The rain continued to disrupt things, and only the artillery was effective on both sides. The powder was drier, and the rain dispersed the smoke, making observation of the shots easier. After some hard fighting, the Saxon allies of the French retreated in disorder into the woods. A cavalry action then took place, to cover the French withdrawal.

Darkness fell and the French were retreating south through the forest, with the Prussians taking up defensive positions in the village and the high ground located nearby. The French under Oudinot, convinced themselves they were unable to break through to Berlin and withdrew. The Prussians were also disordered and short of cavalry, and so chose not to pursue. The battle fizzled out. The Prussians had saved Berlin and it was never threatened by Napoleon again.

This brief summary of the battle sets out the game we chose to refight. It is not actually a large battle nor a particularly challenging one. It does have some severe weather effects and piecemeal arrival and problems for both sides. If your table space is limited, or troops are in short supply, it is possible to play each road exit as a separate battle. The two forces cannot support or influence each other, so – in truth – it will play that way even if deployed on one table.


The forces are as follows:


Bertrand’s Corps

IV corps arriving on the road to Didersdorf, made up of

  • Morand’s Division – 4 battalions and a foot battery 1st class
  • Fontanelli/Peyri Division – 4 battalions and a foot battery 1st class
  • Franquemont Division – 4 battalions and a foot battery 1st class
  • Briche Cavalry Division – 2 light cavalry regiments and a horse battery 1st class

Reynier’s Corps

VII corps arriving on the road to the left flank of IVth Corps., made up of Lecoq Division plus 5 battalions and a foot battery 1st class

  • Thielman Division –4 battalions and a foot battery 1st class
  • Durette Division –4 battalions and a foot battery 1st class
  • De Gambloux Cavalry Division – 2 light cavalry regiments and a horse battery 1st class



With each turn representing 30 minutes, elements of VIIth Corps arrives on turn one, with IV Corps arriving on turn seven. The French commanders should not communicate with each other until they have each cleared the woods and there is an uninterrupted route between the two corps.

If you want added friction, force the players to write down their communication and roll a D6 to see when it arrives: 5-6 two moves later; 3-4, 3 moves later; 2, 4 moves later; and a 1 means it never arrives (harsh! Ed.). The umpire only passes on correspondence on the appropriate turn... or never!

Both French Corps need to record their order of march through the woods. Once recorded this cannot be changed due to the nature of the terrain and the narrowness of the tracks.



The Prussian forces facing the French are as follows:

Von Bulow’s Corps

Hesse-Homburg Division

  • 3 1st Class infantry battalions
  • 2 2nd Class infantry battalions
  • 1 1st Class cavalry regiment
  • 1 1st Class foot battery

Krafft Division

  • 3 1st Class infantry battalions
  • 2 2nd Class infantry battalions
  • 1 1st Class cavalry regiment
  • 1st Class foot battery

Theuman Division

  • 3 1st Class infantry battalions
  • 2 2nd Class infantry battalions
  • 1 1st Class cavalry regiment
  • 1st Class foot battery

Borstell Division

  • 3 1st Class infantry battalions
  • 2 2nd Class infantry battalions
  • 1 1st Class cavalry regiment
  • 1 1st Class foot battery

Tauenzeim’s Corps

Puttlitz Division

  • 4 2nd Class infantry battalions
  • 1 2nd Class cavalry regiment
  • 1 2nd Class foot battery

Hirschfeldt Division

  • 4 2nd Class infantry battalions
  • 1 2nd Class cavalry regiment
  • 1 2nd Class foot battery

Dobelschutz Division

  • 4 2nd Class infantry battalions
  • 1 2nd Class cavalry regiment
  • 1 2nd Class foot battery

Wobeser Division

  • 4 2nd Class infantry battalions
  • 1 2nd Class foot battery



Consult the map. The top left arrow is the arrival point of Theumans Division on turn 7. The other arrow is the arrival point of Krafft’s Division followed by that of Borstell, who arrive in column of march on turn 7.

The divisions of Tauenzeim’s Corps deploy in the area Gross-Beeren to Didersdorf on turn 1. They are not allowed to move or fire until a French division exits the woods. They commence the battle in attack column.

There should ideally be four or five infantry move lengths between the edge of the wood and the Prussians deployment. If this is not possible, delay the Prussian reaction to the French by an extra turn or two. These Prussian troops can only activate their forces by rolling above their class plus three on the first attempt (i.e 1st class must beat 1+3 =4 on turn 1, reducing by 1 each turn until they pass, 2nd class need 5 on turn 1, again reducing by 1 each turn. This is done by battalion or cavalry regiment.


Weather played a significant part in the battle. We replicated the heavy showers throughout the afternoon of the battle as follows:

Take a standard deck of cards, and – from turn 7 onwards – draw a card each turn. If a red card is drawn it is dry. If a black card is drawn it starts raining and all musketry fire is halved in effect. If the next card is red firing returns to full effect as the weather has begun to clear. If two black cards are drawn in consecutive turns however, all musketry fire ceases as it is now pelting down, and only artillery fire and melees can take place. This state of affairs, continues until two red cards are drawn consecutively, at which point the clouds part and firing returns to normal. This procedure then continues at the start of each turn with the same effects until the battle is over.



The French gain a minor victory if they clear a road route off the Prussian baseline (the roads to Berlin!) They gain a tremendous victory if they clear two routes, one for each Corps. The Prussians win by simply preventing the French from achieving their objectives.

The main challenges in this battle are the French inability to deploy their better-quality forces in any planned manner, and the effects of the weather on their forces. The Prussians have the same weather difficulty, and getting the troops of Tauenzein, who are poor quality, to activate in a co-ordinated way.

We found this to be a well-balanced battle which in our case ended with the French of the VII Corps failing miserably in their attempt to bypass Didersdorf, and the troops of the IV Corps having more success but losing enough casualties to make an advance on Berlin highly unlikely.

I hope this has whetted the appetite of some of you, to the joys of refighting larger battles. Why not give it a try? 

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