GDW, THE BATTLE OF LOBOSITZ (1978)

THE BATTLE OF LOBOSITZ is a grand-tactical simulation of the clash between a force of over twenty-four thousand Prussians, under Frederick the Great, and a larger Austrian army, led by Marshal von Browne, near the Saxon town of Lobositz in October of 1756. The game was designed by Frank Chadwick and published by Game Designers’ Workshop (GDW) in 1978. LOBOSITZ is one of a whole batch of different titles that, taken together, make up GDW’s Series 120 collection of small, folio-style introductory games. These Series 120 titles were described by GDW as “gateway” games because they were intended to be easy to learn, used 120 or fewer counters, and could typically be played to completion in two hours (120 minutes) or less.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Frederick the Great during the Seven Years War.
The Battle of Lobositz — sometimes referred to as the first battle of the “Seven Years’ War” — was the result of Frederick’s invasion of the Electorate of Saxony and his decision to besiege the Saxon Army of approximately 17,000 in Pirna. Saxony’s ally, Austria — ruled by the militarily-savvy Empress Maria Theresa — quickly responded by ordering that a relief force be assembled and dispatched, under the command of Marshal Maximilian von Browne, to the Saxons’ aid. Frederick learned of the Austrian advance and split his army, leaving one part to continue the siege while he personally led the rest of his troops (estimates vary widely, but this contingent probably numbered between 24,000 and 29,000 men) on a march to intercept Marshal von Browne and his nearly 35,000 Austrians.

The two belligerents stumbled into each other near Lobositz, a town on the banks of the Elbe River, early on the morning of 1 October, 1756. At first, contact between the two forces was sporadic and relatively light. The Prussian army, which was approaching Lobositz from the west, initially received fire from its left (the area of the Lobosch Heights), and the limited nature of this action led Frederick to think that he had encountered a small Austrian rearguard. Visibility was poor — a thick morning fog made an accurate assessment of the enemy’s dispositions impossible — however, as the volume of fire increased and spread to his front, the Prussian monarch, who was still convinced that he faced an inferior force, ordered his cavalry forward to determine the strength and intentions of the enemy troops in his path. What Frederick’s horsemen discovered was an unpleasant surprise to the Prussian king: a large Austrian field army, instead of a small blocking force, was deployed in a defensive north-south arc across the Prussian army’s entire front. This arc stretched from the Lobosch heights in the north, passed in front of the town of Lobositz, and then continued south to the marshes near the hamlet of Sullowitz on Frederick’s right. The Austrian defensive position, although not perfect — von Browne’s line south of Lobositz was bisected by a shallow stream, the Morellenbach — was still strongly situated with the Elbe River and Lobositz anchoring the Austrian right while Sullowitz and a combination of marshland and forest covered von Browne’s left.


Marshal Maximilian von Browne

Not surprisingly, given his initial misappraisal of the situation before him, the battle did not begin particularly well for Frederick. The fog hampered most of the Prussian king’s initial offensive moves against the Austrians, and also limited the effectiveness of his artillery. As the morning mist gradually cleared, however, the Prussians slowly began to gain the upper hand in the fighting around Lobositz. Finally, after being repeatedly repulsed, the Prussian infantry was at last able to storm the town at bayonet point: a success that forced the Austrian center to fall back. The Battle of Lobositz lasted most of the day, but finally ended when von Browne, having lost ground on his right and center, decided to withdraw his army from the field; which he did in good order.

Lobositz was far from Frederick’s finest battle. In fact, early in the day, after having lost heavily from among his best cavalry formations, the Prussian king actually thought that the action might be lost and considered abandoning the field to von Browne’s forces. Fortunately for Frederick, the discipline and élan of the magnificent Prussian infantry retrieved the situation before he could make any additional mistakes. Both sides lost about 3,000 men, but von Browne’s withdrawal left the Saxon garrison at Pirna with no option but to surrender, and (as was typical of the times) transfer their allegiance and service to Frederick and Prussia.

DESCRIPTION

THE BATTLE OF LOBOSITZ is a grand tactical (regiment/brigade/wing) simulation of the battle between 24-29,000 Prussians, led by Frederick the Great, and an Austrian army of 34,000, under Marshal Maximilian von Browne, which took place on the banks of the Elbe River in and around the Saxon town of Lobositz on 1 October, 1756.

The LOBOSITZ game map is a three-color, hexagonal grid depiction of the area in Saxony (now part of the Czech Republic) over which the battle was fought. Each hex is 300 yards from side to side. In keeping with the game’s “introductory level” design parameters, the number of significant terrain types displayed on the game’s Terrain Key is fairly limited; however, the nine different terrain types represented (e.g., town, stream, forest, different elevations, swamp, etc.) all affect, to varying degrees, either movement or combat. Interestingly, the game begins with the battle area shrouded in fog; as the game turns tick off, this fog will gradually dissipate, beginning at the higher elevations and gradually burning-off until the main battlefield is clear. Not surprisingly, fog affects both movement and combat. In addition, certain hexes on the map are marked purely for easy set-up: players may deploy their forces as they wish, but only so long as their respective set-up hexes are occupied by at least one friendly unit of some sort. Also, some stacking is allowed. To simulate the confusion and uncertainty of the early part of the battle, all units that are covered by fog are inverted until an enemy counter moves adjacent to them. The differently-colored counters (mainly blue for Prussia and white for Austria) represent the infantry, cavalry, and artillery units that actually took part in the historical battle. As might be expected, all combat units display both a combat factor and movement allowance; in addition, all units, EXCEPT artillery batteries, also display a morale rating (more on this later) in their upper left-hand corner. As units engage with the enemy, these starting values will change. In LOBOSITZ, casualties are handled using a modified “step-loss” system; which is to say: as units suffer combat losses, their combat strength and morale rating are both reduced; this adjusted strength is represented by placing a numerical chit under the affected unit to record the change.

LOBOSITZ is played in “Igo-Ugo” game turns, and each game turn represents 30 minutes of real time. An individual game turn is composed of a Prussian followed by an Austrian player turn and sticks to a set sequence of player actions: the Movement phase (the active player moves any or all of his eligible units); the Rally phase (the active player rolls to rally any of his demoralized units); the Offensive Fire phase (the acting player fires any units that did not move during this turn’s movement phase); the Defensive Fire phase (the non-phasing player conducts fire attacks against any enemy units within range); and the Mêlée phase (the phasing player conducts adjacent mêlée attacks in those cases in which both the attacker and defender have passed their pre-mêlée “morale checks”. The game is 16 turns (eight hours in real time) long.

Combat in LOBOSITZ, as already alluded to, can take one of two forms: fire combat and mêlée combat. Each type follows its own unique combat resolution procedures, and each has its own influence on the flow and “feel” of the game.

In the case of fire attacks, only infantry units adjacent to an enemy hex and/or artillery with an unobstructed “line of sight” that extends four hexes or less to the target may participate in this type of combat; cavalry may NEVER attack using fire. Much like SPI’s GRENADIER, the resolution of fire attacks is based on the type of terrain in the defender’s hex and not the target unit’s combat strength; in addition, several other factors (such as type of unit) may also affect the outcome of a fire attack via the game mechanism of “die roll modifiers” (DRMs). The Fire Combat Results Table (CRT) is a simple “fire strength/die roll” matrix, and combat results can range (depending on the fire strength of the attacker) all the way from a “no effect” result to a loss of four strength points. These losses, which affect both the target unit’s combat power and its morale rating, are recorded through the use of chits. For example, if a combat unit whose starting strength is two or more suffers a one point loss as a result of a fire attack, a numerical counter of the appropriate value (in this case a “1”) is placed under the affected unit to indicate that its combat strength and morale rating have both been reduced. [This, by the way, brings up one of my main complaints about this game: when the fight for Lobositz shifts to “high gear” in the later game turns, there often aren’t enough strength and “demoralization” chits included in the counter-mix to keep track of both sides’ combat losses.] Once a unit’s combat power falls below its printed strength, it is permanently removed from play.

Fire combat, important as it is, actually plays a supporting role when it comes to victory or defeat in LOBOSITZ. Instead, the real focus of Chadwick’s game is on mêlée combat; this is because it is only by close assault that an attacking force can actually break a defender’s position and capture enemy-occupied ground. The procedures associated with the Mêlée Combat phase are relatively simple, but — because of the role played by morale — interesting, nonetheless. Mêlée combat begins with the attacker rolling for each unit that will attempt to assault during the current mêlée phase. If his die roll is equal to or less than the unit’s current morale rating (essentially allowing the attack to go forward), then the defender must conduct his own morale die roll (except in the case of artillery which has no morale rating). If the attacker’s “morale check” fails then no further action occurs; however, if the defending unit fails with its “morale check” (defending infantry, by the way, suffers a +1 DRM penalty), then it loses a point, becomes demoralized, and then routs towards the nearest friendly map edge. In those cases in which both sides successfully pass their morale checks, the attacker and defender then each total up the current (adjusted for previous combat) strength and morale ratings of their involved units and both roll a single six-sided die. The combat strength and morale value of the attacking and defending units are each added to their respective die rolls and the player with the higher (after all adjustments) total number wins the combat. In cases of a tie, the combat is rerolled until there is a winner and a loser. Whichever side loses the mêlée (whether attacker or defender) must follow exactly the same sequence of actions as a defending unit that fails its “morale check”. To add to the loser’s woes, any unit whose hex is passed through by a routing unit also becomes demoralized, and routs in turn. Needless-to-say, in a congested section of the front, one or two demoralization results can quickly produce a “snowball” effect. And there’s more: once a unit becomes demoralized, it can only be stopped from continuing to rout towards the map edge if the owning player, during the Rally phase, is able to roll a number equal to or lower than its combat-adjusted morale rating; since the LOBOSITZ game map is relatively small, what this really means is that neither player will have more than a few game turns to rally his or her demoralized troops before they disappear from play forever.

Battle of Lobositz.
Besides the elements that make up the basic LOBOSITZ game platform, Frank Chadwick also includes a few rules flourishes that — in my opinion, at least — really help to enhance the “historical” flavor of this otherwise relatively uncluttered design. The masking effect of fog, for example, has already been noted, but the dramatic impact of fog on the power of the game’s artillery units is worth discussing as well. For starters, until the fog lifts, artillery batteries, like infantry units, are only allowed to fire at adjacent hexes. And while I am on the subject of the game’s heavy guns, the designer’s treatment of artillery “range attenuation” is also interesting; which is to say: artillery is tripled at pointblank range (grapeshot, anyone?); doubled at two and three hexes; and only fires with its standard (printed) strength when it is four hexes from its target. Moreover, the artillery “line-of-sight” rules, although simple, often play an important role in the game, particularly when it comes to the hex-by-hex fight for Lobositz. In this particular instance, Frederick’s army will usually be able to blast the enemy infantry out of the exposed, outer precincts of Lobositz with their heavy guns; however, when it comes to clearing the Austrians from the rest of the town, the Prussian infantry — as was the case in the actual battle — will have to drive Marshal von Browne’s troops out at bayonet point. In addition, there are a number of other minor, but colorful rules, that I also find appealing. For instance, in LOBOSITZ it is more costly, in movement points, for ordered cavalry to move downhill than to move up: this is a nice touch because, in point of fact, it really is much more difficult to keep horses “in hand” when riding down a slope than when climbing one. The Croatian “skirmisher” battalions, and their several special capabilities, are another interesting touch. And finally, the movement restrictions on the Austrian left wing south of Lobositz — restrictions which prevent these troops from shifting north until Prussian units advance across the field to the Morellenbach — is a simple, but effective way of simulating Marshal von Browne’s initial uncertainty as to Frederick’s dispositions and plans.

When it comes to winning or losing THE BATTLE OF LOBOSITZ — as was the case historically — the burden of attack is squarely on the Prussian player; the Austrian commander only has to deny Frederick a significant battlefield success, not win one of his own. The good news for the Prussian player, such as it is, is that there are actually several different ways for Frederick to win the game. If the Prussian army manages, for instance, to sweep the map completely clear of Austrian units — something, by the way, that I have never seen — then the Prussians gain a (richly-deserved) decisive victory. More attainable, but still quite challenging for the Prussian player — in my view, at least — is the modest tactical victory that Frederick actually obtained in the real battle. Unfortunately, to accomplish even this limited success, the Prussians must capture, from the Austrians defending them, both the Lobosch Heights and every one of the hexes (eleven in all) that make up the town of Lobositz. And they must do all this in the face of a powerful enemy force, a blinding morning fog, and a limited number of game turns.

A PERSONAL OBSERVATION

LOBOSITZ is one of two Series 120 games, designed by Frank Chadwick, which cover battles from the Seven Years’ War. The other half of the pair, THE BATTLE OF PRAGUE, simulates a much smaller action between the Prussians and Austrians that occurred on 6 May 1757 near the city of the title. Both games use the same relatively simple, grand-tactical game platform. In terms of play-balance, LOBOSITZ tends to lean towards the Austrians, while PRAGUE — unless I’m missing something important — heavily favors the Prussians. These games, it should be noted, are not Chadwick’s first attempts to simulate the special nature of 18th century warfare during the age of Frederick the Great: his larger and much more detailed TORGAU had already appeared a full four years earlier, in 1974. And although the two battles depicted in these later, smaller games are both modestly interesting from a historical standpoint, an obvious question, nevertheless, presents itself: Why did GDW choose to feature these two relatively obscure engagements and not a pair of more famous battles such as Rossbach and/or Leuthen?

One possible answer, of course, is that — at the time he began work on these two Series 120 games — Frank Chadwick actually had plans to design larger, more detailed TORGAU-style simulations of some of Frederick’s other, better-known battles at some later date. Such a possibility is certainly plausible; after all, the Battle of Leuthen, as Paul Dangel proved with his superb Clash of Arms game design, LEUTHEN: FREDERICK’S GREATEST VICTORY (1997), turned out to be, in the hands of the right person, an excellent wargame just waiting to be developed. For my own part, however, I have a sneaky suspicion that the designer’s decision to simulate this particular set of actions (LOBOSITZ and PRAGUE) was probably dictated more by the special requirements of the Series 120 design format than by any other factors. Still and all, whatever Chadwick’s original plans may have been for simulating some of the other battles of Frederick IIndof Prussia using this clever, but relatively simple game platform: three decades later, we are still left with only PRAGUE and LOBOSITZ to consider; so I think that it is probably safe to assume that Frank has moved on to other things.

Since we, on the other hand, are at least temporarily focused on this early Chadwick design, I will attempt to move things along by raising an obvious, if rhetorical question: How does THE BATTLE OF LOBOSITZ look now, after having bumped around in relative obscurity for over thirty years? My short answer is that — all things considered — it really doesn’t look all that bad. Admittedly, the graphics for LOBOSITZ — as was typical of virtually all GDW games during this era — are neither especially evocative of the battle’s historical period (see AGINCOURT for a particularly egregious example of this) or even all that interesting to the eye, the “ugly duckling” appearance of this title conceals a surprisingly nicely-done “swan” of a grand-tactical game engine. That being said, LOBOSITZ is not, despite its Series 120 pedigree, really a “gateway” wargame in the same sense, for example, that SPI’s many NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO-based titles are. To be fair, the game is not especially difficult to learn if the prospective player understands at least something about conflict simulations. Nonetheless, I personally do not believe that any wargame which incorporates a multi-stage combat subroutine, elevation differences, “line-of-sight” rules, morale, and step-reduction should ever really be described — by me or anyone else — as an “introductory” game. That being said, and in spite of its somewhat denser than expected design architecture, I do think that LOBOSITZ would be readily accessible to almost any player with even a modest amount of gaming experience. Thus, while I would never recommend this particular title — or most of its Series 120 cousins, for that matter — as an “introductory” game suitable for an absolute novice, I do think that it is an excellent choice for more seasoned gamers of almost any stripe. Particularly if those players are interested in the campaigns of Frederick the Great, but don’t want to spend an entire day refighting one of his battles: which, based on my own previous experiences, is always a distinct possibility when it comes to tackling more sophisticated games like COAG’s LEUTHEN, or GDW’s TORGAU.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 30 minutes per game turn
  • Map Scale: 300 yards per hex
  • Unit Size: battalion/regiment/brigade/wing/battery
  • Unit Types: infantry, cavalry, artillery
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: average
  • Solitaire Suitability: below average
  • Average Playing Time: 1.5 - 2 hours

Game Components:

  • One 17” x 22” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record Track and Terrain Key incorporated)
  • 120 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Fire Combat Results Table and Terrain Effects Chart incorporated)
  • One 9¼” x 12” Ziploc Bag

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9 comments:

  • I miss those Series 120 games; not necessarily simple but short and interesting situaitons. Many of them were reprinted, two by two, in basck issues of Japanese Command magazine (and given a very nice art treatment). I think we might be seeing a resurgence of the "small game" and "microgame" wave of the early 1980s with Decision Games' Folio series (almost 20 titles now) and their upcoming "micro" games (40 counters, small map, short rules).

  • Greetings Itmurnau:

    I agree whole-heartedly; not all of the early SPI "folio" games or GDW "Series 120" games were winners; but quite a few of them turned out to be excellent games with a surprising amount of replay value! Which is why I have decided to go ahead and profile a few of these (often obscure) smaller games; some of them were great values when they first saw print, and they still look pretty good today.

    By the way, one of my friends showed me the Japanese versions of a couple of the "Series 120" games: outstanding graphics; of course, given the look of the originals, I guess the bar wasn't really set that high by GDW.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Kim Meints said...

    Lobositz always a favorite of mine.Prague was OK but yes I too wish more battles had been simulated.If not Frederick's battles but more in the Age of Reason era since so many could fit into the 120 mold.

    Great Review as always Joe :)

  • Greetings Kim:

    I always thought that 'PRAGUE' was included because poor old Maximilian von Browne (what was an Irishman doing commanding an Austrian army, anyway?) was killed in his rematch with Frederick's army in the second battle.

    Like you, I really like this relatively uncluttered game system! I have always thought that it would be interesting to see it reissued with nicer graphics and a few additional counters: leaders, more information markers, and a few artillery breakdown counters would add something to the game, I think.

    By the way, the 'Battles of the Age of Reason' treatment of the Battle of Leuthen does a very good job, as does the bigger 'BAR' version of Lobositz; unfortunately, neither title is particularly easy to get into or fast-playing once you do actually tackle them. Still, both are good games for the experieced player.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Kim Meints said...

    I starting toying with the system and did make a home game on Mollwitz.Been looking at other smaller battles to do.

  • Kim,
    If you provide the design(s) I can turn it into a computer program. Please Contact me to discuss.

    Tom Stevenson
    tas1624@yahoo.com

  • Greetings Kim and Tom:

    I hope that you two can get together because Tom's suggestion sounds lie a capital idea; also Kim, what about Rossbach?

    Best Regards Joe

    P.S. Kim: I thought for sure that you would be one of the "grognards" to challenge my thesis regarding Soviet defensive options in STALINGRAD as being too linear and simple -- of course, I did try to leave myself more "outs" than a contract lawyer.

  • Thanks JCB, you do really great job here and I am really enjoying reading all your old posts. I think I own almost every wargame you have discussed. We, (including Kim) seem to have very similar wargame backgrounds. I found Kim on Facebook and left him a message there too. If know of any other designers please sent them my way. I have a website, http://war-game-programming.com/index.html where some of my game programs can be downloaded. I am looking for smaller games to convert, ~30x40 hexes or 2x2 screens as I think monster games do not really work that well on the typical computer screen.
    Tom

  • Greetings Tom:

    Thank you for your kind words and for your interest.

    So far as your desire to make contact with other designers goes, have you reached out to any of the many game designers who regularly post on one or more of the Consimworld game forums? I would think that that would be an excellent way for you to expand your pool of potential contacts.

    Best Regards, Joe

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