Battles of 1866: Custoza
Beset by enemies to the north and the south during the summer of 1866, the Austrian Empire had to have a battlefield victory to retain its great power status. Its crack Southern Army provided just what Kaiser Franz Josef needed, routing the Italian Army of the Mincio at the bloody Battle of Custoza — on the same battlefield where 18 years earlier the great Josef Graf Radetzky had defeated the Piedmontese and preserved the empire from dissolution.
Battles of 1866: Custoza is the second of three games based on the clashes that completely changed the face of Europe. Frontier Battles covers the first clashes along the Austro-Prussian border, at Nachod, Skalitz, Gitschin, Soor and Trautenau. Königgrätz looks at the decisive Prussian victory over Austria in July 1866. Custoza covers the Second Battle of Custoza in June 1866.
The game system is the same as that in our War of the States games, with a few modifications for the European way of war. Units represent infantry brigades, cavalry regiments and artillery batteries. The game pieces come in two sizes. “Long” pieces are 1 and 1/3 inches long and 2/3 inches wide, a very large piece. These represent infantry brigades. Other pieces are squares 2/3-inch across each side. These represent cavalry regiments and artillery batteries. Austrian, Italian and Piedmontese units are all present. Units are rated for combat strength and morale, losing both as they take losses in combat.
Each battleground is recreated as a topographic map divided into irregular areas rather than the hexagons used in traditional board wargames. These are not chosen randomly, but rather conform to the lie of the land to channel movement the same way folds, rises and gullies do on an actual piece of ground.
A unit must fit in the area it occupies, in the direction it faces. If the area is too narrow for one of the large pieces, it’s not allowed to occupy the area, or at least not stay there and face the direction the player might like. Thus troops are placed along ridge lines, for example, not across them. Flanks become even more important; if you leave a unit “hanging” in a position where it can’t turn to defend itself fully against an approaching enemy because it can’t be placed in the area facing that direction, be prepared for serious losses.
Combat can take the form of assault, cavalry charge or bombardment. Each player rolls a number of dice equal to the total combat strength of his or her units involved. For each result of 6, one hit is achieved. For each hit suffered by a unit, it loses one “step,” or level of strength.
But before it can make an attack or move, a unit must be activated. Better leaders are better able to activate their units more easily, giving them a significant edge. Austrian leaders generally add more to combat, reflecting their army’s emphasis on personal courage. Italian leaders are usually personally courageous, but their organizational skills are lacking and their army organization is decidedly unwieldy.