The Battle of Dorking 1875 – Review

“I can hardly look a young man in the face when I think I am one of those in whose youth happened this degradation of Old England – one of those who betrayed the trust handed down to us unstained by our forefathers.” –The Battle of Dorking (1871)

There is something so fascinating about invasion literature, the small genre of fiction that exploded in popularity in Britain in the waning decades of the 19th century. Casting Britain against all manner of invaders, from a collection of every power, to the upset victims of British colonialism, to Dorking’s German Empire, just about every enemy, potential or phantom, invaded Britain in the pages of magazines, books for boys, and novels.

The German Conquest of Britain: Dorking & Invasion Literature

The Battle of Dorking, written in 1871 by George Tomkyns Chesney, stands out as one of the key stories that launched the genre. Written from the point of view of a tragic veteran of the battle that lost London, it contained a sober and unfavorable analysis of Britain’s ability to protect itself in the event the Royal Navy was somehow neutralized.

Chesney was an officer of the Bengal Engineers, serving during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. He later helped launch the Royal Indian Civil Engineering College, and wrote a great deal throughout his career, both nonfiction on military and civil matters, and fiction. He’s probably best known for The Battle of Dorking published first in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1871.

Dorking 1875, designed by Mark Wightman and published (both Print & Play and physically) by Tiny Battle Publishing, attempts to take Chesney’s key engagement south of London, filling in the gaps where necessary, to create an engaging wargame. While I very much enjoyed reading the designer’s research and appreciate the scale and size of the game, a few niggling problems with the gameplay make it one I don’t think will come off of the shelf very often.

How Does Dorking 1875 Play?

Counters represent battalions, batteries, and two cavalry squadron, with turns representing about an hour. The map has three height elevations and covers the area surrounding the town of Dorking including the river Mole and the road to London. The German player must push on as hard and as fast as they can, aiming to get as many units over a victory line while preserving their forces in 6 turns. The British player need only to hold the line.

Counters have a lot of information, some relating to organization, and others to battlefield circumstance. There is good diversity between the volunteers, militia, regulars, and elite forces, with artillery variation especially reflecting period issues in the British armouries.

The most critical factor on a counter is a unit’s break value. Whether from artillery fire, rifle fire, or melee combat, the attacker rolls 2D6 and tries to beat that value. Terrain can have a substantial effect on dice rolls by adding or subtracting to the targets break value. If the value is met or beaten in shooting, the target is flipped to their disorded side. If the roll can beat the target by a wide enough margin, the unit is destroyed. Melee combat is a bit more harsh, with the dice roll beating the break value by 1 or more resulting in destruction. It’s an alright system and felt very deadly, but I almost feel a CRT would have been better here.

The system is IGO UGO in phases. The initiating player will fire artillery, then the opposing player will fire, and so on. This works in general, but I found that it made for interesting movement quirks, with an aggressive Germany able to quickly close past rifle range and into melee contact. I suppose I had expected the Martini-Henry’s and Needle Rifles to be more viable at longer ranges given their accuracy and rate of fire.

The German cavalry have access to an interesting dispersion option. The counters can be removed from the map to instead be placed as a -1 on a target’s Break Value. The consequence is a 1/6 chance that the unit is broken during it’s harrasment, but it’s an easy gamble to make. The fact that the British units can’t manage the same thing is part of Dorking 1875’s attempt to simulate the difference in experience and quality between the two forces.

A Fascinating Conflict for a Game or Two

Often game strategy in Dorking 1875 boils down to the German player pushing one flank or the other hard and the British responding as best they can. Managing the more lackluster British units is quite the struggle, but entertaining for the first couple games. After a while though, the limited frontage and the scale of the invading German force means that there aren’t too many different paths to victory. There might not be the kind of replayability that keeps players returning again and again to the same battle as in other titles.

The British Library

Definitely Worth a Look, and a Read

Dorking 1875 didn’t hold my attention so much as a wargame, but as a package I’m quite impressed. The designer’s detailed introduction, conclusion, and historical notes were a pleasure to read and covered brief summaries of the opposing sides’ military situations circa 1871, a full theoretical assessment of Germany’s invasion plan, with suggested maps, and enough detail on Chesney’s life to give a solid background understanding of the conflict. Unlike some Print & Play games that end up in the recycling bin after I’ve finished with them, Dorking 1875 has earned a space on my shelf mostly due to the good writing and research of Mark Wightman.

I could even envision Dorking 1875 finding a place in classrooms as an interactive exploration of invasion literature and Brtiain’s late 19th century struggles with military preparedness and identity. The game plays quickly enough to fit in a single class.

Overall, it’s a fun package, and quite affordable to boot. I recommend checking out Dorking 1875, even if it is with reservations.

  • Joe Fonseca

You can read The Battle of Dorking on the Internet Archive here.

You can purchase Dorking 1875 from Tiny Battle Publishing here.

No money goes to LTAW for purchases. No review copy was given to LTAW.