Dug in like an ox – my thoughts on a BGG variant for Chantilly: Jackson’s Missed Opportunity, 1 September 1962 (Decision Games, 2013). #coronapocalypse #wargame

Over on BoardGameGeek user Tom Krynicki (@krygfam) posted a set of variant rules for Chantilly: Jackson’s Missed Opportunity, 1 September 1862 (Decision Games, 2013). I have a soft spot in my heart for this Mini Series game not because of the game play (I rate it a 5 – Mediocre Take it or leave it on BGG) but because the battle took place not far from my home. The game uses a QuickPlay version of DG’s Musket & Saber rules. Personally, they are not for me. When I saw this variant pop up on BGG I was interested in trying to make the game better so I got it to the table.

Mr. Krynicki’s variant rules aren’t that long, only six rules actually, so I will post them in their entirety here:

What I find the most disheartening about DG’s Chantilly is that with just a little play-testing and thought, this could have been an excellent historical simulation AND game. Try these simple changes…I think you will find it makes for a much better historical simulation AND a much better game:

1) Make the Union player the FIRST player during every turn. Union forces showed more energy and seemed to have a clearer picture of what needed done….thus they had the initiative. This has the pleasant side effect of getting rid of the two free Confederate moves before the Union gets a chance to react, allowing the Union to get into position near to where the historical battle took place.

2) Get rid of the whole Confederate “Half/Full Movement” Initiative roll (Scenario rule 15.0). It’s gamey and has way to much impact on play balance. Reducing the Confederate’s infantry and artillery MA to “4” movement points is sufficient to show that the Confederate soldiers were “burned out.” Again, Union forces showed more “get-up-and-go,” mainly because they rightly perceived they were in eminent danger of being cut off and surrounded. Therefore, ALL Union infantry and artillery should keep the “normal” Musket & Saber MA of “6” movement points.

3) March Movement (QP rule 4.3) should not be allowed. It rained the entire night before the battle. During the battle it poured most of the day. The roads and the ground were a soupy mess, nobody was going to go anywhere quickly.

4) In keeping with the very poor ground conditions, the Terrain Costs should be modified:
1/2 MP
(only infantry allowed in Deep Woods and must stop upon entering).

5) Initial Movement Restrictions:

UNION: Formation #1 (the two units which begin the game in Germantown hex 2208).
These units must remain within 3 hexes of Germantown (hex 2208) until:
a: A unit of Formation #1 is attacked.
b: An enemy unit moves adjacent to one of the units of Formation #1, or a unit of Formation #1 moves adjacent to an enemy unit.
c: An enemy unit moves to within three hexes of Germantown (hex 2208).
Should any one of these events occur, all movement restrictions on Union Formation #1 are lifted.
 The “task and purpose” given to this formation (a reinforced brigade from the AoV) was to secure Germantown and the road intersections around it, in order to allow Union freedom of movement along the Warrenton Turnpike. They would never have moved away from the vicinity of Germantown unless forced to do so (BTW these two units should have MAs of “6”).

CONFEDERATE: Formation #1 (the FLee cavalry brigade which begins the game in hex 1204).
At the beginning of Confederate Game Turn 1, the MA of the FLee cavalry brigade is determined by a special die roll, similar to a morale check.
The Confederate player rolls one die and compares the result to the FLee brigade’s morale rating of “3.”
If the FLee brigade “passes” its morale check (rolls a 1, 2, or 3), then the number rolled is its MA for that turn (i.e. 1, 2, or 3 movement points).
If the FLee brigade “fails” its morale check (rolls a 4, 5, or 6), then it must remain in hex 1204 for the turn.
The FLee brigade moves normally starting on Game Turn 2 and after.

Other than “scout for and screen Jackson’s movements” F. Lee really didn’t know what he was supposed to do that morning…He had attacked Germantown the previous evening where he had been chases off by the garrison stationed there (this had alerted Pope that something dangerous was amiss on his flank). Should he head back up the Little River Turnpike to Germantown, or should he head south toward the Warrenton Turnpike? After he found out that Jackson’s lead elements were going to bivouac at Ox Hill, he pushed further south and ran into Stevens’ Division coming hard up Ox Hill Road, and the fight was on.

6) Adjust the Union Major Victory conditions to read: At the end of Turn Six, the Union player wins a major victory if an undisrupted Union unit occupies a hex on the Little River Turnpike between hexes 0501 and 1204 (inclusive). Cutting off a portion of Jackson’s overstretched command would have been a huge coupe for the Union effort, coming close to erasing the Union defeat two days earlier. This entire stretch of road would have been critical, not just the crossroads at 1204.

With these changes I think you’ll find this a better historical simulation AND game. The fighting will usually start close to the location it did historically, with the historical outcome a distinct possibility. The Confederates can try to bludgeon their way down Ox Hill Road, in an attempt to cut the Warrenton Turnpike, or they can try to “stretch” the Union forces by leaving a holding force on Ox Hill Road and making a stab for Germantown. Be careful though, the Union forces are more agile, and if they cut the Little River Turnpike, all of the Confederate maneuvering will be for not.

As you can see, rules 1-4 have to do with movement. You can also see Mr. K focuses on initiative and movement in bad weather. My reactions after playing with the rules once are:

  1. Automatically allowing the Union to always move first is too rigid. Maybe historically the Union was a bit more spry than the Confederates, but to make that an automatic condition seems too favorable to the Union. Not to mention, it avoids many “what if” versions of the battle. This rule seems to be a matter of taste; if you want to be tightly bound by history then go ahead and use it!
  2. Mr. K seems to be of two minds here. On one hand he wants to reduce movement due to the weather but he ends up penalizing the Confederates because they were “burned out” while giving the Union full standard movement (extra in this game). What’s wrong with everybody being reduced to 4 from the standard Musket & Saber rules and keeping the Confederate half-moves? Of, see rule 1. Mr. K wants the battle to be where it historically happened.
  3. The weather made things miserable. No problem.
  4. The weather made things miserable. No problem again.
  5. I have to agree that the Union restrictions make sense. For the Confederates though, this seems like an awful lot of rules for one unit for one turn. I guess if one wants to surrender player agency to the randomness of the Dice Gods in the name of “historicism” than by all means, use this rule.
  6. Well, I think this new condition will only work if you give the Union the advantages of movement rules 1 & 2. Without those, no.

So…I guess if you want this small game to ‘recreate’ the Battle of Chantilly and be assured that the outcome will always be close to the historical then use of Mr. Krynicki’s variant rules. However, if you are like me and you want to use the game to experiment with the situation and explore potential “what-ifs,” then the rules as written are good enough.

What am I Missing? Chantilly: Jackson’s Missed Opportunity 1 Sep 1862 (Decision Games, 2013)

FOR SOME REASON I have yet to fully fathom, I pulled out Chantilly: Jackson’s Missed Opportunity (Decision Games, 2013) to play today. I have written my first impressions before and find the game a bit lacking. In fact, I rated it as a 5 (Mediocre – take it or leave it) in my BoardGameGeek collection. This is well below my average Board Game Rating of 6.42 and places Chantilly in the lower 16% of my collection. So why did I play it, and did my impressions change?

Given the battle is local to the RockyMountainNavy abode, I have a soft spot for the battle in my heart. The game, like the battle, is a race against time. But the scenario situation strongly favors the Confederates. The designer, Chris Perello, admits that the design had to be adjusted to avoid a Confederate steamroller. In 16.0 DESIGNER”S NOTES he stated, “Second was the need to slow the Confederates. If they retain full initiative throughout the game they will steamroll the Federals in the early going.”

To slow the Confederates, Chantilly uses a special scenario rule, 15.0 CONFEDERATE INITIATIVE. The rule calls for a single die roll at the beginning of the Confederate movement phase. If the die roll is less than the current turn number, the Confederate has  their full movement allowance. If the die roll is equal to or greater than the current turn number the movement allowance is halved.

So what happened in my game?

  • Turn 1 – Die roll = 1 > Full Movement
  • Turn 2 – Die roll = 5 > Half Movement
  • Turn 3 – Die roll = 2 > Full Movement
  • Turn 4 – Die roll = 1 > Full Movement
  • Turn 5 – Die roll = 3 > Full Movement
  • Turn 6 – Die roll = 4 > Full Movement

The Confederates ended up with Full Movement for five of the six turns. No wonder elements of AP Hill’s Light Division made it all the way across the battlefield and set up in Fairfax Courthouse, cutting off the Warrenton Turnpike and assuring Confederate Major Victory (14.1). As a matter of fact, there were five hexes of the Warrenton Turnpike occupied by the Confederates, making this a totally lopsided Confederate major victory.

Lopsided Confederate Major Victory

When I play a wargame I am not looking to recreate the historical result. If I just want that I will read a book! No, I want to explore the alternatives. That said, I certainly expect the actual outcome to be achievable in the game model. I am not sure Chantilly delivers in this respect. It is possible that the historical result is such an outlier that it is near-impossible to replicate, but I feel that Chantilly fails to capture the real essence of this battle. Though the designer acknowledges the impact of weather and tired troops, the game system barely gives the feeling of a Confederate army at the end of weeks of marching and three days of battle now having to slog up muddy roads in a thunderstorm.

I totally understand that the die roll for Confederate initiative was very good for the Confederates; maybe too good and it unbalanced the game. I also get that this is a Mini Games Series product designed to be an introductory game playable is less than an hour. I get all that, yet still feel it fails to deliver compelling game play.

My BGG.com rating of 5 stands. There is some potential here, but as delivered Chantilly comes up short.

[Note to self – If I rated it BELOW my average, think twice before playing again!]

#WargameWednesday – Close to Home: Battle of Ox Hill

IMG_1759Living in the Mid-Atlantic region means we have many historical places from the Colonial, American Revolution, and American Civil War close at hand. This past weekend, we took a short trip to a very local battlefield. After the trip, I pulled out one of my latest gaming acquisitions, Chantilly: Jackson’s Missed Opportunity 1 September 1862 (Decision Games, 2013). As the Historical Background lays out:

The ensuing battle, misnamed Chantilly for a plantation several miles to the west, was a disjointed, inconclusive affray that petered out in a thunderstorm that evening. But it need not have been so. It must rank as one of the great “lost opportunities” of the war; had Jackson got onto Pope’s line of communication, the result might very well have been the destruction of an entire Union army.

My copy of Chantilly is part of the Mini Games series that comes in a ziplock bag.  As the DG site tells us:

The Mini Game Series provides a variety of introductory games that are designed to be played in about an hour. The eras covered are: 19th century, Ancient, WWII and Modern. Each game is an 11 x 17 inch map sheet, 40 counters and a rules sheet. The mini game series takes only minutes to learn and once one game is played, players can immediately play other scenarios with the same standard rules.

The rules for Chantilly are based on DG’s Musket & Saber Quick Play Mini Game System Rules (4 pages) with 2 pages of scenario exclusive rules.

After several rules run-thru and two plays, I must admit I am disappointed with the game.

Game map covers an almost identical area – though in a much smaller format

Component-wise the game is fine, and at the $9.95 price point is a great value. The rules complexity are a bit above pure introductory-level. BGG rates the complexity for Chantilly at 1.67 out of 5; a rating I agree with.

It is also that very simplicity of the rules that gets the game in trouble. Chantilly obviously uses a cut-version of a larger rules set. This leads to several issues that make gameplay challenging and lessens the gaming experience.

The first item that jumped out to me is F. Lee’s Cavalry Brigade. This unit has a Combat Factor (CF) of (2) – that is – a 2 in parentheses. NOWHERE in the Game System or Scenario rules is this explained. Luckily the question was asked on BGG, and a blessed soul referenced the full-series rules for the answer (“A parenthesized CF is halved when attacking”).

The FLee cavalry counter also confused me because not only did it have the parentheses around the CF, but it didn’t have a Charge Factor as seen on the counter example in 9.1 Cavalry Units. As I was studying 9.0 Cavalry, I read through 9.3 Squares with mounting anger because there were no square markers in the countermix! It was not until you get to the end of scenario rule 12.2 The Scenario that you discover that all the rules study is for nought:

All standard rules apply except 9.0. Treat the lone calvary unit (FLee) like an infantry unit for all purposes. There are no charges or squares.

The next part of the game system that I am unsure of is the combat results. There are six possible combat results:

  • Ar/Dr = Retreat. All units either disrupt or retreat 1-3 hexes.
  • Ac/Dc = Retreat Check. If MC [Morale Check] failed, treat as Ar/Dr. If MC passed, apply parenthesized result.
  • Ax/Dx = Retreat or Loss. If MC passed, unit may take a loss. If MC failed, or if passed and player chooses, all units disrupted and retreat 1-3 hexes.
  • Ex = Exchange. Each side loses step.
  • NE = No Effect.

I’m not going to show the CRT here, but suffice it to say that outright killing a unit (Ex result) is very hard. Indeed, it appears on the CRT only as the parenthesized result of the Ac/Dc – which is a bit counterintuitive to me. Most units have a Morale Rating of 4, meaning they must roll a 4 or less to PASS their morale check. But in the case of the Ac/Dc result, “passing” your morale check is BAD (Step Loss) whereas “failing” your morale check is good (retreat).

One other way to kill a unit is by Standard Rule 7.8 Rout. Basically, if a retreating unit has an Unsafe Line of Retreat (buried in 7.6 Retreats & the SLR [Safe Line of Retreat]) then it routs per rule 7.8.

Even the victory conditions are confusing. The scenario rules for Chantilly have conditions for either a Confederate or Union Major Victory. Scenario rule 14.3 Minor Victory states, ‘If neither player wins a major victory, calculate the VP scored by each. The player with the larger total wins a minor victory.” So I went hunting for how to score VP. Scoring VP is found in the Standard rule 3.4 Winning the Game which states, in part, “Unless otherwise specified in the exclusive rules, each player scores one VP for each enemy unit or leader eliminated, two VP for each enemy unit or leader captured.”

Capturing a leader is found at the end of Standard rule 10.0 Leaders while captured units are buried (again) at the end of 7.6 Retreats & the SLR in the discussion of No Line of Retreat.

Situation after Second Player (Union) Combat Phase Turn 5 – Ferrero’s Brigade of Reno’s 2nd Division gallantly holds off the Confederate onslaught. Poe’s brigade with two batteries of artillery has retreated out of the picture.

All these rules nuances I discovered over the course of several plays. Yes, the answers in most cases are in the rules – once you find them. In DG’s effort to “standardize” as much as possible, they actually created confusion with poorly cross-referenced or formatted rules. They are not alone in this problem, I pointed outs similar issues with newer games from GMT and C3I such as Plan Orange and South Pacific.

In Scenario rule 16.0 Designer’s Notes, Chris Perello points out:

There were three major design issues that needed to be addressed in this game. First was the omnipresent mud. That was accounted for by reducing the movement allowances for all units, dropping it to four instead of the system-norm of six.

Second was the need to slow the Confederates. If they retain full initiative throughout the game they will steamroll the Federals in the early going.

The “full initiative” reference is to Scenario rule 15.0 Confederate Initiative, which is a mechanic for determining each turn if the Confederates have full movement or half movement. If the result of a d6 roll is less than the turn number, the Confederates have full movement. This rule is needed because of Standard rule 4.3 March Movement which allows a unit that starts and remains at least two hexes away from an enemy unit the entire movement to DOUBLE its movement allowance (meaning that when the Confederates have half-movement, March Movement allows them full movement – got it?). This allows units to fly across the map at a rate faster than rush-hour traffic on I-66 in the same area today. I am not sure Chris actually met his design challenge. I might try a variation where rule 4.3 is suspended just to see what it’s impact is on play is.

All this seems to me a lot to think about and write about a very short and simple game. But that’s my point; what is a short and should be a simple game is actually needlessly complex. I feel that the designer and developer looked at the Battle of Chantilly (nee Ox Hill) and thought that with only a few small changes it could work. It does, to a point less than what they probably hoped. Like the actual battle, Chantilly is a game of lost opportunities because of disjointed rules.