I’m not sure, but the original Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater (Hollandspiele, 2017) may have been the first game I recognized as a waro (wargame-Eurogame hybrid). I never thought a game about logistics could be the basis of a good wargame. I also appreciate that instead of simply redoing his first game on a new map, Mr. Russell added, with little rules overhead, game mechanics to reflect the unique “irregular” war in the southern colonies. The result is a very playable game that is not only fun but offers decent insight into the conflict.
Gettysburgand Battle of Issy 1815arrived Christmas Eve. My initial impression of Gettysburg is that it is a very simple introductory-level wargame that features a rich decision space. Indeed, I almost put it here in a tie with SLotAR:TSS as a co-winner! The Battle of Issy 1815 is my first introduction to the Jours de Gloire -series of rules. Although I admit Napoleonic wargames are not really in my wheelhouse this is a fast-playing, rules-lite game; I like what I have seen – and played – so far!
Regarding Cataclysm, I debated when making these “of the Year” postings whether to categorize it as a strategy boardgame or a wargame. Regardless of where it ended up, the game is still a triumph of design and is interesting to play every time. Battle Hymnwith its chit-activation mechanic brings the Fog of War to a game with little rules overhead and is a visual masterpiece. I am looking forward to Vol 2 later this year. Even the newly arrived NATO Air Commanderis fun and a very playable solo game – when its not bringing back nightmares of Soviet armored hordes rolling across the West German frontier!
I have to agree with Tom Russell (@tomandmary from Hollandspiele Games). Gettysburg, the first in what looks to be a new series of simple wargames published by RBM Studio in their flagship C3i Magazine is a small footprint, rules-lite product that delivers tremendously challenging choices. It might be a small looking game, but it is large on making decisions interesting.
At first glance, Gettysburgseems to have little to offer. You play on a single 11″x17″ map with only 26(!) counters. Rules are in a large-font 12-page Rule Book. [Take out the cover, Player Aid on the back cover, and three pages of graphics and one is left with seven (7!) pages of actual rules.] There are only six turns, each representing a half-day. However, after playing Gettysburg one quickly discovers that designer Mark Herman (@markherman54) was not exaggerating when he subtitled the Rule Book as Gettysburg: History Distilled to Its Essence.
Mr. Herman accomplishes this design feat by focusing on few tried-and-true wargame mechanisms while adding several innovative(?) wrinkles. The first wargame trope Mr. Herman relies upon is the Zone of Control (ZoC). In Gettysburg, every unit exerts a ZoC into the six hexes around it. Like most wargames, when a unit enters an enemy ZoC it must stop and cannot move any further during the Movement Phase. To any traditional wargamer this is old hat; dare I say “boring?”
The interesting wrinkle introduced is the concept of Zone of Influence (ZoI). A ZoI is all hexes within two of the unit. Now, I am sure ZoI has been used in other games but in Gettysburg the effect of ZoI makes me take notice. Units starting the Movement Phase outside of an enemy ZoC or ZoI are turned to their speedier March Formation side. Units can move at their March Formation speed until they enter an enemy ZoI – at which point they have to flip to their much slower Battle Formation side. Now movement is interesting; there is no dashing right up to the enemy!
At the same time he uses ZoC and ZoI, Mr. Herman mixes in another old school gaming trope, I go, you go (IGO UGO), but turns it on its head. As expected, players alternate taking actions in the Movement or Attack Phase until one player passes. But, instead of letting the second player continue until they finally want to pass, the non-passing player rolls a die and adds the number of friendly units outside of an enemy ZoC. The modified result is the number of remaining Move Actions that player has. Similarly, in the Attack Phase, once a player passes, an unmodified die roll is made with the result being the remaining number of attacks possible. The passing die roll reasonably reflects the problems of Command & Control in the days of the American Civil War. Sometimes commanders get what they want; other times the fickle hand of fate interferes.
In the Attack Phase, Gettysburg becomes a bit less traditional. First , there is no Combat Results Table (CRT) in the game. Instead, players make a series of competitive die rolls with the modified difference creating the combat result. Modifiers to combat are few and easy to remember; Artillery Support is a +2, Defensible Terrain is +2, any stars on the unit counter are a positive modifier, and if attacking with more than two units in the defender’s ZoC there is another +2. After rolling dice and applying modifies, the difference can range from Stalemate to Retreat to Blown (off the map to possibly return two turns later) to Eliminated. Although the combat resolution is not traditional, the simple rules capture the essence (where have I seen that word?) of combat results in the American Civil War.
The interaction of the basic ZoC, the extended ZoI, and a “traditional” IGO UGO turn sequence with an different “passing” mechanism combines with easy no-CRT combat resolution mean the “simple” rules of Gettysburgcreate huge decision space. As Tom Russell relates in his blog post:
The moment one of the players passes is a hinge point upon which the tempo of the phase turns. Suddenly the order in which I move my dudes matters. Because the Union position is largely defensive, I find that they’re more likely to pass first, which creates a situation in which the hitherto orderly Confederates are suddenly forced to improvise. What I had intended to be coordinated assaults all up and down the line become hodge-podge little affairs.
Gettysburg the battle was a huge affair. As Bruce Catton wrote in the Encounter at Gettysburg chapter of his book Never Call Retreat(Phoenix Press, 1965),
The commanding generals never meant to fight at Gettysburg. The armies met there by accident, led together by the turns of the roads they followed. When they touched, they began to fight, because the tension was so high the first contact snapped it, and once begun the fight was uncontrollable. What the generals intended ceased to matter; each man had to cope with what he got, which was the most momentous battle of the war. (p. 178-179).
Gettysburgthe game delivers what it promises; a simple wargame that captures the essence of the battle – those hodge-podge little affairs that the generals never wanted but which you the player need to cope with. In Gettysburg Mr. Herman has distilled the battle to its essentials, and the resulting game is a master-class example of making a small, streamlined title that delivers an outsized, replayable experience.
That’s the contents of issue Nr 32 of C3i Magazine. So much wargaming goodness contained within! Even harder to believe that all this cost me less than $40.
At the upper right are two new scenarios for Table Battles (Hollandspiele, 2017). Designer Tom Russell serves up The Battle of Gaines Mill (27 June 1862) and The Battle of the Bouvines (27 July 1214). Tom and Rodger MacGowan also thoughtfully included a two-sided rules card. Although I have Table Battles, it is a good thing I reviewed this abbreviated rules set as I discovered I was playing the Target rule incorrectly.
The countersheet in the middle includes not only the two games featured in this issue, but counters for several more games. Again, color me interested….
At the bottom left is the first of the two feature games. Frederic Bey’sBattle of Issy 1815, is a Jours de Gloire-series game. Napoleonics are not my usual thing but this looks to be great little game that likely makes a good intro to the series. Rodger! I see your evil plan!
In simple terms, the games look virtually identical. Whereas Thunder at the Crossroads uses it’s Command System as its distinctive game mechanic, Battle Hymn uses a chit-pull system and an “innovative” combat system to distinguish itself. As the publisher’s blurb puts it:
Battle Hymn is a new brigade-level game system that simulates the chaos of the America Civil War using a simple activation system combined with a detailed combat system. The system’s designer, Eric Lee Smith, originated the “chit-pull” activation system in his game “Panzer Command” and later used it in “Across Five Aprils,” Battle Hymn’s forerunner, both published by Victory Games. Units are organized by command, usually divisions, and activate for movement when the command’s activation market is picked from the cup. The system uses traditional mechanics for movement, with units differentiated by type, but adds a level of detail to combat that feels almost miniatures like. In fact, the system is designed for easy conversion to miniatures. When one side has the initiative they decide when their combat phase occurs, without it, you don’t know when it will happen.
In my first read-thru of the rules it appears to me that although both Thunder at the Crossroads and Battle Hymn are rated “Medium” complexity, Battle Hymn is a much simpler game than Thunder at the Crossroads.
Command System: This is the heart of Thunder at the Crossroads. In Battle Hymnthere is no need for written orders. More “realism” in Thunder at the Crossroads at the cost of more complexity.
Movement: Units in Battle Hymn don’t change formation or extend lines or the like as found in Thunder in the Crossroads. Again, more “realism” in Thunder at the Crossroads but again, an increased cost in complexity.
Combat:Battle Hymnclaims the innovative combat system “elevates realism” and is “based on recent historical research and the best practices used in miniatures games.” I will need to play more to judge for myself but from a simple game mechanics-perspective the combat system in Battle Hymn is much more intuitive to me. I was constantly stumbling during play of Thunder at the Crossroadswith the A, AB, B, etc. Firepower levels.
I also have to say the map for Battle Hymn is one of the most gorgeous maps I have ever seen in a wargame. Done in “period style” it is extremely pretty. I am very tempted to reach out to Compass Games and see if they will sell one unfolded and shipped in a roll container so I can frame it and hang it on the wall of my gaming room.
I also like the scenarios in Battle Hymn. Ranging from 45 minutes to 8 hours I think I will be able to play the shorter ones first to learn the game system and then go for the longer engagements/campaigns:
Pickett’s Charge – 3 turns, 45 minutes
The Best Three Hours (Devil’s Den) – 3 turns, 1 hour
The Accidental Battle (Day One) – 11 turns, 3 hours
Longstreet’s March (Day Two) – 9 turns, 3 hours
The Tide Turns (Day Three) – 7 turns, 3 hours
The Battle of Gettysburg (campaign) – 31 turns, 8 hours
The Surprise Attack (Day One) – 9 turns, 2 hours
Missouri Redeemed! (Day Two) – 5 turns, 1.5 hours
The Battle of Pea Ridge (campaign) – 15 turns, 5 hours
I am very happy that I pulled the trigger and stepped out of my gaming comfort zone to purchase Battle Hymn. To be honest, it was actually very easy given the videos @PastorJoelT posts on Twitter. Thanks Joel!
This week we missed our weekly Family Game Night for maybe only the second time in over 18 months. The fatherly part of me feels a bit sad since I missed out on quality gaming time with the RockyMountainNavy Boys, but we more than made up for it in a short spring break trip to Gettysburg. The trip to Gettysburg National Military Park made me think of several games I have and consider how wargaming can help me teach the American Civil War to my family.
I last went to Gettysburg in the mid-1990s. I was attending a school in the military and we did a staff ride to Gettysburg. As I recall, we didn’t see any movie or the cyclorama and instead used the Army War College staff guide for moving about the battlefield. I sorta recall that I picked up my main Gettysburg wargame, Thunder at the Crossroads, 2nd Edition (The Gamers, 1993) in the gift shop. I remember because I had to explain to my classmates what a wargame was (sigh).
For the family this time we didn’t do our visit the military way, but the way the National Park Service recommends. For a very affordable $15 ($14 with military discount) one can get in to see the 20 minute movie A New Birth of Freedom (narrated by Morgan Freeman), the Cyclorama painting of Pickett’s Charge, and the museum before embarking on an auto tour of the battlefield. The movie is excellent, the cyclorama breathtaking, and the museum extremely educational. As much as I was looking forward to teaching the RMN Boys about the Battle of Gettysburg, it was Mrs. RMN who got the best education. Being a naturalized citizen fo the United States, she missed out on a great deal of history in the schools. Beyond the battlefield, the history that resonated with her the most was the divided nation, much like her original birth land of Korea. She studied closely the words of Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation as well as the Gettysburg Address. It was a good learning experience for all of us.
The other American Civil War game in my collection is For the People (GMT Games, First Edition, 2000). This card-driven game (CDG) was one of my first forays into that game mechanic and, at the time, I found it wanting. Since then the CDG mechanic has grown on me and I have come to like it.
For a guy that is was so into tactical or operational-level wargames, I am surprised that I have only one Civil War game of that flavor in my collection. I guess I am a bit lucky that it is Thunder at the Crossroads given that there are many positive reviews of the game out there. I like hearing comments that it is long, but playable. It is also popular enough that there are even how-to videos posted out there. I strongly recommend Gilbert Collins’ review posted on Youtube.
I like the Hold the Line system, and this one looks interesting. I guess my getting it will depend upon the price point. Worthington is going to be working a bit uphill here since I have an inherent distrust of Kickstarter.
So although I missed out on game night, our family trip to Gettysburg helped all the family learn much more about a vital period of American history. In the long run, we will get more American Civil War games to the table.
Featured image: Pickett’s Charge Cyclorama courtesy NPS.gov.