This week my “office-al” game was Mark Herman’s Gettysburg (C3i Magazine Nr. 32, 2018). I chose this game partially because of the small footprint (a single 11″x17″ mapsheet) and low counter density. I also chose the game because one of my coworkers is deep into the Battle of Gettysburg as he had several ancestors at the battle.
Seeing that this is a Wargame Wednesday entry you can tell my play of Gettysburg went quickly. The game itself ended in a Union victory. Going into the last turn things looked bleak for the Union but the return of two Blown corps helped stiffen the Union lines and (barely) preserve a win.
More importantly, I got to show off Gettysburg to my coworker. He is NOT a gamer by any measure of the imagination. I stepped him through some of the game mechanisms and he was interested enough to seek out his own copy. No, I didn’t lend him mine because he has a history of “holding onto” loaned books.
As a wargamer, there are a few battles one can count on to be the subject of a wargame. The number of Battle of the Bulge wargames is uncountable and, in a similar way, the Battle of Gettysburg has been getting the wargame royalty treatment since the Avalon Hill Game Co. published Gettysburg by the Father of Wargaming, Charles S. Roberts, way back in 1958. The book world is much the same—it is no stretch of the imagination to say that Gettysburg may be one of the most written about battles in American history. Which means that picking up any Gettysburg book, or wargame, runs the risk of of it simply being a rehash of the old.
Much of the criticism emanated from Lincoln’s notion that Lee’s army, somehow, could have been destroyed if Meade had only vigorously pursued the enemy then blindly attacked it when the Army of the Potomac came face to face with it on 13 July. Incredibly, no civilian official from inside Lincoln’s administration ever gave Meade credit for out-generaling General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg and thereby delivering the first victory of the Army of the Potomac since its formation in November 1861. Few historians have done so either.
“Epilogue”, p. 371
In Meade at Gettysburg, Kent Masterson Brown uses published and unpublished papers as well as diaries, letters, and memoirs to try and gain a better understanding of Meade at the Battle of Gettysburg. He does so by looking at Meade in four phases: From assuming command on 28 June 1863 through the advance to Gettysburg on 1 July, his tactical actions on 2 July, his decisions on 3 July, and the pursuit of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s army after the battle.
In wargames, we take the mapboard for granted. Indeed, a mapboard is often a necessity by defintion for a wargame. It is amazing to me that Meade and many of his generals fought the Gettysburg campaign without a decent map. As Brown tells us, “What Meade could not discern from the maps were any topographical features such as hill and ridges. Meade was using what were called residential maps, and they did not include such topographical features, although the Frederick County, Maryland and Adam County, Pennsylvania, maps provided outlines of the South Mountain range, but nothing more” (p. 57). Further, not only did Meade lack detailed maps, but he had a hard time understanding where his own forces were, much less that of the enemy. To use more modern terms, the Union generals in the field had no “common operating picture.” Indeed, Meade’s understanding of both the terrain and location of his own forces was so poor that on 1 July he ordered his corps commanders to sketch “their respective corps, their artillery, infantry, and trains” and to share this sketch with the army headquarters (p. 208).
The lack of maps and hidden force location is hard to duplicate in a wargame which all-too-often delivers a “God’s-Eye,” information-rich view of the battlefield. For example, Roads to Gettysburg II is played on a map with lots of information—far more than either army commander had at hand at the time.
There are ways that a poor map can be duplicated in a game, but the cost in playability is astronomical. Maybe a computerized version can simulate the gradual “discovery” of map details as units move and scouts operate, but I prefer tabletop wargames not screens. The reality is the lack of maps, topographical knowledge, and “common operating picture” that Meade faced at Gettysburg is not easily duplicated in a wargame.
What Year Did You Graduate West Point?
Whether one wants to admit it or not, whenever you play a historical wargame you almost always, inevitably, benefit from hindsight. Nobody wants to be like Sickles’ Third Corps and push out ahead only to be shattered by Longstreet. Often times players do things “differently” than in the past because they “know” what works…and doesn’t (didn’t?). On the other hand, sometimes players want to “try to get it right” and do one-better than history. After reading Meade at Gettysburg I found just such a moment in Meade’s orders to Reynolds’ First and Eleventh Corps: “Meade’s directive that the First Corps, followed by the Eleventh Corps, ‘advance on Gettysburg’ was not an order directing Reynolds to occupy the town or hold a position near there; rather, Meade intended for the presence of the First Corps along the turnpike axis to cause the enemy to coalesce and show its intentions” (p. 99).
Kent Masterson Brown in Meade at Gettysburg demonstrates the power of understanding not what we know today, but what the historical participants understood when describing Reynold’s mission as assigned by Meade on 30 June:
To force the enemy to concentrate and deploy so as to reveal its intentions was what Meade ordered Reynolds and his First Corps—followed by the Eleventh Corps—to do; it is identified as one of the most dangerous tasks in mid-nineteenth century warfare. Th strategy requires using an “Advance Guard,” according to Dennis Hart Mahan, professor of military and civil engineering and the science of war at West Point. Mahan published a book on the use of an advance guard in 1847, entitled An Elementary Treatise on Advance-Guard, Out-Post and Detachment Service of Troops and the Manner of Posting and Handling Them in the Presence of an Enemy. Mahan taught military science to Generals Meade, Reynolds, Slocum, Sedgwick, Hancock, Howard, and many others in the Army of the Potomac when they were West Point cadets. General Reynolds and Mahan had in fact taught strategy and tactics together at West Point just before the war. Likewise, many of Lee’s lieutenants studie under Mahan at Wet Point, and Lee was superintendent of West Point during Mahan’s tenure. Much of what Mahan taught was incorporated in the Revised Regulations of the Army of the United States of 1861.
“Force Him to Show His Hand”, p. 101-102
One of the key requirements of a leader is to understand the commander’s intent. As wargamers, we don’t always have a professional military education and, if we do, it more often than not the military science of today and not that of the past. In Meade at Gettysburg, author Kent Masterson Brown explains Meade’s intent as his fellow generals likely understood it. After reading the book, now I understand it too. This new understanding totally changes how I would play out a 1 July scenario in a Battle of Gettysburg wargame.
The Tactical General
The Army of the Potomac was about to enter the struggle of its life. What happened on 1 July was difficult enough. Now, the insubordination of a corps commander had placed not only his own Third Corps but the entire army at risk. No cavalry screened the army’s left flank. The troops would have to fight as they had never done before, and even that might not be enough, given the sheer magnitude of the attack the enemy was about to unleash on Meade’s left. Although Meade was the operational commander of the army, he was about to take tactical command of the fighting on 2 July.
“I Wish to God You Could, Sir”, p. 228
While Meade at Gettysburg focuses on the operational campaign, for 2 and 3 July it digs into the tactical level. That’s because Meade personally took command on the battlefield. This situation is most often what wargamers experience—direct tactical command of the pieces on the board. Here is your chance to “out-general” General Lee (or Rob, your longtime wargame partner). As a wargamer, this part of Meade at Gettysburg was what I could most easily relate to. It was also very disappointing. That’s because I suddenly felt “railroaded” by certain wargames.
Take for instance Mark Herman’s Gettysburg. The game starts on 1 July with Buford’s cavalry to the northwest of Gettysburg as they were historically. The Union First and Eleventh Corps enter on turn 1 from the south again like history. It is at this point the game diverges from history.
Mark Herman’s Gettysburg is played for up to six turns (three days) and victory is determined as follows:
The game usually ends at the conclusion of game turn 6. However, if at the end of any turn the Confederate player can trace a continuous road path from Entry Point A to any one or combination of Entry Points I, J, or K, uninterrupted by Union units or Zones of Control, not Influence, they win the game. If this condition does not occur by the conclusion of turn 6, then the player with the higher VP total wins. Each player receives 1 VP for each eliminated enemy unit. The Union player wins ties.
C3i Magazine – Battle of Gettysburg, 1863 – Rules of Play, p. 11
In other words, Mark Herman’s Gettysburg assumes that Meade wanted the battle to be fought at Gettysburg and not at Big Pipe Creek like he planned and Kent Masterson Brown explains in Meade at Gettysburg. Mark Herman’s entire game is predicated on the assumption that the player will be like Sickles and violate his commander’s intent and bring on a general engagement at Gettysburg. Sure, it makes for a nice wargame, but at this point is it even really historical, or just another counterfactual?
[Don’t take the above part wrong—Mark Herman’s Gettysburg is a very well designed wargame from the perspective of mechanics and does a great job for what is designed to do—”distilling history to it’s essence.”. It’s just that this game, like many other Gettysburg wargames, is designed to play the battle as it historically occurred—not as it was planned—and in the process makes several assumptions as to how the battle developed and the decisions of non-player commanders.]
In many ways, Meade at Gettysburg is a good primer for wargamers playing almost any Gettysburg game. Here you, the player, nominally are the commander at the head of the Army of the Potomac (like Meade). However, you often also assume the role of a corps or division commander, and depending on the game you might even devolve down to the brigade level. This “sliding command perspective” is part-and-parcel of wargames. Meade made it work; can you?
Let’s Play Operation!
Reading Meade at Gettysburg not only provided an interesting look at the campaign around the Battle of Gettysburg, but it also helped me understand more about my taste in wargames in general. Meade at Gettysburg reminded me that it is the operational level of war that is the most fascinating to me. Now, I certainly like tactical games and getting down to the nuts & bolts of battle. There is a certain joy at employing a weapon system in such a way to outfight your enemy, but to out-campaign an opponent is truly another level of achievement.
I understand that when a wargamer picks up a Battle of Gettysburg wargame they kinda expect to fight a battle at Gettysburg and not someplace else. Meade at Gettysburg shows readers—and wargamers—that fate is fickle and what one calls history is sometimes accidental and far from what the participants intended.
But what if….
What if you could do as good as Meade did? Wargames let us be like General Henry Jackson Hunt, Meade’s Chief of Artillery, who was not a fan of Meade after the Battle of Gettysburg. Yet, in 1888, he saw the battle in a new light:
Meade was suddenly placed in command. From that moment on all his acts and intentions, as I can judge of them, were just what they ought to have been, except perhaps in his order to attack at Falling Waters on the morning of the 13th, and especially on the 14th of July, when his Corps Commanders reported against it, and I was then in favor of the attack, so I can’t blame him. He was right in his orders as to Pipe Creek, right in his determination under certain circumstances to fall back to it; right in pushing up to Gettysburg after the battle commenced; right in remaining there; right in making his battle a purely defensive one; right, therefore in taking the line he did; right in not attempting a counter attack at any stage of the battle; right as to his pursuit of Lee. Rarely has more skill, vigor, or wisdom been shown under such circumstances as he was placed in, and it would, I think, belittle his grand record of that campaign by a formal defense against his detractors, who will surely go under as will this show story.
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.