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In Meade at Gettysburg, Kent Masterson Brown uses published and unpublished papers as well as diaries, letters, and memoirs to try and gain a better understanding of Meade at the Battle of Gettysburg.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 was able to pull off an excellent local trade to land a copy of Chad Jensen’s Combat Commander: Pacific from GMT Games this week. It only cost me my 1984 copy of Ranger from Omega Games. This is my first foray into the Combat Commander series of tactical infantry games from GMT. As there were several snow days in my local area I had the opportunity to do a sort of “deep dive” into the game and get multiple plays in. My major discovery is that Combat Commander: Pacific may be built on many “new-age” mechanics but it is thematically highly realistic. Those thoughts will be the subject of a later posting.
In 1982, the Falklands War occurred at an important time in my wargaming career. I was in high school so “aware” enough to follow the geopolitics and I had friends with common wargame interests for playing game like Harpoon II (Adventure Games, 1983). So it was very interesting this week to read The Falklands Wargame which is an unclassified, publicly released study prepared in 1986 for the Strategy, Concepts, and Plans Directorate of the US Army Concepts Analysis Agency. What really caught my attention is the study lead was none other than CAPT Wayne P. Hughes, USN (Ret.) who wrote the foundational naval text Fleet Tactics and was greatly admired by the designers of the Harpoon series of naval wargames available these days from Admiralty Trilogy Group. It’s a very interesting document which has made me think of many of my Falklands wargames, especially those using the Harpoon series of rules. So of course, more thoughts to follow!
Got No Motherland Without: North Korea in Crisis and Cold War (Compass Games, 2021) to the gaming table several times this week. I played the solitaire module provided in the rules. Mechanically it works fine, though the hard part for me is now trying to get those mechanics to do what I need them to do. Component wise, well, this title is a bit of a miss. The red game board is good looking but all the red counters and markers get lost on it making it very hard to see the game state. More detailed thoughts are coming in the future.
<soapbox on> A shout out to Compass Games is also in order. There was a minor production issue with my copy of No Motherland Without but it was quickly resolved by Compass Games. Awesome customer service. And no, I didn’t mention it before because I was giving John and company a fair chance to resolve the issue which they did to my utmost satisfaction so I will commend, not condemn Compass publicly and share with you a positive story not an undeserved negative one. </soapbox off>
The Pratzen, Austerlitz 1805by Peter Perla from Canvas Temple Publishing will fund later today. As this posts I have less than 20 hours to resist temptation. Yeah, Napoleonics is not my thing but I absolutely respect Dr. Perla, love CTP productions, & would need a bigger gaming table.
With the arrival of new games and my “Falklands Excursion” this week the reading for My Kursk Kampaign was put on hold this week. As I resume my reading I am through the events of July 12, 1943 and the Battle of Prokharovka so now turn to the aftermath and follow-on actions – which means The Battle for Kursk: The Tigers are Burning, by Trevor Bender from RBM Studios should land on the gaming table again.
Rider will use the Cepheus Engine rules as a base with modifications made to fit with the “Old West” setting. Rider will draw inspiration from both fictional and historical Western lore but will definitely side with fictional portrayals. To paraphrase Larry McMurtry (who was misquoting “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence”), we will be “printing the legend”.
As part of my Kursk Kampaign series this week I read parts of The Battle of Kursk by David Glantz and Jonathan House (University of Kansas Press, 1990) and The Battle of Prokhorovka: The Tank Battle at Kursk, The Largest Clash of Armor in History by Christopher A. Lawrence from Stackpole Books (2017).
If you’re buying C3i Magazine for only the feature game than you are missing out on a great deal of highly interesting wargame-related content. Even if you don’t own the subject game there is still plenty of useful content between the covers.
A Hobby Gem
We are very fortunate in the hobby wargame community to have the excellent gaming publicationC3i Magazine from RBM Studios. Not only because every issue ships with a nice game (or two), but it also holds to a high editorial standard in the writing it prints.
What, you didn’t know that C3i Magazine has articles (gasp!) to read? Surely, you don’t just buy the magazine for the game, right? I hope you don’t because there is lots of wargaming goodness inside every issue.
Issue Nr. 34
From the Editor’s Desk (p.2) – Heads up from Rodger MacGowan on Deluxe versions of games. I’m looking at those C3i-themed dice because, uh, who doesn’t need a few more dice in their collection, right @ACDragoons? For our European gaming partners there is good news about Hexasim and their efforts to bring C3i Magazine across the pond in an affordable manner.
“Lessons Learned” by James Dunnigan (p. 4) – The Godfather of Wargaming gives us his thoughts on happenings in the commercial and professional wargaming worlds. Nice to read more about the history of our hobby and the profession of wargaming from somebody who has been in the business for 30 years…or longer.
“A Developer’s Look Back at 20 Years of the Great Battles of History” by Alan Ray (p. 10) – I personally own only one GBoH title, Samurai (currently on sale for $35), and don’t play it enough. I still found the article an interesting romp through the history of all the titles in the series. A few might even be adding to my wishlist….
“Infantry Tactics Behind Fields of Fire: Part 2 – Offensive Tactics” by Ben Hull (p. 14) – Another title I don’t own; nonetheless it was very interesting to read and see how the game system of Fields of Fire is used to portray infantry tactics. If I find a copy at a decent price I could be tempted….
“Battle of Agrigentum, 262 BC – C3i Renaissance Battle Scenario #3 for SPQR Deluxe” by Dan Fournie (p. 20) – Yes, another title I don’t own (and at $105 a bit too rich for my wallet) but the history article and playtesting and design notes that goes along with the scenario card in the magazine are excellent.
“Mark Herman’s Clio’s Corner, Nr 11 – Designing unbalanced games or how to create strategic surprise” by Mark Herman (p. 24) – If you want to be a wargame designer or, heck, if you just want to be a game designer you cannot go wrong reading Mr. Herman’s columns. Yeah, we all can’t put together a game design as often or as cleanly as Mark does, but we can read and get inspiration to design or even just understand a design better. Oh yeah, don’t we all wish we could be taught the mastercraft level of game design through something like Mark’s CBI Blitz? (If you are not an Empire of the Sun fan you may not know what that is but suffice it to say that if Mr. Herman runs the CBI Blitz on you then you have really arrived in the hobby).
“Undaunted: Normandy – Walking in the Footsteps of the US 30th Infantry Division” by David Thompson (p. 34) – This is a beautiful, in many ways intimate, look at the history of the U.S. 30th Infantry Division and the design of Undaunted: Normandy from Osprey Games. It is not often a gamer gets to honor their very own relatives like David was able to with his design. We are all fortunate he was able to retrace his grandfather’s step and give us a great wargame out of that experience.
“France 1944 – General Strategies, Objectives and Guidelines – Compass Games” by Judd Vance (p. 40) – Mr. Vance was the Game Developer for France 1944. Think about that a moment; a developer for a Mark Herman title! Again, I don’t own this game but reading the article revealed much of the thinking behind the game design to me. I may never play the game, but I still learned a bit of history and game design from this article.
“OCS – Wargaming with a Purpose” by Steve Carey with Peter Mogensen (p. 43) – Only in the past year have I gotten into the Standard Combat Series (SCS) from Multi-Man Publishing. I did purchase Operation Mercury last year which is part of the Grand Tactical Series. I’ll admit it, the physical scale of the game is intimidating daunting to me. After reading this article I may be encouraged to dig back into it…maybe.
“Harold Buchanan’s Snakes & Ladders, Mr 1 – Why do we play what we play?” by Harold Buchanan (p. 46) – I’ll admit it, this is actually the primary reason I purchased this issue of C3i Magazine. I had heard/read Harold mentioning his taxonomy of a player (his Historical Simulation Engagement Profile) on his podcast and maybe on a forum. I was ver curious. He asked for thoughts, and in the coming weeks you will probably see what I thought about this very interesting column. I was especially pleased to see that Mr. Patrick Carroll, who wrote an article 31 years ago that inspired Harold, was able to add his comments too.
“C3i Interveiw: Chad Jensen” by Sam Sheikh (p. 51) – Sadly, Chad Jensen passed from this world in 2019. This interview is a very nice and fitting tribute to a fine designer, husband, and father. I missed out on his Combat Commander titles but they rightfully occupy prominent positions on my wishlist.
“Opening Waterloo Strategy – Waterloo Campaign, 1815” by Mark Herman (p. 55) – Waterloo Campaign, 1815 was the feature game in C3i Magazine Nr. 33. If you have never heard or read Mark talk about his “distilling history to it’s essence” then you really are missing something. Both Waterloo Campaign, 1815 and Gettysburg (C3i Magazine Nr. 32) are real lessons in taking a huge topic and distilling it down to the bare bones to get an easy-to-learn and quick-to play wargame design that remains very engaging.
“Post Cold War: Making of Post-Cold War World Order” by VPJ Arponen (p. 66) – This article is basically the Designer’s Notes for the game Post Cold War. From the looks of it the game is a commercial wargame that has professional wargaming uses. Hmm….
France 1944 Game Errata. A countersheet with 114 counters for Battle for Kursk (this issues feature game), 16 replacement counters for Issy Campaign (C3i Magazine Nr. 33), and counters for several more games.
THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO, ALONG WITH THE BULGE AND GETTYSBURG, are probably the most published wargame topics out there. So it was a surprise to me to discover that long-time designer Mark Herman had not designed a Battle of Waterloo wargame.
Waterloo Campaign 1815 is played on a single 22″x34″ map with less than 50 counters. Yes, a single map, very low counter density Battle of Waterloo game exists! The map is beautiful and simple to parse. Corps counters are larger and easy for even this glasses-wearing Grognard to read while the smaller 1/2″ Detachments are easy to distinguish because of their smaller size. The rule book, though 24 pages long, is actually only six pages of rules, two pages for scenarios, 12 pages of Example of Play, two pages of Designer’s Notes and front/back covers.
Mark Herman’s Zone of Influence & Detachments
The heart of Waterloo Campaign 1815 is really a single game mechanic – the Zone of Influence (ZoI). As explained in Key Concepts and Definitions:
Zone of Influence (ZoI):All hexes within two hexes of a Corps constitute the unit’s Zone of Influence. ZoIs restrict enemy movement and both friendly and enemy Detachment placement. A Zone of Influence cannot be blocked, it extends through and beyond enemy units. There is no additional effect for a hex having more than one ZoI projected into it.
Long time Grognards need to pay attention and don’t get confused; a Zone of Influence is NOT the same as a Zone of Control (ZoC):
Zone of Control (ZoC): The six hexes adjacent to a unit are its Zone of Control. Corps units and Detachments have a ZoC. ZoCs can halt or limit enemy movement. There is no additional effect for a hex having more than one ZoC projected into it.
Before we come back to that ZoI, Waterloo Campaign 1815 has another difference from Gettysburg that is important – Detachments:
Detachments:Most Corps in Waterloo Campaign have one or more associated Detachment units that can be placed during Step D of the Command Phase (Detachment Placement). Regardless of whether a Detachment shows an infantry or a cavalry symbol. they behave identically in play. Detachments have a ZoC, and are useful for screening, holding flanks, or as the rearguard when on the strategic retreat. The Grand Battery and Old Guard Detachments have special rules.
The interaction of the classic ZoC and Herman’s Zone of Influence, along with Detachments, makes maneuver and combat in Waterloo Campaign 1815 most interesting. The interactions of these rules in turns allows for few units to be placed on the map. To truly understand the brilliance of these interactions requires looking into the Sequence of Play a bit deeper.
Command Phase / D. Detachment Placement Step
To defend your flanks or screen movement, one can place Detachments on the map. First, they must be placed within four hexes of the parent unit OR, within the Command Range of a Headquarters (HQ). Most importantly, the path from the parent unit or HQ to the Detachment must be free of ANY ZoC AND ZoI. A design note states this is to avoid having Detachments used as skirmishers and forces you to use them as intended.
Command Phase / E. Detachment Recall
Once Detachments are placed, a player can Recall any (or all) of their Detachments on the map. Even ones in an enemy ZoC. The Detachments cannot be placed again until the next turn.
Between placement and recall, Detachments become their own game of flanking and screening; and that’s even before the first unit has moved!
When a Corps enters a hex within an enemy ZoI it must stop. If any unit enters the ZoC of a unit (even a Detachment) the unit ‘flips’ from it’s Advance Formation (better movement) to Battle Formation (less movement) side. Note that even the ZoC of those pesky little Detachments causes a formation change! One needs pay attention to where they are on the map or risk finding their multi-Corps flanking march stopped cold by a lowly Detachment!
The Influence of ZoI
Playing Waterloo Campaign 1815 it becomes immediately apparent that this is a game of maneuver and the decisions made in the Movement Phase are often more important than even the battles in the Attack Phase. When maneuvering your units one ends up paying very close attention to the ZoI and ZoC out there because you don’t want to enter either one unless you absolutely have to – or are forced to by a crafty enemy using their Detachments to funnel you to where THEY want the confrontation. Such is the influence of Zones of Influence; they make a unit watch their flanks and use Detachments to ‘influence’ enemy and friendly movement alike.
I have not played a wargame or boardgame in over a week now. Not because I have stopped playing; instead I have been off playing with the RockyMountainNavy Family at DisneyWorld. Now fully recharged I am ready to get back to the gaming table!
Before Spring Break, I had several opportunities to play @HBuchanan2‘s Campaigns of 1777. These days I am becoming a sucker for the chit-pull mechanic in games as they make the game very solo-friendly even without a dedicated solitaire version. I am also a sucker for wargames the American Revolution era. After driving from Virginia to Florida and passing by several Revolutionary War sites, I really hope he goes ahead with southern campaign version too!
Around the same time Campaigns of 1777arrived I also too delivery of my GMT Games P500 order of @tdraicer‘s The Dark Valley Deluxe Edition. This is in many ways a modern monster game covering the complete Eastern Front campaign in World War II. I bought into the game based (once again) on the chit-pull mechanism that I enjoyed in the previous Ted Racier/GMT Games title, The Dark Sands. I have to admit that I want to get this one to the table soon; as I was inspecting the game and had the board laid out Youngest RMN and I started looking at the geography and talking in general terms about Operation Barbarossa and Eastern Front. Historically I have avoided anything above tactical-level games about the Eastern Front; looking to change that with The Dark Valley!
We actually took a few boardgames with us on vacation but were lucky and had not bad weather days so the games remained unplayed. The RMN Boys did play a few games of Ticket to Rideor Battleloreor 1775: Rebellion on the iPad but I didn’t get to play (something about driving and playing at the same time just doesn’t work!). We had considered taking Villainous with us but thought that would be too much Disney. So, with vacation behind me and now emotionally recharged, it’s time to get back to wargaming and boardgaming.
…and it’s true. Chit-pull wargames are a game mechanism that can take a two-player or multi-player wargame and help make it solo-friendly.
Long used in the solitaire gaming world (a great example being Mrs. Thatcher’s War: The Falklands, 1982 (White Dog Games, 2017), the chit-pull mechanism is often used by wargame designers to introduce fog-of-war elements* into a game. The chit-pull “randomizer” can also makes non-solitaire wargames more solo-friendly because the game engine guides the player as to what happens next. Now, don’t take my thinking too far; just because a wargame uses chit-pull does not automatically mean it is solo-friendly, just that it is more likely to be. The interaction of other mechanics might make it impossible to play a game solo. That said, chit-pull could be a good indication that you can play the game against your evil twin alter-ego!
Chit-pull; it’s a wargamers friend – especially when there is no friend around to play against.
* According to the BoardGameGeek Wiki, The Chit-Pull System is defined as: “Used in war games to address the problem of simulating simultaneous action on the battlefield and issues of command and control. In such a system the current player randomly draws a chit or counter identifying a group of units which may now be moved. Schemes include moving any units commanded by a particular leader, moving units of a particular quality or activating units not for movement but for fighting. This mechanism is often associated with designer Joseph Miranda who has used it in many of his games.”
In the introduction to the Specific Rules & Set Up for Issy 1815, it notes that, “Issy 1815 is the 44th battle in the Jours de Gloire series.” Now, I have never really been a Napoleonic-era wargamer so I am not familiar with the series, but with 44 games published I would of thought I had heard of it before. I had not; to my eternal shame. The Battle of Issy 1815 by designer Frédéric Bey and published in C3iMagazine Nr 32 (RBM Studio Publications, 2018) shows me that it is possible to make a set of Napoelonic wargame rules in a small package that simultaneously delivers challenging decisions and immersive theme.
Issy 1815 is a small wargame with a 16-page Rule Book (series and battle-specific rules), an 11″x17″ map, a Player Aid card, and ~120 counters. The Jours de Gloire-series rules take up the first 10 pages of the Rule Book. Scales are described in 0.1 Scales:
The games of the series are at the scale of the battalion, the regiment (demi-brigade for the period of the Republic) or the brigade. A strength point represents about 200 infantry or 150 cavalry if each unit represents a regiment and 400 infantry or 300 cavalry if each represents a brigade. A strength point of artillery represents from two to four cannon depending on their calibers.
The scaling is not a hard-and-fast standard. In Issy 1815each turn is 90 minutes, one hex is ~350 meters, and it uses the battalion scale for infantry (~200 soldiers) and regiment scale for cavalry (~150 horse) (Issy 1815Specific Rules, 0.1 – Scales).
To represent the Fog of War and command & control challenges of the era, Jours de Gloire calls for placing orders and using a chit-pull mechanism for activation of formations. The combination of these rules immediately create theme and make player decisions important from the start.
In the Orders Phase, players place Received Orders (Ordres Reçus) or No Orders (Sans Ordres) markers. Every Formation or Tactical Group gets one or the other, but the number of Ordres Reçus is limited to the Order Rating of the Commanders-in-Chief. Units with orders have more tactical flexibility while units without orders are much more limited – unless they want to try to use the formation leader’s initiative and try and do more. To do so they have to make a test against the initiative number on the Activation Marker (AM) drawn. Each formation has two AM and the initiative may, or may not be, the same on each. Further, the Die Roll Modifier (DRM) of the Commanders-in-Chief is a negative modifier to the die roll so a strong C-in-C (like Napoleon?) is harder to “override.” Even if one is able to override the lack of orders, in many cases to attack will also require an Engagement Test (ET) against the Engagement Rating of units. The Engagement Rating is an easy, uncomplicated way to portray the training of a unit (morale is covered by the Cohesion Rating which I will discuss later).
Those Activation Markers are important in the Activation Phase. All formations have their AM placed in a cup and drawn out randomly. The player with STRATEGIC INITIATIVE gets to keep one AM out of the cup and starts the turn with that Formation. An activated formation has its order status revealed and then can take actions (artillery fire, movement, shock combat and charges, and rally) depending on the order status or initiative of the formation commander. The draw of AM is repeated until there is only one AM left in the cup, at which point the turn ends! This can lead to interesting situations. In Turn 1 of my first solo game, the main Prussian formation, Steinmetz, did not draw its first AM until the next-to-the-last chit. Thus, the formation had only one Activation Phase and the second was forfeit. Game play-wise this was not a great way to start the battle, but thematically it seemed to represent the inability for the formation to get started at 0300 hrs in the early morning!
The Jours de Gloire-series uses traditional Zones of Control (ZoC) around units but the nice wrinkle is in unit facing. Unlike most wargames where units face a hexside, in Jours de Gloire games units face a hex vertex. Thus, units have two front hexes and four rear hexes. Given the scale of the game, facing has no effect on movement but it does have an effect on combat. This simple change from “standard” creates greater tactical decision space at the very small rules cost of not facing a hexside.
The Jours de Gloire-series does not use a classic Combat Results Table (CRT) for combat resolution. In ARTILLERY FIRE, 1d10 is rolled and modified by a Firer Mod (generally the Strength Point of the unit), a Target Mod (mostly terrain effects or massed/stacked formations or if in square formation), and a Range Mod. If high enough, the Modified Die Roll results in either Rout (retreat), Disorder (counter flipped), or a Cohesion Test (CT). A CT is one of the principle tests in the game. In a CT, a unit rolls 1d10 with any modifiers against their Cohesion Rating. Pass the CT you are fine; fail and it becomes “challenging.” In ARTILLERY FIRE, a failed CT is a Disorder, Rout‘ or even elimination depending on what status the unit started in. Again, the rules deliver a very thematic effect as artillery didn’t necessarily “kill” units but affected their orderliness.
Infantry and cavalry attack using SHOCK COMBAT (cavalry also can do the CAVALRY CHARGE). Much like ARTILLERY FIRE, combat resolution in SHOCK COMBAT uses a 1d10 with modifiers. The list of modifiers is a bit more extensive than with ARTILLERY FIRE but the table on the Player Aid can be stepped through quickly. SHOCK and CHARGE results apply to both the attacker and defender. Possible results are Recoil (one hex back), Disorder, Rout, the Cohesion Test, as well as Pursuit, Counter-shock, or Breakthrough. Again, and in keeping with the era, units are rarely destroyed in combat, but instead tend to “come apart” through a lack of morale or “cohesion.” Yet again, uncomplicated rules giving thematically appropriate combat results.
In the Battle of Issy 1815Specific Rules, there is a nice extra rule for Light Companies. Basically, each formation has a light company marker. Each turn, the player can place some on their related formation and place others in the activation cup. The light company have no ZoC, no Strength Points, no Movement Points, and do not affect rally attempts by adjacent units. What they can do is, when the player wants, force an adjacent enemy unit to make a Cohesion Test. The markers represent the use of skirmishers (voltiguers) by the parent formation. Yet again, Mr. Bey uses a simple, low rules overhead way to represent a capability in a thematically relevant way.
All of the above has been a long winded way of me saying that Battle of Issy 1815and the Jours de Gloire-series is a small, relatively rules-lite, wargame that is easy to learn, quick to play, and delivers a highly thematic experience. If you have C3i Magazine Issue Nr 32 and have not tried this game (instead focusing on Gettysburg) take the time to learn and play through Issy. If you have never played a Jours de Gloire game before try to find one and give it a shot, even if you are not a huge Napoleonic warfare fan. Battle of Issy 1815 has been a pleasant surprise to me; I think it could be the same for most wargamers.