Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Gettysburg 150 game report

Gettysburg 150 by Worthington Games celebrates the 150th Anniversary of probably the most internationally famous battle of the American Civil War. The following is a write up based on a playing of the three day battle scenario, with notes that help give some insight into the system.

 

Click on continue to see the rest of the report.

To get a better understanding of this battle, I downloaded Gettysburg - Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania, by Frederick Tilbury (shown above), an e-book, available for the Kindle. The book gives a concise account of the battle, the events leading up to it and the aftermath. It is a good source at a reasonable price to get a ready grasp of how the battle flowed. It has plenty of photographs but few maps.

Below is an overhead view of the mapboard. At the start of play, there are just a few Union units on the map. Two cavalry units cover the crossing at the creek (bottom left) and Reynolds (Commander I Corps) is on the Emmitsburg Road with Wadsworth's Division, near to Peach Orchard. All Confederate forces start off map and over the course of the first day III Corps will enter at point B and then later, II Corps will arrive at point A. On the second day, Longstreet's corps will also arrive at B. The encircled VP (red) is Cemetery Hill and I have marked this because it became pivotal to my entire 3 day struggle, with units from both sides getting drawn into a fight that generated alarming casualties and saw its occupation passing back and forth several times. The double red bars indicate the initial area of intense fighting, with the triple lines showing the extent of the fighting by day two.

 

A brief overview of play before we start - In their part of the turn, a player spends Activation Points (AP's) to make their units do things (move, fire, melee or rally). Players have a fixed base level of AP's each turn, this being 5 for the Union and 6 for the Confederates. At the start of their turn, a player rolls a D6 and adds that result to their base AP value, which gives them a random number of AP's for that particular turn, with any unspent AP's being lost. If a player rolls a 1, then in addition, the Random Event Table is consulted and sometimes that can make up for such a poor roll...... or not!

Units are generally representing divisions for the Union and half divisions for the Confederates. Each corps has seperate artillery represented as a brigade, with the Union also having the artillery reserve, a powerful 3 counter formation.

Each corps has a commander. If he dies in action, his counter is flipped over to its replacement side, the players base AP level then permanently drops 1 point. Replacement commanders can never die again, they just remain in play, but usually have lower rally abilities than their original character had. The optional rules use corps integrity, so units need to stay within 3 hexes of their leader or they suffer the penalty of paying double AP's to activate - I think play benefits from including the optional rules.

In the three day battle, victory is gained from destroying units and capturing VP locations, which are the historically significant Culps Hill, Cemetery Hill, Little Round Top and the exit hex on the Baltimore Pike (all marked with VP counters on the above map). At the start of play, the Union control all VP hexes. Players need to be careful about fighting down to the last strength point of a unit or failing to rally such units, as when a unit loses its last step, it is removed permanently from play and this can lead to army demoralisation. The Union demoralise after 8 infantry units are lost and the Confederates after 7. The effect of demoralisation is that the army cannot initiate melee and all actions cost double Activation Points - a real dampener on any aspiration to win!

Anyway - on with the game.

Turn 1: 8 am on 1st July 1863.

Confederate: Heth (both A & B parts of the division) and Garnett (artillery) arrive and advance to the creek, where they stop, faced by Gamble's Union cavalry.

Union: Reynolds sends Wadsworth ahead towards Gettysburg, while he waits on the road for the rest of I Corps to follow up. He will then be able to command them directly and that will cost fewer AP's to get them up to the front line, though without his commander, Wadsworth, now out ahead on his own, will be paying double AP's to act. At the creek, Gamble falls back onto McPhersons Ridge rather than waiting to tangle with the much superior Confederate force. ( note units cannot both move and fire in the same turn, so here, allowing the Confederate to move adjacent to the cavalry and then pulling the cavalry back, represents a delaying action, as the Confederates will need to spend the next turn moving again to make contact, rather than being able to just attack the cavalry, that are no longer adjacent).

Turn 2: 9 am

Confederate: They roll for the random part of their AP's and get a '1'. This is added to their base allowance of '6' giving a total of '7'. But rolling a '1' means the Random Event Table is consulted. A further roll is made for this table and the result is that the next Confederate reinforcements that are due, are delayed an hour and moved from the 10am to the 11am part of the track. The Confederates are presently leaderless, so all actions are costing double AP's at the moment - good job there are so few of them at present.

Union: Robinson, Doubleday and Wainwright artillery (i.e. the rest of I Corps) enter the southern edge of the board, they are still at least 3 hours march away from the front line. They join their commander, Reynolds, who has been waiting for them. Gamble (cavalry) stays on McPhersons Ridge to hinder the Confederates, while Wadsworth arrives on the rear slope of the ridge.

10 am

Confederate: The Confederates are keen to get onto the ridge before Wadsworth can deploy, they pay 2 AP's to melee against Gamble (doubled to 4 AP's for not being in command range of their corps leader), plus 1 AP to fire with their artillery. The artillery has no effect but the cavalry suffer 1 hit in the melee (flip the unit). When a hit is scored in melee, the defenders take a morale check and retreat 1 hex if they fail .... Gamble fails and falls back.

Union: They also roll 1 for AP's - not good for them at this point. Worse, the Random Event Table delays their reinforcements. They could do with more AP's this turn to get the rest of Reynolds men moving with forced marches, which costs an extra AP per unit, however their priority is to spend the AP's on Wadsworth to counter-attack. Being out of Command range makes this expensive - 4 AP's, leaving them just 2 AP's to spend on the reinforcements. The attack is a failure, this is a costly shame, they had hoped to get a hit and have the enemy fail the subsequent morale check and making them fall back and so that it would take them another turn to re-engage.

11 am.

Heth puts in a counter-attack against Wadsworth and it causes a devastating 3 hits (which is 3 step losses -Wadsworth is the most powerful unit on the board, starting with 6 steps), but Wadsworth's division pass their morale test and stand. For the Union, XI Corps (Howard) arrives on the map. His forces travel down two separate roads so they need to amalgimate to use AP's more effectively, by all getting within command range of Howard. They are still some hours from the action. Wadsworth retires into Gettysburg.

12 noon. The Confederates draw up their battleline (below) on Seminary Ridge in readiness to assault Gettysburg.

The Union get lucky and roll a '6' for their AP's, this will give them a chance to hurry XI Corps up to join I Corps. The next union reinfocements will not be arriving for some five hours, so the two Union corps will have it tough for a while.

1 pm

Confederate: Ewell starts to bring II Corps on, just north of Gettysburg ( left side of the map ). Based on internet comments that Jenkins (cavalry) should not appear on day 1, I have left that counter to one side. Hill moves III Corps against the defenders at Gettysburg.

The union again roll badly for AP's and get the Random Event Table, which gives them an extra dice in all combats. This could really hurt the Confederates who have just moved up against them. It does .... '5' hits are scored and Heth B is removed from play, though none of the other involved Confederate units retreat.

2 pm

The Confederates concentrate their attacks on Wadsworth, since joining battle, his strength has dropped from '6' to '1'. If he takes a further hit, he will be removed from the game and count towards demoralisation as well as victory points. Steinweir (Union) force marches to take possession of Culps Hill (the hex with the VP counter at the top of the above map). The Union plan now to just to fall back slowly and play for time.

3 pm

The Union continue to fall back.

4 pm

The Union have now pulled back onto Cemetery Hill, they will have to hold here or give up 2 important victory locations (Culps Hill and Cemetery Hill). Barlow still holds the most southern tip of Seminary Ridge.

5 pm

Robinson (Union) falls to strength 1 and needs to leave the line. Lead elements of XII Corps (Union) enter the map. The question is, can I and XI Corps hold Cemetery Hill until reinforcements arrive. They are engaged all along their front by the Confederates. On their right, their fire is innefective, but on the left, they hit the Confederates hard. One artillery is removed from play and two half divisions are reduced to strength 1 each, they fall back. This has given the Union some breathing space.

6 pm through to 7 pm

Rodes A (Confederate) charges up the slope of Cemetery Hill, removes Gamble from play and pushes Osborn (artillery) back. They are on the ridge, have cracked the defensive line and got next to Culps Hill.

The Union make concerted efforts to counter-attack Rodes A, but they fail to dislodge them. In the process they lose Osborn's guns and completely forget to bring on their reinforcements as they have exhausted all their AP's making counter-attacks - oops!

Night

At night, each side only gets a fixed total of 3 AP's and there are heavy restrictions on what can be done. Reynolds (Union) again fails to rally Wadsworth, they do however start to get XII Corps (Slocum), II Corps (Hancock) and Meade onto the map.

Overview of day 1.

The Union still hold all of the VP hexes and have lost a cavalry and artillery formation. The Confederates have lost an infantry and an artillery formation. The Union front line is quite weak. Both Robinson and Schurz are down to 1 strength point and being held out of the line for fear of total loss. The Confederate line is also pretty chewed up and their second line of fresh units needs to move up, but can they manage this before the Union reinforcements arrive. The position is too important for the Union to retreat from and so they will almost certainly see their casualties rise here. It is a tightly balanced situation as we head into day 2.

Day 2, 6am and 7am

The Confederates finally clear Seminary Ridge.

8 am

Wadsworth (with Reynolds) defend the VP hex on Cemetery Hill. They are surrounded to three sides by Confederates, who get drawn in to making repeated attacks as Wadsworth drops to 1 strength point. The attack cost 6 AP's but Wadsworth holds on ( passing a morale check after losses in melee ).

 

9 am to 10 am

The Union are able to keep swapping out the occupants of the VP hex on Cemetery Hill, with fresher units, while the Confederates use up most of their AP's attacking this one location and their strengths reduce as they maintain the pressure. A number of Union units have dropped to strength 1. The Random Event table enables the Confederates to rally two units, which is a welcomed bonus to them - as they are too busy attacking to spend AP's on rallying at the moment.

11 am and 12 am

As the battle rages for the slopes of Cemetery Hill, Slocum (XII Corps leader) and Geary (Union) get attacked. Geary's strength falls from 4 to 1. They stand fast but Slocum himself takes a musket ball and his counter is flipped to show a replacement leader. A leader loss causes that sides base AP level to drop by 1 for the rest of the game. The Union therefore drop from level 5 to 4.

The Union continue to feed new reinforcements into this high casualty causing area ( the game does not have zones of control ).

At last, Longstreet arrives onto the map. He moves into position on the right of the Confederate army, poised to either force the Union to extend their brittle line to face him or if unchecked, strike deeper into enemy territory and threaten the Little Round Top and Peach Orchard.

1 pm

The Confederates get another Random Event that allow them to add an extra die into each attack. They assault the same high ground at Cemetery Hill, but still Hancock holds on.

 

2pm and 3 pm

The VP hex on Cemetery Hill continues to dominate play. Attacking here absorbs a lot of Confederate AP's. The hex is about to fall, with the occupants down to one strength point. Gibbon pulls out and Caldwell takes over, but on taking his first hit, his division retreats, allowing the Confederates to take the hill and claim their first VP hex. Since noon, Sykes V Corps (Union) has been tracking across the board (from top to bottom in the above photo) to deal with the Longstreet threat. They are presently within an hour or so's march of Peach Orchard, their occupation of that ridge would protect the Union right flank.

4 pm and 5 pm

A Union counter-attack reclaims the VP hex on Cemetery Hill. The see-saw action continues and at 5 pm it is again back in Confederate hands. VI Corps (Sedgewick - Union) arrives and starts to move towards Cemetery Hill. They are a strong formation and will stabilise the forward slopes.

6 pm

Longstreet starts to push on the right flank. Reynolds has been rallying Wadsworth and together with Ransom's artillery from the reserve, they approach the northern slopes of Cemetery Hill to strengthen the defences and allow the lower strength units to pull out.

7 pm

Again, the Confederates get a random event that allows all their attacks to get the extra dice. Sykes now fully occupies the high ridge of which Peach Orchard forms part, that should deal with the Confederate advancing right wing.

Night

Both sides take the chance to rally units. So far the losses are Union: 2 x cavalry, 3 x infantry and the Confederate losses are 4 x infantry and 2 x artillery. The Union hold 3 VP hexes and the Confederate 1 VP hex.

End of day observations. There is a sense that there have been enough Union reinforcements arriving and rallying to tilt the battle in their favour, but only slightly. The problem for the Confederates is that to keep the pressure up, they are continually attacking or getting into positions of attack. This is essentially grinding them down and they do not have the spare AP's to spend on resting (rallying) units.

3rd July 6am

Confederate: On the right, Longstreet, who still has some divisions making to him, decides to pull out of contact with Sykes, who is both powerful and in excellent positions. The grind continues at Cemetery Hill and the Union lose Ransom (artillery) and Wadsworth is once again reduced to 1 strength point.

7am

Confederate: They start to spend AP's on attacking Culps Hill but only inflict 1 hit on that solid defensible position. The fighting at Cemetery Hill continues.

9 am

Early (A) gets a 2nd hit on the defenders at Culps Hill, they lose their morale check and retreat. Early takes the position and Jones (artillery) joins them. This is a VP hex that has a good chance of holding out against the enemy while defended with a strong unit, as it offers good terrain modifiers to reduce the chance of a hit and is more likey to survive morale checks.

Union: Newton (IV Corps) attacks Anderson at Cemetery Hill and scores a devastating three hits, the defenders are simply removed from play, this VP hex is once again in Union Hands.

10 am

Longstreet's Corp has now concentrated. He decides to advance on Sykes Corps, picking out Ayres on the corps flank as the target, with the intention of breaking through into the Union interior lines, threaten those tired 1 step infantry formations that are trying to re-organise (rally) and to move the action into some open ground.

11 am

Confederates: Pender (A) advances to attack Cemetery Hill and retakes it, Newton now on the receiving end of a three casualty attack is removed from play. At Culps Hill, Early and Jones maintain heavy fire at the Union forces that are gathering at the base of the hill, with the obvious intention of re-capture.

Longstreet attacks Ayres, but is innefective and suffers heavy casualties for virtually no gain. Henry (artillery) provides Longstreet with some flank cover, and their long range sniping hits Sedgewick (corps commander). He is flipped to his replaced side and the Union Base Activation level drops (again) to 3.

 

The Union assault Culps Hill with XII Corps. Gibbon drops to just 1 strength point and has to be pulled out of the line, but Williams is able to press on and with the defenders being so weak, they are prised out on failed morale checks. Losing Culps Hill is a major blow to the Confederates as re-taking it will be difficult. The game has been so bloody with the constant feeding of forces into the fray, that gaps are opening all along the line. The Union make one last effort to bring their strongest divisions into the front line, while shattered divisions work to recover in the rear (Rally).

3 pm

Howe (Union) at full strength, attacks Pender at the Cemetery Hill VP hex and scores 3 hits, removing him from play. This now brings all 4 VP hexes back under Union control and critically, both the frontline VP hexes are held by full strength Union units that will most likely pass morale checks if hit and be able to hold onto those gains. Once again, the confederates feel they have to start from scratch and while keeping the pressure up, they are unable to recycle their own units effectively. Looking at the casualty tally, the Confederates have 5 infantry divisions out of the game, meaning that two more lost divisions will demoralise them and likely any chance of victory will slip by.

4 pm

Confederate: The Union have almost fully re-taken Cemetery Hill and they hold the high ground around Peach Orchard. On their interior some of the shattered fromations are starting to recover. The Confederates could make a final all out assault, but it is almost certain that the Union line will be able to absorb the attack and that in return, the Confederates would take serious and unjustified losses and would likely become demoralised. They take the decision to break off the fight and withdraw. McClaws (B) is lost in that process, adding further to the weakness of the Confederate position.

5 pm.

The Confederates have fully disengaged, other than for low effect sniping from artillery pieces at range, the Union show no desire to leave the protection of their postions, not really being strong enough to make the risks worhwhile and in anycase, they are sitting on all of the VP hexes. On the matter, the Gettysburg book that I am reading (as noted above) says "The following day, July 4, the two armies lay facing each other, exhauseted and torn."

And so the game ends, two turns early.

Losses:

Confederates, 6 Infantry half divisions ( they would demoralise at 7 losses ), 4 artillery units (3 from III Corps)

Union, 4 infantry divisions, 2 cavalry units, 8 artillery units and 2 leaders.

Victory points:

The Confederates score 17 points for unit losses inflicted on the Union.

The Union score 10 points for losses inflicted on the Confederates plus 20 points for 4 Victory Point locations held.

It is worth noting that part way through day three, the Confederates controlled two of the VP hexes, if they had held onto them, the final score would have been 27 points to the Confederates and 20 points to the Union. So in our game, what could have been a Confederate win, turned into a convincing Union win.

After game thoughts. The simplicity of the game will be one of the factors that will attract the buyer. For a simple system, it works very well and it does allow a full three day battle to be played in a single session. Hold the Line, from which Gettysburg 150 is heavily derived is quite a generic game, but porting onto a dedicated map with named units, does add character and a historical feel to the system.

The more serious gamer in me does think of some things that I might like to tinker with and it is such a stable system, that it can take house rules. Some of the things that immediately strike me as points for consideration are, random events, split divisions, melee, victory point allocation and Jenkins, as follows;

Random events. These are totally generic in nature and biased towards the delaying or speeding up of reinforcements. This means that on day 3, when there are no reinforcements, the welcomed chaos brought by the random events is less likely to happen. For anyone who has a good knowledge of the battle, it would be interesting to see some of the events swapped out for historical ones, or even a different generic event table just for day 3, with events 6, 7 and 8 swapped out for other events, such as forcing a morale check on weak unit next to a strong unit or some such.

Split divisions. The Union infantry counters represent a division. The large Confederate divisions are represented by two counters, for example Pender A and Pender B. This is not an unusual way for Gettysburg wargames to manage the order of battle, but perhaps there should be a rule that causes A and B units to stay in closer proximity to each other, so they behave more like a single division. To a degree, the optional rules help by having Corps integrity, based on the location of the leader with his command span of 3 hexes. But even with this A and B units still enjoy a freedom of movement that may be questionable.

Melee. Melee attacks have the greater chance of causing casualties than ordinary fire as they hit on fives and sixes, rather than just sixes, though they do cost 2 rather than 1 AP. It feels right that melee is used to take the fight to the enemy, but I was finding that units in excellent defensive positions that had no intention of advancing out, would use melee to increase the harm against adjacent units. At first I thought that maybe mandatory advance after melee might put a check on that, but at this point in time, I am more inclined to think that the present way may better reflect the defence of tough positions, otherwise it would be too easy for attackers to move adjacent and have the luxury of waiting until the defender fails a morale check and gives up the position, instead of the sense of intense danger that comes from being adjacent due to the likelihood of casualties. So for now, I will leave that as it is (plus it would be a major tinkering effect, which I tend to dislike, as they can unhinge a whole design concept). EDIT - yep, way off on this, I am just leaving it as it is.

Victory point allocation. I am wondering whether giving the Union 4 victory point hexes at 5 points each, is too great an advantage for the Union. I would want play more games before doing anything about that. Perhaps if I had played my game more historically, with Jackson putting pressure on the Round Tops and the Union having to respond because of the VP hex there, then the VP allocation may have felt less pro Union. Is anyone seeing the Balitmore Pike VP fall to the Confederates? It does seem a tough game for them.

Jenkins, apparently comes on and is effective in the game too early compared to his historical performance. Once on, it is tempting to take him to the Baltimore Pike exit hex, which is a VP hex. This causes the Union to divert units there during the early part of play and it would appear that this just gives Jenkins an unhistorical capability. Because of this, in this game, I just left him out, but I think he should be able to join the battle at some stage, I just haven't yet decided when that should be.

Edit - Having played the 3 day battle a couple of times since this write up, I am thinking that the Confederates need to properly judge exactly how much effort (AP's) they are prepared to spend at Cemetery Hill. It is tempting to get sucked into that part of the board and the casualty cost is massive. Better, I think, for the Confederates to also be putting pressure on other parts of the battlefield, so that the Union forces have to cover multiple threats. They also need a discipline to ensure that enough AP's are being spent on rallying, as they have the task of taking the fight to the enemy. In this regard, Lee is probably of the greatest value, due to his high leadership rating and he should really be helping somebody every turn. All my wins so far have been Union wins, so some persistence is needed to find a better Confederate plan.

Complexity: The box says 3 out of ten, which seems about right. The system itself is very simple and straight forward but made harder by the rules not being tight enough. There are two clarification documents on BoardGamegeek, that should be read as they are a great help for little rules overhead. The most importatnt clarification is that an attacker can advance after combat following melee. There is a sense that the rules have been written by people very close to the game and the result is that in parts knowledge is assumed. An example would be the advanced rules that gives corps command over to the respective corps commanders but does not mention who army leaders can coomand and the Force March rules don't deal with making contact with an enemy, especially if used with the extended movement rules (bonus movement when on a road or not contacting an enemy). But, thanks to the clarifications, it all works out okay, but the rules will need more rigorous attention to nailing things down in future games in this series.

Time: Depends on the scenario, the box says 1 - 3 hours. The full 3 day battle sits at around 2-3 hours and the first day can be played in under an hour.

Size: The board is 6 panels (arranged 3 x 2) and there are two reinforcement charts, but I keep them in the box lid and base, so they are easy to set to one side and manage the reinforcements. You just need a narrow strip beside the board to keep the replacement unit counters used when swapping out with units on the board. This is a kitchen table game.

Solitaire: This is a two player game that works fine solitaire. There is a random event table that helps to add a little chaos to the proceedings. Also, as you play each side, you are influenced by the random nature of AP generation as to how much you can do as 'that player' in that turn, so it is a solitaire friendly game.

 

4 comments:

  1. Nice report and analysis. Have been thinking about getting this. Still not sure, but I have a lot more to go on now thanks to you!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for your report and comments. I have played this twice face-to-face and once solitaire and really enjoy it. Regarding Jenkins taking Baltimore Pile VP hex, is cavalry allowed to claim hexes for VP? I thought not, but I might be thinking of another game and I am presently much too lazy to get up and check. In our second face-to-face game we opted to drop the random events (still used corps integrity) because in our first game, the confederated rolled 4 1's the first day and had their reinforcements delayed every time! This kept some 1st day reinforcements out of the game completely until the 2nd day by which time the Union line was much too strong on all the good defensive positions for the Confederates to have any hope of doing anything.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The most importatnt clarification is that an attacker can advance after combat following melee. I'm still looking for it, but thanks for the mention!

    ReplyDelete
  4. There are two clarification documents in the files section on the Ghost Panzer page at Boardgamegeek, one of them has it as official errata. I also think it crops up on the game folder at Consimworld.

    ReplyDelete