Monday, 13 August 2018

Saratoga by GMT

Saratoga was the first in the Battles of the American Revolution series by GMT. It was reprinted in the original form and now once again, finds itself reprinted, but this time with an upgraded mounted board as part of the ‘Tri-Pack’ package that also includes the battles of Brandywine and Guilford.

Today we are setting up the full battle scenario, which lasts for 12 turns and gives the British a little more latitude in how they approach the American positions on Bemis Heights.

Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.

I have previously described the system mechanics in an earlier post, which covered the Battle of Germantown, a sister game in the same series, so there is little point in repeating that depth of analysis here. There is a link to that post in the Resource Section below, for anyone wanting to explore that.

This replay will use all of the general rules except for the tactics chits, which I am not keen on and which in effect adds another randomiser to combat resolution. The spread of results caused by a D10 seems to provide sufficient range to me without adding in the extra effort of this sub-system, which has always felt a bit rock-scissors-paper, to me at least.

The American force is organised into two wings, one commanded by Arnold, the other by Gates. Gates has movement limitations, his wing cannot leave the immediate area of the heights unless an enemy moves within 4 hexes of either of the two victory objective hexes. From turn 8 onwards, Gates can also test for independent release, though this has a low yield chance of success early on.

Freeman’s Farm below the heights has victory elements that may draw both players towards that area. There is another scenario that really just covers the last few turns, by which time both forces are engaged for intense battle, but I quite like exploring pre-battle manoeuvres - so here we are!

Game highlights.

Turn 1 - Moderate Fog, the British cannot use strategic movement. They start their meander along the interior tracks, with Fraser leading, followed by Burgoyne. Von Riedesel and his German contingent together with some British units, cover the left flank, taking the River Road.

Turn 2 - Moderate Fog, the British player cannot use strategic movement.

Turn 3 (10 AM) - The fog lifts and on this turn American forces are allowed to start limited movement. Arnold’s force is allowed to move. Gates cannot move until released. Morgan (rifles) and Dearborn advance to Freeman’s Farm to interfere with British movement along the trails in that area.

As the British advance, their slower moving artillery starts to fall behind.  

Turn 4 - This is where some of the nuances of the system and terrain start work together. In this situation (Photo above), three British stacks could have normally come adjacent to Morgan’s position on this turn, but it costs an extra 1 MP to enter the ZOC of a rifle armed unit, so only one stack actually gets adjacent and in this game, the American player can fall back just enough to have the rifle unit cause this sort of frustration for the British player.

Also, the rifles get to fire first. They have not used their weapons yet, so get a ‘first fire’ bonus. They fire on the British Grenadiers and get a hit, rolling on the Results Table inflicts a retreat on them. This is a problem for the British as the other unit that was stacked with the Grenadiers does not retreat and with combat being mandatory, this weak British unit (Fraser's Rangers) must still attack, even though the odds are terrible. They are seriously lucky and get a PIN result.

Turn 5 - The Americans get the initiative and being under a PIN, face a tough decision. Do they break away from the pin by pulling back, but pay a penalty of dropping the Army Morale by two points, or do they stay and fight, probably inflicting harm on the Rangers, but then being possibly isolated and overwhelmed in the British part of the turn.

They decide to break away, it is better that they remain available to keep on slowing down the British advance.

Turn 6 - The Americans fall back slowly, giving up the high ground at Chatfield Farm.

Turn 7 - Von Riedesel starts his attack on the left, where the River Road crosses Mill Creek. The American losses are enough to push the American Army Morale Track marker down from ‘high morale’ to ‘fatigued’. The effect will be to reduce all morale ratings on their counters down by 1.

Turn 8 - (3 PM) The Americans have now pretty much fallen back to the position of Bemis Heights and the area immediately around it. The British on their right manoeuvre into pre-assault positions, while on the left, down the River Road, Von Riedesel has struck out just with his regiment and 2nd Chasseurs, his heavy guns slowing everything down behind him.

Turn 9 - The first assault against the Heights goes in. Von Riedesel breaches the earthworks and captures the artillery, but over on the right, the British are held off.

Turn 10 - At the River Road, increasing numbers of German and British units get over the earthworks, but uncommitted American units are running up to plug gaps and counter-attack. Over on the right, the British suffer another repulse at Fort Neilson, but they are slowly enveloping the fort position.

Turn 11 - The Americans fear that the British player may win the Initiative Roll, which would allow them to go first and thereby give them a back-to-back turn, they are relieved to see the initiative dice fall in their own favour.

The fighting becomes more intense as units pile into the cramped area. Heavy casualties amongst the British see their Army Morale drop to ‘fatigued’ and so they now fight on a level footing with the Americans in terms of morale penalties. There are PIN markers everywhere, locking down the lines into continued battle.

Turn 12 - (7 PM).  Again, the Americans get the initiative, giving them a chance to strengthen positions and re-organise the line. They put in a ferocious counter-attack, retaking most of the earthworks at the River Road. At Fort Neilson, they not only hold their ground, but they capture the gun batteries of Walker and Jones (ouch!). British Army Morale is now bordering on Fatigued and Wavering, while American morale has started to soar - a precarious position, as in this system this is frequently the tipping point that quickly leads one side to collapse.

For their part, the British attacks were disastrous, low rolling die (bad) and having a -2 penalty applied to unit morale, sent the British Army Morale marker diving further down towards the demoralised box (zero).

This was the final turn of the scenario and so we assess victory. It feels like an American win. The British failed to capture either Fort Neilson or Bemis Tavern. The Americans failed to capture the River Road crossing at the Wilbur Basin. Neither side had demoralised the other (although the Americans came very close to doing so), so no substantial victory.

It will therefore be a marginal victory based on Victory points. The British get 1 VP for holding the Freeman Farm objective and 5 VP’s for enemy units destroyed or captured. The Americans get 12 VP’s for harm they have caused to the British forces - so they win the scenario with a marginal victory.

Conclusions - The British artillery is fairly plentiful, but it never really got into action and when some guns got close to Fort Neilson and lost their support, they paid the price, hitting British morale at a time when they could least afford it. In retrospect, the British pushed too many units down the River Road, depriving the centre of troops and allowing the Americans to concentrate their defences on the flanks.

The American decision to pull back the Morgan’s Rifle and Dearborn regiments from being pinned at Freeman’s Farm was no doubt for the best, but the loss then suffered on the morale track meant that a casualty or two later, for a large part of the game, their morale was down at the fatigued level and they suffered in combat for that. It was really surprising to see such a reversal in fortunes on the moral track in the last couple of turns.

Two turns of moderate fog cost the British advance a typical 8 MP’s and the dense terrain makes manoeuvring into the best attack positions less than ideal, especially against an enemy that is just keeping itself out of arms reach, but being close enough to prevent strategic movement.

Playing the 12 turn campaign game starts as something of a slow burn experience, as the British troops gentle meander along their chosen routes to get into attacking positions against the heights. For a newbie to gaming, this allows for some familiarity with the movement rules, before having to think about zones of control and combat etc.

Saratoga is lighter in terms of troop density than Brandywine and so is a good starter scenario. The special rules work well to bring a flavour of the battle and as always the details on the map are lovely and invoke a closer relationship with the battlefield. The playbook has nicely presented historical notes, which helps the players get a good background feel to the game / battle.

The British units typically have good morale ratings, so even if adversity causes their Army Morale to deteriorate, they will still have more staying power in general than the American forces, who have their fair share of lower morale troops and by the end of the game, since their better morale troops are likely to have found their way into the casualty boxes, battles can feel more desperate as the Americans try to dearly hold on to positions. Today’s game reflected that up until the final turns - but as in many wargames, nothing should ever be taken for granted.

The American player needs to consider how much time they will invest in defending the Freeman Farm area or the crossing at Mill Creek, but in essence, if they fall back slowly, trading space for delaying time, then it will make the British assault at the Heights a less certain thing.

There is in fact a fourth battle in the package, Eutaw Springs’ which has a full sized map on the rear of one of the boards.. This was originally a pairing with the Guilford game, so is repeated in this package. Taking into account that the gamer gets four well tried and tested games on mounted boards with nice artwork and detail, for a surprisingly good price, this is really something that can delight a gamers collection and in particular, anyone who doesn’t really do much boardgaming, but wants something that can come of the shelf often, with a series set of rules, will be well served.

Complexity - The box says 4 (on a scale of 1 - 9) and that is about right and to me, means there will be some moderate rules referencing in the game. Being a series game, complexity does in some respects reduce as players gain familiarity as they play through the various battles, with adjustments made with the exclusive scenario rules bringing the only changes.

Size - The box depth is 3”. Each of the maps are a standard large boardgame map (22” x 32”) and casualty boxes and various tracks  are on the map, so there is no need for off map displays and this makes for a good kitchen table game. It is the weight of the 3” deep box, with two mounted maps, that may be of relevance to some.

Time - With the four battles, this varies, but the smaller games and in particular the smaller scenarios, will easily fit into a leisurely evenings play. Brandywine is the largest and is a good balance to the rest of the package, that might take around five hours to play. Game time can be reduced by dropping the Tactical Chits elements of combat.
Solitaire - This is a two player game that works fine solitaire. The only thing that was ever solitaire unfriendly was the Tactical Chits sub-system and this now has a solitaire converter for those that want it or it can be dropped for those that don’t.

Please visit my sister web space called ‘COMMANDERS’

Here is a closer look at the system mechanics via a replay of the sister game GERMANTOWN


  1. This is a beautiful looking game and up to GMT's usual high production standards. I "almost" bought this tri-pack when it was on sale during GMT's 04 July AWI offering. I was severely tempted. Alas, I did not. I have a couple of the BAR SYW games but have found them to be difficult to grasp especially will all of the rules on formation changes. While I have not looked at any in this series for years. perhaps, I should pull one off the shelf for a second look?

    Excellent job on the replay as you continue your usual high standards!

  2. Thanks Jonathan, I have always felt that for games like BAR, they have to be a favourite system that is played regularly (in the same way that ASL is), simply to keep one's hand in with the rules, so that games are more rewarding. The GMT games are easier to pull of the shelf and do a quick re-familiarisation of the rules.

  3. As always a great post on the game and the AAR itself. I think this is the nicest looking boardgame I've seen on your Blog Norm; the woods in particular are excellent.

    Personally I've gone off games that use D10's compared to say 2D6. The former I find it's too much down to chance, rather than the bell curve probability of the latter. I hope this makes sense!

  4. Thanks Steve, I feel much the same about D10. They are probably most useful for probability rolls in armour games for 'to hit' and 'penetration' results, but on a standard CRT can have an outcome range that is too swinging …. but then again I like Average Dice, so what do I know :-)

    the system has a limited number of 'momentum chits', you can spend one of these to force a re-roll (if you have one at hand that is) and I think their presence in the system is to dampen down some of the extreme results.

    The map is lovely and all the maps in the series have lovely detail on them.

    1. I too like Average Die, after playing plenty of 'Honours of War' games. They give a good balance, without the potential double one or double sixes 'extremes' of a 2D6 roll.

  5. This game seems like fun. I must of missed the boat for GMT games as I don’t have any. I like a good game in the AWI. 😀

  6. The game sits at the complexity level that these days is the sort of thing that increasingly attracts me. Combined with good looks, it is unsurprising that it has turned my head :-)

  7. I do like the look of the board of these GMT games.

  8. Peter, I think when a game gets the visuals right, you are halfway there in terms of being enthusiastic to read the rules and then just the pleasure of traversing over terrain that has buildings and fields named etc.

  9. Lovely looking game and sounds like it plays well,not a war I particularly fancy gaming for some reason (probably best, there's plenty to spend my money on!)but you've made it sound interesting!
    Best Iain

    1. Thanks Iain, this is my cheat for not having to paint all of those lovely uniforms :-)

  10. Beautiful looking game. I have not played a board game like this in too many years. After reading your review i will have to
    look into this series. Thank you.

  11. Thanks Mark, modern graphics are certainly making games look more appetising.

  12. Agree with everybody a very nice looking board game,

  13. Thanks Matt, its been around for over a decade and one would have thought that it would have inspired more games to ‘look’ like it.

  14. I read this a couple of days ago and have had this game in my thoughts since, as mentioned above the graphics and general quality of the map board are beautiful. Your narrative really brings the game alive, I am so tempted to try a couple of the games you review on here and this would be one of them. If only I could break that mental need for model soldiers I'm sure I would enjoy the challenge and ease of set up that boardgames offer. I do of course own C&C Napoleonics and all it's expansions, I really must play a scenario to see how I still feel about it.

  15. Thanks Lee, I sit astride that same dilemma, I see the functional advantage of the boardgame, but they don't have the figure drool factor :-)

    Plus you can hardly have a parade day with all of your boardgames :-)

    One of the things I do like with the boardgame is that terrain can be 100% accurate, including contour lines etc for large features and you can easily move units through the densest wood and have troops in buildings hexes, this is harder to translate to the table top, certainly with my hexed terrain at least, since each cell can easily hold either a terrain type or a unit type, but often struggles to hold both simultaneously and conveniently.

    Aesthetically an open table takes some beating. Form over function perhaps and why not!

    1. You have given me food for thought Norm, I might have to try to get a few things out of my head and down as a blog post around the subject of my dilemma. I am baulking at the creation of yet another terrain set for my 40mm figures, and the idea of playing boardgames such as this is really tempting me. I looked up this game and it's available in the tri-pack in the UK so I might invest in it.

  16. A battle to play and replay! And GMT is sooooo good!

  17. Phil the entire package is just a box of wargaming goodness.

  18. We play a lot of GMT games although I hav,nt got this AWI series. Thanks for a clearly presented report , I enjoyed reading it and may well buy this especially if it comes up on EBay. I stumbled across this blog on the Lead Adventure Forum and am certainly enjoying it . Regards Belisarius.

  19. I saw you post there - thank you for checking out the blog.. I’m not sure how well the system models AWI warfare, but it is a fun game and the maps are lovely.



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