Sunday, 27 October 2019

Gettysburg - The full 3 days battle with less than 28 counters!

Gettysburg, by Mark Herman was recently published as a stand alone game in the C3i magazine from RBM Studio. It was one of a non-connected pairing with the Issy 1815 game, a napoleonic battle from the Jours de Gloire series.



Anyway RBM Studio have also made a separate publishing of Gettysburg as a boxed game, giving it a ‘Deluxe’ status. This essentially adds a box, a GMT counter tray, a mounted board in addition to the paper map and a strategy guide.


Significantly, this is also marked as being game one of a new series, so one can only hope other games from the C3i stable will see their way into this format.


The rest of this post looks at this interesting game, that benefits from a small footprint, short playing time, low complexity and true top down look at the battle.


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




What a clever, clever game, oops, I have opened with my conclusions!


This is an interesting treatment of the battle from a veteran game designer. It takes a game scale of 1 mile to the hex and half a day to the turn, to produce a game that fits onto an 11’ x 17” map and has just 6 turns representing the entire 3 day battle.


The game comes with just 28 counters, including markers. They are broadly representing Union units at Corps and Confederate units at Divisional level. One side of the counter shows the unit being in March formation and the other side is Battle formation. These things taken together are producing a game that gives an unusual take on the subject.


A main character of the Gettysburg battle was that it is a meeting engagement that opens with just a couple of units on the immediate battlefield. We have Buford’s cavalry defending McPhersons Ridge, covering the approach road that Heth is on. Since turns represent half a day, the Union also have Reynolds and Howard entering the board and making swiftly to the opening points of contact.


That half day turn (6 turns represent the 3 day battle) is the basis for what makes this game tick and its effects make for an enjoyable player engagement.


The first thing you notice is that unlike many other Gettysburg games that may have each turn represented by an hour or two, this game does not offer the luxury of that slow burn opening, in which the Union can mistakenly send all initial troops to Buford’s position, before realising there is another threat from Early and Rhodes from the north and the compressed time means that this second threat is almost immediately upon you, so in that first half day, the Union player needs to consider getting a defence ready not just in the Buford Sector, but also in sector directly in front of Gettysburg, to protect the valuable defensive positions of Culps Hill and Cemetery Hill deeper on the Union right.


Because all the units are representing major formations, the player is truly in the seat of the army commander, never distracted by what regiments or brigades may be doing and this totally top down view is also enabled by combat results being a little uncertain as they are based on opposed die rolls of a D6. Any total randomness is often negated by enough modifiers to allow the commander to speculate on success, but not enough to be certain of it and in that regard, the players are hoping that their ‘invisible’ brigades and regiments just do their best!


Another aspect that helps with the top down view is that counters have a March side, in which they get full movement and a Battle side in which they can only move one hex at a time. This status is totally influenced by the proximity of enemy units. All units have a zone of control in the way that we normally understand them, but then the next layer of hexes out is called a Zone of Influence and so once a unit moves within two hexes of an enemy, it will fall under its influence and must go into Battle mode. 


Two things that make this system dynamic and interactive is that players alternate back and forth when moving units in the Movement Phase and also when calling combats in the Combat Phase and so there is a lot of subtle interaction going on as units not only set their own plan, but respond to the enemy in a sort of real game time. When one player has moved or fought enough, they call Pass and the other player then rolls a die to see how many more units they can use (this is slightly modified in the Movement Phase) in that phase.

It is important to note that within the turn, a unit can be 'used' repeatedly, so a unit in Battle mode can only move one hex, but you may actually move that unit say 3 or 4 times at any point in the movement phase, providing your opponent has not passed and you have limited activations remaining.


Combat results will either be no effect, a retreat, blown (out of use for a full 24 hours) or destroyed and this can happen to either side, depending on who wins the fight. I like the idea of formations going blown and this accords well with units that have burned out from hard fighting in that half day window.


The map’s simplicity somewhat adds to the sense of pushing this game to one of being about top down command. Basically every hex just costs 1 Movement Point to enter and there are only two terrain types, Open and Defensive. Defensive terrain gives the defender a significant +2 bonus in combat and looking at the map, the idea of highlighting defensive terrain nicely promotes the various ridges and hill tops that were a significant feature of this battle. The town of Gettysburg counts as open.


In addition, the important road net is there, which allows units in March mode to double their movement. This is important for the Union feed of formations into the developing battle.


One thing I was disappointed in was that the graphics team did not include the names of the important map features. Obviously Gettysburg is named, as are the roads, but what of Culps Hill, Cemetery Hill, Seminary Ridge, the Peach Orchard, Devil’s Den etc, which would help to ‘fix’ the relevance of some of the defensive positions on the map. 


There are sudden death victory conditions if the Confederate player can open up  (clear of ZOCs) a roadway from Chambersburg Pike to the exit points of Baltimore Pike and Taneytown Road. These do seem tough objectives, but never-the-less, draw the player to being focused on that direction of attack / defence. In our games, things have instead been settled at the end of the game on the number of losses.


Finally, one notable feature of the design is artillery. Both sides get a gun allowance for the game, of which the Union get a larger amount. Both players secretly bid (see my solitaire notes below) at the start of each battle to see whether they will put artillery support in and if both do, there is a dice-off to see who actually gets artillery, even though both sides will have already spent one artillery point. Artillery gives a +2 advantage in battle, so it is important overall and especially so when dealing with defensive terrain.


Here are just a few shots and observations from my most recent play (solitaire). Sorry about the picture quality, but all the contour details seems to result in large files, which I have heavily compressed to help those with data allowances.




Above - Opening positions. Just Buford’s cavalry blocking the road used by Heth who has just entered the board. Both Headquarter counters are also in play.



Above - Heth had marched onto Buford’s cavalry position at McPherson Ridge. Reynolds arrived and attacked Heth, but was significantly beaten and removed from play (blown) for 24 hours. Heth then attacked the cavalry and cleared them out, as they galloped back to Gettysburg. This was a good Confederate opening, they will not always be so lucky!



Above - Morning of the 2nd day, the Confederates have enveloped the Union left flank!



Above - Afternoon of the second day. This is the post move, but pre-fight situation. It is the peak of the battle, both sides have their entire Order-of-Battle in play. It is an important turn.



Above - Morning of 3rd Day. This is a fascinating situation, the Union have use the retreat phase of the Administration Phase to retreat their units onto the defensive position of Cemetery Ridge (and we get the ‘fish hook’ defence). By doing this, the Confederate units that had been adjacent to the Union are left on their Battle status side and as such a counter can only move one hex per go of movement. Being in such a good position, the Union do not need to move and so they immediately Pass at the start of the Movement Phase.


This causes the Confederate side to roll for how many movements they can now use before the Phase will end. The Union are banking / hoping for a low roll. The Union roll ‘5’. To this is added 1 for every friendly unit not currently engaged, which is ‘7’, so the Confederates have 12 ‘goes’ of consecutive movement, during which time the Union can only watch. This sounds terrible, but remember, most of the Confederates are in Battle order and so just moving one hex per ‘movement go’.


All they manage to do is concentrate against Sykes, who is at the tail end of the Union line ... but disaster, Hood is destroyed and Pickett is forced to retreat 3 hexes.

Above - turn 6 (afternoon of the third day). McLaws throws in the first attack up Cemetery ridge against Howard and is repulsed. The Confederates realise the futility of further attacks and the game ends.


The Confederates were not able to secure the geographic victory condition, so it goes down to losses. They have lost 3 units and the Union just 1, so a Union victory is called.


Note, when a unit is blown on the last day, it obviously cannot come back in 24 hours, so is classed as being destroyed instead. The Union were lucky in that they got a few blown results on turn 4 and that those were still able to get back into the game and not count as losses. 


Conclusion
Before writing this, I had played two games face-to-face and one game solitaire. We really enjoyed our game and certainly the level of inter-activity keeps both sides engaged. At the end of the evening we had a discussion about how near the game came to giving a Gettysburg feel. Mike felt that our first game felt a bit gamey, but that the second game gave a closer representation of Gettysburg and it is fair to say that in our first game, we were exploring the system and understanding how best to use armies.


It has to be remembered that this is a pretty simple system (though not simplistic) and the designer himself describes this design as a good introductory game to the hobby and something that is akin to the old SPI’s Napoleon at waterloo, which of course was a very simple, though delightful game. 


That being the case, I feel this design is punching above its weight. It is doing much more than simple theming (in the Euro Game sense of the word). The game does give a good top down feel of the three day battle and important terrain does direct the game, as does the importance of the concentration of troops and that the formations are rated for their performance, which feeds into combat results.


The simple rules that govern cavalry do give that feel of their function being to hold up an enemy force, which was an important aspect of this battle. In the real battle, Buford’s cavalry held up the Confederates all morning, which of course is just the first turn for us and we got that effect. The idea of March and Battle status gives a good feel and stops units zipping around all over the place.


The one thing that perhaps could be tighter is to make the Confederate divisions more obliged to stay within proximity of their own Corps, though the system and the way things unfold and the limited movement of troops in Battle formation, tends to do this without needing extra rules. We only had one incident of a formation making some fancy footwork to get to another part of the battlefield and that only happened because after one person passing, the other got a high die score that gave them quite a bit of ‘spare’ movement capability.


Anyway, it is certainly a game, the designer tells us so, but I am seeing something with a bit of meat to it, helped by the driving effect of the geography and the strict timetable of troop release as per their arrival times on the battlefield. I have heard that a Waterloo game may follow for this system and I would buy that in a heartbeat.


I think the boxed game may be a limited edition and it is nice to own, but the gamer is just as well served by buying the C3i magazine issue, which has the identical game (minus mounted board and strategy booklet), but you also get the Napoleonic Issy game, a good read and it is a bit cheaper, so there is some choice here. C3i is a sort of house magazine for GMT.


I will find this game useful for those occasions when we do a face-to-face game on a short session, with the certainty that the game will conclude (probably twice) and that players can spend that time concentrating on game play because the rules are so short and straight forward.


An important factor for this game is the replayability value, especially as the low complexity nature of the game means this can hit the table often. The number of key actions going on each turn are few and their impact is therefore significant on the direction of the game (which stops chess-like play within the small format), while the geography and build up of forces in this battle still gives us Gettysburg. 


Complexity - The box says 3 (low) on a scale of 1 - 9. I feel that is about right. This is an unusual system, so even in its simplicity, there is a learning and some careful reading initially. Once the system is known play zips along and concentration is fully on the game and not the rulebook. There is a good player aid card.


Size - The map is just 11” x 17” and with a single play aid, this falls into that helpful category of being the ideal game for a vacation or having it set up on a board across the arms of a chair or hospital table etc. At home, it can give the perfect midweek game. 


Solitaire - The box says 5 (medium). I have played it both solitaire and face-to-face and solitaire play, like many two player games, is fine on the basis that the gamer plays both sides as well as they can. The constant alternating of movement and fighting between the players means that your decisions for each side are based in the ‘here and now’. The only area that is not solitaire friendly is that the decision of whether or not to use artillery prior to each fight is secretly made. I set a house rule to make a decision on each artillery usage based on situation and then roll a dice for each side and on a 6, their decision to use artillery would be overturned .... however when it came to playing the game, there was absolutely no need, it becomes obvious when artillery should be used and in any case a die roll is made so that only one player gets it anyway, so in conclusion I can only say that I found solitaire play fine and the above replay fell out of a solitaire game.


Time - The box says 60 - 90 minutes per game. My solitaire game was just over an hour. Our two face-to-face games were one hour and twenty minutes and forty minutes respectively. So an hour or so seems a fair estimation. 


Resource Section.


My sister webspace COMMANDERS is a bit more snippet based than here. Link.


29 comments:

  1. Your nice review in its coverage and conclusion matches my feelings about the game. It's a nice introductory wargame that is simple but not simplistic, and it's fun! Thanks for posting this.

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  2. Thanks Ellis, I hope we do see a Waterloo version.

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    1. Ross, even after being a widely played boardgamer for 4 over decades, there was a sense of coming to something new here and it was enjoyable for that alone.

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    2. My brain is of course wondering if something from this can't be used as inspiration for a miniatures game at that level. Hopefully it will pass.

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  4. This sounds quite intriguing and the price is right either for the deluxe edition or the magazine.

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    1. Hi John, with the napoleonic game coming from a series that is widely enjoyed, I can see the magazine being an excellent issue for many.

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  5. Thanks for writing, Norm. I got my intro to the game from Mark, and immediately took a liking to its chess-like nature. By the way, it’s Buford, not Burford.

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    1. Hi Renaud, I like his approach to this ruleset, the way he uses notes to really tighten down his intent. Thanks for the Buford spot, will amend now.

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  6. Michael, if ever there was a game for non-boardgamers or practising boardgamers to have tucked away for those times when they can't get a bigger table set up either fr time or mobility reasons etc - this is it.

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  7. Thanks for sharing Norm really helpful review.......it makes me even more likely to get a board game one day 🙂

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  8. Thanks Matt, a good topic for you in any case :-)

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  9. Excellent coverage of a game that I personally like a lot (otherwise I'd be screaming about you promoting a piece of crap! ;-) I think that Mark may have gone a slight bit too far in 'simplifying' this game, but that was his design intent, and I think he hit the mark. I'd have added a few tweaks, but I'm already (with Mark's permission) doing that for the Gettysburg campaign.

    If you like this one you will definitely want to get 'Rebel Fury' when it comes out, as it takes thus truly 'elegant' system and cranks it up towards 11, without increasing the rules load. By that I mean that Mark, Dave Powell and I are just working in how to handle the far more 'complex' terrain at Chickamauga/Chattanooga and Chancellorsville, being presented on full 22 x 34 maps. A few other tweaks to handle the situations and longer time scale, but just variations on a theme!

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  10. Hi Rick, I had no idea about that title, so look forward to it.

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  11. Much appreciated, Norm. Your reports are invariably clear and informative and usually make me want to have a go. Cheers.

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  12. I Like spending other peoples money :-)

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    1. Yep. Two of my recent purchases have been your responsibility.

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    2. All good - more games, more fun, more hours spent at the table ..... I hope they come good for you :-)

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  13. Excellent review as usual Norm. I always prefer minis for my games but still find boardgames quite interesting. I used to subscribe to SPI’s S&T and Ares magazines in my younger days and still have quite a number of their games even though I haven’t opened them since. The Napoleon at Waterloo system was indeed simple but brilliant.

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    1. Thanks Mike, I think on both the figure and boardgame side of things, there is a revisiting of the ethos of simpler games.

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  14. Nice review and it does appear to be clever game. Little Wats TV also did a review on it, have you checked that out? Y’all are on the same page. 😀

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  15. Thanks Stew, yes, I saw their video. This little gem seems to have pressed the right buttons for a wide audience, as you say, probably because it is clever. It may be the case that on first inspection, of this 'little' game, one doesn't expect too much .... but play it and there there is something of a wallop to that opinion.

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  16. Thorough review as we expect from you, Norm. Not a game I am familiar with so your review is most helpful. I like the look of the map a lot but the icons ruin it for me. This looks like a good "pocket" game.

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  17. Thanks Jonathan, I know you are not keen on icons for strategic games. I quite like them, even when not in keeping the the grandeur of the scale. Sometimes, not having them in a pre-20th Century setting can encourage counter artists to do some strange things. I prefer traditional (safe!) over experimental.

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  18. A great review of an interesting take on this famous battle. Unusual to see the action so zoomed out, but I think it works well. Looking forward to the Waterloo version.

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  19. Thanks Steve, it certainly shows that even on a subject like Gettysburg, which is covered by umpteen designs ... there is always scope for something new to peek the interest.

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  20. Nice review of an interesting sounding game!
    Best Iain

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  21. Thanks Iain, I nearly had it on the table again tonight .... it is that sort of game.

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