Saturday, 26 September 2020

Antietam 1862 - Bloody Lane


Antietam 1862 is published by Worthington Publishing and it is the first volume in their planned Civil War Brigade Battles series, the second, Shiloh, has already been published.

Units are representing brigades which themselves are organised into divisions. The ground scale is 250 yards to the hex and a strength point represents around 100 men or 2 cannon. Turns represent 1 hour.


The rest of this post will take a look at the game by way of a short scenario and give an exploded view of the action on turn 1, to explain the sequence of play and combat system.


There is also a link in the Resource Section to an interesting video with helpful maps, describing the flow of the battle.


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



A reminder that this is not a review site, I just write about games that I have enjoyed and that I have bought myself, articles therefore tend to be positive, but hopefully still objective.


First impressions on opening the box are very good. We have a mounted map (standard size wargame map at 8 panels), which has overly large hexes and a very pleasant relaxed artwork.



There are 4 sheets of large counters, which have pre-rounded corners and each counter sits in its own nest so that it can easily be pushed out of the counter frame. They are VERY cleanly cut and do not leave a perceptible nub.



Being a series, we get a series rulebook and a separate playbook for the scenarios and battle specific rules. Both are just 8 pages and well illustrated. One of the things that I did notice (and liked) was that the series rules have a section of rules used in the Organisation Phase, but in this first game, the playbook says that those rules are not used (see below), so the rules seem to have been established as a series set from the outset rather than being a set created for Antietam that would then need to be ‘managed’ to fit other battles that might follow. 


Another good aspect of the rules is that at the end of some rule sections, the key points are reiterated within a blue shaded box, making it easy in future playings just to glance at these boxes to be reminded about core aspects of the system.

  

There is a nice colour chart showing the command structure of both sides (units are colour coded into their respective divisions). Finally, each player gets a double sided play aid card, which has clear bold print and which immediately attests to the game not being complicated or having a load of modifiers .... oh and really finally, there are 2 x D10 dice.


Before looking at a slice of action, these are perhaps the most striking design elements worth mentioning;


Units have a value printed on them which represents their strength points. Some of these can be very high such as Hancock being 22, while the likes of Ewing is a much more sedate 8. These strength points are slowly diminished during combat and each unit carries a Strength Point marker (Grognards will remember these as Poulter Markers) that shows the new strength, as losses are taken.



The unit’s initial Strength Point value is printed onto a coloured box, either green, black or gold and this colour determines the morale value of the unit. The whole thing is a slick way of handling unit morale and strength status.


When infantry or cavalry strength points reach 50% loss, the counter is flipped to its reverse side and becomes ‘shattered’. They can continue to be used, but they cannot enter an enemy Zone of Control (zoc) or use the Strategic Movement bonus.


Units (not artillery) are limited to firing at a range of 1 hex, so to attack they will need to move next to an enemy. Before attacking (by fire), the defender gets a chance to defensive fire. There isn’t a separate melee phase.

The 4 sunken road hexes


The game gives us 4 scenarios, The Morning Attack, Bloody Lane, Burnside Bridge and the full Battle of Antietam. For the sake of this demonstration, we will do the Bloody Lane scenario which has a low unit density and a tight focus on a smaller area of the map.

My game is set up on a large pin board


The game starts at 10 AM. The Confederates have a division defending the sunken lane, half of which start in their shattered state (below, flipped to show their strength 9 in a green box, the green box reflects low morale). At 11 AM (one turn later) they will get a reinforcement of one fresh division. The Union start with one fresh division ready to assault the sunken road and likewise, at 11 AM, they will receive a reinforcement of a fresh division.



The section of the map used for this scenario is quite small, so will likely end up quite packed as 2 divisions per side fight a grinding battle for a handful of hexes (the sunken lane). I have marked the boundaries of the play area out with four blank blue counters.


1000 hours. 

The Union set up to strike the lower part of the sunken road, where the Confederate flipped units (shattered) are located. These flipped units have now dropped to a lower morale status, so the Union want to make progress here before the Confederate reinforcement arrives.


I will now give an account as an exploded view of the Union (they go first) part of turn 1, so that we can see the sequence of play and the combat phase in action (if this does not interest you, just go straight to the 1100 hours turn).


Command Phase - To be in command, a unit must be within 4 hexes of their divisional commander or corps commander. I like the fact that formations are encouraged to observe divisional cohesion. In this small space, the Union find themselves to be fully in command.


Organisation Phase - this covers the building of breastworks, the burning of bridges, depots and railway lines. In Antietam these rules are ignored.


Offensive artillery Phase - The active player can fire their artillery at a range of up to 5 hexes. If artillery fires it cannot move in the same turn. Here, the Union want to move their artillery forwards into the cornfield for a better arc of fire, so it doesn’t fire. Artillery is quite weak when fired at range.


Movement Phase - Units have 6 Movement Points, except mounted cavalry and leaders which have 9 Movement points. The Union move their artillery forward and at the cost of 2 MP’s, unlimber it, so that it is ready to fire next turn. The Union decide to move their infantry immediately to hit the shattered Confederate troops at the lower end of the sunken lane, before reinforcements arrive.

The Union advance to contact


Combat Phase - Let’s look at the first combat in some detail. The Union player will want Kimball (fresh and with 18 Strength Points) to attack McRae, who is shattered (on flipped side for being at half strength) with 9 Strength Points.


Defensive fire occurs first. The defenders get a chance to fire at any units that they are adjacent to, so first, Kimball must survive that fire. McRae with 9 Strength Points fires at Kimball on the 9-12 column with a D10. There are no modifiers. The D10 gives a score of ‘6’ which creates a ‘1’ result.


This means that Kimball’s strength reduces by 1 (now down to 17), a strength marker showing 17 is placed under Kimball’s counter, plus Kimball must now also take a Morale Test. Morale test are always taken after receiving casualties. 


Kimball’s morale is represented by a black square behind the strength value, Brigades with a black square need to roll 7 or less on a D10 to pass their test. They roll a ‘2’, so are fine. If they had failed they would have routed. Each army has a casualty track on the board. Every loss by an individual unit is also recorded on the casualty track, which will later generate victory points at the rate of 1 VP per casualty.  


There is suddenly a scary moment for the Union in the centre as Colquitt (another Confederate brigade) gives very effective Defensive Fire towards Morris (Union) and the green coded morale (worst level) of Morris is tested. They only pass because they are stacked with the divisional commander who modifies the test to a pass. The attacking die score was also high enough for the divisional leader himself to have to test for becoming a casualty. He survives!


Offensive fire now follows, so all of the Union can attack adjacent enemy. Kimball, who is still in place, will make an attack. Their new strength is 17, putting them on the 17-21 column. But McRae is in the sunken road, so the attackers dice will be reduced by 3 for the terrain protection value. The attack rolls ‘5’, reduced to ‘2’, which just scores a morale check. McRae has a green morale value (poor), but will get a -1 to the die roll for being in the safety of the sunken road.


McRae rolls ‘9’ (Oh Dear!), reduced to 8 for the terrain effect of the sunken road, but this is still a fail, so McRae routs 3 hexes and Kimball’s brigade advances into the vacated hex, capturing the first of the four important sunken road hexes.


The rest of the fighting leaves the Union with higher casualties than the Confederates.


Rally Phase - Any routed units belonging to the active player (Union) can now attempt to rally, but there aren’t any at the moment.

Colquitt is isolated


As the Union part of the turn concludes, we can see that the Confederates have not taken losses, but two of their brigades have routed away, leaving Colquitt uncomfortably surrounded (and so will automatically be out of command next turn).


It is now the Confederate part of the turn and they follow the same sequence of play as above. The situation is very serious for them. DH Hill leads Rhodes brigade (very good morale) to attack Kimball along the sunken road. Since this is a road-to-road attack, the defender cannot claim the defensive modifier for being in the sunken lane.


Rhodes' excellent morale, allows them to withstand Kimball’s defensive fire and their own attack inflicts 2 losses on Kimball, but Kimball still manages to hold on to their section of lane. Both of the Confederate routing brigades successfully recover.


1100 hours.

For the Union, Richardson’s reinforcing division arrives and goes straight into action against the top arm of the lane. Colquitt unsurprisingly is destroyed (flee the board), but Rhodes and Anderson manage to keep hold of their section of road.

That looks like a lot of grey!


For the Confederates, Anderson’s reinforcing division arrives and they pack into the small area behind the lane. At the end of the turn, both sides control 2 sunken lane hexes each. The Union have suffered 14 losses and the Confederates 15. Things are tight at this point.


1200 hours.

Brooke (Union) routs off the field, followed by Morris, who stops in a cornfield at the edge of the playing area with the divisional commander. The Union assault is wavering. Kimball is now the only Union unit still holding a section of the sunken road and is under extreme pressure, as their fellow brigades start running to the rear.

The Union attack has stalled


The Union have suffered 31 losses and the Confederates 18, this gap is really opening up.


1300 hours (the last turn of the scenario)

It is certainly a losing situation for the Union and the best they can hope for is to disengage to save themselves from further loss. They pull back and re-organise along the orchard / cornfield line, close to the edge of the playing area.

Closing positions


For their part, the Confederates are happy to consolidate the sunken road position and extend their flank out towards Antietam Creek.


The game ends and the victory points are calculated. The Confederates will score 2 VP’s for each of the four sunken road hexes that they occupy, plus 31 VP’s for the casualties inflicted upon the  Union, giving them a total of 39 Victory Points.


The Union cannot claim control of any of the sunken lane, having lost what they gained, so they just score 18 VP’s based purely on the Confederate casualties. So at the end of the four turn scenario, there is a clear Confederate victory with a 2:1 advantage in Victory Points (31 v 18). 


Conclusion.

Well that seems a very good scenario for gamers to get a quick appreciation of the system. The size of the battlefield looks to have been constructed with care, so that if a unit routs, the 3 hex rout move will likely take it to the edge of the playing area, just keeping them in the game while they try and recover. Some units will have got a retreat (2 hexes) result off the Combat Table and then failed their morale test, routing a further 3 hexes, taking them out of the playing area and they will be removed from play. 


The scenario looks a tough one for the Union, especially as on their first attack, they have to take defensive fire and then their own fire is reduced by a -3 because of the defensive benefits of the sunken lane. Their hope is that the ‘shattered’ defenders with their weakened morale will rout. The arrival of the wave of Confederate reinforcements is a disheartening sight for the Union player!


Overall, I really like the look of this game and will do the slightly bigger scenario of Burnside Bridge next. The system is quite simple, but the slow deterioration of units and the tangible differences that morale levels bring does add a layer of interest. Also things like going shattered allows you to defend but not move into contact with the enemy ..... something I forgot on one occasion! so there are some tactical nuances down amongst the individual hexes.


I also have the second game in the system (Shiloh) and this has a quite heavily wooded area in which most hexes offer a defensive value of -2 for the woods, this alone is likely to make that game have a different feel to the more open nature of the Antietam game.


The fact that the game has fairly precise combat strengths, based on 100 men per combat factor and that units are graded for morale, which is important in a battle in which units were so variable in fighting experience, also adds to the sense of battles being properly described without any additional rules overhead.


One of the things that surprised me in the game is that units are allowed to gang up on a single unit, even though some of those ganging units will have other enemy next to them, who you might have thought that they would have been engaged with (some rule systems demand this). However, I have tried to rationalise this as a brigade (one counter) having several regiments, some of which may be pinning these other units, while some are free to do the ganging attack and perhaps the variable of the die roll tells the rest of that story.


Another aspect to this is that Defensive Fire is not just made against attacking units, but can be made against any adjacent unit, so a player has to be sure that they want to be ‘up against the enemy’ in all places, sometimes being out of the line of fire will be the better tactic - combat is not mandatory, but if you stick your nose out, someone is likely to punch it! and in that regard everything does tend to attack by default, wherever there is an opportunity.


I do like that the time scale is set at one hour turns, this does seem to work well with brigade activity and the pace of loss of their strengths, no doubt representing some regiments burning out, while being replaced by fresher units within the brigade, which also accords with a scale of 250 yards per hex . Also the rate that the battle unfolds does seem realistic.


The only thing that some players may be wary of is that every unit can end up carry around a strength marker, which you need to keep referencing. Also as lines engage, you can potentially just end up rolling dice down the line. In practice though, due to there not being any stacking, the counters being thick (easy to pick up) and the hexes being roomy, the strength marker does not become an issue and those that like to see nuanced losses will be pleased.


As for ‘dicing down the line’, the Combat Table is actually quite dynamic because every effective result carries the need to do a morale test and because of that you will frequently see units routing and running back 3 spaces, so the front line is continually in a state of flux.


A consequence of the system of Defensive / Attacking fire is that as we move from the Union part of the turn to the Confederate part of the turn and then start the next full turn as the Union player, you get a back-to-back chance to fire. For example the pattern over the above cycle would be [Union part of turn 1] Confederate Defensive Fire (DF), Union Attacking Fire (AF), [Confederate part of turn 1], Union DF, Confederate AF, [Union part of turn 2], Confederate DF followed by Union AF. So units get two consecutive fires, firstly as defensive fire and then in their part of the turn as offensive fire.


So, the impact of losses and staying adjacent to an enemy are actually higher than you feel at the exact moment of receiving fire, because you will be due another dose of fire in the next twinning of fire sub-phases. I don’t think this matters, but it is an observation that those pressing an attack or trying to survive one need to be aware of.


Our small, densely populated sector of the battlefield today, will of course have its place in the bigger settings of the full battle, where different things are happening in different places of the battlefield at anyone time, increasing diversity of play and just keeping interest high. The full scenario begs to be played ..... and it will be, I think that is a major point of this system, it is simple enough to come off the shelf often and to be a good players game.


Complexity - The box suggests 4 out of 10. I think a regular gamer could lower that a shade. Complexity is further helped by this being a series, so that subsequent games can be played with the rules already known. The fact that these game counters literally just push out of their frame and the rules are an easy read 8 pages, makes this an easy package to get to the table. This is the sort of game that if you buy it, you will play it.


Size - this is a standard sized mapboard that does not need play aid cards around the edges. A place to hold the various markers to keep them off the board is helpful. We are in the world of kitchen table gaming here. You will note from the pictures that I had my board set up on a large pinboard, so that it can be easily moved if the pesky family want to do bizarre things like eat at the table :-)


Solitaire - This is a two player game, but as the box states one player can play this solo, as is the case with many games that we play. Just play both sides with an even hand. There are swings in combat that will help solitaire play at the local level and this comes from all those morale checks that could lead to routing, suddenly revealing opportunities or closing them down!


Time - the box says 3 - 6 hours for the full battle and 1 - 2 hours for the smaller scenarios. Based on my limited experience, I can see that being a fair estimate. The variable for the full battle seems to be due to limitations being placed on the number of Union corps that can be activated, until certain objectives trigger wider activations, so I suppose it just depends how your battle goes.


Resource Section.

This is a video from American Battlefield Trust that gives a good visual overview of the battle. The first reference to our Bloody Lane scenario is made at 6 minutes. LINK

https://youtu.be/_8ybkoGmHww


13 comments:

  1. Thanks Norm interesting to see how such a game works. I have recently purchased a scenario book for Antietam so we will hopefully see the sunken road being fought over here 🤔

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  2. Thanks Matt, look forward to your table hosting Antietam. I have just pulled my Burnside’s Bridge book from the shelf by John Cannan in the Battleground America series from Pen& Sword. That should be a goo prep for me playing the next scenario.

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  3. Bravo Norm! Excellent write up (and you know my penchant for nice historical wargame hex maps!) I like the look of this game and frankly, the idea that some of those more capable and tough units have significantly more strength points is a good idea as it really allows you to exploit better units. I dont like where all units are just vanilla for a historical game where you know how they historically performed (Avalon Hill's 1988 re-do of their Gettysburg game is a classic example where really good units performed just like everyone else).

    I vowed to never buy a board wargame again, but you're tempting me sir!

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  4. Thanks Steve. I think for figure gamers who might like a boardgame on the side - this might be a very good choice, simply because it is so easy to get into compared to many.

    I am thinking of doing the Burnside Bridge scenario and seeing if there is a moment in the game where a the positioning of a couple of the brigades would transfer across to the figures table. I will quite enjoy researching the brigades to find out about their component regiments.

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  5. A very good review of the game as always Norm, with the right amount of detail for the casual reader. The map looks great and I love the idea of quite detailed unit strengths, something you rarely see in games, figures or otherwise. As before, the idea of transfering part of the baordgame to the table appeals and wait to see whether this happens or not. Keep up the good work!

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  6. Thanks Steve, the box has an ‘Old School’ slogan to the front under the publishers name and while that seems to mean different things to different people, for my money I think they managed to achieve it here.

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  7. Nice review of an interesting sounding game, sounds like a tough proposition for the Union troops!
    Best Iain

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  8. Thanks Iain, it deserves a re-run just to see whether I can get the Union a better result. I was speaking to a friend today who played the same scenario last night and they had a luckier opening for the Union troops.

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  9. Heeey, I’m pretty sure I have this game. 😀
    Nice to be reminded why I got it in the first place. Though my copy sits right over there in the closet, never played. I did open it once and gave it a read through. I am now filled with shame.
    Nice review and walk through the game mechanics. I agree that the components are very nice and appear durable. 😀

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  10. Hi Stew, definitely worth taking for a spin.

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  11. Another very thorough and well-explained game review, Norm. Your reviews allow a reader a good sense of both the rules and game play. Not wanting to sound too negative but, for me, the map looks a bit washed out and reminiscent of some of the early SPI game maps. As for the counters, well, I don't care much for icons at this level of play.

    Of course, my perspective is biased in that the Gamers' "In Their Quiet Fields, Antietam II" is my favorite brigade-level treatment of the battle. Your review does make me itch to pull Antietam off the shelf and replay the Bloody Lane assault. I imagine ITQF is a much different level of complexity than the Worthington game.

    Nice job!

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  12. Hi Jonathan, yes there is a significant difference in complexity and scope, for example in ITQF units can be drawn out into skirmish line, while in this game there is a representational collection of regiments into one brigade in which formation or facing are not considered - though cavalry can dismount. Also there are generalisations in movement, so artillery can move through woods at the same cost as other units.

    So it is playing at a different level of complexity, but it is very slick and does give a satisfying game, which I think will really come into its own when playing the full battle, allowing big to be very playable. I played Burnside Bridge scenario last night and the too and fro at the bridge, plus a flanking manoeuvre played out very nicely and gave a good narrative. Plus, importantly, there was no barrier to me taking this down off the shelf and having a decent mid-week game in the evening.

    Icons are of course a personal thing, I am fine with them and they are better to my eyes than NATO symbols for the period or some of the other fancy pants ideas that you see crop up from time to time.

    I think the SPI look is deliberate for the 'Old School' credentials that the game seeks. I'm not sure how well the camera picks it up, but there is a lovely subtle background texture on the maps and I really like the way the woods are represented. Overall, I think the artist has done well in giving this map its own distinct identity and of course the slightly bigger than big hexes are a thing most welcome.

    It will be interesting to see what comes next (in addition to Shiloh, which is already out) as this will confirm or otherwise whether the system can handle a wide range of subjects - I'm sure it will.

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    1. Thanks Norm. Of course, there are trade-offs between complexity, playability, accessibility, and so forth. Slightly larger hexes is something all games ought to consider especially when stacking and facing come into play. Your point about being able to pull something off the shelf for a mid-week game is a good one. Having familial ties to much maligned Ambrose, I look forward to your refight over his namesake bridge.

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