This is the first in a series of easy access American Civil War boardgame titles designed and published by Worthington Publishing.
I have already detailed the system in a previous post that covered the fighting in the smaller Bloody Lane scenario (The Sunken Road) and also covered a conversion of some of the boardgame action into a figures game for the table. Both of those links are in the Resource Section below.
So with that done and the system already previously explained, today we are just going to look at the full battle scenario, recorded as a brief AAR with some particular game moments highlighted.
Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.
The first thing of note is that I last put this game to the table at the end of September, after just a couple of playings of the smaller scenarios. A simple system covered in just 8 pages of well illustrated and nicely spaced rules, meant that after that three month break, I was ready for play again after just a 20 minute read of the rulebook and scenario instructions, so the barriers to getting the game to the table are reduced, a major strength of the game.
Described as the bloodiest day in American history, the game at 250 yards per hex and each strength point equalling 100 men or 2 cannon, covers the full 17th September 1862 action, starting with an 0600 hours turn and concluding at 1900 hours, in 14 one hour turns.
In the scenario set-up there is a comment on play balance that the game has been made a bit tougher for the Confederate side because the Union, with a bad plan, attacked piecemeal (special rules cover that), one corps at a time, yet very nearly won. There are a couple of additional optional balancing rules for the player to push the balance further in either direction. Today, we will just use the scenario as presented.
Victory is based upon inflicting losses on the enemy, controlling Dunker Church, controlling the Sunken Lane and control of the road to Harpers Ferry, Though for each side, the value of control may differ and denying the feature to the enemy can be as important as controlling it, for example Dunker Church is worth 10 Victory Points to the Confederates, but 25 VP’s to the Union.
Importantly, in this battle, the Union player can only activate two corps in any particular turn, so they must generate critical points of the battlefield. If they capture any of the three prime objectives, then for each objective taken, they will be able to activate an additional corps each turn ..... an extra incentive for the Confederates to fight hard to keep hold of these hexes.
The game manages to get a good feel of ACW warfare for relatively little rules overhead. For example, unit losses are represented by marking the unit with strength counters. Once the unit has taken roughly 50% losses, it is flipped to its rear side. It carries on marking casualties in the same way, but is now considered shattered.
Shattered status prevents a unit from entering a Zone of Control, so as the brigades shatter, their divisions become less effective on the offensive and you get the burn-out of formations as their morale lowers. This in particular effects those divisions with smaller units, as they reach their shattered point faster and so the Confederates, who generally have lower unit ratings (due to size), are in effect more brittle. In this battle, they must do what they need to do, before they are forced onto the defensive and thinking about keeping a reserve of non-shattered units becomes a natural consideration.
Units are separately rated for morale and so this two edged sword of both morale and size being considered, brings a good bit of nuance into play.
The smaller scenarios have been fun, but it is obvious from the outset of playing the full battle, that this is a ‘big battle’ system. I like that in a single turn, there are so many points of contact that despite the big picture, small stories are being told on a hex by hex basis across the board.
For example, on turn 1 (0600 hours), the Union decide to activate Sumner and Porter, to get troops across the middle bridge. The result being that a mass of troops pour over the bridge and start to spread out. The Sunken Road will be their prime objective. They immediately come under artillery fire.
Confederacy artillery does not do much .... then DH Hill’s artillery by the orchard opens fire at maximum range, causing casualties amongst one of Porter’s deployed artillery batteries. They take two losses, dropping from strength 6 to strength 4 and must take a morale check. They have average morale, but fail the test, so they limber up, take an additional loss for having to do that and are routed back 3 hexes and will stay routed until rallied.
They struggle through the densely packed advancing army to get back towards the bridge, but with stacking not allowed, they have to keep on retreating until they arrive at an empty hex, pausing eventually on the other side of the bridge.
It is small isolated incidents like this, constantly occurring over the whole board, that help anchor the player to local events, while collectively feeding into the evolving situation of the bigger picture.
We get it again moments later when the opening Union attack on the Sunken Lane suddenly evaporates, while a little further North, Sedgwick’s small division gets uncomfortable close to Dunker Church, giving the Confederates another thing to think about. Play is fairly dynamic in that regard. This can be generally true in a lot of wargames, but there is ‘lots’ of it going on here.
Above - 0800 hours, Morris and Barnes assault the top end of the Sunken Lane and drive Anderson back. Morris will now advance into this section of the Sunken Lane. If they can hold onto this objective hex, then next turn the Union will be able to release an additional corps in the Command Phase.
Above - 1000 hours, while the fight at the Sunken Road continues, Union forces are pressing into the Confederate centre, but Lovell’s Brigade with Brigadier General George Sykes becomes isolated and overwhelmed by a counter-attack from freshly arrived RH Anderson’s Division.
They suffer the maximum harm possible on the Combat Results Table. Sykes passes a test to see whether he is killed (he isn't), then Lovell has to retreat via an enemy zone of control, taking further loss. They take a morale check and fail, now routing and running back towards the Middle Bridge. They have lost a hefty total of 5 strength points and are permanently shattered (cannot move into an enemy ZoC).
Above - As the 1400 hours turn closes, the battle is still very much in the balance. Here, the Sunken Lane is still being contested, with McClaws’ Division (red) moving up to maintain a Confederate toe hold.
Above - on the Confederate left, the Union seem to be getting the worst of it. The Union tried an ambitious assault on Dunker Church (off the right of shot) with Williams’ Division, but although a powerful formation in terms of strength, their raw recruits were easily repelled by Jackson’s reserve artillery (below), located in front of the church.
On the Confederate far right, it is telling that so far, other than an artillery duel, nothing is happening around Burnside Bridge, for the sole reason that the Union have not committed themselves there.
As for casualties, losses currently fall ever so slightly in the favour of the Confederates, but the casualties are still too close to look like being a deciding factor. The burden of winning this battle is very much with the Union army at this stage.
Above - 1500 hours sees Crawford’s Brigade (Williams’ Division) get into the woods by Dunker Church, but the Church has been strengthened by the arrival of the more experienced Wofford. While Crawford has a lot of men, that green square on the counter signifies poor morale, while Wofford's gold square represents superior morale and this can mean everything.
There is a growing Confederate confidence that they are holding the Union at bay, while starting to inflict heavy casualties on them ..... but what they don’t know is that the capable men of Smith’s newly arrived Division are snaking towards the church, advancing from the creek, down between the Union centre and their right wing. There is still much to fight for and nothing is a certainty!
The Sunken Lane was eventually fully occupied by the Union, but a swift counter-attack from Barksdale’s Brigade retook the westerly tip and it continues to be the most contested piece of ground on the battlefield.
1700 hours - Hooker, immediately followed by Doubleday, are killed in the heat of battle. This just adds more misery to a failing Union right flank that is under a great deal of pressure.
Above - 1900 hours (the final turn). The Union have been getting the worst of it on both flanks, where they have been pushed back with heavy losses. Their entire focus in the latter part of the day has been in holding the Sunken Lane and driving down the centre in an effort to take the Dunker Church position (still held by Wofford), but they have not quite been able to push far enough and hard enough to break the Confederate line.
Above on the Union left, they have managed for a second time to get across Burnside Bridge. They were repelled the first time and this time they are pinned on the far side of the creek and holding on to their bridgehead for dear life, but it doesn’t look good for them with Ransom up on the heights in front of them and now Manning joining the defence with his significant numbers.
Victory - In the latter part of the game, the casualty rates have really opened up, with the Union defeat on their flanks costing them dearly. The victory points for the final situation are calculated as follows;
Union 76 points for casualties inflicted, 25 points for control of the Sunken Lane. Total 101
Confederate 141 points for casualties inflicted, 10 points for retaining control of Dunker Church, 25 points for retaining control of the road to Harpers Ferry. Total 176
So a clear Confederate victory is called, that is pretty much casualty based. The Union would have got 25 points for Dunker Church and 50 points for the Harpers Ferry road, so their plan to get Dunker Church may have given them the win if they could have better controlled their losses, which in no small part came from the Confederate artillery.
This has been a very enjoyable outing with this game. The limited ability of the Union to activate their corps, meant that southern part of the battlefield, around Burnside Bridge remained very quiet right until the end and it might have been better to get one of the Union Divisions at that bridge, off the board to do a flank march that would have brought them back onto the board on the Confederate side of the creek and threatened the Harpers Ferry road. But the interesting puzzle to the game is that with limited activation, the Union cannot do everything they want ..... while the Confederates can!
The Union decision to bring Franklin’s VI Corps onto the battlefield, was made rather late in the day and it used up Union activation capacity while those units marched across the battlefield, but the fresh troops of Smith’s Division, intended for an assault at Dunker Church, was seen as the best option to break the stalemate that had befallen Union plans and the Corps’ second division (Slocum) did arrive in a timely manner to reinforce the gains made at the Sunken Lane.
This is one of those titles that just gets a lot of things right from the perspective of giving a good game, while still feeling that it is delivering a good sense of the battle / period. It is easy to get into and can be one of those games that come from the shelf often.
There are simple mechanics, such as brigades going shattered when they take 50% casualties, that help reflect the rigours of battle and at critical points, has players scratching around for a fresh reserve to win the moment.
It is a two player game, but plays fine solitaire, something that is definitely helped by the variables brought about in the combat and morale sub-systems. There is quite a bit of dice rolling, this is necessary to get the effects in the game, though a solo player may start to find this more noticeable and two players might.
Shiloh, the second game in the system is already out and the most recent issue of the Vae Victis magazine has a small game on Cedar Mountain 1862 using the same system. These will no doubt be getting some table and blog time in the near future.
I think Antietam is a game that will appeal to a wide audience and useful to gamers who might just want to build a small collection of playable boardgame titles.
A look at the system via the ‘Bloody Lane’ scenario. LINK
Converting a slice of action from the board to the figures table. LINK