The good news about this release is that it is the third game in the series and the first two games (Antietam and Shiloh) have just been reprinted, suggesting that it is becoming a thing that is growing legs and hopefully will continue to develop into a full blown series.
Published by Worthington Publishing and designed by Grant Wylie, this game covers the four key engagements during the Seven Days Battles from 26th June to 1st July 1862 on the Virginia Peninsular around the Confederate capital of Richmond.
Scaled at 250 Yards to the hex and units at Brigade size, with each strength point representing 100 men or 2 guns, turns are hourly during the day (3-4 hours per turn at night).
The system can look at the bigger battles and it marries this with being a fairly simple and highly playable system, so while some games can take a while to play, they never get bogged down in rules minutia.
For a closer look at this new release, please use the ‘read more’ tab.
I have previously written about the system via the Antietam game, so for anyone wanting to examine the system in more detail, there is an Antietam link below in the resource section.
This is a heavy box, as there are two mounted boards. They each measure 22” x 25½” (6 panels). There are 8 scenarios, some can be played on one board alone, others require both boards. The artwork matches that of previous games and is simple but effective, reminiscent of old maps, helping my eye being immediately drawn to the terrain that matters.
There are 4 counter sheets, they are the sort that have the counters stamped into individual cells, so that punching out is easy and the counters have ready made round corners. Artwork matches previous games, with nice clear counters and bold unit values.
Just over one counter sheet holds the unit counters, the rest are markers. Many are strength markers that are placed with a unit as they slowly degrade in strength and so there seems plenty enough for this game, which has some high values on the units.
The rules are divided into two booklets. The main series rules are just 8 pages long and the second booklet is a play booklet, it contains the scenarios and any special rules that they use.
The game runs off a D10 - two are provided, one for each player.
Finally you get a good heavy card play aid (one for each player). One side holds all of the information about terrain, the other the combat and morale tables etc. Mine unfortunately had the cards for the Shiloh game in error. One side, the one with all the combat charts on, is fine as that information is common to the series, but the terrain side of the card is of little help, since it relates to Shiloh. Fortunately, the rear of the playbook has a terrain chart on it, so the packing error has not stopped me playing.
Looking at BoardGameGeek, it appears that there are other gamers with the same problem. However, WP have returned my e-mail and said that they will send replacements out.
We have eight scenarios listed as follows;
Beaver Dam Creek. 6 turns, 1 board, historical
Here comes Jackson. 7 turns, 1 board, a variant on the above
Jackson arrives on time, 11 turns, 1 board, a variant on scenario 1
Gaines Mill, 6 turns, 1 board, historical
Beaver Dam Creek to Gaines Mill, 25 turns, above 2 boards
Glendale, 8 turns, 2 boards, historical
Malvern Hill, 8 turns, 1 board, historical
Glendale to Malvern Hill, 35 turns, 2 boards
Before diving in to an example scenario, we should just look at two prime mechanics that underpin this system, morale and casualties.
Importantly, each unit is rated for its morale. There are three classes of morale. Each class is colour coded on the counter, so for example Veteran units are recognised by a gold coloured box being shown on their counter and will pass a morale test on a D10 score of 9. Green units (lowest morale) in contrast will only pass a morale test on a D10 score of 5, most units are regular and will pass on 7. In the game zero on the dice is read as a ten.
As to casualties, each unit starts the game with a combat value printed on the unit, but as it takes losses, a strength counter is put with the unit, so that its new strength is always readily available.
Once a unit takes 50% losses, it is flipped to its shattered side - importantly this signifies that the unit will no longer be able to enter an enemy Zone of Control or use column movement bonus.
It may also be the case that when flipped, the unit morale drops to a lower class, again, signified by the colour of the morale box on the counter.
The method is a good way of showing how a brigade / division over time degrades and loses its offensive capability, but still needs to be respected as a defender.
This is the third game in the series and the rules have had a bit of a re-write, unfortunately in doing that, the line of sight rules have become surprisingly awkward (for me at least) to visualise, but I have used gaming experience to apply what I think is the intention.
Today we will play the Beaver Dam Creek scenario, simply because it is the first scenario presented to us. I will do an exploded highlighted account of one of the player turns once the action gets going, showing the sequence of play and how some of the mechanics work. The account will then just go over to a brief summary of events.
We begin in the knowledge that the designer says (on a forum) that the battle is near impossible for the Confederates to win without Jackson coming in. “It is an exercise in the frustration that Lee was feeling that day”!
We should note that the Confederates do not start on the board. AP Hill’s Division will arrive on turn 1. Remaining Confederate forces (DH Hill, Longstreet and the reserve artillery) will not arrive until the first fire combat has occurred (offensive or defensive) involving a unit from AP Hill’s division.
So here we go!
Above - In the opening shot you can see that the Union have three divisions in play (Porter’s V Corps). One (Sykes) is up at the top right of the map, covering a damaged river crossing (the Upper Trestle Bridge) and the other two (Morrell and McCall) are placed behind Beaver Dam Creek. The divisions are colour coded to help identify formations and unhelpfully Morrell and McCall are in what to my eyes are a similar blue.
The stack at the bottom of the map is where AP Hill’s Division will arrive on turn 1.
The creek is the interesting part of the terrain. Units that fire upon enemy units located in the marsh will get a +2 bonus to their fire dice, while units in the marsh fighting out of it will have their attack values halved - so the creek is quite the obstacle, but due to the tight time available in the scenario, fight across it, the Confederates must!
Above - At 1500 hours the Confederates arrive on the board, they veer towards the left to concentrate their force towards Morrell’s Division. This will almost certainly cause the Union to use their artillery and in doing so, trigger the arrival of the rest of the Confederate forces in turn 2.
These brigades are generally big, with the game as a whole having some higher combat values than in previous games - accordingly they can both take and deal out a good deal of punishment!
Gregg fights his way out of the marsh, crossing Beaver Dam Creek, this releases Sykes (top of the map), allowing that division to move towards the sound of guns.
Description of the sequence of play;
Above - With the action joined, we can take an exploded view of the Sequence of Play. We will look at the Union part of Turn 2. The above photo shows the current positions and also shows the current strength markers under the units that have taken casualties.
COMMAND PHASE - Units of each division check to make sure that they are within command radius of their commander. This is 4 hexes for the original commander, but only 3 hexes for a commander that has been killed and replaced. Units out of command cannot enter an enemy zone of control and cannot use bonus column movement. Here all of Morrell’s division are in command.
Importantly, a units command status remains with them for the entire turn.
ORGANISATION PHASE - breastworks can be built, bridges burned and fords found, but in this game, none of those things can happen, so this phase is always ignored.
OFFENSIVE ARTILLERY PHASE - the Union can fire with their artillery at targets out to 5 hexes distance. The firepower is halved against infantry, except when adjacent to them, representing the lethality of canister fire. Units that fire are given a marker, so that the player knows they cannot be moved in the movement phase. Morrell’s artillery is at strength 8, it fires at Gregg, hoping to force them back. The attack value is halved for firing at infantry at range. No effect.
The Reserve Artillery combines fire with McCall’s artillery and fires at Pender. The halving for ranged fire still leaves them with a decent firepower of 13. In addition they get +2 bonus to the die roll as the target, Pender, is in the marsh. They roll a 1 (oh dear!), plus 2 gives them 3. Still, this is enough to cause Pender to take a morale check, which is failed. Failed checks causes the unit to rout back 3 hexes. The firing artillery is marked with a fire counter, so it can’t move in the next phase.
MOVEMENT PHASE - Sykes, at the top of the map needs to move closer to the action. Whilst he stays more than 4 hexes away from an enemy, his units can move in column on road or clear hexes, paying just ½ movement point per hex entered. Nothing else wants to move.
COMBAT PHASES - this is split into two sub-phase. First, the defenders get defensive fire and then the attackers get attacking fire. This gives the defenders a chance to disrupt the expected enemy attack. Artillery can join in defensively and it is not marked as fired.
Gregg sees off Griffin, who takes two losses, plus a retreat (2 hexes) result and then routs for a further 3 hexes after failing their morale test.
In the Union offensive fire part of the phase, only infantry and cavalry can attack - not artillery as the artillery fire came earlier in the phase.
Martindale is adjacent to Field, so they attack with 22 strength points (representing 2200 men) and they get a +2 bonus because Field is in marsh. Field takes casualties, takes a morale test, passes and so holds their ground.
RALLY PHASE - the phasing player gets to make morale checks on all units with rout markers, in an effort to remove the rout status …. providing they are in command. Griffin has routed to a position outside of command radius, but they were in command at the start of their turn, so are still treated as being in command.
Above - Martindale and Butterfield both recover from rout, but Morrell’s division is now somewhat out of what was a cohesive defensive position, with their units strung out backwards.
The last thing to do in the Rally Phase is to remove fire markers.
Play now switches to the other player who follows the same sequence of play.
The action continues.
So now we are zooming out and continuing with an overview of the battle.
By the end of 1700 hours, AP Hill still retains their foothold over the creek, but the defenders line is starting to solidify as Sykes gets closer. Losses so far are 7 to the Union and 13 to the Confederates, so the latter are paying the price for crossing that difficult terrain.
At 1800 hours, DH Hill starts to make a wide sweeping flank movement out towards the left. The terrain is difficult, being wooded, but by careful movement, once in the open, they can switch to column movement.
Above - As DH Hill emerges from the woodland on the left and press eastward. Sykes is aware of the threat and responds by manoeuvring to choke off the Union flanking advance. This is an important move, because if DH Hill can get behind the Union line, each unit that does so will get 2 victory points, in addition to those Confederate units that get 2 VP’s for crossing the creek.
The leading Confederate units have put themselves outside of command range of their leader. Sykes uses his artillery to force one brigade back and successfully assaults the other - the threat for the moment has been halted.
We reach the end of the game (2000 hours) and the balance between casualties and objectives gained on the battlefield does not look good for the Confederates. The casualty track shows that the Union have suffered 23 losses and the Confederates 41.
The Confederates have only managed to keep two units on the far side of Beaver Mill Creek, gaining 4 Victory Points for that.
Adding things up the Union can claim 46 Victory Points, the Confederates just 27, so a clear Union win
Despite the designer warning that this is a tough one for the Confederates, it was still an engaging game and one that I will happily return to.
Things looked promising for the Confederates on two occasions. They initially looked like they would break Morrell’s line at the creek and the flanking attack by DH Hill gave renewed hope to cracking the Union position, so the ‘trying’ for victory still gives the Confederates a good game and the Union cannot take anything for granted, especially once the powerful Confederate reserve artillery makes its presence felt to those defending the far bank of the creek.
The system is intended to give a broad brush representation of the periods battles, to give a fairly quick game for army sized engagements and players will not get hung up on searching the rules to cover a whole load of intricacies - because there are not many, but the system does cleverly hang together.
With ‘true’ wargames, I feel that having a proper order of battle, a proper map with reasonable objectives and units set up in their historical locations, without complex rules, gives a great start, probably automatically delivers say around 80% of a fair simulation or feel.
Perhaps adding a lot more complexity does little more than add another couple of percentage points to the actual value of simulation, but rather instead just gives the notion of much greater simulation. Throw in the variables of dice rolls and one is left wondering just what is the value of much greater complexity in rules and so I am happy with the level here of simulation Vs game, but who knows, that is just my opinion, it is horses for courses, but it does mean that for me, this is a game that will actually get played and it does carry a good flavour of the ebb and flow of battle.
This particular package has something for everyone. In terms of scenario length, it goes from the short 6 turn game to the full two mappers and one scenario giving 35 turns. It allows for a nice examination of the Seven Days Battle campaign and the terrain that was fought over - just things like Beaver Dam Creek, Walnut Grove Church and Ellerson’s Mill give an extra level of delight when pouring over these maps.
The two mapboards make this a heavy box. It is not worth getting into the debate of whether mounted maps or paper maps are better, since personal preferences are already established within the gaming audience ….. even though paper maps hold several advantages :-), but the game does have a nice qualitative feel to it.
My only two negatives on this initial experience with the game are the confusing line of sight rules (easily resolved by designer advice on one of the forums) and getting the wrong play charts in my box. As said, this has not stopped play, but for me it matters as it is part of the aesthetic pleasure of owning this package and in collecting the series.
I am switching more of my play over to series based games, so that I have less rule books to cope with. This system falls on the side of game rather than strict simulation, but as stated above, it is heavily themed with divisional capability, the terrain and the objectives driving the game in a way that gives a good feel for its subject.
As I complete this scenario, I feel ready and keen to move onto the next scenario and also to dip back into the previous two games, so it is doing plenty right. I am increasingly wanting games that will get to the table with the fewest obstacles to play and this does that.
There is another game in this series, Cedar Mountain, which was published in issue 153 of Vae Victis magazine. The English version of the rules and scenario details are downloadable from the Vae Victis site.
Complexity - The box says 4 out of 10, I would be happy to rate it a bit easier than that, but it is certainly no more than a 4. There are some important rules tucked away here and there, which need to be remembered. An example of this is that on the weapons chart, artillery is halved against infantry and cavalry when shooting at range. This is stated in small print on the combat chart and I know from comments on forums that this is easily missed by players - so don’t take ‘simple system’ for simple.
Interestingly, the defensive / offensive sub-phases in the combat phase, caught me out a few times when I was tired as I got a bit mixed up with who’s turn it was. The turn counter is only one colour (grey), so I move it to the bottom of the turn box when it is the 1st player turn and to the upper part for player 2, just as an aide memoire.
Size - This varies as to whether you are playing a one map or two map scenario. It does not use separate charts that need to be set up with the board, so this still remains a game suitable for the typical kitchen table even when two maps are used. The hexes are large and there is no stacking, so managing counters, even when the lines get packed together in a fight, remains comfortable. The game comes in a deep bookcase style box.
Solitaire - This is a two player games that can be easily played by the solo player (as stated on the box), just be even handed on how you managed both sides. My playing of the above scenario was solo. The frequent morale checks will change things down at the local level, creating opportunities and panic in equal measure, something that helps the solo player as new situations suddenly arise all of the time.
Time - Simple game or not, this series looks at big battles (Antietam) which can take a while to play, but effort is always made to break things up into some small actions to give smaller scenario options, just like in Beaver Dam Creek. I reckon my game today took around two and a half hours, though I was taking notes and referencing rules to make sure that I had things right. The full Antietam game for example can take around 6 hours. The rear of the box for this game describes play as needing 3 to 6 hours, depending on which of the 8 available scenarios are on the table, which seems about right, but as always it is somewhat dependent upon the speed that individual players game at.
Replaying of the Antietam game - this article discusses the game system in more detail. LINK
My sister webspace ‘COMMANDERS’ is being re-configured to showcase various figure and boardgame systems that I am enjoying and gives a flavour of where current projects are up to. Link.