Saturday 4 May 2024

Worthington's Antietam (Burnside Bridge) with 1.4 rules

With the latest release of the Gettysburg module in Worthington's Civil War Brigade Battle series, which has not yet hit UK shores, we now have version 1.4 of the series rules, which have had a significant re-write.

To date, the series consists of Antietam, Shiloh and Seven Days.

The V1.4 rules are available for download and so without Gettysburg in my hands, but having access to the new rules, the question I was asking myself was how V1.4 would impact on the previous designs.

Last week, I played Burnside Bridge solo (one of the short scenarios from the Antietam package) and then played it again the following day face-to-face. Both games were played with the existing version 1.3B rules, so with these games committed to recent memory, I thought it worth playing that scenario  again, this time with V1.4 to compare.

The rules are only 8 pages long, one of their strengths in my view. When a new version comes out, the new rule paragraphs are highlighted in green. V1.4 on first inspection is covered with green highlight, so we know there has been a major rewrite.

However, the rules have been restructured  and so the chopping around of existing rules and some tidying up account for some of this green highlight, but where there are ‘real’ changes, they are significant.

I think these can be broadly discussed as three new areas of ruling.

Melee - firstly, the most eye catching is the inclusion of a new sub routine in the combat phase …. Melee! It comes right after offensive fire. 

What needs to be understood here is that Fire Phase is a two edged thing as the ‘other player’ gets to react first with defensive fire before you can offensively fire. So you have to survive that defensive fire and any associated morale checks before you make your own offensive fire, so there is a lot of attrition going on in this game.

Now, under V1.4 after conducting that fire, you can announce any melee that you want to make. This differs from fire because it is one unit on one unit (no ganging up), but in other regards it is using the same routine and combat chart as the Fire Phase used, including the defender getting a chance to use defensive melee, before the attack melee goes in. So again, an opportunity for attrition to both sides - only in this sub-phase, the defenders melee gets a 1 column shift to the right, which adds to the risks of the attacker.

The result is that you will not want to use this new additional phase to melee all over the place with abandon, you must measure risk of suffering further loss or rout against the potential advantage of your attack.

Some may wonder whether a game with units at the brigade level should have both fire and melee phases, I know the same questions are asked in relation to Hexasim’s Eagles of France (napoleonic) system, but I like it and in terms of narrative it does have a sense of taking important positions at point of bayonet so to speak, it is just a measure of increased determination of the attack at given chosen locations.

Panic - Now, under V1.4 when a unit retreats of routs, a panic marker is placed in the hex that the unit first vacated. Then, as the turn progresses, if a friendly unit located next to that panic marker has to take a morale check, the test is modified with a +1 (bad).

I like this idea. Close-by friends have recently run away, perhaps undermining your own will to hang around. This will bring some local nuance to the games, to the sound of both groans and cheers.

Line & Column movement - Before, units that stayed at least 4 hexes away from the enemy, could move along any road or open ground at half movement cost.

Now, units instead are either in column or in line. Those in column can use the roads at a reduced movement cost, but they cannot fire and suffer a penalty if fired upon. Those in line can fire, but cannot claim any benefit from road movement.

Gone altogether is the freedom that units had to move over open ground at beneficial movement rates, so the road net has been brought into sharper focus. 

Units in column cannot move adjacent to an enemy, but can move within 2 hexes (i.e. 1 hex between them), so there will be more flexibility in delivering units to the front and in moving immediately behind the lines, say, along a lateral road.

Panic and the column formation both require new markers, which are included in the Gettysburg module. I am advised that there are additional markers included with Gettysburg that allow a gamer to add some to any of the earlier modules they might own. 

As I don’t have Gettysburg yet, I will be relying upon coloured tiddlywinks for markers for now.

All three of these major rule changes feel like improvements to me. I can see their justification and think they will add additional subtly to the game without any significant or inconvenient rules overhead.

So, having just played Burnside Bridge under version 1.3b twice, in which each side won once, how will these three new rules in particular impact when retro fitted to the older module?

Situation - The Union need to attack across the river, via Burnside Bridge. On the far side of the bridge is high ground with a steep slope. This is a formidable obstacle, made more-so by it being garrisoned by Toombs, who has a high morale rating.

The Union can send forces off map to look for a ford further down stream. They will find one, cross it and appear a number of turns later, via the woods on the Confederate right flank.

How many turns that will take is randomised as units roll on a time table upon leaving the map.

Victory is basically determined by losses, plus which ever side controls the road junction to the rear of the Confederate position, gets a bonus 15 VP's.

Brief outline of play - this particular playing was unusual in that the Union made a successful early attempt to cross the bridge and take the steep slope beyond. Defended by Toombs, who has excellent morale, the mathematical chances of a first successful go at clearing the heights are very low - so the dice did all the work here!

The consequence of this was that the Confederates became fully engaged around the area of the bridge, trying to throw the Union back and did not have the capacity to also defend the area of woods to their right, where probing Union units, who had crossed the waterway further downstream, would shortly emerge from.

The combination of heavy casualties and an unfortunate high number of failed morale tests, leading to rout saw the Confederates reeling back towards the lateral road. As the Union followed up, they were able to concentrate the firepower of their big units and the Confederates just continued to take increasing numbers of casualties, finally forcing them to fully disengage.

So this was a spectacular victory for the Union, mainly due to the early taking of the defensive position at the bridge.

Version 1.4 - So how did our version 1.4 edition of the rules impact on play when retro fitted to the Burnside Bridge scenario.

Well, not as much as I might have thought really. It was that early gain by the Union that set the pace of the game, so the new rules are bringing local nuance rather than setting the direction of the game.

Firstly, the column / line formation - This wasn't used, for no other reason than the situation did not really call for any column movement. Close proximity to the fighting meant that everything was best left in line.

Also, the fixed set up has parts of each division on the road and off the road. By the time I had moved off road units onto a road and changed formation into column, there would have been no gain in this particular situation for those divisions trying to leave the map to search out that ford. This contrasts with version 1.3b, because they could have travelled over open terrain and / or roads at enhanced movement, allowing all of a division to immediately start making for the map exit without changing formation. But here the differences were so close that it hardly mattered anyway. 

I'm quite pleased really because this is one area in which we could do with the games terrain chart on older modules updating to show the road rate costs. I know that Gettysburg has this on their charts, but until I get that, I would just apply a general rule of - ½ movement cost on a road in column and all other terrain except uphill negated for movement costs.

Next, the Panic counters - Again, this didn't have that much of an actual impact on my game. It is really only going to matter when a unit rolls exactly equal to their morale, that the +1 penalty will tip them over the edge into a fail and on a D10, this becomes a 10% chance.

However, psychologically it does always impact as the presence of a Panic Marker makes the tester of morale worry a little more about the possibility of failure every time the die is rolled, especially for troops with poorer morale, as they already have it tough.

I should really have counted how many times in this game it did actually matter and did change things, but I didn't.

Finally, Melee - Well, the question of whether to melee or not was ever present in each Melee Phase, but the fact of the matter was that I didn't use it very much. That's not to say others would play the same way, but it really can be a two edged sword. The defender gets to respond to each melee first, with a 1 favourable column shift and potential attack strengths are reduced because you can't gang up like you can in the Fire Phase, so it is risky, risky risky!

As a consequence, the addition of a new phase to the sequence of play does not seem to extend game time and it could be argued that when it is used, it raises the attrition rate anyway, which leads to units shattering earlier.

Above - Welsh (Union) has captured the slope, causing Toombs to rout (Toombs is off picture because the rout caused a domino effect of routing, when Garnet failed a test because of the Panic Marker) and so a Panic Marker (my yellow tiddlywink) is placed in the vacated hex. Next is the Union Melee Phase, but Welsh does not want to risk all he has gained, so he decides not to Melee.

Above - A critical moment, Drayton (Confederate) has recaptured the slope hex. Nagle and Christ (Union) are adjacent and their combined fire in their Fire Phase has failed to dislodge Drayton. It is now the Union Melee Phase, they decide this position is so important that they will melee. Only one unit can melee (one on one), So Nagle, the stronger brigade attacks. Drayton rolls for his defensive melee first and inflicts a casualty and morale check on Nagle.

Nagle fails the test and must rout back across the bridge. The first hex that he moves into is in Drayton's ZOC, so Nagle picks up another loss. A great example of the pros and cons to deciding whether to launch a melee attack.

Conclusion - I like V1.4, the entertainment value of the game is enhanced for very little rules overhead, we are still in just 8 pages of rules.

We could really do with a version of the Terrain Charts from the three older games that are compatible with V1.4 being made available for download.

If you don't plan on getting Gettysburg, then V1.4 will work fine with the older modules, you just need to make up some column / panic markers and note that units in column will move at 1/3 cost on Pike, ½ cost on a road, 1 MP on a trail and that all terrain except elevation change is negated. In any case, your existing V1.3b rules will still give a fine game - as my two games last week proved.

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