By Paul Comben
Designer Richard Dengel
Publisher One Small Step
Be honest, how many strictly tactical level ACW games could you name…apart from this one, that is? Actually, I rather suspect readers could name close to all of them – which is another way of saying that there have never been all that many. I recall Devil’s Den and Little Round Top, to which I could probably add Baton Rouge, MacPherson’s Ridge, Gettysburg: The Wheatfield, and Battles and Leaders. There may be a few others, but we have never been exactly deluged with tactical recreations of Civil War mischief. And therefore, that a new company wants to devote some serious attention to this sort of subject matter, and that the intention is to feature some lesser known and smaller Civil War battles as well as key portions of the big fights, is something to offer a welcome to.
But there is another side to that particular argument – none of us have been especially vocal about missing this side of things in our ACW simulation fare, and the fact that not one of the above games (and some of them really rather good) have had gamers fighting for the last copy on the shelf, tends to imply that if you are going to commit to producing a series on this sort of stuff, it better be able to sell itself and look the part in every respect that matters.
The battles covered in the first volume, are, at least for a Brit like me, a tad on the obscure side; but as I said above, there is nothing wrong with that in itself. The battles you get are Belmont, Newbern, Stephenson’s Depot, and Iuka. The scale is regiments, represented by units each incorporating around three regimental companies; so, in turn, a regiment will have several units on the map. Artillery is shown by section, and there are also brigade, division and army leaders – the precise level and distribution of leadership depends on what battle you are playing.
Component-wise, the game is pretty good for a new company seeking to get established. The box is sturdy, though, to be honest, the cover art, to my eye at least, is not that enticing. The rules and scenario books are both on very glossy paper, which, frankly, I do not like, but that sort of thing may be a matter of taste. The scenario book does have historical commentaries for all the battles covered, but again, it is not the most inviting of reads, being utterly bereft of any illustrations and essentially just a mass of text – and for someone like myself, being able to give my eyes a break does matter when there is set-up detail and other matter to be assimilated.
The counters, on the other hand, are colourful, and I think, reasonably attractive. I would have preferred infantry figures to crossed muskets for the “battalion” pieces, but that is small beer. Two things you do have to be careful of when sorting out your units is that firstly, although many have been die cut ready to fall from the sheets should you so much as breathe on them, if your copy is anything like mine, a few units will not have been cut so near the mark, and there is a danger of tearing if you get too blasé about punching them out. The other thing to watch out for is if your units do come somewhat fallen off the sheets when you take delivery. The game documents themselves offer precious little help in sorting what unit goes with which battle, so you should avail yourself of the nifty organization sheets on BGG which clearly show the assignment of units by battle. The only other thing to say about the units is that they are, physically, a bit on the small side, especially given the generous size of individual hexes.
Turning to the maps, they are attractive pieces of design, and have the double bonus of being of modest dimensions (no table hoggers here!) and having handy pieces of information, like the rather long turn sequence, printed around their margins.
The only aspect of the components I really did not like were the main charts and tables sheets, which are on the same shiny paper as the rules, but being just single sheets, are rather on the flimsy side.
So how do the rules read and how does it all play?
In considering this, I have kept two of those former tactical games very much in mind, just to provide a measure – Devil’s Den and Battles and Leaders. I will be coming to some issues there a little later, but first, I just want to look at one or two points in the Huzzah! rules. The first pertains to ensuring (or in this case failing to ensure) that you do not toss out terms for your design without telling readers where to access their definitions. For example, early on in the rules there is reference to “O” hits, but no glossary, index, paragraph referral or elaboration meant I was left wondering what I was reading about – zero hits, or something else? As it was, O means Organization Hit, and frankly, all the rules needed to do at first mention was to display the thing thus (O)rganization plus a paragraph reference for the details.
Overall, I felt the rules were a little hit and miss as to whether things got explained or not, and given one or two interesting decisions made by the designer, I would have liked some notes to help explain the thinking going on. These issues included cavalry not being able to dismount, and the long, multi-segmented structure of the turn sequence.
However, what I was more bothered about were two pieces of “gamey” structure in the system. The first pertains to issues within the turn sequence, which, unrestrained by the rule in question, would allow what you might reasonably call an engaged unit to hop out of receiving fire, and then hop back again – and all because of what follows what in the course of a turn. To prevent this, the game forbids a unit that moves out of a fire zone in one part of a turn to then hop back into it a little later. This is all well and good in one respect, as none of us likes gamey practices; but be that as it may, I do not see how things are made better by having a gamey rule dealing with a gamey practice. I prefer to think of rules as the shapers of the real world turned into our cardboard and paper world of conflict. For me, it is hard to see a “no hop” rule as anything other than a contrivance that has nothing to do with a battle environment. I must admit I have been left wondering why the designer did not simply hit a withdrawing unit with an immediate fire attack penalty rather than go with a rule like this? There may be a reason I cannot see, but on the surface, this looks odd and clumsy.
I must admit I also felt the same about the optional skirmish rule, which seems to rely on whether you have got some weak units knocking around looking for a job. In other words, there are no actual skirmisher units as such, just 1 or 0 strength reduced units that can find a different way of getting shot at. I do not feel that happy about this either – if the countermix provision could not cater for proper skirmishers, far better to leave them out in my opinion, or just abstract an effect or two into the game. But, as it is, treating weak, blasted to bits units the way these rules suggest rather reminds me of Falstaff’s recruiting policy as expressed to Master Shallow:
“O, give me the spare men, and spare me the great ones.” (Henry IV Part II)
As I looked through the rulebook, I felt increasingly desperate to find a real sense of colour and occasion as to how things were being presented. Late in the rules, there is provision for bayonet charges (referred to as a potent psychological weapon), but the mechanisms of the game do not really have you either seeing it thus in your mind or played out with such effect on your map. There is surely a serious commitment about fixing bayonets in the mind of any combatant, but as it is, the game works its processes and modifier shifts in ways I cannot always connect to what I am supposed to be playing out. Men hastily run from leveled bayonets, (bayonet wounds were rare as the receiving side almost invariably skedaddled) but that does not really manifest itself in this aspect of the design.
Elsewhere, to be honest, when it comes to the rules for movement, combat, and the effects of leaders, there is nothing here that will take a gamer of any real experience by surprise or come across as truly innovative. Leaders do the modifier and rally stuff, infantry shoots and shoves, artillery fires, and it is all a bit on the dry side. One nice effect worth mentioning, however, is the straggler rule, which reminds me in a way of those in the old Battleline/Avalon Hill Fury In The West. Basically, if you start sending the boys a-whoopin’ and a-yellin’ and whatnot in the woods, the whoopin’ is rather likely to be replaced by the wanderin’ off. This is a good rule, and I just wish the game had a bit more of its like.
Indeed, more than anything, it is the lack of narrative colour throughout the entire design that disappoints me. Both Battles and Leaders and Devil’s Den are more than thirty years old, and yet, I really do not see this design as marking any sort of moving on to offer a new state of the art for the bygone State of the (Dis)Union. In fact, I could argue that those older games did rather more than Huzzah! – Devil’s Den had individual regimental commanders of varying quality leading the boys on; fences came down; snipers went and hid in the rocks, and it all felt rather interesting; Battles and Leaders, on the other hand, I particularly recall for its event table, with all kinds of chaos, disaster, humour and whatever likely to occur as the fighting got seriously underway.
Incidentally, there is one aspect of Huzzah! that may take inspiration from Battles and Leaders. Both games, if memory serves in the case of the older title, employ a form of hit registration that is not so much about obvious casualties, but of a unit losing an ability to function. These are the Organization Hits of Huzzah! – what they were called in Battles and Leaders I cannot recall, but they were denoted by placing a small circular red token on the affected unit, and were again more about a unit losing combat effectiveness than representing lots of dead soldiers. With some frustration, I cannot recall whether Battles and Leaders units could shed such hits, but they certainly can in Huzzah! via a regroup action. Getting units to regroup is probably essential in order to keep an effective force in the field, and to my mind, is one of those game functions that virtually screams out “Add Some Colour!” Leaders can make a difference to your regroup chances, but as all leaders make the same difference, and as nothing else is really added to the mix, what you have here is just another bit of process.
When I think of Civil War battles as they might be right there on the firing line, (and I am talking more of game drama, not war’s appalling tragedy and terror) I will recall the paintings of Don Troiani or Mort Kunstler, and yes, the Little Round Top battle scene from Gettysburg as well, with a colonel or two pacing the line calling out “Pour it on boys, keep it up, that’s the style!” I just wish there was a bit more style in Huzzah! What I think the series is crying out for is a set of semi generic event cards, with a draw at the beginning of a turn, or triggered by some on-map occurrence. This need not muck the whole system up – you just ensure that what happens suits the system, but at the same time gives it some battle tension, humour, uncertainty, and thus invites us into the system in a way I cannot experience as things are.
Beyond that I feel it was not a good idea to eschew regimental leaders. If you are down to this intimate scale of battle representation, you surely want that sense of the colonel leading his boys – or hiding in some bushes. I would not claim that Devil’s Den was the last word in how to do things, but the regimental leaders there were so integral to the game, added big doses of colour, and could hardly be said to have cluttered things up.
In short, as ever, opinions will vary as to whether this design is the glass half empty or half full. But I am very conscious that this has been a genuine effort to do something rarely done in our hobby, and as such, I really hope the series can evolve in feasible ways into something a little more colourful and attractive than it is for me right now.
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About the Author
Paul has been involved in the hobby since the early 1970s. Of largely Belgian ancestry on his father’s side, and English (Yorkshire) on his mother’s, after finishing his education he worked in tourism and student services, and also spent some time in the former West Germany. He met his wife Boo in 1990, and they married a couple of years later.
Paul hails from a long line of former servicemen – one grandfather was a sergeant in the BEF of 1914, whilst two of his great grandfathers were killed serving with the Royal Navy. His own father, who was born in Britain, served with the army in Malaya in the early 1950s.